A few months ago, I was reading my book “The Artist’s Way,” perusing the week’s tasks and discovered my task was on forgiveness. This sparked me to create two works dedicated to forgiveness: one about forgiving others, and the other about forgiving myself. Like anyone, there are some things that have hurt me that I have a hard time getting over. A large part of healing these traumas lies simply in hearing and addressing them. The bitter part of me wants never to forget them and says “I don’t know how I could ever get past this.”
However, there are two big lessons I learned about forgiveness. The first one is something I’ve known for a while: holding grudges and resentment gives your power over to that which you are resentful about. Often we think our unforgiving
nature is what gives us power. For instance, a boyfriend who was the skater/snowboarder/surfer type hurt you deeply by being inconsiderate which led to the break up. Because of the pain, you become angry to move forward. You don’t want the pain you feel for him, or him, to control your life or your emotions but you can’t forgive him so you say you’ll never talk to him again and in fact, won’t date anyone like him again. This is an easy thing to do, you feel empowered because you made a choice (hoping he will suffer from it). In fact, you are more dis-empowered because you won’t forgive him. Now, he has more power over you than before.
How? He is still taking up attention in your mind and emotions because you are still thinking about him (yes, not with admiration as before, but with bitterness). Not only that, he has power over your body. Bitter, unforgiving feelings stiffen your body and actually cause physical ailments to heal more slowly. He also has power over your life: because of your bitterness towards him, now you are less free to go the many places you used to go, in case you see him. In fact, your bitterness is keeping you from perhaps even the ocean, and the snow, lest he might be there skiing or snowboarding. You give your power to that which you are bitter and unforgiving about. It limits you, on all levels, most importantly, it limits your happiness.
Even though I know this, sometimes it didn’t help, I still couldn’t seem to forgive some people. I would say, “it’s not fair, they hurt me badly, they shouldn’t deserve my forgiveness.” Actually, what I said is almost true. The second lesson I learned was about what forgiveness really is. I had thought forgiveness meant they automatically return to your life, you become friends again, all is well, trust is revived. Unfortunately, while sometimes friendships or relationships can heal again after forgiveness, forgiveness is separate from these things. You can forgive them, while choosing not to allow them into your life again, or even trust them. When I heard that, I was immediately relieved. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean they even get a second chance. If someone betrayed you, forgiving them and having them be at the same level of trust again won’t necessarily work.
A great example of this: a close friend of mine and I had a falling out. Something about the fight hurt me deeply, I could never forget it and I would think about how I should act around her and what to do when I saw her. I was hurt that I never got my side of the story told and I didn’t feel like I could trust her. On this forgiveness art day, I ended up writing a few pages. First I wrote all about my side of the story, how hurt I felt, how unfair I felt the situation had been. I finally got to hear and voice my pain. Then, I wrote her side, I wrote about how she must have felt, her hurt and disappointment, and I actually started to cry because I felt compassion for her. Then I apologized to her and I forgave her. It was very powerful for me, but at the end, it wasn’t all cleared away. Magically, we didn’t become best friends, I didn’t make her a big part of my life and I began to wonder why: because although I forgave her, it still didn’t mean I trusted her, or even wanted her to have a big role in my life. However, this didn’t mean I would avoid her or be angry, I was still cordial and friendly, but if we wanted to become close friends again, we would have to build that trust back from the beginning.
I think, when you are able to look back and feel sad, that’s how you know you were able to forgive them. I don’t know if I will ever trust her well enough to be close like we were, and it saddens me that the fight happened and destroyed the friendship at the time. But maybe we’ll become friends again someday, I’m grateful my bitterness is gone, and I wish her well!