Archives for posts with tag: forgive is not synonymous with forget

Eventually, there comes a time when “forgiveness” comes up in many discussions of past pain or trauma (even very recent pain and trauma, honestly). Sometimes it comes in the form of someone seeking forgiveness, other times it comes in the form of someone wondering if providing forgiveness is overdue… or possible at all.

Forgiving someone for something they have done to hurt us isn’t about the person who hurt us, at all. That’s an important detail we sometimes forget (as do seekers of forgiveness). So… there’s that.

Forgiving someone for hurting me has been a peculiarly tender and personal thing to learn to do. It took me a while to figure it out; so often the conversation around forgiveness has seemed to center on the actions being forgiven, or the person, and it’s actually not at all about any of that. Forgiveness is letting go our attachment to pain – that deep down personal aggrieved attachment to feeling wounded, and carrying the anger associated with that hurt. Forgiving is the process of letting that go, and moving on, ourselves.

You know what forgiving someone is not? It’s not permission to repeat that hurtful behavior. It’s also not any sort of agreement to continue inviting that person into our life to continue a shared journey as though there had never been any hurt. In fact – forgiving someone has nothing at all to do with the nuts and bolts and practical details of whether they are a part of our life ever again at all. Forgiving someone else is a way of allowing ourselves to move forward from a painful moment.

I’ve long ago forgiven my first husband for the injuries and scars that still sometimes hold me back, or at least affect my day-to-day experience of health. I’ve forgiven my second long-term partner, now also an ex, for the prolonged slide into learned helplessness and chronic frustration that come from being gas-lighted and manipulated for years. I’ve forgiven childhood enemies for their transgressions, and adults more recently who’ve mistreated me in one way or another, over time. Learning to forgive became almost easy once I understood that to do so did not require me to also invite people back into my life to repeat those behaviors – there is no expectation or requirement to do so at all.¬†I can forgive, and move on with my life, allowing them to move on with theirs.

Forgiveness is powerful. I highly recommend it as a practice. I also, and without conflict or contradiction, highly recommend maintaining – and enforcing – healthy boundaries. Respect your own boundaries, respect the boundaries of others, and yes, even when you’ve forgiven someone. Non-negotiable relationship deal-breakers remain non-negotiable, and also deal-breaking, even in the face of “forgiveness”. That’s totally correct and appropriate. That’s proper. Having forgiven my first husband for his violence in no way suggests or requires that I allow him back into my life. ūüôā Forgiving him is for me, not for him.

When people seek forgiveness from us, the intention often seems to be to re-ingratiate themselves in our favor, as though “all is forgiven” also means “do over” and “no harm done”. That seeking suggests that the forgiveness is somehow about the person who has transgressed – but it isn’t, at all. I understand wanting to be forgiven; it sucks to ache with the pain of having hurt someone we care for. Too bad. It’s actually supposed to hurt if we hurt someone or treat them poorly; to remind us to do better, and to nudge us into making it right. Being forgiven doesn’t get someone off the hook for having to make amends, or somehow right our wrongs, and we’re mistaken if we assume that it does.

Being forgiven does not wind back the clock as though what was forgiven never happened. Relationships end on the backs of some pretty heinous deal-breaking words and actions – they should. Forgiving someone for those words or actions in no way suggests continuing the shitty relationship is going to be a thing, or that somehow the pain of what went down will just stop existing. We are each accountable for our actions. We face consequences – real consequences – for our choices, for our words, for our behavior, and whether or not we are forgiven by someone we’ve hurt, this is true.

I spent some time reflecting on forgiveness this weekend, having overheard a remark to the effect that “he’s not going to forgive me this time…” from a woman aware she chronically and repeatedly abuses her mate. I was astonished at the phrasing, which suggested she did not at all understand that the forgiving of her shitty behavior is not in any way related to whether or not the relationship itself would, or should, continue. It got me wondering about forgiveness, generally, and boundaries, and I found myself looking over past moments, myself, that I had forgiven. I felt pretty relieved that forgiveness has been so hard to learn, for me; the result has been that it did not become the kind of leverage that could be used to get me to “stay with a sinking ship” or “run back into a burning building”.

Here’s a thing that rankles¬†me about that overheard remark; it also suggests that the speaker does not understand accepting forgiveness. Understanding that one has been forgiven requires a change in behavior – because accepting forgiveness implicitly acknowledges the wrongdoing. Once we know we have wronged someone, there is an obligation to change the behavior. No change? Well…um… why the fuck would a reasonable person expect that relationship to continue?? Furthermore, continued poor behavior, once forgiven, and having been acknowledged as poor (and undesirable) behavior – is willful. Yep. I said it and I mean it; if you know it’s unwelcome behavior, you’ve previously expressed regret for it, previously been forgiven for it, and you continue that behavior? You are deliberately, willfully, and yes on purpose,¬†doing this hurtful thing. Seeking further forgiveness for the same shit is fairly sick, very manipulative, and in the face of chronic behavior, just a way of holding back that person you are hurting from seeking healthier relationships, and keeping them mired in bullshit with you. Particularly since the forgiveness isn’t about you. lol

For those faced with forgiving someone yet again for the same old same old, maybe also consider getting off that fucking hamster wheel at some point. Forgive, yes, but damn – respect your own boundaries, and be prepared to follow through on your non-negotiable deal-breakers. It’s okay to do that – and more to the point, it’s healthier to be free of abusive relationships than it is to attempt to “fix” them in the face of chronic mistreatment. Forgiveness is not tantamount to permission, or an agreement to ignore the damage done. ūüėČ

It’s a whole new day. It’s a grand one to forgive old pain! It’s also an excellent day to stand strong on your resolve to treat yourself well, and to respect your own boundaries. It’s a lovely day to begin again. ūüôā

…Or, well, don’t. I can’t really help much on the topic of forgiveness. I’m not an expert on it – hell, I barely understand the concept, and I am pretty sure I suck at ‘forgiveness’. (I hear the recollection of 20-something me, in the distance past, snarling at an associate “there are things even your god does not forgive!” in a moment of unreserved hurt and rage.) I am having to come to terms with some things about the idea of forgiveness, though. Firstly, that ‘forgiveness’ is not a religious tenet; it’s a concept available to anyone for their own benefit, at any time. Secondly, forgiveness says nothing at all about the person being forgiven – and says a lot about the person forgiving. The last thing I am coming to terms with is that to grow beyond ancient pain, and ancient rage, sooner or later forgiveness comes up as a topic; I can’t move on, or let go, without the power of ‘forgiveness’… Which means sooner or later, understanding the concept would be useful.

I resent the hell out of being faced with any expectation or demand that I forgive some heinous transgression. I’m very human. When I hurt I want it ‘made right’ with me by the person who hurt me, and no substitute will do. There is no room for ‘apology by proxy’ in my heart. These feelings give the anger a foothold to become bitterness over time, and the hurt to become a festering wound that changes who I am. That’s powerful – and not in a positive way. When I find myself unable to let go of a hurt over time, it has the power to slowly see me evolve to become that thing that hurt me so, or something worse. Hell of a puzzle there; failing to forgive someone who hurt me gives them the power to continue to influence my heart and mind!

"Broken"  16" x 20" acrylic on canvas w/ceramic & glow 2012 Once the damage is done...then what?

“Broken” 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic & glow 2012
Once the damage is done…then what?

Not knowing how to forgive, and not being permitted vengeance or retribution, I have sometimes found myself trapped, holding on to pain, frustration, impotent rage – slowly poisoning myself from within. This is not a condition in life I would wish on myself, and recognizing that one key to the puzzle of ancient pain may be this ‘forgiveness’ thing I hear so much about, perhaps it is time to consider it further?

I have some experience with forgiveness. Childhood experiences mostly, in some cases rather scripted – the parental ‘say you’re sorry to your sister’ example comes to mind, where following the steps end with just letting it go, and returning to play. Compassion may be a natural quality of human beings, but I am pretty sure ‘forgiving’ has to be taught to us. Forgiveness¬†was not emphasized in my upbringing.¬†Is it¬†a process, more than an emotion? I’m pretty handy when I have the steps of a process written down in front of me for practice…maybe that’s what I need to do here? Figure out the steps to forgiveness, write them down, and…oh yeah, you know what comes next right? Practice.

Why am I on about this, this morning? I read a quote on the internet recently that got my attention, and resonated with me in the moment, and lingered:

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning their behavior. It doesn’t mean forgetting how they hurt you or giving that person room to hurt you again. Forgiving someone means making peace with what happened. It means acknowledging your wound, giving yourself permission to feel the pain, and recognizing why that pain no longer serves you. It means letting go of the hurt and resentment so that you can heal and move on. ~Daniell Koepke

It is from a larger article, that I didn’t have time to read and bookmarked for later. The quote has stuck with me for days. I’d never understood forgiveness in those terms. This matters, at least to me; I have¬†long struggled with the idea that forgiveness gave that other ‘a pass’ – they ‘get away with it’ – they ‘win’ – and at my expense! It seems so incredibly unfair. When I read this quote it opened my heart to understand that forgiveness isn’t ever about that person who hurt us, and it isn’t something we do for them – is it the ‘missing puzzle piece’ that allows me to move on, to heal, to ‘let it go’ on my own terms, and in my own time? That’s a pretty big deal. Definitely worth further consideration.

Life finds its own path, sometimes the 'obvious' choices are not the only choices.

Life finds its own path, sometimes the ‘obvious’ choices are not the only choices. (A rose seedling growing in the crook of a tree.)

Life’s curriculum continues to put the most challenging coursework I can manage in front of me for my continuing education. ūüôā I’ve come a long way to be ready to study forgiveness; it seems like ‘advanced studies’ to me. It dovetails with a recent discussion with my therapist about anger, and another that followed on that topic with my traveling partner. Anger is another very big deal, and difficult for me to discuss without rousing the beast within; is forgiveness also a¬†path to cooling the heat and ferocity of ancient rage so that I can at last actually just talk about it? I feel a bit as if I opened a chapter in the text-book that opens with a promising paragraph that ‘connects the dots’ in a much bigger puzzle, but does so using new vocabulary that I don’t really understand. I am eager to continue.

Taking the obstacles one at a time, and taking the journey slowly; there's a lot to learn along the way.

Taking the obstacles one at a time, and taking the journey slowly; there’s a lot to learn along the way.

Today is a good day to study, and a good day to embrace new knowledge. Today is a good day to grow, and to become more that woman I most want to be. Today is a good day to take a different look at the world I live within; it is of my own creation, and perhaps it is time to change the emotional landscape?

I slept well last night. I slept in this morning. I woke sufficiently early to enjoy the dawn. The kitchen is filled with the aroma of freshly ground coffee. The overcast sky promises cooler weather. The cool soft morning air fills the apartment by way of the open patio door. The morning is quiet, even serene.

Cooler weather and lovely overcast skies often come at a cost for me, and this morning this is the case; my arthritis pain is significantly worse after many days of not bothering me much at all. I shrug it off – at some points quite literally for the relief that movement gives – and wait on the kettle to put coffee nearer to ‘now’.

I look around my home contentedly, and without dissatisfaction, although it is Saturday following a week interrupted with stress; there are chores to do this morning. There generally are on Saturday morning, and I don’t offer myself any criticism that one or two things I could have done Wednesday or Thursday wait for me today. Why would I? My home is lovely and well-kept, and in any case, the rules are my own, the standards are mine, and the outcome need please and satisfy only me. I am enjoying this moment.

You see, it’s not a competition – until or unless I choose to make it one, of course. I don’t. I dislike competition [in life] rather a lot. I enjoy ‘game-ification’, and I don’t mind working to measure up to the standard I have set for myself, but frankly – there is no one else I compete with for my success, my sense of self, or my enjoyment of my experience. You can’t have what is mine [me] – and I can’t have what is yours [you] – on a level beyond mercantile goods, destination vacations, just the right schools or just the right neighborhoods; we are each having our own experience, and all the purchasing power in the world can’t change who we are. Of course, you could choose differently. You could choose to focus on what someone else has, what they enjoy, what their life looks like from an outside perspective, and you could make all your effort focused on getting there, being that, and doing those things. Let me know how it turns out? I haven’t seen any remarkable success stories on that front, mostly tales of frustration, discontent, disconnection and woe, instead. I¬†have found that when I¬†strive to be something or someone I am¬†not, the less easily able I am¬†to enjoy who I¬†actually am¬†– and the less easily able¬†I am to grow or change. I consider my¬†choice to fully embrace authenticity quite fearlessly to have¬†been one of the most profoundly positive things I have ever done for myself.

Having said that I don’t find life to be a competition, myself, I admit that this is based on the choices I make, and what I enjoy in life personally. Perhaps you enjoy competition? I won’t [can’t] take that from you – but I won’t be keeping score with you, or making any effort to participate or ‘keep up’. I don’t invest in relationships in which it becomes clear the other person is ‘competing with me’, generally.¬†I dislike it when people undermine someone else’s experience in order to get ahead, themselves, and don’t favor those sorts of people for relationships, either. It comes up a lot out in the world. Is your house bigger? (Probably – this place is small. And enough for me.) Do you make more money? (A lot of people do, it’s really not the focus of my goal-setting or effort, nor do I measure my own success in dollars.) Are you leaner, stronger, fitter, or more muscular? (I bet you’ve worked hard to get there! I’ve worked hard to get where I am, too. There are verbs involved, regardless of the goal.) Are you famous, expert, or highly sought for your opinion, or your charm? (Is that filling when ¬†you are hungry? Does it secure better sleep for you at night? Are you well-loved and secure in the companionship of those you love?) I guess my point is that there is always someone with more, someone with less, and those quantities are not truly relevant to living well and being a skilled and loving human being.

Have I drifted off topic? I was thinking about housework on a Saturday morning. Ah! I was thinking about my Granny being, perhaps, appalled that there is hair in my hair brush, or that my bed is not yet made. I am thinking about my first husband as I notice that vacuuming is a thing, and that today is a good day to do some. I glance at the kitchen and recall other kitchens, in other conditions. For a moment, my thoughts turn to laundry. My wee home is quite tidy, but so small that any disarray whatever is very obvious – and I’m okay with a bit of¬†disarray before dawn on a Saturday morning as I sip my coffee; there is no rush, and this is not a competition. There is literally, quite definitely, no competition at all – this is my home, these are my rules, this is my way. After coffee, chores – it’s a lovely Saturday morning and that’s enough.

I grin at myself thinking back to other circumstances, and being annoyed at getting sucked into the ‘housework rodeo’¬†because someone would be coming over; it is the antithesis of ‘being myself’ to radically change my environment to impress someone, or to measure up to my assumptions about their expectations. I can’t imagine any of my friends would be so rude as to come over to visit and criticize my housekeeping – it’d be the last time they were invited in and given a chance to do so. I feel pretty much the same about family – and every bit as willing¬†to be very frank and¬†to say out loud “how dare you be so rude and ungracious – get out.” lol Even my late grandmother’s spotless home filled with antiques from all around the globe lingering in my memory does not¬†fill me with the drive needed to compete with her by¬†cleaning my home¬†to meet her expectations – and…um…why would anyone else’s expectations of my home be relevant to my own experience at all? Just saying.

More than the housework, the stacks of paintings not yet hung, and not yet stored, cause me some concern; I hesitate to paint because they are so very much at risk of damage stacked here and there, out in the open. If I lose myself in a creative moment, I could so easily find, later, that I have damaged existing work that I greatly love. My traveling partner is eager for me to get a loveseat, so we can cuddle and watch movies or talk. I’d like that, too. My own needs in the moment have more to do with finishing getting moved in…which means doing something about the stacks of paintings. One of the cabinets I generally use for that purpose is currently filled with my valued porcelain; I have no curio to display them in, yet, and the sideboard I lovingly¬†hauled all over the world for 25¬†years is gone now. So…what is the most practical next step? What best meets my needs over time? That’s a tough one. I do enjoy cuddling my traveling partner… I also enjoy painting, and seeing my home in a very ordered state. (Stacks of paintings here and there do not seem especially ordered, to me. lol)

Enough.

Enough.

Needs of self. Needs of others. Needs of Love. Expectations. Unanswered questions. Well…it’s a good thing enjoying a pleasant Saturday does not require that all of life’s questions have answers. Today is a good day to be, unanswered questions and all. It’s not a competition, and this, right here, is enough.