Do you forgive him?
That’s what my friend asked me. I wanted to say yes, because I have always viewed myself as a forgiving person, but I couldn’t. The word forgiveness tasted bitter to me. I was repulsed by it. This unusually negative reaction to the word alarmed me, creating cognitive dissonance between who I thought I was and who I was being in that moment.
He doesn’t need my forgiveness. It’s not relevant in this instance.
That was my response. Lame. Because I didn’t want to admit that I was a cold-hearted, callous woman who can’t find it in her heart to forgive people. Because I wanted to sit in my righteous anger. Because I had been wronged and being a mad victim feels better than being a hurt victim. Being angry is a high. But what goes up must come down. And that anger, when it cools off, turns into pain. You don’t have to feel it when you’re playing tough girl. And I like playing tough girl.
I cannot remember when I stopped forgiving people. I used to let everything roll off my back. Trauma can change you. I remember at one point while I was still married thinking, why can’t I shake this? Why can’t I just let it go? I was used to being hurt in ways that I could easily let go of. When I got hurt to my core, when I had my world rocked, I couldn’t operate the same way.
Being unforgiving is often advantageous for survivors of abuse. And I am one of them. Forgiveness requires empathy, understanding, and pardoning. When you are still entangled in the snare of a person who finds pleasure in causing your demise, empathy, understanding and forgiveness are weaknesses. Those are the very things abusers use against you. Those are the shoes they wear to A-town stomp all over your boundaries. After you’ve spent far too long rationalizing their obscene behavior, your survival depends on the firm belief that there is no rationale for the way they treat you. There is no justification. There is no empathy. There is no forgiveness. There is only you acknowledging that they abuse you on purpose. Not because they need to be loved more. Not because they don’t know how to control their emotions. Not because they grew up differently than you. They do it because they want to. When you are forcing yourself to fall out of love with the person you thought was your soulmate because they hate you, you have to get indignant. You have to hate them back. If you don’t you’ll just keep running on the hamster wheel of their wickedness. You have to do whatever it takes to survive.
But when you’ve healed, and when you need to switch from surviving to thriving, that model doesn’t work anymore. And that’s where I was. I was thriving but acting like I was just surviving. And I had a laundry list of people I hadn’t forgiven while I was in survival mode. So I went inward. I prayed. I spent some time alone with my thoughts and my process and I realized I had some things I needed to let go of. And I did. Starting with myself. I forgave myself for the ways I disrespected me by allowing people to treat me how they did. And then, I forgave them. And I’m not making phone calls, or announcements to them about it, because it’s not for them. It’s for me. They’ve moved on with their lives. I was the one still carrying it around.
I’ve released it. I feel no animosity in my heart toward anyone. I genuinely pray that each of them finds peace. I have found it, and it’s much sweeter than revenge. I thank myself for being unforgiving when I needed to be. Now, I can move forward with a clean heart and mind. For anyone who may be struggling with unforgiveness I say, take your time. Protect yourself when you need to. Recognize when it’s doing you more harm than good as a signal that it’s time for you to get out of survival mode and thrive. Then let it go, baby. As our dear sister Erykah told us, I betcha love will make it better. #packlight