The Many Layers of Forgiveness
A word that pops up in new age circles often, and generates many raging debates. A word that triggers us in many different ways. A word that we say with many different meanings.
You did a bad thing. But I have a thick skin and it does not affect me. I will stay as we are. “I forgive you.”
You did a bad thing — but Ill make excuses for your behaviour. I am hurt but I will ignore that. I will stay as we are. “I forgive you.”
You did a bad thing. I’m hurt. But I’m dependent on you. I will stay as we are. “I forgive you.”
You did a bad thing. I’m going to let go of my hurt and let go of you. I distance myself. You can’t affect me. “I forgive you.”
Same words. Different processes. Different emotions. Different experiences.
As I ponder over all these, looking for patterns, I see three aspects of forgiveness — our judgment of the act, the impact of the act on us, and our response to the act.
We often get confused between the three, when we refer to forgiveness.
When we talk about forgiving, we are often talking about our judgment of the act. There is no way I’m ever going to tell you that that was ok! “I can’t forgive you!”
When we ask for forgiveness, we are mostly talking about your response to my act. Can you let go of what happened and can we go back to how we were? “Can you forgive me?” (We rarely ask forgiveness of people we don’t intend to continue a relationship with).
When we “can’t forgive”, we mean: I think you did a bad thing. You meant to hurt me. I’m really hurt by it and hate you for it. I’m going to distance myself and find ways to punish you.
When we come from, “I forgive you. Let bygones be bygones”, we mean : you did a bad thing. I was hurt. But I’m going to try hard to forget it and hope it never happens again. I will try to go back to how it was.
When we come from, “Forgive not because the other person deserves it, but because we deserve peace”, we mean: you did a bad thing. I was hurt by it, but I am going to let go of the hurt and make you insignificant. I am distancing myself from you. I find peace because I’m no longer agonizing over what you did.
When we come from,“I understand. There is nothing to forgive,” we mean: because I understand, forgiveness is unnecessary, even meaningless . What you did was the only thing you could do given where you were in that moment. I see your journey. I understand it. Yet I also see my hurt. I don’t want to be hurt again, so I am going to distance myself. Or, I can see the role I played, let’s see how we both can get to a better place. Or, I can see how you are in a different place now, so let’s see what’s possible for us now.
Maybe we would be better off breaking down these highly charged words. Speak about the many parts of our experience. Speak about our journey that got us to wherever we got to. Maybe then we would be clear about what we are asking for, what the other is giving, and what we are willing to give. Maybe, that will open us up to more possibilities…