“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” Marianne Williamson
I’d like to propose that forgiveness is a radical act of self-love. The act of forgiveness has very little to do with the person we forgive (unless it is ones self, and that is a whole topic for another post) and everything to do with finding personal freedom. In order to truly forgive another, we must love ourselves enough to understand how very much we deserve the freedom that comes with forgiving. It isn’t about what it does for the other person. It’s about what it does for us.
I can’t find a better illustration for this than the essay by Charles M. Blow called “Up from Pain.” It is an excerpt from his memoir Fire Shut Up in my Bones and can be found in the September 19 issue of the New York Times.
This struck a nerve with me, in a deep, deep place, because his story of childhood abuse by a trusted relative is so familiar to me. Just reading this brought back the terror and that hard knot of resentment in the depths of my gut, and the suspicion that forgiving someone something so vile is tantamount to saying, “it’s okay, what you did to me.”
The truth is that refusing to forgive keeps us stuck. Kept me stuck. It’s like Charles Blow says, “I couldn’t continue to live my life through the eyes of a seven year old boy.”
By withholding forgiveness, we hold onto resentment and this keeps us stuck wholly in the past. The person we resent has already acted, it is in the past. By withholding release, withholding forgiveness, we allow the perpetrator to act, again and again, replaying events in our minds, nursing our hurt, stoking resentment, re-wounding ourselves. We repeatedly hand over the power to the one who wronged us. We continue to give over our power, even if it is only in the mind.
Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Mastery of Love, addresses this issue. He writes:
You must forgive those who hurt you, even if whatever they did to you is unforgivable in your mind. You will forgive them not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you don’t want to suffer and hurt yourself every time you remember what they did to you. It doesn’t matter what others did to you, you are going to forgive them because you don’t want to feel sick all the time. Forgiveness is for your own mental healing. You will forgive because you feel compassion for yourself. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. Pg. 169-170.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love. Can you find the courage to love yourself enough to stop the re-wounding; to stop handing over your power? I do not have the power to undo the past. I do have the power to choose to stop feeling sick all the time, to stop the endless replay loop, to choose to let go through the power of forgiveness.
For me, this was a long process. It took me, once I made up my mind to pursue forgiveness of the man who molested me, a few years to get there. With my ex-husband, it was easier, simply because I’d had more personal power to begin with in that situation. One thing that helped in each case was the practice of praying for them. A suggestion I received was to pray that my “difficult person,” as Gordon Peerman so delicately puts it, receive everything which I longed for myself. Health, financial stability, healthy relationships, peace of mind. Pray for each of these men, individually, that they might have these things. OOOOh. It was hard work. I would pray, but there, lurking in the back of my mind was the secret wish that, especially my childhood tormentor, would have disastrous relationships and financial ruin. But I kept at it. And it works. There came a time when I could release this prayer to God with all sincerity. And that was a great relief! The relief came when I began to see, to truly understand, the kind of torment a person has to be in to act out the way he had. Enter compassion. It is the pathway to forgiveness, which is the pathway to transformation.
In her book about A Course in Miracles, called A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson has a wonderful section on forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the key to inner peace because it is the mental technique by which our thoughts are transformed from fear to love. Our perceptions of other people often become a battleground between the ego’s desire to judge and the Holy Spirit’s desire to accept people as they are. The ego is the great fault-finder. It seeks out the faults in ourselves and others. The Holy Spirit seeks out our innocence. He sees all of us as we really are, and since we are the perfect creations of God, He loves what He sees. The places in our personality where we tend to deviate from love are not our faults, but our wounds. God doesn’t want to punish us, but to heal us. And that is how He wishes us to view the wounds in other people.
Forgiveness is “selective remembering”—a conscious decision to focus on love and let the rest go.
This idea of the ego’s desire to judge is what truly keeps us stuck. It’s what kept me stuck. I wanted my childhood tormentor to be pure evil, making me pure good. But the truth is that he was acting from his own hellish compulsion. His pain is not something I want or need to understand. It simply is a part of the equation. His need to control me wasn’t about me. It was about his feeling out of control, and the only solution he could find was to control others. It wasn’t about me. I just happened to be convenient. Once I understood THAT, it was much easier to forgive. His actions weren’t personal. My resentment was. It was personal to me. It was hurting me. This truth, once I discovered it, was the key to surrender and release. My ego could, in this, let go and I began to see the wound that was driving the whole situation. “God doesn’t want to punish us, but to heal us.” This is true for me, and it is true for my abuser.
Once I came to understand much of this, a process that took time, I understood the relief I could find in Forgiving.
And I encourage you. To love yourself.
Love yourself enough to claim freedom from old wounds, past hurts, long-gone betrayals. Love yourself enough to no longer allow the person who hurt you to have the power to continue to hurt you. Love yourself enough to forgive the other their own wounds, their anger, the hell they are living in. Forgiving someone who has hurt you doesn’t mean that what they did is okay. It just means that you love yourself enough to be free from the burden they placed upon you in the first place. Love yourself enough to choose freedom.
© 2014 Janet Tuck
© 2014 Janet Tuck