I have had some recent conversations about anger and hatred. The crux of all of all those discussions have centered on the question; “How can you forgive him for all he did to you?” Now keep in mind very few people who know the extent of what “he did to you”. The gist of their question lies squarely upon how I define forgiveness and shared responsibility. How do I define forgiveness? How can I not be filled with anger and hatred?
I suppose I should start with my understanding of forgiveness. In my opinion, there are a few different types of forgiveness, which are very situational. My evolution of forgiveness has progressed throughout my life beginning with my childhood where as with many children, I was told to apologize for a childhood indiscretion and/or accept an apology thus learning to give and receive an indignant apology. Progressing into adulthood, I learned there are acts that appear to be unforgivable resulting in changes to both relationships and attitude. In adulthood, I experienced circumstances where I was facing the forgiveness dilemma. Through these, I learned many things, about myself, about others, the fact it is all right to not accept an apology and how to forgive people and actions, which were deemed unforgivable on some scales.
Through my continual spiritual journey, I have always been intrigued with the concept of forgiveness. While this is my interpretation of faith-based views, it is extremely brief! I could probably write another blog entirely on the topic. My early Sunday school teachings revolved around forgiving others so I could be forgiven and the interdependent relationship of repentance and forgiveness but lacked teachings of how to forgive the non-repentant. While I understood the mandate of forgiveness, it was much later in life that I understood the concept of unconditional absolution without any repentance or accountability of the violator. The Buddhist view of forgiveness and its ties to compassion spoke the loudest to me at a point when benevolence was needed. The focus is as a means to peace and harmony and the lack of forgiveness is characterized by feelings of resentment, which cause us suffering. Buddhism encourages one to look within one self to find the emotions, which are allowing the unforgiving attitude to persist. The teaching of compassion toward those who harmed us is a foundational teaching. Intrigued by the Day of Atonement in Judaism I discovered that the forgiveness can only come from the one offended and if it is withheld, the moral burden shift upon the withholder. The concept of forgiveness is also woven throughout all the other major world religions. It is the cultural ideologies on recovery in the form, to heal you must forgive which adds an additional burden of guilt to the injured.
My greatest struggle with forgiveness was the role of apology. Through this struggle, I arrived at the epiphany that there is not one levels not single blanket application that suits all situations. Absolution is the easiest level of forgiveness; a situation where the offender is truly remorseful and offers a sincere apology at which point you afford them total exoneration for the offense returning to a state prior to the occurrence. This is also the level of sympathy that occurs with children or the unknowing, who do not have the ability to understand the violation but can learn of indiscretions and remorse. What occurs when the apology lacks sincerity, is indignant, or even self-serving? What does one do when there is no apology or even a belief in the justification of the violation?
We have all experienced an insincere apology even possibly where one places the blame elsewhere yet we are willing to work on reconciliation. This situation would be a forgive but not forget situation. This type of forgiveness allows the parties to work to recovery. This allows the offended to protect themselves and offering hope of the violation never occurring again or creating a structure to buffer against this misdeed. I have offered amnesty of this nature in many social or work relationships where the interaction needs to continue and hostility would create a toxic cycle that would cause greater damage. I have also refused to accept an apology under the premise that the behavior has occurred multiple times in the past and time will determine the sincerity of the apology.
For so many others, and me the great challenge lies when there is no apology for the transgression. While this can be difficult when the violator is no longer available to be remorseful through distance or death it is even more challenging when the perpetrator sees no fault in their actions. This is what I face. There is no acknowledgement of the infidelity or the emotionally abusive behavior. As part of the cyclic behavior, there were apologies interspersed with blame but there has never been a sincere acknowledgement of the damage caused. Therein lays the questions I keep being asked? How can I not hate him? Why am I not angry with him? How can I just get on with it? This is where my understanding of the third and most challenging type of forgiveness intersected with the dysfunction of my former marriage. This type of forgiveness does not condone the behavior but is in fact a release. It involves forgiving me for accepting the behavior and releasing my anger and resentment. It is only about my choice to define my life by my actions and choices not by those of the offender. I spent so much time sorting through the emotional rubble to find what I needed to carry forward and sitting the rest down because the burden which I had borne long enough and could no longer carry. To release the debt does not mean I condone the behavior or relinquish his accountability it means I chose live with happiness in my heat, to focus on my peace free from resentment and hatred, and to embrace life on my terms not another’s.
One morning at sunrise standing at the edge of the ocean, I decided it was time. There had been so much contemplation of how to forgive, when to let go of the resentment as I let the waves wash over me I released it, allowing the water to wash away my guilt, hatred, hostility. As my tears washed away in the Atlantic I knew it was the right choice, I feel free. The depth of the peace I felt was indescribable. The lightness of my new step was immeasurable. I made the right choice for me. As I walked up the beach, I turned to see the sun rising on a new day and a new self.
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre