I am reading a book at the moment by Katherine Schwarzenegger about the Act of Forgiveness. It is a collection of short-stories from different people who have been through some trauma and experienced the need to forgive at some point in their lives. I have learnt a lot from this book and perhaps it is a timing issue to let go of the past and forgive yourself and others in order to live a more fulfilling life.
Some of the stories detailed kidnapping, car accidents, infidelity within a marriage, rapes and all kinds of trauma that people have endured. There is a common thread throughout and that is the fact that people are incredibly resilient and they look at the silver-lining (some are in fact incredibly grateful for the chain of events that happened as a result of the trauma). For instance, with the kidnapping (who had also raped her) it was a case of being relieved that she didn't know the kidnappers as most people knew their kidnappers so she could cut ties and move on. Forgiving them was a source of personal relief and something that she wanted to do for herself. She didn't need to contact her kidnappers again or relive the experience. She didn't just take it upon herself to forgive like someone does in a school yard when someone does something wrong the other person is supposed to say sorry immediately even if they don't mean it. That is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is deeply personal and it doesn't necessarily involve the other person! She choose to forgive and in some ways in some of the stories they always looked at the perpetrators as people who knew not what they did!
Looking at some of the stories it also was a case of finding some hope within everything and looking at what I can distill down to empathy versus ego. Ego you hold onto the hurt - they hurt me, how could I forgive them, they did me wrong, they hurt me! This is somewhat self-righteous as if you and all humans cannot make mistakes. This doesn't see the other person's perspective - only your own. This is one-sided and holding onto the hurt makes the person carry it for a long time and build resentment and even bitterness towards the situation and person. The person who carries this will face the same lesson over and over and continue to face similar situations in different forms until they close their own wound. Empathy, on the other hand, is looking from the other person's perspective. It allows yourself to express compassion for the other person and let go of the judgement. We all make mistakes - whether you can see that empathetically or not is another story. This does not involve sympathy but rather empathy. You are not looking from a high point down on the person but actually feeling how the other person may have felt and putting yourself in their shoes.
You can get a momentarily high from feeling sympathetic for people but that doesn't bring the resolve. It is still self-righteous and putting you on a different level to the other person. If you detach the act from the person as much as you can then look at the hurt and pain separately then it is looking at the situation itself and not the person as a whole. We can have a tendency of bundling up the pain and hurt and attaching to the specific person without isolating it from the person to see that they are, in fact, human. They might have been going through an incredibly challenging time in their lives, they may have been emotionally flooded etc. This does not excuse their behaviour but let's you slip into their shoes to see them from their perspective perhaps.
I am not saying that giving the gift of forgiveness is an easy thing or am I saying that forgiving someone is a way for them to do it again when it is not. Forgiveness is a source of strength to be free from the source of bitterness and resentment and live your life without the wound. It is a case of trying to sew up your own wounds. That means that you have learnt the lessons from the hurt and pain and you will not let that happen again. It is also taking responsibility for your own part of carrying the hurt and pain.
The chapter entitled "Deborah Copaken: Confronting the beast" wrote about the story of her rapist. She was raped by a man before her graduation. The man was incredibly drunk (that is not an excuse) and even left her his number afterwards. She was traumatised and carried this around with her for 30 years. She emailed him the time that Brett Kavanaugh was facing trial (this appeared on television screens and something triggered her more than thirty years after the ordeal to contact her rapist) and he rang her apologising. He thought it was mutual but it wasn't. She had a sense of forgiveness wash over her and came to this conclusion.
"your life is either about forgiveness or it's not. You're either a person who decides to accept others, warts and all, or you're a person who has difficulties maintaining friendships".
I don't know whether I could have the strength and courage to do what she did and forgive someone who has done her such wrong! It is instilled in me since a child the very essence of right and wrong - however - this again shows that I am measuring other people from my yard stick! This does not mean that other people have this sense - again - we are human and while this doesn't give him an excuse for his behaviour, did he actually know what he did was wrong or not, does that matter when it comes to forgiveness? The forgiveness is not for them but for us so the other person, ultimately, doesn't come into the equation.
She is right regarding what she said above but forgiveness also involves forgiving yourself too. Forgiving yourself for the situation and not being hard on yourself for being at the wrong place at the wrong time or lashing out at people when you were not yourself. Abuse can come back around if the pain isn't felt and forgiveness isn't afforded. You need to watch 'I am a killer' on Netflix to realise this simple fact!
Forgiveness is difficult. It is incredibly challenging but like Deborah said, you can either be a person to accept humans warts and all or not. That doesn't mean you invite the other person to do the same thing again - no! This also doesn't mean seeking an apology from the other person - this is only for you in order to sew the wound up that you are carrying and let go of the past without letting go of the lessons that have built your character from such an ordeal.
People are resilient. People are also people and at the end we are all animals. We have instincts and as a result, this can often trigger survival mode, you can lash out or be cornered, or trapped too. Forgiveness is a source of freedom. You can free yourself. You can feel free, you can uplift others and live life without the sense of doom associated with the hurt and pain. You can see humans for what humans are, warts and all! You can be free to be you!
This is not a prescription that we must forgive - it is deeply personal and we are all different. It is up to you and a decision that you make whether to forgive or not. For me I want to be free of the clutches of bitterness and hurt so I choose to forgive. I want a fulfilling life full of adventure and the times that I have held onto the hurt, it has only shown to hurt me too and my life. It is also about timing and some may need to go through the hurt to get to the forgiveness.
Going through the hurt to get to forgiveness also means that in the messiness of being human, we can go through months of pain and hurt before we get out of being the victim and feeling hurt. It is akin to a physical would. If we think back to our cave ancestors going to a cave to sit by a fire and heal if they have been struck down, this happens too. You can do this. You are entitled to handle this in whatever way you want to in order to get through it and some choose to not forgive at all and carry it for the rest of their lives and that is their choice. It all takes time and time does not, in fact, heal all wounds! Working on yourself and your thoughts about these things brings you ease and forgiveness is one of the things that requires work each and everyday.