They say that forgiveness is the most divine of all acts because it is one of the most difficult things to do or give to another human being.
How can we forgive, or rather, why should we forgive someone who has mistreated us, has broken our heart and left us with an immense hurtful emotional pain?
I have asked one of my clients, I’ll call her Jane, to share her personal story for those of us who struggle with this question. Not to persuade us or give us the answer, but rather to point us in a direction that we may have neglected by observing our own personal situation.
My sisters and I grew up in a very difficult and disruptive environment because of my dad. After many years, when he decided to leave, we continued to struggle just to make ends meet. Needless to say, my sisters and I were deeply affected with anger, resentment and bitterness.
My mom raised us with catholic upbringing and insisted that we should forgive him. My sisters wouldn’t hear of it and completely shut him out of their lives. I wanted to follow the righteous path and decided to forgive him and kept contact with him.
Recently, I realized that for 30 years, the four of us constantly found ourselves in conflicting situations and relationships. During this whole time, I figured that my sisters were being punished for having chosen not to forgive my dad. I, on the other hand was superior. I did the right and noble thing. So, my situations and relationships were entirely other people’s fault.
After 30 years, something happened that made me doubt if I had truly forgiven him at all. I became conscious of the fact that every time I was with my dad, I always found a way, however subtle, to remind him of the horrible things he had done. I went as far as doing things which would annoy him or get him angry. If he voiced this in any way, I would immediately interrupt and bring up the past, “I’m the only daughter who can still look at your face. Don’t say anything to screw it up.” By bringing up the past, I relived and felt the pain as if it was still happening. I would leave never realizing that I carried this pain, anger, bitterness and so on, and dumped it at home on my husband and son and at work on my colleagues. My own inner pain was creating my conflicting situations and relationships.
Not too long ago, after one of my outbursts with my son, he said something he had never said to me before, “Mom, you are becoming very scary to be around. You’re like a ticking time bomb ready to explode with the slightest move I make.” He stormed out the house and I was left standing alone in the kitchen absorbing his words. For the first time ever, my mind went completely quiet and I suddenly began to feel my anger inside. It’s almost like as if my mind had exhausted itself and I was left alone to see these things very clearly that I never saw before.
That’s when I first questioned whether my forgiveness was sincere. You know, there are just some things that cannot be put entirely into words.
No one else can ever tell us or teach us about our deepest self, we need to find out for ourselves.
But, I’ll try to explain.
That day, it’s like I was handed a mirror through which I can see the reflection of my inner self. I saw with an immense clarity, that I had never truly and sincerely forgiven my dad. I came to understand that forgiveness is not an external act but rather, an internal act. The fact that I still felt all that pain every time I was with him was an indication that I had not truly forgiven him. Just like my sisters, I had carried that pain with me for 30 years. It had become a part of me and of who I was. So, in every situation and relationship I ever had, I tried to dominate and control them with my expectations of what they should or should not do to relieve my pain. Obviously, this created a multitude of scenarios that resulted in conflict and more pain. It went as far as asking myself, “Why do all these losers come in my life?” Well hello!!!!
This was a GREAT BIG HELLO for me. Forgiveness didn’t mean I had to excuse my dad’s actions and behavior and pretend it never happened.
Forgiveness meant that I let go of the memory of the pain once and for all if I ever wanted to have harmony and order in my life.
Thirty years is a long time to carry a memory of feelings of something that was no longer happening.
That day, I sat out on my balcony staring at the big oak tree in the yard for almost two hours. I just felt and observed every emotion I had bottled up inside. I shed a few tears and slowly began to feel a weight being lifted. I looked at the tree and could feel a peace with it. I smiled at it and said, “Now, I can bring peace in my family and my life.”
I continue to visit my dad and for the last few months, the past has not come up. I still don’t approve of his actions but, I understand that his actions were conditioned and influenced by the memory of his own upbringing. Nothing can be done to change the past. I had to accept that. Accept things as they are now. I will always remember my dad’s actions but, am no longer consumed and conditioned by the pain. A pain that I was also inflicting to the people that mattered most in my life now.
It’s funny; situations continue to happen where others will upset me. I just allow myself to be with whatever I’m feeling, like that day by the oak tree. I have to come to know how to forgive, truly and profoundly.
Through forgiveness, I have come to experience the beauty of life in a world that is the way it is.
Forgiving could be the biggest challenge in our lives. It is in forgiveness that we let go of the pain that destroys our peace and joy. How about you? Can forgiving someone today bring that change in your life you’ve been longing for?