We’ve all heard it ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘forgive them, not for them but for you’. But what does that even mean? I forgive people all the time for a variety of indiscrepancies, we all do, people forgive me all the time. That’s life, we hurt people, we apologise, we are forgiven. But what about egregious acts against us? Can you decide to forgive your rapist, abuser, murderer of a loved one, arsonist who burned your house down etc?
The thing is no matter what is done to us, we can actually go out of our way to attempt to understand why the other person has treated us as they have done, but does that mean we can forgive them? First of all I ask what is forgiveness? To me it’s when someone apologises for eating my yoghurt from the fridge. It’s accepting an apology from someone who stands on the back of my shoe and trips me in public. That’s forgiveness. Have I ever forgiven my bullies? Not a bloody chance.
That doesn’t mean I hold any negativity toward them. I moved on, I sorted my feelings towards these things to accept what happened happened and those events shaped who I am today. But I haven’t forgiven them. In school I dealt with my bullies by deciding one day I wasn’t going to be bullied anymore and I sorted the situation. The great thing about being ‘crazy’ is nobody wants to piss you off. So when you walk into school headbutt the guy who spits at you and then choke his friend out outside the principal’s office you get the label ‘crazy’, but I’d rather be crazy than a victim of my own perpetual inaction.
That’s me though, I know others aren’t like that, and that’s fine. I hated my bullies mostly for making me have to resort to physical violence because my teachers were useless. I didn’t even hate them for what they did to me but making me have to hurt them pissed me off the most. But I came to terms with that and I’m actually okay with that now. If it happened today I’d handle things slightly differently but I can’t be mad at what thirteen year old me did.
What I’m trying to demonstrate is acceptance. I don’t forgive the people in my past who verbally and emotionally abused me, I don’t forgive those who bullied me, I don’t forgive those you betrayed my trust or loyalty. However I accepted it. I’m not angry or hateful about these things but I’m certainly not forgiving them.
I’ve always had a great ability to put myself in the shoes of others and understand their thoughts or feelings but with some people it’s difficult. But amazingly when I actually bothered to learn about the lives of anyone who bullied or abused me I realised they were all emotionally damaged and to be quite frank, they are pathetic people. They are people who themselves have been left seriously damaged by their own circumstances. It doesn’t exonerate their disgusting actions but when you learn to be able to understand why people behave the way they do you find it difficult to hold anger toward them for very long.
It’s not easy a lot of the time but believe me it makes life easier to handle when you realise that you yourself have caused a lot of pain to people and what’s worse is you may not even know that you’ve done it. Others of course do deliberately go out of their way to cause pain and suffering to other people and they are despicable. Yet as despicable as they may be, when you put yourself in their lives you’ll realise nothing they can do to you is going to put you into the depraved world they exist in.
I’m not defending these people but I’m simply pointing out how you can help yourself to overcome anger and hate that only damages you. I dislike everyone who ever bullied or abused me but I don’t hate them or waste my time being angry at them. Even if I hadn’t stood up for myself through violence, I have gone on to live a life that I’m as happy as I can be with where I am at at this time.
However as the years have gone by I have had insights into the lives of those people who tried to hurt me. And their lives go from bad to worse. Between them having children they don’t want, going to and from prison, working awful jobs, looking ragged, drinking too much, smoking too much, and drugging too much I have nothing to hate about them. Their lives are vapid and brutal. And they are where they are due to their own actions.
Some people may be wondering why I’m basically moaning about semantics here but wording is a very important detail in life. When someone patronisingly tells you ‘forgive them’, ‘you have to forgive them, for you’, it makes you feel worse. ‘Why can’t I forgive them?’, you can’t forgive them because they don’t deserve it! However you deserve to be able to accept what it is that was done to you.
I know many people say they have forgiven people for horrific things but I often wonder do they mean forgive or accepted, and it’s a super serious and infinitely important difference. I absolutely believe we should help people teach acceptance of the past and how to move on without it crippling you. But forgiveness? I feel it can be a patronising thing to say and damaging to people who have gone through a trauma.
And here’s the thing, I don’t want to forgive these people. I will accept their actions and the past, but I won’t forgive them, they aren’t worth it. I’m worth it, to learn acceptance. I’m worth it to not be caught up on the negative feelings and thoughts generated by what was done to me. But really forgiveness? It’s the wrong word for the wrong thing in these circumstances.
If ‘forgiving’ people is what has helped you heal then you stick with it! But for those of us who don’t feel like we can do that, or feel we aren’t fully healed because we haven’t forgiven them then we should try ‘acceptance’.