Based on people’s comments about my post on forgiveness, it seems that forgiving others is more of a problem for most people than forgiving oneself. So I thought I’d say more about that.
I think that we should forgive but not forget. We have memories and feelings for a reason; they are survival mechanisms. If someone has hurt you or someone can’t be trusted, you want to remember that. You want to avoid people who can hurt you and cause you pain–especially if they have no remorse for doing so.
Forgiveness does not condone the other person’s actions. And the other person doesn’t have to earn your forgiveness by apologizing. You forgive them because it benefits you to let go of anger. Because it allows you to take away their power to hurt you.
Although we always deserve an apology when someone has wronged us, we don’t always get one. Sometimes it has to be enough to know that you were wronged and to forgive so that you can control the suffering that is in your control.
However, you might want to reconsider being in a relationship with someone who never apologizes for hurting you.
The part of our brain that houses emotional memories makes no distinction between past, present, or future. It does not know whether the pain is real or imagined. It does not remember whether the person apologized or whether you have forgiven them. The pain is always fresh and new. This is why people have flashbacks in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I don’t have PTSD, but I am an emotional person with an excellent memory. So it doesn’t take much to trigger a memory of something that someone has said or done to hurt me. When that happens, it is as though I am living that moment all over again, and my feelings are as intense as they were when it first happened.
This is why forgiveness is an on-going process. You don’t decide to forgive and suddenly all the anger and hurt are gone. You forgive, and then the memory comes up, and you forgive again. And again. And again. And maybe in some moments you decide not to forgive because you’re really mad this time. And then you start all over.
Forgiveness requires patience, because our heart does not follow the time table of our mind. You cannot will yourself to be ready to forgive; you just have to be open to forgiveness and wait for your heart to follow.
I find great comfort in this because of my excessive guilt problem. Wherever I am in the forgiveness process is OK–even if it’s more on the “I hate this person” end–because in Buddhism, you accept all of your thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. At some point, I trust that my heart will be in a different place.
I may not be there today, or tomorrow, or next week even, but at some point I will be at peace.