I have always been led to believe that in order to move on with my life that it is crucial to forgive other people. Many, many articles have been written about what that kind of forgiveness is. We have been told that forgiveness does not mean condoning, it isn’t forgetting, it’s not even really about the other person. This is all certainly true and I would ascribe to this view of forgiveness. But is forgiveness the only option?
I no longer think so. I have met many people who have been wounded by others so deeply that they cannot even imagine forgiving. Even after going through the list of what forgiveness is not they continue to believe that they may never be able to take that step. The pain is too deep. The sorrow is too real. The anger is too intense. Short of the intervention of a deity, asking a person to forgive when these emotions are in play may not be in their best interests and will most likely involve a high level of cognitive dissonance. Asking them to “fake it til you make it” may be asking too much.
So is there hope?
Absolutely. Good counseling understands that people need to make change slowly. Radical decisions and grandiose change is often not real or lasting. Everyone wants a magic pill but they eventually realize that deep psychological transformation takes time and a great deal of hard work. Forgiving someone who has raped or molested you is often impossible, given how you feel right now.
And that is the real issue, actually – how you feel right now. Staying hurt and bitter just prolongs your misery and keeps you in the cycle of pain and abuse. That person who wronged you actually continues to wrong you, over and over again. It is no wonder, then, that many of us believe we can never get over such injury. We have no teachers, no idea, no examples to follow. Few people who are not vindictive or idealistic seem to talk much about what to do when you don’t feel you can forgive.
It may just be possible that you are asking far too much of yourself. You are expecting that you will be able to “get over” this, even though the intensity has never subsided and you have not been able to glean perspective, even after all these years. Such an expectation seems highly unrealistic to me, too much to hope for.
There is another route. I have found that helping someone gradually separate from the emotion of the situation and gain perspective slowly, very slowly, allows them to move beyond the raw pain of what has happened. With careful and continued support and insight I have known many people who have been able to loosen the “grip” of their hurt on their heart. Once they have been able to start the healing than words such as “forgiveness” or “healthy” no longer seem so ridiculous, so unattainable.
It is the emotion of the hurt that keeps us stuck, not the event itself. With time and the right people you can begin to heal.
Begin to believe that life can be different.
Begin to hope that you may yet have a chance to live.
Begin to experience freedom from the bondage that has broken you.
It may take a long time. It may be painful. It starts with hope.