Sandy (not her real name) recently hired me to help her work through some feelings of “guilt and resentment.” I told Sandy I was going to write about her, and she said, by all means, please do. She and I know that openly sharing aspects of our personal growth can help other people to better navigate themselves in the world.
“We are all works in progress, but I promise you, through my growth, I will also influence souls.” -Awakened Vibrations
Sandy is brave enough to feel through her current real feelings, and spiritually-rooted enough to want to walk toward the feelings she desires. She’s going through life, feeling and seeing, questioning and growing, and like all of us, she sometimes get stuck inside the “processing process.”
Processing our feelings can be hard. So hard that we stop reaching for our desired feeling because the current ones are so strong and so easily accessible, we lose sight of our option to feel our way toward healthier thoughts. I don’t believe in rushing through our painful emotions, but I don’t believe in allowing them to hold us hostage forever either. Sandy’s circumstance might offer you some perspective on how one emotion—forgiveness—can either help save us or keep us trapped.
The Anatomy of Forgiveness
People keep saying forgiveness is important. But people’s assertions about forgiveness, a highly personalized process, have been stuffed into spaces the don’t fit. In other words, much like the skewed beauty standards that pose as “general wellness advice,” they aren’t a good fit for everyone, and can do more harm than good. Here’s a simple example:
No healthy woman should weigh more than 180 pounds.
Some of you will read that and find it absurd. Others will read it and take it as a truth, and maybe even begin to make changes toward that “truth.” But it’s not true; it’s an opinion. Throwing in the world “healthy” makes it more appealing, and for some, it turns it into a “should be” as opposed to a “can be for some people.” I’m 5’ 3”, so for me, a 180-pound body feels like unnecessary extra weight to pull around. But if I were 5’ 11”, or a different build, or more muscular, that may be different.
The differences may seem obvious with the example I gave, but the difference becomes less obvious when we talk about the shoulds and shouldn’ts around abstract concepts like forgiveness. We are taught (through school, church, and family), that forgiveness must look a certain way, even though it doesn’t. When we encounter messages that tell us how feelings should and should not show up, we must learn how to discern between opinion and absolute truth.
Emotions are personal. Our actions that come from our emotions are also personal; there is no one-size-fits-all model that can stand authentically for every person in every circumstance. But that’s not what we hear from society. What we hear from society is that we should follow one example of forgiveness, which is to move on, reconcile, and start with a clean-slate mentality. There is no exploration of feelings, only a push toward the expected outcome. That is dangerous because it causes inauthentic relationships that are riddled with resentment and unexplored feelings.
Forgiveness deserves to be explored because when we explore it, we can feel through what it might mean for us to forgive, and decide what a healthy forgiveness process might look like for us.
Here are two considerations you can use to stand in your You-ness when it comes to forgiveness. Read them to explore the ways forgiveness gets forced upon us as sage wisdom, when it’s really personal perspective with a heavy push.
1. Forgiveness doesn’t have to lead to reunion
Let’s say a friend does some super-shady stuff, and perhaps it’s not the first time they’ve done so. You’ve had it, and you’re over it. You have the tough conversation and end the friendship. Time passes, and that friend calls you to reconcile.
Popular opinion is that your forgiveness (if it’s authentic) would look like you taking the call, and then cautiously re-engaging with your old friend, on new terms. That is one option, but there are others.
One less popular, but still perfectly okay option is not to accept the call. You can stand in your complete unwillingness to reconnect without harboring resentment, hate, or anger toward your former friend. You can still forgive (and love!) someone without pushing past your intuitive feelings. Being unwilling to “try again” doesn’t make you bitter, or resentful, or unforgiving, it makes you decisive.
It’s not wrong to try again. It’s also not wrong to trust what you saw, and decide not to try again. Remember that.
2. Forgiveness doesn’t have one set of characteristics
For some of us, forgiveness looks like a process of attempting to understand why the person who hurt us did what they did. That’s natural, and totally alright, but it’s only one option. Just as we do not need to understand in order to forgive, we do not need to forgive if we come into understanding.
Let’s say you come to understand that s/he lied to you because they were afraid of what you might have said if you knew the truth. You can understand her logic, and still decide that her choice (to lie) makes you feel unsafe with her. You can completely forgive her choice, tell her you forgive her, and still keep your distance from her.
You do not need to keep trying because you forgave her. That doesn’t make you unforgiving; it makes you a conscious decision-maker. And that is completely okay.
Ultimately, our environments are a blend of our circumstances and our choices. Circumstances are less within our control, but our choices are where our personal power can be nurtured and called upon.
Do not let the world bully you into taking on one form of forgiveness over another. It is not fair, nor safe for you to guilt yourself into maintaining any unhealthy relationships on the grounds of forgiveness.
Decide what is best for you, and do that. If you want to push through your feelings and maintain a relationship with someone who has done you wrong, then do that. But if that’s not what you’re feeling; if that option feels forced or too risky, then stop. Stop and decide what forgiveness can look like for you, and walk down that road.
Maybe a healthier version of forgiveness for you is simply to let the person know you forgive them, and maybe to pray or chant about it. But you do not have to tell them, you do not have to pray or chant, you do not have to push past any feelings about them or their action, until and unless it feels right for you.