Thursday, May 28, 2009

Meandering Michele's Mind: And I Think It's About Forgiveness

When we're wronged by someone we can spend hours, days, weeks, even years thinking about how much we've been hurt, how we're owed an apology, how we didn't deserve whatever thing was done. We can lose ourselves in the victim mentality and fall down that rabbit hole of wanting an apology so that we can move on.

And we should do that. We need to acknowledge what's been done to us and hold the perpetrator accountable, even if that's just in our own minds.

And then what?

Many times the liklihood of getting an apology is a long shot. So, we're waiting for recalcitrance that will allow us to forgive and move on and.... that scenario never does come. We get stuck in a form of purgatory, floating through our lives unable to move forward or back. Instead of an apology and release what we get instead is just another layer to our PTSD that drives us crazy. What we get is another situation where someone else holds all the power and we are powerless.

What happens then? We hold onto the stress of that lack of power and it gnaws at us and, over a period of time, we need that apology even more. We absolutely will not forgive until we get it. We get lost in a moral and ethical conundrum all by ourselves -- and the perpetrator's (and the past's) power grows and grows and grows. And we wonder why our PTSD keeps getting worse.

Over the years our mental state withers and deteriorates and we develop more extreme PTSD experiences and then, in addition to the trauma we suffered, and the forgiveness we cannot give, we begin to turn the light on ourselves and hate the way we are behaving, and hate our overwhelmed emotions, and hate that we cannot 'just get over it', and hate that we live the way we do and are powerless to do anything about it. And so what began as the innocent wish for the apology we're taught is what we'll get when someone is wrong, becomes a pretty big stake the heart of our healing.

I've been thinking this week that the whole heal and forgive issue seems like a sort of chicken and egg theory -- which comes first? How do we forgive? Whom do we forgive? And in what order? In response to Nancy Richards' guest post I received this email from a blog reader:

I know from experience that you can't force yourself to forgive, trying to do that is a stumbling stone and in the end comes back and hurts even more. I think the two, healing and forgiveness, work together, but there is a lot of "push me/pull you".

I have found that most of the time, when I need to forgive someone I need to forgive myself for something first and that, of course, involves healing. We need to accept forgiveness, too, when we have hurt someone else and they come openly to us asking for forgiveness. It hasn't always been easy for me, that whole forgive and forget thing.

No, it isn't easy, but I think here's where I come down on the issue: I think Nancy and this blog reader are right - we need to heal ourselves so that we can forgive, but I think maybe that healing involves forgiveness of ourselves.

We have to forgive ourselves for wanting the apology. We have to forgive ourselves for needing it. We have to forgive ourselves for the behavior that need is causing. We have to forgive ourselves for our focus on getting it, waiting for it, expecting it.

And then there's this, which was particularly difficult for me, who didn't think she had any forgiveness issues: We have to forgive ourselves for our participation in the trauma; our behavior during the moment, our reaction or non-reaction, our response in ways that we think or deem was or was not right, appropriate or heroic. We have to forgive ourselves for the experience, our memories, our grip on the past and our resistance to letting it go.

Healing ourselves enough to forgive someone else has, at it's base I think, the critical component of needing to forgive ourselves first, so that we become whole, integrated and powerful enough to forgive someone else. Forgiveness is a magnanimous gesture. It cannot be done from a perspective of victimhood. He who forgives is in the power position. In order to do that, we need to see ourselves as holding the power.

Not any easy thing to do, for sure. But despite what has been done to us, we are not powerless. We have the right to choose to change. Healing is about just that: choosing to change -- behaviors, perceptions, thoughts, ideas, wants, desires and needs. Most of all, healing is about choosing to change from powerless to powerful.

When we make choices we take back our power. When we take back our power we heal. When we heal we grow strong. When we are strong we can forgive. When we forgive we can let go. When we let go we are set free.

(Photo: Claudia.Annette)


healandforgive said...

Dear Michele,

I love this post. You brought up some important points. Many abuse survivors have communicated to me the recurring theme of self-forgiveness, i.e...

I need to forgive myself for the turmoil I caused in my family by seeking outside help...or, because I never sought outside help...or, because I chose self-preservation and didn’t protect my siblings...or, because I fought back,...or, because I didn’t fight back, etc...along with all dynamics you mentioned about forgiving ourselves for our struggles with our woundedness.

I know I had to forgive myself, before I could even begin to heal enough to forgive others.

I strongly believe that forgiveness is a natural by-product of adequate healing:

As my blog heading says:

The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?
With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.

I am often saddened when forgiveness is presented as an event of immediacy. Forgiveness is a slow transformative process. Healing takes a great deal of time and hard work. As we peel away each layer, we become stronger and more powerful.

Your point on power is very important. As victims, the perpetrator holds all the power. In order to heal and forgive, we must change the power structure - whether we have a relationship with the offender or not. How can we heal OR forgive if we don’t feel safe?

The first time I saw my mother after our 14 year estrangement, I stood before her no longer a damaged child, but rather a strong, confident, quietly powerful woman. I'd spent our time apart well. It felt great!

During much of my adulthood, my wounded "inner-child" controlled my feelings and responses. Internalizing a strong self-parent was very empowering. I knew that no matter what – my mother could no longer hurt me.

You summed it up nicely:

When we make choices we take back our power. When we take back our power we heal. When we heal we grow strong. When we are strong we can forgive. When we forgive we can let go. When we let go we are set free.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. very meaningful and well-said. both this post and healandforgive's comment. i've thought a lot about forgiveness and written a few blogs about it too. i also watched a terrific documentary that i think you might like if you haven't already seen it - "the power of forgiveness" - in it are interviews with holocaust survivors, relatives of people who died in 911, random shootings, etc. very important subject. i'm finally warming to the idea :) thank you for writing so clearly about it and for including the important step of forgiving the self.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@mm - thanks for the heads up about the video! I will definitely check it out. Always looking for new ways to educate myself and expand my mind.

Such an important aspect; forgiving the self. And one we so easily overlook...

Anonymous said...

oh well since you haven't seen it, the people who made the video also have a website. in case you can't find the documentary, at least you can see the ideas put forth here:

i think it has clips from the video too. :)

Jaliya said...

*Beautiful* posting and thoughts ... Thank you all :-)

My own understanding of forgiveness is that it's an organic, gradual process that comes to fruition "under the radar" of our ordinary consciousness -- In other words, it can't be willed. We can *intend* forgiveness ... and it will emerge in its own time, if it so chooses. That's been my experience ...

I remember realizing my own forgiveness toward my mother, as she lay minutes away from her death. I was suddenly seeing my presence with her ... and my presence was completely fluid, open, serene. No crap anywhere. All was forgiven ... and it's stayed that way, even as I can still feel such *rage* at how she once behaved towards me. It was a moment of shock --> of realization and awakening, not of traumatic shock (and that was a whole other revelation!) ...

I had no more illusions about my mother and our relationship by the time she died. I had come to see her as simply another human being who, for the most part, did the best she could with what she had. She was profoundly damaged herself.

Who isn't, really, when you think about it? I have yet to meet a person whose psyche isn't dented, dinged, damaged, to some degree deranged. Being alive guarantees injury (as well as salving :-) ) ... We are all in this together. We are all wounded.

When we come to understand this -- when we *get* it -- forgiveness arises of its own accord, and it's OUR definition of forgiveness, specific to *this* person and *our* history with him/her. I could forgive my mother ... even as I could never trust her. I came round to understanding her ... and that was the key.

Now self-forgiveness ... that's another matter ... (said in sadness ... )

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