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.