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You should know immediately the fact I am writing from a stance of “wisdom” on the topic of forgiveness is actually quite laughable. When I received this as my topic to write on, my first thought was “ugh,” followed by something like a “yikes.”
I am not too good at the whole forgiveness game, and I say this with a multitude of grace for myself.
Let’s think for a second about why it can be hard to forgive. Why is it hard to forgive others? Because we want to witness justice being done where it has not been given, or because this person has screwed us over not once but multiple times. Maybe, it’s because this person did something really truly horrific because we hurt, and how can we begin to understand how to just let that go?
And why is it hard to forgive ourselves? Because we are the ones who have done terrible things, because the ripple of consequences traveled farther than we imagined, because we can’t help but think about how we don’t deserve the experience of happiness or love for what we have done.
In both of these circumstances, we have experienced pain–how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves and where we fit in with others in our lives. When we suffer, our core ideas and feelings about our relationships and ourselves shifts, and we cannot help but blame the one who caused the shift. We want to make them pay, especially before we can begin to sort through the damage.
I am not going to try to persuade you to forgive–primarily because it is a decision only you can make for yourself and when you’re ready.
Also, because I would feel dishonest. I am nowhere near a place where I have gracefully and consistently been able to practice forgiveness in my life, and to tell others to do so would be hypocritical.
So what can I write about? Oh, that’s easy. I am an expert in the art of unforgiving.
The art of unforgiving requires dedication and perseverance. One must stay loyal to the bundle of pain this person has caused, and have it at the front of your mind at all times in regards to this person, especially when other things might threaten to take your focus away from your pain. This practice can protect you from future harm, but it can also be costly, and the evidence will be clear.
1. The relationship will change.
No matter what you tell yourself or the other person, things cannot “go back to normal” if you cannot bring yourself to forgive. Even if things aren’t affected on the outside, how you feel about yourself or the relationship will be altered, and there’s no amount of going through the motions that can mend this break.
2. You become bitter and pessimistic.
Staying loyal to the pain can begin to change your vantage point. If you only focus on bad things, their influence starts to become larger and seep into other matters of your life.
An episode of conflict with one friend begins to cloud your entire picture of their friendship, which then billows into your ideas about the friendships you have with others, and then into your view on relationships in general. Like black ink in water, bitterness is exceptionally good at spreading and clouding what was once clear.
3. You become things you’re not.
Similar to the foothold bitterness takes in your heart, some other unflattering characteristics can rear their heads when you choose to not forgive.
A universal and very human way we react to our pain is through “secondary” emotions. It can be scary and incredibly hard to admit we have been hurt (when we do this, we are vulnerable to getting hurt again), so we begin to communicate through other means–angry, mean comments about the other person, playing indifferent or cold, or even turning to destructive behaviors just to deal with (or really, avoid) what’s happening underneath.
We take on traits that are unnatural for us in order to cope with the pain we chose to hold onto.
4. You can’t receive anything new to the story.
Finally, once you’ve been on the path of unforgiveness for a time, you become more and more closed off to what is actually happening in the present. It becomes harder to see anything that contradicts the decisions you’ve made about the person or yourself. Eventually, you end up moving away from looking at things rationally and ignore the complexities of humanity.
Like a block of hard cheese, you slowly begin to harden at the edges, and this can potentially hurt worse than the original pain.
Remember, no one can persuade you to forgive. You must choose what to do with the hurt and with the person involved.
It can seem easier to avoid the messiness of forgiving someone but do not be fooled. The decision for unforgiveness is just as deliberate and just as messy.
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Victoria has her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and English Literature and is working on her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She grew up in Florida and now lives in the Washington DC area.
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