When we don’t forgive, we end up letting our enmity, our anger, our fury control us. Holding blame and judgment blocks us, blocks us from seeing change when it happens, blocks us from opening our heart, blocks us from vulnerability, blocks us from growth, blocks us from the new and healthy.
I practice forgiveness every day. The basis of this is my refusal to blame people. Thirty years ago or more now, I had a counsellor who found my behaviour notable.
“You tell me what people did wrong, how they screwed up and even how they hurt you, but then you explain to me why they did what they did, how their actions made sense in their context,” he told me. “I don’t usually see that behaviour in this office.”
When you grow up with parents who you know love you but who have real trouble being there for you, living inside their own Aspergers, understanding their love in context was the only way I knew to accept their love in the world.
Once I learned that practice, it was impossible not to see the choices of others around me in context. I saw the intention of others, how they set their own priorities, and why they made actions that were not good for me, or even actions that were not good for themselves.
My own survival mechanism was always my mind. My brain is like gum on a hot summer sidewalk; things just stick to it. I don’t slough off memories easily, rather I have a low level of “latent inhibition.” The choice was clear to me. Either I could get swamped in a sea of stimuli, or I could learn to make stories and create context, generating mental structures to understand myself, my family and my world.
In other words, if I couldn’t have forgetness, I had to have forgiveness to stay sane and stable.
For me, forgiveness has never been letting go of memories, of stories, of scars. I don’t have that luxury.
Forgiveness has had to mean putting those experiences in context and opening the space to let people change, to let people become new, to let people choose again.
Maybe forgetness is nicer than forgiveness. I wouldn’t know.
But I did know that if I was going to have a relationship with my family, if I was going to accept the connection and love that they did have for me, I needed to be able to forgive them, needed to be able to not hold a grudge against their previous choices as a block to what they had to give and what they needed today.
I suspect that for others, who see letting go of bad things as the key to forgiveness, this looks very odd. I can’t let go of the memories, but to me that means practising forgiveness has been very important to me since I was very, very, young.
People are who they are, messy humans following their own needs and patterns, healing in their own time and their own way.
If you can’t love them anyway, how can you possibly love them at all?
For me, the courageous choice has always been to know how I have been hurt and to give loving people trust again anyway. I need to be the tailor, always measuring anew, need to be the trans-shaman, holding the space open for transformation, need to be the femme, loving enough to keep my heart open.
I have cut people out of my life when they have hurt me too much, when they keep up that pattern. I don’t do this without forgiveness, though. I have compassion for them and their challenges but I just don’t need them acting out against me.
I know that if I obsess over their actions, believe that their choices were about me and not about them, I surrender control over my life to them. Bad mouthing them, for example, or demanding that others also disconnect from them isn’t healthy behaviour for me.
It is still painful when people who love me can’t see how I have been injured and make the choice to connect with the person who hurt me, but holding my own pain over them just screws up our relationship. I learned very, very early that my pain is just my pain and I need to own it, not holding anyone else responsible for it.
For me, forgiveness will never be forgetness. Getting over it will never be the same as letting the history go, rather it will always be holding the memory and opening to others again anyway.
People deserve another chance, people need the opportunity to grow, people always have the opportunity to choose again and choose better next time.
To stay in relationship with them, I have to get over my own damnself and give them that chance, scar tissue be dammed.
Because without an open heart, how can I ever give and receive the love and connection I so desperately need?
Though I do have to admit, always being the one who has to see the context and hold open space for healing can really wear a person down, especially if the have had to do it since childhood.
But love has to be worth it.