The F Word, it’s not what you think.
June 30, 2014
I wrote a post about apologies a while back and now I think it’s only fitting to write a post about forgiveness.
When people apologize, why do we say “It’s ok” instead of “I forgive you.” Why is it so much harder to forgive people than it is to apologize? Apologizing says “I fucked up and I regret it.” Forgiveness says “I won’t spend more time being angry about this.” But “It’s OK” says “I don’t mind if you do that sort of thing.” Sometimes, it’s not OK. And that’s when forgiveness matters the most.
In my circle of parenting friends we don’t force apologies. You’ll probably never hear me telling my kids to “say you’re sorry” because I don’t think it teaches actual remorse, I think it’s coercive and ignores their true emotions surrounding whatever the incident was. I mean, what if they’re actually NOT sorry? An apology means more if it’s sincere and unprompted. Instead, I teach them by example, letting them know that I’m really sorry when I screw up and accepting their apologies when they’re offered, by thanking them for the apology, and moving forward with forgiveness in my heart. I have learned, from my kids, that forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting an apology, it means continuing to love the person in spite of their reactions and acknowledging that whatever they’ve done was an emotional response and not indicative of who they are as a person. When someone does something to me that they end up apologizing for, I need to realize that it really has nothing to do with me, instead it’s their thing.
So why is it so hard when I’m the one that’s done something wrong?
Remember when I posted about setting my kids’ toys on fire?
I still haven’t forgiven myself for that. The guilt over setting my personal parenting principles aside and forgetting that my kids are growing people who learn how to love from me is huge.
There’s a lot that I haven’t forgiven myself for. And consequently there’s also a lot that I haven’t forgiven other people for. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so. We all have baggage.
But forgiveness, when it comes from the heart, is way more powerful than an apology. Apologizing isn’t even necessary for forgiveness. And true forgiveness doesn’t take away responsibility for whatever the action was.
I guess what I’m getting at is that my mind has been stewing over matters of forgiveness lately. Can you tell?
I think it’s probably the biggest act of love that exists because in one swoop you’re accepting that your wellness and that of the other person really has nothing to do with the event in question. It’s self-love because you’re releasing your anger and it’s love of the other person because you’re seeing them as a whole person.
Living forgiveness also means taking responsibility. And you can’t force someone to take responsibility, especially when they’re hurting.
The emotional turmoil that went into my marriage was just as much my responsibility as it was his. Choosing to continue trying to save us was a decision I used to regret. Sort of. It’s hard when you’re of two minds in something. There’s solace in “knowing I did everything I could” which is punctuated by “but nothing worked.” So on one hand, looking back and knowing that nothing was going to save us, was “everything I could do” in vain? Was it a selfish attempt to salvage the unsalvageable? Who knows? All of the recent reflecting and navel-gazing and processing the events of my adult life have led me to the realization that we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got. That includes our baggage and our mistakes.
Harboring anger for someone is difficult when you fully accept that they were also doing the best they could with what they’ve got.
Moving forward from a relationship that occupied more than half of my life on earth hasn’t been easy. I didn’t suspect that it would be. I knew that the journey was going to make me stronger but I had no idea what those weak spots were going to be. I’m sure there’s still more learning and processing and figuring things out in store. It would be naive to think otherwise.
But forgiveness… that’s a big one and I think I’ve reached a point where it’s happening. All those moments I spent simultaneously wishing I could just “be me” and knowing that for better or for worse, I’m never anything other than me… talk about an identity crisis. But “seeing me” in that scared, wilted married mom is ugly. How could I let things get that bad? Trying to stay married was a conscious decision. Yes, it was painful but it was a decision and it’s silly to own the strong and powerful me who made the decision to get out while not also owning the weak and broken me who was so afraid of losing the dream.
For many many years, I knew that I’d be better off without the marriage. I also knew that he would be better off without the marriage. We were both living in a sort of hell and trying desperately to hold onto what we thought was right about us. I had an image in my mind that if only he would stop being controlling and start helping with the kids and the income and the house we would be so much happier. I think that he had an image in his mind that if only I’d stop complaining about money and not supporting his pot business we’d be so much happier. There’s only one reason people try to control one another and that’s insecurity. There was nothing I could do to make him feel secure in our marriage. That feeling had to come from inside of him, and it didn’t. Especially once he knew I wanted out.
People do strange things when their world is crumbling.
When the dust settles, it’s best to just forgive and move on.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing apologies to people over the past few months and somewhere out there I accept that there’s probably someone who thinks they deserve an apology from me and I hope I’m big enough to offer that. I also hope they’re big enough to forgive without the apology. Life’s too short to harbor anger and resentment.
This month is going to be about forgiveness.
That doesn’t mean that I’m going to be sending out notes of forgiveness to anyone, my goodness that would drive people nuts, right? It means I’m making a conscious effort to forgive myself for the role I played in the destruction of my marriage, the decisions I’m not so proud of and the ways that I’ve screwed up along the way in this learning experience that is called life. Nobody is perfect and yet, we’re all perfectly human, doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
Life is so incredibly good to me. I have a lovely home, I have a huge support network of friends and family who love me and want to help me be my best. I have a sound mind and a strong body and access to clean water and fresh air and I’m incredibly grateful for all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, including the ones I learned during the process of marriage and divorce.
Everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Remind yourself of that when you’re upset with someone, but especially yourself. If there’s one thing smart people tend to do it’s overthink things. If you’ve overthought anything and still made a bad decision, the only smart thing to do is forgive yourself and move forward. If you’ve screwed up for failing to think, the only smart thing to do is forgive yourself (think next time) and move forward.
And if that bit of wisdom that’s kicked my ass lately has no impact, consider the Tom Robbins quote (actually the parrot said it) “Relax, we’re making it up. The world, the universe, life, reality. Especially reality.”
I know it smells of law of attraction but deciding to “make up” a life that’s not weighed down by the baggage of the past seems like the smartest way to move forward. “Forgiving those who have trespassed against us” made absolutely no sense to me when I was in Catholic school in second grade but now suddenly it makes a world of sense.
I’m not out of the woods yet, there’s still a ton of learning and growing to do but feeling forgiveness and releasing anger and resentments by understanding that even people who behave in shitty ways are “doing the best they can with what they’ve got” feels right.