BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 2016
Getting Past the Pain
Some concepts of forgiveness cross into smug self-righteousness, others create personal harm by ignoring lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten. But moving forward from injury by abandoning grudges serves us and society well.
“To forgive someone you believe has hurt, harmed, or violated you is no easy feat. However, doing so is a spiritual mandate for your healing, learning, and growth." Iyanla Vanzant
The concept makes perfect sense; the actual act of forgiving is the challenge. When we are wronged, we feel angry, sad or afraid. We feel the experience. When we attribute the wrong to a person or group of people, we create a grudge. Thoughts of this person (or group) continue to generate bad feelings long after the unpleasant moment. Memories are an evolutionary protection system, warning of possible danger. We were wronged; we store implicit and explicit memories of the event to protect from reoccurrences. Being wronged is a complex event consisting of more than a bad action that hurt us. By embracing the complexity of experience, we expand understanding to assist with giving forgiveness.
Expectations, biases, and personal meanings intertwine with an event to generate the feeling knocking us off kilter. We know something is wrong (because we felt it) and we seek explanations. If we can identify a cause, we can address it. But we tend to simplify causes while minimizing our role. We even seek support of our limited assessment by rallying friends and family behind our victimization. We probe supporting others, “She was wrong, right?” or “I don’t think he should’ve acted that way?” Other times we abandon caution and blindly assume our perceptions are correct and attack with viciousness, presenting a demonizing portrayal of the accused and a sanitized presentation of self. Friends and family eager to please join the destructive frenzy, duped by our structuring of the events, they defend.
We need others; healthy connections pay significant dividends. Relationship skills provide a host of survival benefits. The importance of relationships magnifies the intensity of emotions, pushing actions to gain acceptance, recognition, and status. Within reason these drives serve us well. When out of balance, they become destructive. Because of the strong connection between relationships, survival and well-being, our brains strenuously attend to conflicts. We pine over hurts and develop theories. Gossip and judgment swells in the competitive world of connections. When a relationship momentarily stings, we interpret the event, drawing more meaningful implications. We can shamefully accept inaptitude for relationships or brazenly affix blame outside our control. To escape the fear of relationship ineptness, we tend to focus on the wrongfulness of the other, justifying the pain; they, we reason, rightfully deserve our condemnation.
"The importance of relationships magnifies the intensity of emotions, pushing actions to gain acceptance, recognition, and status. Within reason these drives serve us well. When out of balance, they become destructive."
Forgiving doesn’t require dismissing natural consequences. When a partner carelessly violates trust, we naturally erect protective walls to limit future vulnerability. Rebuilding trust only occurs from consistent expressions of sincere change. Forgiveness doesn’t include ignoring protective measures in the future.
So, what is forgiveness?
I prefer a concept of forgiveness that is more personal; not a gracious, self-righteous forgiveness once the sinner has groveled for our absolution. Repairing wrongs is the work of those that have done the wrong. If trust was broken, then trust must be rebuilt. Over time trust naturally returns. Not because the deed was forgotten (or forgiven), but because behavior patterns are trustworthy.
Forgiveness requires delving deeper into complexity, skeptically examining motives, challenging preconceived meanings, and acknowledging personal biases. We discover the fogginess of cause lies beyond finite understanding. Most collisions involve two moving objects that misjudge each other. Without the need to simplify judgment to a single identifying cause, we accept the prevalence of the unknown and subsequently soften judgements against the known. We recognize that histories play a powerful role in the present. Actions are not borne in the moment; but marinate from countless forces from the past. Simple assessments of right and wrong, good and evil miss these important factors.
When we forgive, painful emotions of being wronged soften.
We can’t blindly move forward after hurt, continuing into vulnerability. We need protection; but protection doesn’t require distributing punishing revenge. A cheating spouse may be forgiven but still divorced. We accept their human imperfection. We understand the complexity of unknown factors. We may choose to help them, or completely vanish from their lives, either way, with forgiveness, our ill feelings relax, embracing compassionate acceptance of human frailty.
We learn wisdom by to forgive by examining the emotions with curiosity—not animosity.
Forgiveness can’t be forced. Depending on the magnitude of the offense, and personal sensitivity, healthy efforts to understand slowly heal the deep wounds at an individual pace. Our widening understanding instills greater wisdom, while we continue to employ protective precautions to prevent further victimization from an unrepentant offender.
We work towards forgiveness. We can’t just forgive because we know it’s healthy. The body doesn’t work this way. We engage in growth activities that prepare our minds and bodies to naturally forgive. Forgiveness may not be immediately available—we don’t just say, “I forgive” to magically diminish powerful feelings. Negative emotions are a biological response to hurt, part of a self-protection system. Some quickly master the art of forgiveness and reap rich rewards. Others, like myself, work towards forgiveness. Carrying hate is costly—hate leads to a conflicted and chaotic life.
Knowledge, wisdom and compassion refine emotions, soften grudges, and expand our joys. As we grow spiritually, we naturally begin to forgive.
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