Forgiveness is a shifty creature.
The worst kind of forgiveness is probably the premature variety. If we aren’t truly ready to forgive, but do it anyways, it is like wrapping a tight bandage around a wound that needs to breathe. Lingering resentment can persist like slow poison in your blood.
When we are ready to forgive, the sense of relief we feel can be overwhelming. It often marks the departure from the repetitive bashing of our heads against the wall. Stepping out of the loop of toxic reactivity and giving our situations a more detached and reasoned response, what a novel thought!
Unfortunately, rational thought is not our default mode. Nor does forgiveness mark the definite end of the trigger for our pain. Whomever has “wronged us” may merrily (or more likely obliviously) keep doing so. It takes strength to resist the vortex of old feelings. Sometimes more strength than we can bring to bear, and find ourselves losing our minds over the same old BS.
This complicated act – forgiveness – is a gift to ourselves. It is not about absolving the shame or guilt (if any) of another. That’s their inner work.
We need to remember that, in the words of Gordon Livingston: “Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.” When we forgive we need a large dose of equanimity about how the other person will behave into the future. We cannot move on while remaining attached to expectations about how someone else will choose to live their lives. A bitter but unavoidable lesson in life is that we can’t just lower expectations to protect ourselves, we have to remove all expectations.
Sadly, we can be most deeply hurt by the people who are closest to us: friends and family, blood and blood brothers. There is no right decision on how to proceed. It is up to each of us to decide, in simple terms, what we are willing to put up with. We need to make peace with the extent to which we continue interactions and ongoing relationships, or abandon them all together.
While there is no right decision, perhaps the “death bed test” might help. We are all going to die. Can we forgive ourselves when all the opportunities for a different path are drawing to a close?