- June 14, 2017
- by Emily
Forgiveness is an internal process. What does that mean? It means it requires nothing from another person. We can fully forgive ourselves and others in the absence of interaction if we so choose.
For many, apology is an important part of the restorative process. We want an apology when someone hurts us. That is a normal reaction to injury. And, if we feel remorse for our actions (a prerequisite to self-forgiveness) we are often compelled to apologize for our actions. Creating healing for others is a compassionate act and should always be encouraged. But, this is not forgiveness. If you feel a verbal gesture of remorse is necessary to forgive you are creating a barrier to healing at is optional. It is absolutely one’s right to make that call, but it should be clear it is a risk.
In making a choice to demand repentance, we are giving away some of our power to heal. For those who have been harmed and not received an apology only to spend years suffering, they know all too well that is power you don’t need to give away. You can forgive and when you do you regain your autonomy to live a life free from the burdens of the past.
When it comes to self-forgiveness, we begin by an awareness of the guilt we feel. The need for self-forgiveness does not exist in the absence of remorse. Once this awareness is manifest, we generally have a few emotions.
First, we are inspired to take corrective action to heal the impact we have had in the world. Apology is a part of that remedy. But, before we do so we should become very clear on our commitment to forgive ourselves. If we offer repentance and it is not received openly by the other, we must be willing to move forward with healing. The best way to assure this is to commit to forgive ourselves before we apologize.
We might also feel the need to take other action to heal others. This too is something we should honor but it is essential we do so without expectations about how it will be received. Forgiveness becomes complicated when we falsely make it an interpersonal process. It isn’t. It is internal healing at a constitutional level with no requirements from another human being. When we conflate these ideas (interpersonal healing and forgiveness), we make the process more difficult than it need be.
Forgiveness is changing the way we relate to our experiences. It is finding peace with what is and what has been. It is empowering ourselves to choose the circumstances we find ourselves in regardless of what we currently perceive they should be. This shift to true acceptance happens inside of us. We transform, and the world follows. When I forgave my parents (and everyone else), I never had a conversation about it. I quickly realized that to tell someone I forgave them was—no matter my intentions—perceived as an affront. How would you feel if someone came to you and said, “I just want you to know I forgive you?” You’d probably feel a little defensive. That is natural. We would want to know more. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the situation of trying to help another while also working on ourselves.
Work on yourself first and the outcome is assured to be positive. It is not our place nor our job to work on forgiveness for another. Their journey is theirs. Your journey is yours. Do your work and, I promise, the world around you and the people in your life will respond. It might not always be exactly how you’d like it to be, but that is the nature of life. We have to honor each other’s path.
If you feel you need to apologize for something you have done, do so once. Do it with authenticity and compassion. Then stop. Continuing to say how sorry you are only reinforces the sense that something is wrong, broken, other than it should be. You don’t have that much power. Things are the way they are for a reason and making someone else’s experiences about you is not a pathway to healing. Allow them to move forward with forgiveness (or not) in their own time and in their own way.
If you need to forgive another and they are not sorry, you have a choice. You can continue to suffer and stand your ground for something you have no control over. Or, you can forgive and begin your journey toward wholeness and freedom.