I've been struggling to come to a better understanding about forgiveness and how it plays a role in recovery. I don't just mean recovery in terms of addiction or eating disorders but recovery or healing in general.
I started thinking about forgiveness this week when I read an article about a lady who was raped and forgave her attacker in the courtroom where he was being sentenced, even though he wrecked her life so badly she was forced to relocate to a different country. In the comment section of the article, people gave their opinions on why this move was more beneficial for her than for her attacker. One can assume that for her, it meant letting go of resentment that was eating at her, and being willing to accept that she could forgive without letting him off the hook. He's still accountable for his actions, but she no longer has to be involved in his life in any way. She doesn't have to waste energy thinking about how his actions hurt her. This is not an easy task.
If one could imagine two people attached together by a large ribbon, the ribbon would represent the ties of anger that hold the two beings together. If one imagines taking a large pair of scissors and cutting through that ribbon with the two pieces drifting away from each other, that represents how forgiveness should free a person. Everyone knows it's not this simple, though. Why is that? Why is it easy for some to "let go" but not for others?
I'm starting to see that anger and resentment harm the one feeling those emotions. The perpetrator is unaffected. No matter how badly we want the world to operate with the same standards we hold, it simply doesn't. People can be shitty, period. I just blogged about my childhood, remembering how terribly I was treated by so many people. At various times, I have been angry at my former coach, my dad, my peers and anyone who bullied and teased me. I had a terrible time letting go of this anger until I started to heal the part of me that believed, on some level, that maybe I somehow deserved these wrongs inflicted on me.
I think what was most eye opening to me was when I tried to put myself in the other person's shoes. The groups I was in during various hospital stays engaged in a lot of role playing, which helped the healing process to some degree. During one of these sessions, I remembered wondering how anyone could treat a child the way I was treated. Really, how could anyone treat another human being that way?
In trying to understand how anyone could administer such hurt, I discovered I couldn't, unless perhaps I had been operating from some deep hurt myself, but even then I couldn't imagine it. Still, it helped me realize that sometimes people are doing the best they can. This may not help heal, but by knowing that my dad or my peers did the best they could, I was able to soften a little. From there, I worked on forgiveness. Yes, they were terrible to me at times, but they had their own issues. My dad was suffering and battling his own demons, bad ones. Unfortunately, his best, in terms of being a loving father, wasn't very good, but it was the best he could do given his own situation. Plus, apologies or even recognizing being in the wrong doesn't come easily to most people, so they aren't likely to tell you what you want to hear when you ask for an apology.
The big problem is that forgiveness doesn't necessarily take away the hurt. It takes something more to move through the painful emotions. We are not taught how to express anger and hurt, especially in this country, so we learn to shove our feelings down or take things out on ourselves. We aren't allowed to be angry, so we turn the anger inward.
They say time heals all wounds and can lead to forgiveness, but this is only true as long as you don't feed the resentment. Time was a big factor in my ability to let go, and I danced for a long time with the frustration and anger inside me. Coming to terms with this idea that people usually don't change was difficult.
Things got stirred up a bit when I interviewed my coach for the book I wrote, and he confessed that, if given the chance to go back knowing now what he didn't know then, he wouldn't do anything differently. I was shocked. I know I would have done a lot differently, like spoken up for myself a hell of a lot more in his presence. In the end, there's nothing I can do to make him realize the tremendous hurt and damage he caused me, and I can't change the past. There will never be an apology on his end, so I had to accept it. It took years to do that, and I still don't like being anywhere near him. But I don't let the anger eat at me. It's his problem, not mine.
Some key steps in moving toward forgiveness are to move through and express the anger, be kind to yourself through the process and engage in dialog or role play to better understand the situation from all angles. Even if the other party can't or refuses to hear you, find healthy ways to define and address the hard feelings. Write or say out loud the things you need to say, even if the other person can't or refuses to hear or accept your words. In terms of expressing anger, it's OK to go to a safe place and yell or beat a pillow with your fists. You can try channeling that anger in movement or sports too, anything to keep from turning it inward, or you can even try expressing the anger through journal writing or another creative outlet.
The last piece of advice I have is to avoid putting too much energy into talking and reliving the experience. Part of moving forward is to address the issue, several times if needed, and then work on describing and visualizing how you want your current situation and your future to be. I know a lady who is stuck in the past, and she can't help but bring up her regrets, frustrations and hurt pretty much every day. This is not moving through the emotions or moving forward; it's staying stuck.
If anyone else has suggestions on how they moved through anger and resentment after being treated badly, please feel free to leave a comment.