Chances are that all of us have been hurt, betrayed, angered, upset – at some time, by someone. That’s life, it happens.
It’s often really hard to forgive someone who has wronged you. And that’s understandable. Often, they have just gotten on with what appears to be a pretty good life themselves, leaving you behind damaged and stewing. Stewing about being so hurt, and stewing about them just being able to move on, when you can’t. I hear it often when talking to others, I’ve even said it myself – “Why should I forgive them? They don’t deserve it!”
Yes, much of the time, they don’t deserve it. But YOU do. Often the person who hurt you has moved on, and they don’t even know or care if you have forgiven them or not.
Forgiveness isn’t for the person we are forgiving. It’s for ourselves.
When something happens to us that hurts us, part of healing and being able to get out lives back again is accepting that it happened, accepting that you are hurt, and accepting whatever damages have been done to you – this is now, your reality – you can’t change that, but you need to be able to accept it to start moving on yourself – rather than going over and over and over it. I think a huge key to acceptance can be forgiving.
I read Natascha Kampusch’s book, 3096 Days, in which the author writes about the eight years in captivity in the dungeon of the man who abducted and abused her. Reading what she went through, I cannot imagine living through that, I cannot imagine any human being coming out of that situation at all, and not being totally utterly broken. Yet she survived, and not only survived, but she amazes me with her strength, her wisdom (so obvious in her writing) and her ability to accept what happened to her and try and move forward.
What surprised me most about Natascha is her forgiveness of her abductor Wolfgang Priklopil. Her empathy for him, obviously mentally ill to her. How could someone forgive a person who hurt them SO MUCH, so deeply – ruined their entire lives – mentally ill or not? And yet she did. As Natascha wrote, she realised that if she did not forgive him, it would destroy her. She wrote that the reason she survived what happened was that she DID forgive him – otherwise it would have eaten her away inside. (Image source.)
We can all learn a lot from Natascha Kampusch. I also totally recommend her book, although I warn that it’s extremely harrowing to read.
So, I have been aware of the benefits of forgiveness for myself, personally, for a while now. And yet, it’s not so easy at all. I struggle to forgive. My mother for her cruelty and neglect. My siblings for their abuse. The men who abused me once I left that home. The so-called friend who turned out to be a user and abuser herself.
I even get mad at life, for throwing me such a difficult time of it. At society, for turning a blind eye… and it’s hard to forgive, especially when I am still fighting to reclaim any sort of life and the world around me just goes on. Especially when there are some people who don’t even have a clue what it’s like to struggle in any way, who treat you as if you are personally a failure for not getting up and on with it, because things should be so easy. After all, it was for them.
Most of all, I find it hard to forgive myself. For allowing myself to be used and abused over and over. For being weak. For being sick. For not just getting on with life. For everything. For just being ME!
It’s really easy to go through my entire life angry at the world, angry at everyone who hurt me in any way, angry at those who didn’t help me, angry at myself, angry at LIFE. And becoming more and more bitter and filled with hatred and vileness by the day. This is the mindset that kills us, inside.
I think forgiveness comes more easily with compassion and empathy. Personally, I find it hard to forgive someone when all you can see is this horrid mean person who did this and got away with it. But when I look behind that, try and understand them a bit better, I find a human being. Who usually is hurt and damaged in their own way. I start to understand how their own brokenness might have contributed to what they did to me. And I can find at least a bit of compassion for what they must have been through – enough to soften my heart towards them. Have I forgiven? I don’t know. I still hang on to a lot of negative feelings of anger, sadness, “WHY”, but I think I’m slowly coming to a place where I will one day be able to let them go, knowing that they no longer still have any hold over me because I’m not storing anything about them in my heart and mind any more.
Compassion also is important towards ourselves, in order to start to forgive ourselves. I find it SO hard to have compassion for myself. My inner dialogue has for as long as I can remember, been harsh, full of anger and derision. I hold myself accountable in a way I’d never do to another, not even my own abusers – and interestingly enough, I have become my own abuser.
While my inner dialogue is full of ”should” and “shouldn’t”, I can’t win. I always am not good enough, I always could have done better. I’m not trying, I’m a failure, it’s all my fault. Everyone else can just do what they need to do to get better. Why am I this way? How could I have been such a stupid loser to get so stuck in an eating disorder in the first place? Look at my friends who have recovered – what’s stopping me? Most of them have been through their own hells – and yet they are picking themselves up and getting on with life. Why can’t I just get off my butt, stop feeling sorry for myself and ‘get with the program’?
Talking to myself this way, I set myself up to fail. My self hatred grows worse, and I struggle to look after myself physically and mentally when I hate myself.
I’ve been doing my best to be gentle with myself. “You are trying the best you can with what you have. Everyone’s situation is different – this is your life, and you are trying, that’s what matters. It wasn’t your fault for any of the abuse that happened – you were just a kid/a vulnerable young woman/in an impossible situation. You couldn’t have made it not happen at the time – even if you see options you could have taken to help yourself now – they were not there for you back then. And what was done to you – isn’t your shame to carry round. It’s theirs. Be proud that you have made it this far – you are still here. Don’t lose sight of how far you have come. And it’s time to give to yourself the care you would give to any child or vulnerable young woman you knew was going through what you did – right now.”
I could go on – but you get the picture. Whatever you would say or feel towards someone totally NOT yourself in the same situation is often the thing to say and feel towards yourself – you wouldn’t blame a kid for being abused. Why blame yourself for abuse when you were a child? You wouldn’t blame another person for being ill, again, why blame yourself?
Letting go of the anger, the shame, the self-recrimination allows us to become more forgiving of ourselves – which in turn helps us move towards acceptance and hopefully a better chance of healing.
Do you struggle to forgive, whether it’s someone else or yourself?
Has forgiveness or lack of it affected your life and health?