I’ve struggled with this question for a long time. The events of my childhood and adolescence had a huge impact on my emotional well-being for many years. I was insecure, selfish, incapable of trust, lacking in confidence and riddled with self-loathing. Even now, despite having come out the other end of therapy and the grounding influence that sharing the responsibility for three young lives with my husband gives me, I still feel an occasional wave of resentment and anger…
It shouldn’t have been like that. I wasted half my life just struggling to live. There were so many opportunities I failed to take advantage of, so many rites of passage that I missed out on. More than a decade of dead, soulless existence, spent trying to blot out the pain with drugs, alcohol, self-harm and stupid risks.
But, it happened; and there’s nothing I can do to change that. It’s made me the person I am today – some of the gifts I cherish; others, I work to overcome. I’m left with a feeling that I have a lot still to do in a much shorter space of time.
But how do I feel about what happened to me? Have I forgiven those from that shadowy, frightening life before – who appear in the movie-reel in my head that burns the back of my eyeballs on the rare night when sleep eludes me, or the dream that threatens to colour my morning blue?
I guess that depends on your definition of forgiveness. I’ve heard lots of opinions on this. Some think it’s about acting as though nothing has happened, not letting events colour who you are and how you see things; I think that’s not only folly, it’s impossible. We’re not automatons, our world-view is shaped by experience; experience we are supposed to learn from. Some say it’s about accepting what happened and letting go of the pain it made you feel. That’s all very well, but what if it’s the pain that keeps laying claim to you and not the other way around? Mental illness isn’t a choice. Some say just turn the other cheek, but there are those who will continue to abuse you as long as you give them the opportunity or the benefit of the doubt. At what point do you stop being a doormat?
I think genuine forgiveness is the result of a process, not just something you can decide to be. It takes a period of adjustment and considerable soul-searching to attain it. Someone put this up on Facebook the other day and it helped to encapsulate what I had never been able to explain to myself…
How do you define forgiveness? Has anything happened to you that’s made you change your view?