On The Nature of the State of Forgiveness
Acceptance, Not Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not a singular event, rather it is the culminating state which results from actions started, taken and driven to completion by the perpetrator.
Allowing ‘bygones to be bygones’, unilateral forgiveness by the victim, without concrete action on the part of the perpetrator is not forgiveness; it is enabling. Suggesting that bygones is the only forgiveness required incorporates into it the very idea that it is wrong for the victim to continue to feel hurt. If the victim is unable to ‘forgive’ the unchanged perpetrator, then that is somehow seen as a character flaw of the victim. It puts the onus on and re-victimizes the victim. This is wrong.
The first requirement is true change on the part of the perpetrator. True change requires a change in identity; not just a change in means, motive or proximity; not just expressed guilt or shame on the part of the perpetrator. True change requires hard work, unflinching from the hard truths of our failures. It absolutely requires that we dig deep into the scary, dark, chaotic mess of our souls and rip out all of those embarrassing, shameful and guilty moments in our past and in our character and confront them head on. True change can be a long, difficult and challenging path, but can be worth it when we emerge a better and more authentic person on the other side.
An integral part of True Change is self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness comes with recognizing one’s own humanity and heritage. Understanding that as humans we are all fallible and make mistakes and that that is okay. As long as we are willing to undertake the hard work to better ourselves and ensure that we do not continue to make the same hurtful mistakes over and over again, then we can forgive ourselves our humanity.
Once we have changed ourselves into a better person who will not make the same mistake over and over again, it is possible to look back and forgive ourselves our past actions, realizing that that old you was the product of a long line of mistake makers and was essentially destined to make those mistakes.
Finding religion and granting yourself ‘forgiveness’ from some deity is not true change. It is, in fact, an avoidance of doing the necessary work. It might make you feel better about yourself, but the victim will simply see you, without the requisite change, acting as if everything is better. In the victim’s eyes, this is a charade and a slap in the face.
With true change on the part of the perpetrator, the victim can forgive only after trust has been reestablished. Gaining this trust is, again, an action required of the perpetrator. It is part of their onus to demonstrate this change to the victim. Trust may be reestablished once the perpetrator has demonstrated to the victim that they are truly a different person from the one that wronged them.
Proximity and Time
Regaining trust requires both proximity and time. If the two are remote from each other, then doubt will remain as to whether any change has truly taken place. If not enough time has passed then the permanency of any change will remain in doubt.
Forgiveness Bestowed (Not Guaranteed)
So you have achieved True Change and in doing so you have forgiven your old self. You are a better person inside and out. You have done your best to demonstrate this change to your victim over some significant period of time. The other person, your victim, may still not have forgiven you.
Unless you have also changed your mannerisms, your voice, your laughter, your facial expressions, etc then each interaction with you may be like opening old wounds. This is something that only time can heal, however, the other person may choose not to do that work. Not because they are afraid, not because they can’t, but because they don’t feel the need to ever deal with you again. They have moved on. They are not obligated to forgive or to resume a relationship with you. A resumed relationship is entirely up to the victim to bestow. It is their choice. It is, in fact, their power.
Forgiveness, then, is a process of several parts, driven and taken by the perpetrator:
- Identity change and self-forgiveness on the part of the perpetrator
- Demonstrating that true change to the victim
- Regained victim’s trust
- Victim forgives, understanding that this person has changed
In short, until you have changed the part of you that victimized me, it is not within my power to grant you forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that you, the perpetrator, must start and drive to the end. You must change yourself. You must forgive yourself. You must demonstrate the true nature of that change convincingly to the victim. And you must ask that person to return their trust to you.
The end-state may be forgiveness with a restored relationship, forgiveness without the relationship or no forgiveness at all from victim. Again, that is their power.
Still, by driving this process, the perpetrator will have changed himself and achieved self-forgiveness, and can go forward into the future and future relationships knowing that he will not make the same mistakes again with others. That in itself is a huge achievement.
Acceptance, Not Forgiveness
If the perpetrator is unwilling or unable to change, then what is it that the victim can do to stop the destructive cycle of emotions and thoughts that might be plaguing them? Unilateral forgiveness is not the answer. No, the victim must find their way towards acceptance. They must be able to accept that this event happened. They must accept that this person did it to them. They must accept that the perpetrator will not change and will not make amends. They must accept that this event does not define them. They must accept that it is in their past and that what has happened has no bearing on the future. Acceptance is an integral part of finding serenity and serenity is the polar opposite of fear and anger; for fear and anger are impossible if you are serene, just as serenity is impossible if you are fearful or angry. Find serenity and release those negative emotions that are hurting you and holding you back.