One of my correspondents asked me a really good question:
How can we actually forgive the people who have really hurt us, especially when we’re still suffering from the problems they’ve caused us?
It’s an excellent question for a number of reasons.
First, let’s just take a step back to say that there are many gurus and ‘spiritual guides’ out there who like to promote and encourage something that I call ‘superficial forgiveness’.
Superficial forgiveness is where the person who was hurt hasn’t really processed what occurred to them properly, and still has a lot of emotional unfinished business with the person who hurt them.
Yet, that person is ‘forced’ to ‘get over it’ as quickly as possible, because we live in a society that – at least superficially – is a very big believer in ‘forgive and forget’. It’s part of the overall cultural zombification process that tells us deeper emotions don’t matter, and that keeping up appearances and maintaining polite relations is the most important thing.
So what tends to happen is that when we get seriously or chronically hurt by someone, society encourages us to stuff down the very valid feelings we have of betrayal, anger, sadness and upset, and to move straight into ‘forgive and forget’ before we’re really ready to do that.
And when that happens, we end up in a very hard place where on the outside, we’re operating from that place of ‘superficial forgiveness’, but on the inside we still have a lot of anger and vengeful feelings that simply have never been recognized, and never been properly worked through and processed.
And this is one of the best short-cuts I know of to turning into an emotional zombie, and / or developing some severe mental health issues, and / or becoming chronically ill.
Another important point to make is that we can only forgive something that we've actually acknowledged. For as long as we're in denial about what was truly done, or how we truly felt about it, we can't actually forgive.
So, what’s the solution?
This is what I believe works so much better than ‘superficial forgiveness’.
STEP 1: Acknowledge the hurt that was done to you, and validate your feelings.
Your feelings are subjective. We aren’t talking about an objective judgement of what has really happened here, and you don’t need to worry about ‘proving’ your case against the other person.
What you need to focus on is:
This stage can’t be skipped, and it’s the foundation for being able to really forgive further down the line. Where the hurt was profound, or long-lasting, or the result of an enormous betrayal (as is often the case when we’re talking about the parent-child relationship) – this part of the process can take a very long time.
Like, years, sometimes.
Why does it take so long in these situations? Because usually what happens is that the children of emotionally immature / absent and / or abusive parents aren’t allowed to experience their own feelings in a genuine way.
That’s far too threatening for an emotionally-dysfunctional parent.
So instead, the child is encouraged to view every interaction, thought, and feeling through the parent’s emotional lens, and that’s usually calibrated to make the parent come out looking as good as possible, at the child’s expense.
It’s a subtle, but incredibly effective form of brainwashing that sadly is so, so common in today’s world. And it can take the child years and years to really rid themselves of seeing the world simply as an extension of their own parents, and then to really feel all the things that they were never allowed to feel.
Like hurt, betrayal, sadness, jealousy, fear, and rage at how unfair it all is etc etc.
So dafka, when those people’s true feelings start to defrost, there’s a lot of repressed ‘uck’ that has to work its way out of the system, and be properly processed, before they can look to really forgive.
Another very important factor which can slow the process of real forgiveness up is how much of a threat the person who hurt us still poses. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so much easier to forgive someone once they’ve passed away, because your subconscious is no longer scared for you to let your guard down around them – they’re dead! They can’t hurt you any more.
But, when people are still in a position of power, or still in a position to harm you in some way, or you still have that fear inside of you that it’s dangerous to come off red-alert around them – you’ll find it much, much harder to forgive them 100%.
So, now we’ve spelled out how crucially important STEP 1: Validate your own feelings really is, we can move on to:
STEP 2: How to really forgive the people who hurt us.
People are built in such a way, that we need to be able to ‘get things off our chest’ in some way, before we can really let go of things. But, when we’re dealing with people who have seriously hurt us, that’s usually impossible.
These people usually lack self-awareness, empathy and compassion to a very large degree, so confronting them with what they did to you will usually only lead to them lashing out, and trying to close you down any way they can.
That’s not going to end well for either of you.
So then, how can you get ‘closure’ without actually speaking to them?
The answer is to sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and to imagine talking to them in your head. Say everything you need to say – repeatedly! Yell, curse, accuse – whatever you need to do to ‘get it off your chest’.
And then, give them the opportunity to respond – still in your head.
Usually, they will start to explain a little about what’s really going on with them, and you’ll start to get some stunning insights into the internal demons the other person is battling.
Again, that doesn’t excuse or justify their bad behavior, but it does explain more of it, and it will help you to understand more about the huge challenges that other person actually has, internally.
If the hurt was huge or chronic, you may well have to repeat this process of ‘talking to them in your head’ a few times over, every time some new emotion, or some new aspect, comes up again in your life, that you have to deal with.
The goal is to get closure, to have your say, and ultimately, to forgive, and I’ve found that visualizing the person in your head, and saying whatever you need to say to them, is the single best way of doing this.
Now, you’re ready for STEP 3: Bring it back to God.
I know that people who come from religious traditions that don’t believe in reincarnation will find what I’m about to say challenging, but everything that happens to us down here is arranged by God, and is connected to fixing us, and our souls, on some level.
We have no idea what we did in a previous life, but if we got sent back down here in 2018, the odds are very good that we were the abusive parent last time round, we were the fraudster and thief, we were the cheating spouse, we were the cold-hearted murderer.
And if we didn’t make amends to our victims during that lifetime, then the only way to pay down and rectify those sins where we hurt other people is to experience the same sort of suffering ourselves.
Does this excuse the people who hurt us?
But, fundamentally, they are just being used as the stick in God’s hand, to rectify some wrong that we ourselves committed in a previous lifetime.
Again, for as long as you haven’t worked through the previous steps of:
You simply won’t be able to get to Step 3, which is where you can really see and internalize and accept that God was behind it all.
And that’s another reason why ‘superficial forgiveness’ is so poisonous and damaging, spiritually, because until and unless we have really worked the hurt through, as described above, we simply won’t be able to internalize that it’s all from God, and all for our good, somehow.
There are no quick fixes with these things, there are no short-cuts.
The people who are telling you to ‘forgive and forget’ are usually dealing with their own massive, and massively suppressed, mental and emotional health issues.
True forgiveness usually takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of inner work, courage and effort, and it’s predicated on first truly understanding what was done to you, and how badly it hurt you. Only then can you move on to really forgiving the other person, and then bringing it all back to God.
But when you finally do reach that stage of forgiving them 100%, it’s the best feeling in the world.