Forgiveness has a lot in common with ice cream.
It’s one of those things that everyone is automatically assumed to like and want. Those that have been wronged and forgiven are frequently held up as role models or people we should aspire to be like.
For a long time, I aspired to be one of those people. Indeed, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I thought I had the forgiveness game down pat. I prided myself for forgiving some pretty big stuff including, but not limited to, childhood emotional and sexual abuse.
My thinking was, if I could forgive that, then everything else would be easy. For a long time I believed this until the day I was forced to confront the truth: There were some things that I couldn’t forgive much less even begin to forget. Indeed, the mere thought of them were enough to send me over the edge.
This wasn’t an easy thing to admit to myself. Like most people, I had an image of myself that I wanted to believe: Namely, I wanted to be seen as a forgiving person who didn’t let the little things get under my skin. I repeated to myself time and again that dwelling on petty things only succeeded in giving them power over me. I also pointed out that I was wasting time dwelling on things that did not matter. However, none of this rational thinking helped or changed the reality of my situation—that I was holding on to many things that I just could not seem to let go of.
It’s possible that this pattern would have lasted indefinitely had I not shifted my thinking. Specifically, instead of trying to forgive, I learned how to accept. I was accepting the fact that I had things happen to me that were largely out of my control and causing feelings I didn’t have too much control over either, and that was okay. Whereas sometimes there is the tendency to equate forgiveness with believing that we have to do something, but acceptance means the opposite of that. Rather, it’s about not doing anything.
And sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing to do.
Usually when I made the decision to forgive someone or something, my mind immediately went looking for things that I had either done wrong or had somehow inadvertently contributed to whatever unfortunate thing that had happened to me. In the case of an particularly abusive ex-boyfriend, I thought it was somehow my fault for not having seen the warning signs or having something inside me that brought out the worse in him. As it turns out, I wasn’t so much forgiving him as putting the blame on myself.
Acceptance on the other hand was acknowledging the bad, acknowledging the feelings of pain, anger, etc. and being honest about it.
Once I could do that, it made it much easier to move past whatever I had been holding onto.
Granted, I didn’t suddenly become an enlightened being, nor can I truthfully say that there are still things that I hold onto. However, it has made it easier to stick to the path even if there are detours along the way.
Acceptance may not have the same positive connotations as forgiveness has, but hopefully others who have struggled with the latter may find some of the comfort that I have found in the former.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Helga Weber