A while back I asked you guys what topics you would like me to start a discussion about. You had some amazing ideas and I’ve written them all down. So in the first instalment of #serpentfirediscussions I feel drawn to cover @rabbit_warrior’s question, which was, in essence: how do you forgive, when reciprocation and integrity is lost? In an ideal world, both parties would come to forgiveness simultaneously and we would each say our piece in a calm, graceful way. We would part with full hearts each, knowing that the chapter was closed in the best way imaginable, possibly leaving room for a future relationship of some kind. Often, though, this is not the case. Perhaps we have put out the effort to forgive, and have done all of the difficult self-work involved in arriving at that place, but the other person hasn’t. Perhaps they hurt you in terrible ways, and you wish for some kind of resolve on both ends so that you can move on - but you don’t get the conclusion you seek. Perhaps the line of communication is so broken down and frayed between you that it’s almost too much to ask for any goodness to be had. How do you still forgive? Is it even possible? The answer is yes, but it doesn’t come without its challenges, and it takes time.
To give you an example, here’s my own story. I recently went through this with an ex partner. We were together for 5 years, were madly in love, and had made all of the plans - babies, marriage, moving to California together. But for x, y and z reasons, we couldn’t make it work. We remained close after our breakup, attempting to make amends for the hurt that took place and to move into a healthier, happier place. However, almost a year after our romance ended, I discovered that he had betrayed me for half of this year, lying to my face every day for six months about something so monumental and permanent - he was having a baby with someone else. We were supposed to be repairing what had gone wrong between us in our relationship. That, at least, is what I was actually putting out copious amounts of effort into. And that is what it seemed like he was doing too. He was a good liar. After I found out, I spiralled very quickly into PTSD. But I kept trying to be ok - trying to still keep on the path of reparation. I felt like I had been robbed of my momentum towards healing - greatly set back both in time and in distance and for a while I was determined to keep my pace. I wasn’t about to consider all of that a waste, I wasn’t going to let it be taken from me. This was not sustainable, however (of course!) and just this last December, I said my final goodbye. Three months later, I found myself moving into a position to forgive even though I’m still dealing with the effects of the PTSD and these effects have had a detrimental impact on my life. I knew I needed to make the effort for myself as part of a directive to inch myself out of the pain. I reached out to him to make actual amends, hoping that since we were no longer going to be in each other’s lives, that we could at least forgive and think of each other as fondly as possible going forward. To be in a decent place, on a healing path.
Well, he never responded to me. Even when I let him know that the cat we got together was in very poor health, he still didn’t respond. The air of forgiveness and peace I was attempting to cultivate was dashed a little by this. Although I tried to maintain the steadiness of my emotions, feelings of resentment started to creep back in. Naturally, right? Well, yes. And I think this is where we have to be accepting of ourselves and our process surrounding forgiveness.
Just like everything else, forgiveness is non-linear. It takes several loops and approaches. Some pieces come together, and others don’t. Some aspects are harder to process than others. And especially if you are dealing with a person or a situation that does not reciprocate, you may feel like all of this effort is simply going into the Void, lost forever. It is much more comforting when there is a limit, a wall if you will, where you can see these efforts hitting. There is an accumulation at the wall, and you can see the evidence of your efforts. It is less comforting to just ‘put it out there’ and hear the sound of it in the echo chamber. But again, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done - and it goes to further demonstrate, to me, just how essential of a process it is.
There is a quote by Robert Brault, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” For many of us, at first pass, the idea may seem ridiculous. Obnoxious, even. You may say, “What, I’m supposed to receive an apology from air? I’m supposed to make it up in my head and pretend I’m the other person apologizing, and accept it?” It may seem even more ridiculous when the person in question has flat-out refused to undergo the process of healing and forgiveness that would be required for a true apology. It can seem like the suggestion is to create a puppet show in your heart, which can feel utterly fake. But really, there is nothing fake about it. You are still undergoing the process, still navigating the emotions.
You are, in essence, accepting the fact that the other person is not where you are. That they are either in a different stage of the process, or have another process that does not resemble yours altogether. You are not ‘making up’ a fake apology, you are accepting the basic goodness that is at the core of us all, goodness which is all too often tainted by negative early childhood/adulthood experiences that lead us to become hardened and resentful. By ‘accepting an apology you never got’ you are accepting that the other person is wounded, and that those wounds go back years and even lifetimes. That it's not even about you - the wounds are more extensive than that. You are accepting that they are somewhere in their process where they can’t meet you - it’s too hard - and if all of the knots that lead them here were to magically come undone, they probably would feel free enough to reciprocate. It is believing in a basic freedom and goodness at the centre of all things, and and understanding that sometimes that freedom is inaccessible. Knowing this, you can still perform your acts of forgiveness and go through the process, believing that it isn’t simply going into the Void. It is going directly into that central heartspace of freedom and goodness within you.
Again, this is not to say that forgiveness will be unwavering. It is not a ‘place’ we arrive at - similar to any state of being like enlightenment or happiness - it’s not like all of a sudden we have arrived at Forgivenessville, population 1.2 billion, and we can stay forever. We need to continue choosing emotions that lead towards forgiveness - but it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time. In my example, some feelings of resentment resurfaced *after* I went through the motions of actively reaching out to forgive. That is completely non-linear - but it doesn’t mean I’ve gone backwards, it just means its complicated and there’s more work I need to do in order to process those feelings.
We must be careful not to get stuck in a loop of being unforgiving towards ourselves for not being as forgiving towards others as we know we should ideally be. We are always told that the sooner we forgive, the freer we are - the less hold the person or event has over us. After all, forgiveness is far less about ‘them’ than it is about us. But all of the difficult emotions having to do with abuse, betrayal, conditional love, callousness, violence or any of the reasons we wish to forgive in the first place, these are all a perfectly natural part of the process that we should not rush through or ignore. There is an enormous difference between being angry and upset in its due course, and holding an everlasting grudge. If you think of your journey towards forgiveness as the Amazon river, it has many curves this way and that through four countries, eventually making its way to the Atlantic Ocean - back to source, to oneness, if you will. The winding path represents the different aspects of difficult emotions and transmutation along the way. Eventually it will lead out to the Amazon Basin if you let it. But if you have major blockages, like a dam, then that’s where a grudge is formed. This will lead to stagnation, festering and noxiousness. This is what we want to avoid. Let the emotions exist but try not to get stuck on them. This is often easier said than done, and the help of good friends, creative pursuits and supportive therapists can go a long way in de-clogging any debris there.
Forgiveness is a journey, one you don’t need the other person for. The best lesson you can learn and impart by forgiveness without reciprocity is carrying yourself with self-love, dignity and wellness. Leading by example, and living your best life. If someday the other person is ready to say their piece and apologize, you will accept it with little effort or thought. More importantly, it may not even have that large of an impact on you, because you’ve already undergone the entire process yourself, and their contribution, in the end, may just be a lovely token. Focus on the most crucial pieces: your own freedom and goodness. Whatever else is meant to come, will come in time.