Withholding forgiveness is like refusing to take out the garbage. Its that thing that happens when someone simply gets fed up and refuses to be trampled on. An individual may protest, refusing to take out the garbage until the other person acknowledges that they can’t stand the stench and takes responsibility for their share of the dirty work. The toxic atmosphere builds and builds and the person simply can’t see how others can stand it. How can the other person be so blind to their wrongdoing? How can they stomach the filth?
The person withholding forgiveness ends up feeling like an outsider looking in. There is no understanding of how others can carry on oblivious to the damage caused by not taking responsibility. The person will eventually only communicate through anger or silence as a way to get others to pay attention to the mess, but those around the individual will still appear to be clueless as to why the person is so angry. The person withholding forgiveness doesn’t understand that they are the only ones smelling the stench and seeing the filth. All everyone else sees is the resentment. All others hear are the angry words.
The person doesn’t realize that they are experiencing their own putrid self-loathing. The person withholding forgiveness doesn’t need to forgive other people, they need to forgive themselves.
When we are hurt or frightened, we often unconsciously become angry in ways that are toxic to our relationships. Its only toxic because we wrongly assume that we hold the power to punish others through withholding forgiveness, support, or through expressing overt hostility. We wrongly assume that this is our only power for gaining compliance from the other person. This withholding and resentment is the garbage we continue to create for ourselves. It builds and builds until we can’t take it anymore. We might even shock ourselves and others at the extent of our rage when something happens that we deem to be the last straw and explode. It’s never the other person that needs to change however, it’s always us.
Its difficult for us to admit we may have been wrong about a person or situation. Finding we were wrong about the rules of life in which we believed our adherence to certain moral standards would be rewarded can be difficult to reconcile. When the beliefs we thought would shield us from pain prove to be false, we inevitably hate ourselves for own naivete and vulnerability. We hate ourselves for being stupid. We hate ourselves for being weak, and we hate ourselves for our inability to gain the strength we think we need to face it. This is what we project onto others and why we become irrationally enraged when others don’t follow the rules. The rules are supposed to protect us, and without this protection we simply get exposed for the weaklings we are.
Thinking that forgiveness is something we give someone else is essentially why people make the mistake of withholding it. There’s a belief that the person who can grant forgiveness is the person that has the power, but forgiveness is about an absolute absence of power.
Forgiveness is the acknowledgment of the inherent vulnerability of every person. It acknowledges that underneath our facades is a frightened, vulnerable, and extremely sensitive weakling. It acknowledges that we see this in others as well, and that we have the grace to be merciful. Forgiveness isn’t about giving someone a pass, rationalizing behavior, or invalidating someone’s pain. It’s simply an acknowledgment of human frailty. We have to acknowledge our own before we can embrace this aspect of humanity in others.
This is particularly important when we have wounds that need healing. Think about trying to heal a wound in a smelly, garbage filled environment. The wound will likely get infected, fester, and kill us.
In order to heal, we need a clean house.
When we behave in ways we regret, we all have an inner voice that tells us that we are stupid, losers, failures, and unlovable. We literally say in our heads “I hate myself”. We have to change this self-talk.
Instead of saying to ourselves “I hate myself” we should say “I forgive myself for that”.
We can make the choice to keep this dialogue in our heads, but I recommend actually saying it out loud. The story we tell ourselves is the story we live. If we hate ourselves, we tend to treat ourselves very poorly, but when we forgive ourselves, we live a life of grace. This grace is the antiseptic that keeps our house clean.
Once our house is clean, we can feel more comfortable seeing the vulnerability and fear in others. We are no longer resentful about the repugnance of our environment. We can open our doors again and let people in. We may be surprised that others are not only grateful, but our sanctuary now becomes a space where others can come and feel clean too.
Once we acknowledge our own vulnerabilities, we make it ok for others to acknowledge theirs. Once we forgive ourselves for not having all the answers, we can forgive others for not having them either. Forgiveness truly is the gift we give ourselves. We just have to remember we don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of it.
Forgiveness is a sacred thing. It’s our birthright. It’s our own eternal access to the divine.