Part 1, here.
tanaudel, in comments to my post on the “doormat” side of this equation, summarizes nicely a lot of what the difference really is:
It seems to be far less about being a doormat and far more about being strong and gracious.
She describes this as something that can only happen once the wrong has been acknowledged by the erroneous party, once forgiveness has been requested. I disagree with that for the principle reason that I think that granting forgiveness is about the opposite of being a doormat: being forgiving is about me. It’s about healing myself.
One close friend of mine talks about the concept of “resentment” as being “unresolved emotion” that keeps being “re-sent” around your body and mind. It circles, grows, festers, continues to hurt or damage you over and over and over again. Whether it’s been requested or not, I need to escape those feelings if I’m ever going to move forward. That’s where the strength and the grace come in–I can’t have peace from the feelings until I do it. And I can’t let my ability to find peace depend on having the request come from the people who have harmed me, especially knowing that some of the people who have done the most harm will never be capable of acknowledging it.
I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness in having to ask others for it, for pretty big reasons. When I did that, I had to remind myself over and over that regardless of how it was received, I was doing it so that I could be freed from the sense of guilt and shame that was entrapping me at the time. And regardless of how it was received, I was. Which sort of drove the point home for me that the forgiveness wasn’t really coming from my actions or from the actions of those from whom I needed forgiveness. The strength and grace came from elsewhere. In the same way, my forgiving others–especially if they haven’t asked for it or if they’re people I haven’t seen in years and will never see again–has absolutely no impact on them. I feel like it would be arrogant to pretend I had any power to grant them forgiveness or grace, as if I have access to some special spiritual source of energy that I can transfer onto them. I don’t believe that when it comes from clergy and I’m not going to believe it when it comes from me. But forgiving others–letting go, accepting, refusing to stay trapped in and defined by the past or by actions that were out of my control, deciding to be different–saves me. And that didn’t come from me, either.
I have real pain and legitimate reasons for anger in my life. I’ve been seriously hurt and seriously damaged. I say that not because it earns me anything, but because I struggle to write things like this without coming off like I’m moralizing or telling someone else how to deal with their very legitimate anger. I find that some who are inclined to preach forgiveness are not very understanding about the magnitude of some of these injuries, nor of the fact that above all else, forgiveness just takes time. I was certainly angry for a damn long time, and went through a long period of being destructive because of it. What I need in my life now is knowledge that there is a way out of that, and for that way out to exist and remain accessible independent of the actions or feelings of any other human being. To re-adopt bloggy lingo for a second, YMMV.
Another friend I have gets really upset, because she thinks I’m letting people continue to hurt me out of a sense that I need to forgive. I’ve had a couple of people recently who have said or done pretty hurtful things, but I can see exactly where the damage is coming from based on whatever baggage they have, and I want to let it go because of that. It’s not about me. If I’m going to be capable of having loving relationships of any kind (and there is a very heavy post on that topic that’s been building itself in my head for several weeks now), I can’t let those things re-send. Her point is essentially that sometimes, by thinking that way, I’m letting these actions and these people continue to hurt me, and I’m not forcing them to take ownership of their behaviour. I’m certainly not saying that being damaged makes it okay to do hurtful things to others or, on a much larger scale, to perpetuate abuse cycles, nor do I want to put myself in a position to have the same hurts happening to me over and over again, because that would be very much the doormat mentality. But for the sake of my own strength and grace, I have to forgive. I just do.
Not ignore the wrong, not forget the wrong, but also not wait for and depend upon the other to acknowledge it–acknowledge it myself, put it in perspective, decide how to stop the re-sending, and move forward. I’m absolutely terrible at certain aspects of this process most of the time. But if I couldn’t do any of it, I think I would lock myself in my apartment and never come out, literally or virtually.