(This post is part of 30 Days of Truth: Something You Need To Forgive Someone For)
The anger goes away, after awhile. It’s replaced by a numbness, a little blank space that your mind naturally slips over any time it comes close to it. But like a phantom limb, you’re always aware that it’s there, at least subconsciously.That little place of anger or hurt or resentment takes up emotional energy, preventing you from feeling the full bounty of love and happiness and contentment that you could feel.
Now and then your mind isn’t as diligent as usual, and you let yourself think about the hurt. Your body reacts automatically, the animal nature coming through. Your heart starts to race, your breath comes faster: adrenaline is coursing through your veins against your will. If the hurt was especially bad, you might feel tears forming behind your eyes. Maybe they don’t manifest, but you feel that burning and swelling and you know what it means. You want to forgive, you want to forget. But how can you, when this emotional response is still there, after all these years?
Forgiveness is a complex beast. If you want to maintain a relationship, forgiveness is essential. But even if you don’t want to maintain a relationship, forgiveness is still the most important step in truly moving on. When someone hurts you, forgiveness is not an act that benefits the person who did the hurting (although it might benefit them as well). Rather, it’s an act that benefits you – the person who was hurt.
When I was younger I let myself walk around with hate in my heart for a stranger who had harmed me irreparably. I let that hate dictate my actions and I looked to drugs and alcohol and unhealthy relationships to numb that hate. I was lucky enough to realize relatively quickly that I had to forgive. I thought of why he had done it, and I replaced hate with pity. It wasn’t personal. It was, in a certain sense, relatively easy to forgive.
Since then, I’ve been hurt many other times. In ways that might be considered “smaller” but that are emotionally “bigger” to me. In ways that are normal for all of us: over the course of our lives we lose friends and lovers, we fight and lash out, we stonewall and say the things that we know will hurt the most. We are all guilty of these things, just as we’re all victims.
These “smaller” hurts have not caused me to feel hate. Maybe they’re not emotionally “hot” enough for that. They’re not an inferno, but a smoldering fire, embers that look cool but will still burn to the touch. It’s not hate, but anger or resentment or maybe even simple irritation. It could be a betrayal or abuse, but it could also be as simple as David forgetting to take the garbage out or Addie dumping her cup of milk all over the floor.
And even though these hurts are smaller, they have often been harder to forgive. Maybe they feel more personal. Maybe even at a few years old, they’re still too new. Maybe I’ve let so many daily hurts build up that I can’t find a way to forgive the more meaningful hurts.
When you go through your life with blinders on — not aware of hurts in a mindful way, and therefore not forgiving them — you accumulate these embers of pain and you build a small pit in your heart. It eats away at you, making you less resilient and more vulnerable. Future hurts become bigger, feel hotter. Soon you can’t forgive – you’re spending all your emotional energy keeping the fire contained, you don’t have any to spare for anything else.
It’s not that we should be hyper-aware of these hurts, big or small. It’s that we should be aware of the need for almost constant forgiveness, and we should practice it. Forgive the person who cuts you off in traffic, forgive your spouse when he or she is careless with your time or emotions, forgive your children, forgive your friends, forgive yourself.
Of course, it’s not that easy. But start with the small hurts, start with the people you love. Work from there to the bigger hurts. Put out the fires slowly, from the edges, getting to the hotter and deeper pain as you build up your strength. That’s my plan, anyway.
I have many things I need to forgive. And that is the truth.