Forgiveness is never easy. Some people can forgive and forget. Others can forgive but never forget. Some people see forgiveness as part of the healing process. I’ve always been amazed by those people who can forgive, and even go as far as to feel sympathy for, someone who has done something terrible to them or to a loved one. I don’t possess that level of forgiveness. I don’t hold grudges either.
I find that it’s both easiest and hardest to forgive those you love most. Forgiveness is complicated. Those closest to you aren’t supposed to hurt or betray you. They’re supposed to protect and comfort you. This makes forgiving them extremely difficult. It’s hard to imagine that they could do something so completely hurtful and disregard your feelings. You find yourself thinking, “But I thought they loved me?” But it’s also easier to look past the indiscretions of those we love. Because we love those closest to us unconditionally. We love them despite their flaws and imperfections. So that, sometimes, makes it easier to forgive their mistakes and rebuild the relationship.
I had a difficult time forgiving my brother. The brother who protected me from bullies in high school. The brother who taught me how to ride a bike. The same brother who always let me tag along with him and his friends, even though he grunted and rolled his eyes the entire time. My brother had a problem and we all knew it. It started out small. Getting into trouble in school. Being diagnosed with ADHD. He lacked any interest in school. His lack of interest quickly turned into complete disregard and an “I don’t give an F” attitude. He disrespected his teachers and our parents.
Once he entered high school, things progressively got worse. When he wasn’t skipping school, he was getting into fights. He started drinking pretty heavily. He quickly earned himself two DUIs and some time in juvenile detention. But none of it seemed like enough to change his behavior. He ultimately dropped out of high school and continued his destructive path. We tried an intervention to no avail. He couldn’t see past his addiction. He wasn’t the brother I remembered.
On that night, he had left our house in a rage, headed to his girlfriend’s house. He was drunk and seeing red. I knew it wouldn’t end well. Against my better judgment, I followed him there. I found them in the kitchen, on separate ends of a huge island. They were screaming at each other. He was throwing shit. I was young and scared. I tried pleading with him to stop and just come home. He ignored me. I got closer and began pulling on his arm, trying to convince him to leave. I never should have touched him. It was my own fault. With one swift motion, he threw me backward. My back landed squarely on the refrigerator. The handle hit me in the back just right (or wrong) as my head bounced violently off the freezer. I yelled out in pain and hit the floor. The room stood still. It was silent.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I don’t remember leaving or going home. I don’t remember what we told my mother. But I remember the huge mark left on my back and the bigger mark left on my heart. I had a hard time looking at my brother after that day. And he couldn’t look at me either. He was ashamed and disgusted. That day changed a lot in our family. It was the day my brother finally decided to get the help he needed. It was the day I realized how bad things really were.
And it took me time to forgive him. I had to realize that the guy in that kitchen who threw me against the wall wasn’t my brother. It was the man that his addiction had created. He said the words, “I’m sorry” more times than I could count and though I truly believed he was sorry, I couldn’t accept his apology until I was ready. I needed to learn to forgive.
Sometimes forgiveness isn’t about the other person at all. It’s about you. Knowing yourself and your boundaries are the first steps in finding forgiveness in your heart. Will forgiving this person go against your core beliefs? Are you disregarding your feelings in the hopes to repair the relationship? Are you sacrificing a part of yourself to extend forgiveness to someone else? Or, will forgiving that person offer you some type of relief? Will a weight be lifted?
Not every situation can be created equally. Forgiveness is not “one size fits all.” When it comes to forgiving someone who’s hurt you, you need to look deep within yourself and decide if forgiving this person will serve you or not. And once you answer this question you can make a decision and begin the healing process.