For many years I’ve counseled people around forgiveness. Forgiveness of themselves, forgiveness of others. We’ve all been on both sides of the desire for forgiveness.
The issue is, as Nelson Mandela said: “Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
So forgiveness is the key, but how to let go of that resentment when we’ve been wronged?
While in most painful interactions there is shared blame, and owning our own piece can help alter the way we hold the past, that is not what usually shifts the issue, as the other person’s blame is still their’s regardless of how we acted, especially in clear acts of outright abuse.
Over and over, this next distinction seems to be what shifts the possibility from clinging to resentment to the opening towards forgiveness…
In my view of forgiveness, it does not let the other person off the hook. There was a moment that caused pain, and a person who seems to be at fault at that moment, who should be held accountable for their part. When we refuse to forgive, we hold on to resentment. In the moment we are resenting there was a transaction of negativity. The perpetrator’s negativity to the victim. The victim has been holding the negativity of the perpetrator for long enough, it is time for the victim to release their attachment to it, and give it back. Forgiveness is for-giving-it-back to them. “Here, I’ve been holding this for you long enough, it is yours.”
And it’s not always immediate, hardly ever so, just a crack in the armor. The sanskrit “kshama,” sometimes translated as forgiveness, is forgiveness over time, being in the process of forgiving, being in the process of letting go.