Forgiveness is something I think about frequently. The hows, and the whys, and the very nature of the act. The dictionary definition of forgiveness is to "pardon" someone. I used to be a very forgiving person. Years ago, a close friend asked me in disbelief, "When does self-preservation kick in for you?" after I regaled him with my latest shop of horrors. A boyfriend could treat me badly and I would say "no problem." A friend would borrow money and not pay it back even when asked, and I didn't drop them. An editor or colleague would do something cruel and I brushed it off. I was always ready to make peace quickly and to move forward. I'm not as instantly forgiving any more. Life is cumulative, and burdens get heavier.
For the past several years, but especially the past two, I have struggled mightily to forgive my demented mother for marrying a terrible man who stole her money, isolated her, alienated her children and drove one of them to near suicide, and continues to this day to treat her without respect or kindness. As for him, I will never forget his actions since they inform my daily life, but I had to forgive him a little because hating him was eating my soul. I can now limit my contact with him, and I do. Limiting contact with my mother isn't good for her or me, and I continue to see her regularly.
It's depressing to visit her at the care home where she obsessively hides everything only to later accuse the staff of stealing her belongings. I usually take her out for a walk, a drive, a coffee, or a glass of wine to avoid those conflicts, but also to avoid her husband. I have learned not to argue with her when she insists that she has "never noticed" him yelling at her, physically abusing her, stealing from her, or being vicious to her children and friends, of which she now has none. I am her only visitor and that isn't likely to change. It is probable that I will never understand how this good-natured, still-attractive at 80-years-old woman loves such an awful man. All I can do is love her, and forgive her. I try, anyway.
Toxic ties that bind
There is a difference between forgiveness and refusing to interact with toxic people. I have cut two toxic people out of my life in recent years, each after more than 20 years of friendship. It was not easy to do. I am not sure if I've forgiven them, or if caring just became too much hard work. It is more difficult to do that with family members. Why is it harder to forgive someone you love, even when you desperately want to? I think it's because the sense of betrayal is that much greater, the pain deeper. Forgiveness requires discipline and courage, and most of all, a willingness to let go.
Lately I have been working on forgiving myself for a plethora of perceived failures, some real, some justifications for not moving forward. I have proven to be my hardest subject yet. I hang onto self blame as if it were a life raft on the stormy North Atlantic. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to let go of that raft of self-defeating beliefs, those old tapes of recrimination and shame. They serve no useful purpose but they are comfortable and always there. Forgiveness is the path to the person I want to become, and it must be chosen willfully, not at random. It is the key to present and future happiness if I only I will cooperate. To quote Paul Boese, "Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future."