Part of the tension and mystery in this life is discovering how to be with ourselves and how to be with others. The struggle is learning how to exist in our own bodies and in our own selves; accepting and embracing our “otherness”, our separateness, including our own emotions, needs, wants, desires, fantasies, dreams, passions, sexuality, talents, gifts, etc. We are also struggling to learn to embrace another’s own otherness. How do we be together and separate at the same time, connected to our own selves and yet connected to another without losing our self? When we do not properly differentiate or separate ourselves from another, we stay stuck in a state of fusion or an enmeshed identity with another. Their pain is our pain and vice versa. It is an identity entanglement.
Unforgiveness facilitates fusion with another. What it does is cultivate and perpetuate hurt and pain that places responsibility on the one, who either intentionally or unintentionally acted in a way that created hurt, for mending, restoring and healing that damage. Unfortunately, such expectations do the exact opposite. It feeds the hurt all the more and the individual who has been wounded never touches the pain that only they can face, burying further in defense and compulsive coping strategies.
Fusion means we create dependence between ourselves and the other for our own emotional states and well-being. No longer is that person seen as an “other” but becomes enmeshed in my own pain, who then is obligated for the relief of it. So, if I am sad, then I believe it is another’s responsibility to take care of my sadness; or loneliness, or emptiness or hurt, etc.
If the other fails to do so according to my illusory expectations, then I build up a defense of anger, and unprocessed anger leads us deeper into dimensions of anger such as bitterness and hate. Admittedly, in our overwhelming place of pain and helplessness we want to consume the other in our hurt, subjecting them to the pain we feel. In other words, we desperately want them to see how deep the cut goes as a result of their actions.
With unforgiveness we no longer see that person as an individual who acted out of their own wounded ways to try to mend or medicate something broken within. Unforgiveness is a defense against our own bleeding. Now, it does not make the act right or just in any way, nor does it mean we ignore our own pain. Responsibility needs to be put on the other for what they did that violated and caused harm to our own hearts but making them healer for our own pain only leads to ruin and a disconnected self that remains saturated in hurt.
THE SCARY HEART JOURNEY OF FORGIVING
The journey into forgiveness is a harrowing one that I think gets distorted. It can be a very difficult and tumultuous process. Sometimes we default to saying the magical words “I forgive that person”, but our heart is unaligned with the mantra. Others may encourage us to “get over it” or “let it go”, but they fail to miss the deeper reasons why we “can’t just move on”. Because the truth is that it is not a “cognitive” or “intellectual” process. What I mean is that forgiveness can only come from the heart and the release of that person happens when we commit to journeying into the pain that we feel in response to the act done to us.
However, forgiveness has no time table, it only takes shape and form when we choose to step into the messiness of it. Practically speaking, if we don’t feel “ready” to forgive, then owning that and talking about it is necessary. God does not force us to forgive; however, it is an inevitable venture towards freedom and healing.
Usually when we are not “ready”, it is because we are scared to face the intensity of the pain. We don’t want to even acknowledge that we feel hurt by another’s actions. Our bodies recoil at such weakness, exposure and vulnerability. We are also scared to admit how much we are angry or hate the other, avoiding acknowledgement and actually letting ourselves feel the emotion. Or sometimes that is all we allow ourselves to feel, believing in its protection. At times, because we are so hurt, we develop a sense of pride, or an elevated perspective of ourselves over another, dehumanizing them to generate an imagined control.
I believe that when we take the steps to acknowledge our anger (and actually express it), our “readiness” and our fear, we have begun to move into forgiveness. We may pull back because we are scared but embracing and allowing ourselves to feel that fear instead of pushing away or judging ourselves for it is important to stay in the healing process. It is normal to encounter the ebb and flow of pushing into the pain and then pulling away from it. Sometimes we believe we have forgiven, despite more emotion stirring up down the road. But again, the best action to take is to embrace feeling it when enters back into the scene.
As we engage in the pain of being wounded, we experience the thick presence of feeling lost, helpless, and powerless. We grieve what has been done and the impact the person had on us, as well as the change in the relationship. It is an important time of acknowledging and seeing our humanness.
Eventually as we develop compassion and care for our own hearts, we begin to see the other in a different light. No longer are they vilified, enmeshed and devoured by our own hate. Enigmatically, their humanness becomes clearer to us, and the compassion we have for ourselves pours out to them. It does not mean we reenter back into relationship with them, especially if it endangers ourselves or others, but we no longer view them through the scope of vengeance. Their own fragileness and brokenness that were obfuscated by revenge, are now all the more tangible.
The continual process of forgiveness progressively moves us into a state of a transcended self, more deeply connected with God, greater attunement to His Kingdom, and strengthening our capacity to care for those that wound us and others, no longer seeing them as enemies, but attempting to find their own true humanity through broken and bent ways. Forgiveness is more than “letting go” or releasing or no longer feeling pain; it is about moving further into our God-created selves.