Living Life Without Forgiveness

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Reprinted under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

I’ve recently realized that I have probably lived my entire life without understanding what forgiveness is. Yeah, I’m aware of what people have told me it is and the dictionary definition, but it’s not the same as understanding the thing. My life has been built on this misunderstanding, to my detriment.

My previous view of it.
Most of my encounters with forgiveness have been in a religious context. There’s a cosmic forgiveness I was taught as a Christian, that everyone is guilty with this thing that makes humanity worthy of punishment. It’s where I heard the word the most.

Forgiveness didn’t just exist in church. It became this thing that I was obligated to grant to others, but I saw it get used as part of social transactions. To get forgiveness from others, I had to earn it. Since it was important, it’s something I felt like I couldn’t live my life without.

Despite all of this, I always felt like I never earned it. That feeling causes all sorts of problems, especially when I was constantly reminded to forgive others no matter what. It created this double standard that I could never explain but caused all sorts of emotional trauma. I’m not saying that I was angry at life being unfair; I was angry at something I had the power to change but could not see.

Eventually I did seize upon the one thing I could control, the power to not forgive myself. I don’t think it happened because I’m masochistic. Rather, it was a real need to be able to control this terrible thing in some capacity. If I hadn’t, I might have let things fester to the point where I became excessively bitter. So, my misunderstanding became a matter of survival.

My perceptions as they stand now.
Forgiveness is not this magical thing which cures all wrongdoing. It’s also not a thing which can be earned. Either a person grants forgiveness or not. Making someone jump through hoops to get it is itself a form of wrongdoing. To put it a different way, forgiveness is meaningless if it’s conditional.

The point of forgiveness as I see it right now is to assert the ability to move on from a wrong. It doesn’t make the wrong go away or its effects undone. Rather, it affirms that the wrongdoing is not a mortal wound to any relationship or situation.

People also can wrong themselves, which makes forgiveness applicable. Here is where my inability to forgive myself comes in. In a way, I’m denying trust in myself. I am perpetrating more wrongdoings simply because it’s an affirmation of control rather than a tool to move on in life. Practically speaking, this keeps me in a bad place.

Maybe it’s hard because of anxiety and depression, or maybe it’s a cause of the anxiety and depression. I’m not sure how that matters yet, except to say that forgiving myself has to be a priority for my mental health. It means accepting that I don’t always make the best decisions for myself, and becoming okay with failings. For others, it means evaluating my relationship with them in ways that build trust instead of destroying it.