A beginner's guide to forgiveness

Learn from those who have forgiven the seemingly unforgivable. By Lizza Gebilagin

Photo: Aaron Guy Leroux

Let me tell you about my ex-boyfriend. The fucking fucked-up fucker is an emotionally retarded, self-absorbed bastard whose looks are diminishing as rapidly as his intellect. At least that’s what I used to think of him. That and many other insults that included lots of creative ways I could use profanities as nouns, verbs and adjectives.

I held onto the hurt as if it were an integral part of who I was. It was exhausting. After years of being angry, I had to let it go. And I can finally see his side. Let’s be realistic, he probably had his own version of the above verbal barrage aimed at me, similarly unflattering. I don’t blame him for what happened between us and I’m grateful for the time that we had. He’s no longer that fucking fucked up fucker. Now, he’s just a guy I used to love.

You’ve probably been in a similar position where you’ve felt like someone has done the unforgivable. It could be a former boyfriend who broke your heart, a best friend who wasn’t there for you, or a parent who never supported you. The event could be something trivial or something completely horrendous.

Now, before you read on, nobody is saying that it’s your responsibility to let them off the hook. (Being forced to forgive only makes it worse.) This article is for those who are ready to let go.

What forgiveness is and what it isn’t

Marina Cantacuzino knows all about, what she called, the much-debated “F word”. The founder and director of The Forgiveness Project has collected stories from people around the world who have forgiven the seemingly unforgivable. There’s the woman from London who forgave the man who broke into her house and repeatedly raped her, while her two-year-old daughter was in the next room. In South Africa, a mother established a foundation with the man who was responsible for a massacre that took her daughter’s life, in order to help further conciliation in the precarious country. Shocking? Yes. Inspiring? Some people would agree while others would think it’s insane.

“If someone’s unable to say sorry or show remorse about something, then people get angry about the notion of forgiveness. ‘How can you let him get away with it? You’re condoning the action. You’re excusing them. You’re weak’,” says Cantacuzino. “Others think forgiveness is some magical key to serenity. They believe it’s a cure or that it’s easy or that it belongs to Christianity.

“My own feeling about forgiveness is that it’s none of those things. It’s difficult, painful and costly. However, it’s potentially transformative and it liberates you from the grip of the perpetrator, from the memory of the event, or from that thing that keeps you stuck.”

How did these people forgive the offenders of these truly atrocious acts, and what can we learn from their heart-breaking stories? Cantacuzino shares her steps of forgiveness.

Give yourself time

The Forgiveness Project includes stories of people who are still going through this process, like the wife of a man who was murdered by militant Islamic fundamentalists, who thinks that forgiveness is a “lame” response to such a crime. “We included stories like that because forgiveness is a journey, not a destination. I wanted to show that some people don’t get there.”

What you can do: Don’t beat yourself up about it if you aren’t ready to forgive. Let that time come organically.

Allow yourself to feel

Suppressing your emotions will keep you stuck. You need to feel before you can let go. “It’s a little like the process of grieving. It starts as trauma, anger and despair, then, at some point, something will shift.”

What you can do: Talk to a friend or a psychologist about what you’re feeling and why, or try journalling. But don’t judge your emotions – allow them to flow.

Reconcile with the event/person

“This can happen in many ways. It could be that you talk to the perpetrator, or that you’re simply worn out by the pain and the memories, and make a conscious decision to do something different because what you’re doing isn’t working. At this point, people are able to look at why somebody did what they did.” Cantacuzino adds, “Not to say that you ever condone the act, however, the person [who committed the act] regains humanity and that’s a crucial element.”

What you can do: Write about the event from three different points of view. First, from your perspective, then the other person’s, and then from an outsider’s. You could even burn the piece of paper afterwards as a symbolic gesture that you’ve released the event.

The following article first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Cleo magazine.








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