My relationships with others fill me with incredible happiness. Knowing this about myself meant I had an important responsibility: i needed to learn how to manage my differences with others and remind myself that I won’t agree with everybody, and vice versa. Unfortunately, this means that, at times, there will be situations where we―or that person, or both―cross the line and hurt someone. A word, an act or even an omission of a truth can result in going through the most uncomfortable and unpleasant stage of the relationship.
Forgiveness works when you trust the other person and are willing to allow yourself space to heal. However, sometimes it doesn't work and you might be left wondering why. The truth is, forgiveness “works” but reconciliation doesn't always follow forgiveness. In these cases, there’s just a hole left, like a cliff with no bridge between you and the other person. The only way to get to them, if any, is long years of rebuilding that bridge with no guarantee of success. The important part is to learn to accept that there’s no bridge for now, and it may never exist again. Do we have to insist on that reconciliation? I don’t think so, and I’ll explain why based on my experience.
What does forgiveness imply?
Let’s go back to basics.
Because I like formal definitions: dictionary.com suggests forgiveness as "to cease to feel resentment against." The keyword here is resentment. It does not include renovation, reconciliation, or go back to the relation you had. To forgive is to be free of the sadness or anger towards someone. Those feelings, when left unattended, can occupy your thoughts and your heart, maybe so much that they invade your daily routine. The person that hurts can feel free also after sincerely apologizing.
A reconciliation does not always follow forgiveness. Forgiving someone doesn't always constitute a reconnection with the person, and here's why:
Now we’re clear on what forgiving implies, it's imperative to know why it doesn’t constitute a reconnection with the person:
When you’re the hurt one
You’ve been crying or distracted for days, maybe weeks, after someone hurt your feelings or did something that wrecked you. Some people noticed you’re not okay, some didn't. You don’t care about it and life goes on. You decide to cut your communication with the person who hurt you, maybe abruptly, without talking one last time. You decide to never bring up the topic again. How could this harm you?
For example, if you were to injure a part of your body, wouldn’t you go to the hospital? What would happen if you never got medical treatment for it? I hope you’re not eating while reading this, but I guarentee bacteria and a huge not-friendly infection.
The thing is, if you don’t take care of that wound, it could contaminate and damage other parts of your body. It’s the same thing with our souls. Emotional wounds need treatment too, and if they don't get it, they will cause more turmoil― resentment, bitterness, disdain, hate, and loathing are likely to build up inside you. You’re under no pressure to forgive someone, but going through the healing process is necessary to learn the maturity needed to confront future problems, to give advice to a friend in a similar situation, or to not make the same mistakes. You grow more than you think.
Remember, it’s about forgiving― there's no need to accept the person back into your life if you don’t want to. It’s not your responsibility, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
But, if forgiving is such a healing process, why can't some relationships reconcile?
When you’re the one asking for forgiveness
When a glass cup breaks, maybe you can fix it by glueing the pieces together and still use it to drink water with no problems. But sometimes, you may put the pieces back together, but drinking water is impossible because it manages to seep through the unfixable cracks. There's a little glass piece missing that you can't find, but without it, it won't work again. You can keep the glass if you like it a lot, but you can’t use it anymore.
We all make mistakes. But take a moment to reflect about the person you hurt. No matter what happened, what intentions you had, if you thought what you said or did was right, etc., put yourself aside and think about what that person might have felt. Maybe you understand their feelings, maybe you don't. You may think what you did is justifiable, but maybe they can’t see it that way. No matter the case, your apology should genuinely acknowledge the other person's feelings.
If they really forgives you, you’ll know it and I’m sure of it. That should be enough. Sometimes we think forgiveness automatically means the relationship is fixed, when there's never an obligation to fix it. Why insist and make it worse? It's necessary to respect the person's feelings and be careful not cross the line, for the mental well-being of both of you.
Should you act as if nothing happened?
Whether you're the hurt one or the one who’s asking for forgiveness, ignoring what happened is not the best decision to make.
When you’re the hurt one
As I commented before, you don’t have to force yourself to confront the person who hurt you if you don't want to. Don't feel obligated to respond to an approach, or pretend you feel better when you don't. If, for some reason, you decide to reconnect with that person and be in their life again, it's important to set boundaries so that whatever happened, doesn't happen again. You have the power to speak your mind. Use it! Act in accordance to how you feel, with peace, and take steps to purify that resentment.
When you’re the one asking for forgiveness
I believe this is the worst mistake ever. Acting as if nothing happened will seem as if you are not considerate of that person's feelings. I’m not saying that you should live in guilt and embarassment either, but remember that allowing a space for reflection is necessary. Don’t wait for that person to do something you understand as a green light to return to their life as if nothing ever happened. Neither stay ahead of how much it considers you. You could be disappointed and it will be worse.
Let destiny do its work
As time goes by, you’ll notice it hurts less, for whatever position you’re in. Other people and situations, for better or for worse, will come. That’s what life is about and, for now, we can’t explain why. But everything eventually falls into place and there are signs you’ll notice as you move forward. No matter what position you're in, don't force anything. It's not the end of the world and you’ll have the opportunity to be better every day. Go with the flow!
If you were hurt by someone, let me tell you― time will pass and you will be okay. You may not feel amazing right away, but you’re in this world to rock it no matter what. On the other hand, if you hurt someone, let me say that you are here for a purpose as well, and you are still human. You have the opportunity to make peace with what happened, with the person and, more importantly, with yourself. This will help you mature, learn empathy, and create a healthy environment for yourself and the ones you love.
I invite you to think about a time where someone hurt you and what you did to get over it, or what you're actively doing to progress past it. Or maybe, think about a situation that was left unattended, where you've always felt like you have a debt to someone because you never apologized. We can take advantage of this quarantine to reflect on who we are and who we aspire to become. Remember, maybe things will never be the same again, but the inner peace that comes after facing our feelings is priceless.