My first instinct has always been to forgive those who have wronged me. For the most part I have been able to do that throughout my life, but there have been a couple of times where I was afraid to forgive. I was afraid to show signs of weakness or let those who wronged me take advantage of me again. Therefore I held grudges. I reminded myself every day of reasons to hate; reasons to never forgive. Lastly, I kept track of reasons for vengeance. Anger can be a powerful fueling mechanism, but it is also extremely destructive. I would like to share with you a scenario where I had to choose between preserving my sanity and fueling my anger. From those experiences I have deduced that forgiveness is more of a personal understanding than a message conveyed to one who wronged you. Forgiveness has allowed me to tell myself that I am not weak, I have overcome the pain, and I am ready for the next obstacles life brings because I am not defined by a single low point in my life no matter how disastrous it was.
When I came home from college for winter break last year, I sensed something was not right. At first it was just an aura surrounding the house. Then I started to sense the strained interactions between my parents. My parents have always had a rocky relationship, so I thought nothing of it at first. My mother had recently quit her job when my parents bought a new house that summer. It was too much of an ordeal for her to commute to the other side of the river to continue working, so she decided to retire. My mother was an angry, depressed woman when she was a stay at home mother, earlier in life, and when she retired my foremost concern was ensuring she stayed productive and positive while staying home. My senses focused in on her constant expression of concern and maybe even mild depression. The very next day I sat down her down and told her that she has to keep herself busy if she is going to stay at home. It wouldn’t do any good to slip into depression again. Her first answer came with a distant gaze and she insisted that was not the case. I was persistent and refused to change the subject. All of a sudden, my mother burst into tears. She immediately confessed that my father had cheated on her and it had caused her a tremendous amount of pain.
As soon as she said those words I could feel the rage building. I flashed back to a conversation I had with my mother when I was in fifth grade. I remember telling her that all the fighting was scaring me and made me feel afraid that dad would cheat on her. My mother snapped me back to the present moment when I heard her talking about how she never wanted to share this with me; she didn’t want to involve me in her troubles. Tears streamed from my eyes as well as I clutched my mother in my arms and told her that she meant more to me than any person in the world and I couldn’t play the role of bystander as I watched her face such emotional pain. Then my mother collected herself and abruptly made me promise that I wouldn’t confront my father. She knows how strained and complicated our relationship is, even before these events. My mother knows how much anger I hold towards him for all the times he’s tried to control me and manipulate me. I just needed an excuse to explode and hold him accountable. “Why shouldn’t I! Why shouldn’t I?”, I screamed in rage. Why shouldn’t I confront him? My mother, being the awesome rational person she is, quickly reminded me who pays my college bills, and who supports her financially.
I gave my word at the moment, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t constantly contemplate confronting my father. I slept very little that night and for the rest of the week. Eventually I regained the ability to rest, but my waking moments were captured by hateful thoughts and schemes of vengeance. Such an existence comes at a price. Every night I smiled the most fake smile at my father during dinner table conversations. I put up with talking to him, I bared his presence in the house. It killed me inside that I ached to exact my revenge, but I already promised not to do so and even if I did drastic consequences could follow. Months passed by and I was back at college. Studies as well as hobbies kept my thoughts preoccupied, but every once in a while my mind would wander back to the predicament my mother was in and the many questions I had about the stability/future of my family. I eventually reached a point where I visibly saw my repressed anger holding me back and drawing me into depression.
Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that I held on to my anger as long as I possible could. Forgiveness definitely was not high on my priority list. However, I soon realized that my anger and thirst for theoretical vengeance really hurt me and did nothing to my father who had never shifted from his routine of sitting on the couch with his laptop on weekend afternoons. I was afraid to realize I was powerless in this situation; there were no logical, positive solutions to my predicament. I would simply have to accept that my fears of my father taking advantage of my mother’s vulnerable situation had come true. I realized my powerless position as well as the notion that such an incident could possibly occur again. Then it dawned on me that forgiveness was not something I had to display to my father. It was for me, it was for my own wellbeing. Forgiveness did not mean that I was weak or susceptible to manipulation. Forgiveness meant that I no longer required anger or hate. I could continue to live my life by accepting that my father took advantage of my mother at a time when she was most vulnerable for incredibly selfish reasons. To wear my pain on my face and in my heart only justified the power of those who wronged me.
I watched my mother restore calm to the household by the time I arrived for the summer. I felt strength in my ability to relinquish my hidden anger and move on with my life. There is only so much energy a person has in a day, mental or physical. My thoughts had previously been consumed by anger, which was such a waste of my time. Now I felt a renewed confidence, reinvigorated by the fact that I knew I didn’t need revenge or anger to live in the same house as my father. That’s the key to forgiveness, understanding that you don’t need anger or revenge. They make for bad crutches, but I was afraid to let go of them because fueling my anger was the only way I could rationalize what my father had done. I lived in a world of denial where hypothetical revenge was actually possible. Forgiveness entailed letting those dreams go and accepting the reality that there was no justice to be had in this situation. In the end forgiveness wasn’t about me telling him I accepted his actions because to this day I don’t. But I am strong enough to tell myself that I don’t need my anger. I can wake up in the morning every day and live my life. That acceptance of wrongs that occurred is enough forgiveness for me.
Forgiveness simply requires understanding and acceptance of the wrongs that occurred, nothing else. It is for you, not the aggressor. Live your life free of anger and hate. Don’t allow those who wronged you to define your life, empower yourself to define it for yourself.