I'm a very forgiving person. Some might even say too forgiving. There have been times when someone has hurt me pretty terribly and I've been able to forgive and move past it, in order to retain the relationship I have with that person. My view on forgiveness has always been that if I want to be forgiven for the mistakes I make, then I should show that same level of forgiveness to others.
Regular readers will know that the exception to this rule has always been my abusive ex.
He showed absolutely no remorse for what he did to me. In fact, the last time I saw him - when I finally snapped and told him I was sick of the way he treated me - he laughed in my face and told me I'd "allowed" him to abuse me, so he didn't need to be remotely sorry. That was - and is - unforgivable, in my eyes.
But lately, I've been thinking a lot about what I am prepared to forgive and what I'm not prepared to.
Typically, my rule - and I'm saying this as a non-religious person, so any preconceived notions you may have of the need to be forgiving to all, need to be left at the door at this point - has always been that if a person can recognise their behaviour as having had a negative impact, and if they are able to apologise for it, then I am usually prepared to forgive them (depending on what they've done, obviously, but we've established that I'm pretty forgiving...).
That rule has rarely wavered, over the years. Unless a person has done something utterly, indescribably awful, then as long as they say sorry and recognise their behaviour, I rarely have too much of a problem forgiving them. And, on the other hand, if a person point-blank refuses to acknowledge their behaviour or apologise, I find myself unable to forgive.
I'm pretty black and white about it.
But recently, I've realised that forgiveness is not a black and white issue.
Except here. Shh. The point stands.
When everything kicked off last year (continuing into early 2017) and I lost three of my closest friends, I had a very clear view of who I could and couldn't forgive.
The friend who took sides based on family, I never even needed to forgive, because I never blamed her for anything. There was never any question of me having even the slightest ill-will towards her. Although she didn't ask for my side of things (which broke my heart, because I thought she knew me well enough not to believe the lies being told about me), I reasoned that blood would always be thicker than water. She was always going to side with her family over me and I understood that. No forgiveness required.
The friend I initially fell out with, I wasn't sure I could ever forgive. After all, my "crime" was to be openly upset and angry with something she'd done, and to speak up about it. She never apologised or recognised what she'd done wrong. And that's before we even factor in everything that happened after the argument was over.
Sticking to my black and white rules, that should have counted as unforgivable.
None of us can truly say, hand on heart, that we act at our best when we feel hurt, angry or cornered. And none of us can expect others to behave the same way that we would, when confronted with an accusation.
When someone says to me "I'm hurt/angry about X/Y/Z," my response is (usually) to say "I'm sorry" and try to resolve the problem, calmly. That said, I'm not Little Miss Perfect. I have moments where someone tells me I've annoyed them and I just think "oh, for goodness sake, you're overreacting to nothing." I still say I'm sorry, but my willingness to calmly resolve the situation is nowhere near as strong. Because I'm human and none of us like being told we're in the wrong if we think otherwise.
Now, I'm not saying that I'm about to contact that former friend and tell her that we should quickly book a mini break to celebrate our return to being buddies.
What I am saying, is that I would be open to talking things though with her. I would be willing to listen to her explanation as to why it all happened. Why she was willing to throw an incredibly close, wonderful friendship away, rather than say "sorry I've upset you, that wasn't my intention. Can we move on from this?"
And if we had that conversation and she was able to say sorry and recognise how hurt I was and what her part in causing that was, I would forgive her. Gladly. Because she is only human, too. I was hurt and angry, but for her to respond in the way she did, she must have been, as well. And although I have already said it, I would also apologise in return. Because whilst I believe I didn't do anything wrong, she does. And I am sorry that we are no longer in one another's lives, regardless of what has happened.
Now, you may be wondering why this is blog-worthy news. I'm having counselling; acceptance is all part of the grieving process, isn't this just me reaching some kind of peace with situation?
Well, maybe. But there were three friends I lost as a result of all of this, and only two of them have been mentioned.
The third? Is unforgivable.
See, the third person didn't have to get involved. There was no family tie between her and the friend I fell out with. There was no real need to pick a side. In fact, my belief throughout all of this, has been that as a supposedly close group of friends, one of those not directly involved (ie not me or the friend I fell out with) could have opted to be the peacekeeper. Someone could have said "let's meet up on mutual ground and thrash this silly argument out. You're both hurting. We can resolve this."
That didn't happen. I want to believe that, had the argument happened between two other members of the group, I would have been that peacekeeper. Because the group meant so much to me. I cared for every single person in it. I would have hated seeing two of them falling out and I would have almost certainly texted both of the individuals involved and suggested we get together and I'd arbitrate their argument until it was resolved. I know I would have wanted to do that, because I've done it for other friends in the past.
I'm not mad at anyone for not deciding to try to play peacekeeper, though. People don't always want to get involved in another person's drama and with good reason. There is always the fear that you'll be accused of meddling, or that your good intentions will actually make things a hundred times worse.
What I am mad at, is that this third person decided to pick a side and start mud-slinging. Because it was the third person who sent me the hate mail. The letter that told me I was "selfish, thoughtless and bitchy." The letter that revealed that the supposed "friend" sending it had "had reservations about (me) for a year." The letter that regurgitated the lie that I had never apologised, or acknowledged my role in the argument. The letter that rejoiced in telling me "we've all had enough of you." The letter that not only reduced me to tears, but my mother, too.
I don't forgive the person who sent it. I will never forgive the person who sent it.
It genuinely intrigues me that I would be willing to forgive one person for causing me enormous pain, but not another. I can rationalise that the feelings of hurt and anger my friend felt when I told her I was annoyed/upset with her, may have caused her to behave in a way that was extremely painful to be on the receiving end of, but I can't rationalise the third person's decision to add to that pain.
It's made me curious as to what my limits of forgiveness actually are. I always believed that I could only forgive a person who was apologetic and acknowledged the negative effect that their behaviour had had. But the friend I fell out with hasn't ever apologised and she sees me as the one in the wrong, so she probably doesn't acknowledge any negative effect her behaviour has had. So, why am I fostering feelings of forgiveness? Is it because we were such good friends once upon a time, and I simply miss her? Have I analysed her behaviour so much that I almost feel I understand her psyche at the time? Or, is it merely that enough time has passed that I now feel we'd be able to sit and talk it through and maybe I would get the apology I never had?
And regardless of the reason that my feelings of forgiveness are growing, why is it that they're directed only towards that friend, not the third person? Why was sending me a cruel, harshly worded letter, so much worse than not listening to me when I said I was upset; instead accusing me of "being mean" and writing statuses aimed at me on social media?!
The sad fact is that not only is it highly possible that I might never work out the answers to these questions, but it's also unlikely to ever matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether I forgive or not, there are other people involved in this situation and they don't.
To them, I was the one in the wrong. The one who deserved to have posts aimed at her online. The one who deserved hate mail. Regardless of whether or not I still have fondness towards two out of three of those people, it is no longer reciprocated.
Turns out that you can heal and forgive and still be the loser.
In the last week, I've had to stop myself several times from texting the friend I fell out with, or from Facebook messaging her sister. And I haven't stopped myself because I don't want to speak to them, or because I don't miss them both every single day. I've stopped myself because I know my messages are almost certainly unwanted.
And yet, in this same past week, I've had several nightmares about ever having to come face to face with that third person, again. The thought genuinely horrifies me. I can't imagine ever reaching a place where I could be in the same room as her.
I find it really interesting that this whole situation has caused me to reassess what the limits of my forgiveness might be. I guess my black and white definition of what is forgivable and what is unforgivable has been tested by what I've been through.
Truthfully, nothing in life is black and white. It feels like every experience we have, causes us to see new shades of colours we never knew existed. We just have to learn from those experiences and take those new colours forward with us on our journey.
I have a feeling I still have many more colours to discover.