Friday, 25 August 2017

Am I TOO Forgiving?!

Last night, I couldn't sleep.  And as usual, it wasn't any kind of outside noise or external circumstances keeping me awake.  Nope, it was my own brain and its constant refusal to just shut up.

The theme of last night's unwanted pondering was forgiveness.  More specifically, my own forgiving nature and whether I'm too quick to forgive, or whether maybe, other people aren't forgiving enough

 The question had been looming in my thoughts for a while, to be fair.  A few little non-incidents had played on my mind and brought the subject of forgiveness to the fore.

Recently, I came up with a tattoo design I wanted to have inked over a friendship tattoo I had done with someone who is now not my friend.  It has been really upsetting to look down at my foot and see words that stopped representing our friendship and became utterly meaningless, as things irretrievably broke down over a period of several months.  The increasing sense of isolation and the feeling that I was somehow always in the wrong in her eyes, weren't things I wanted to be reminded of.  So, I wanted the tattoo gone.  And, after much thought, I decided on the idea of a feather, with birds flying out of it, to represent freedom, as well as the transient nature of some of the relationships we have in life.  After talking to my tattoo artist, it was agreed that we'd keep the two, interlinked hearts that formed part of the original friendship tattoo, and amongst the birds flying away from the feather, there would be small hearts, to connect the new design to the old one.  I was really pleased with the design discussed and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it drawn up and having it inked.  But, when I told people about my plans, a few of them were surprised I was having the original tattoo covered up at all.  They were convinced that this former friend would need only ask and I'd go running back to her side, because, they told me: "You've always been almost too forgiving."

I am very forgiving.  I don't believe in holding a grudge.  I try not to hold onto anger, because doing so is like punching yourself in the face and expecting the person you're mad at to feel it.  And whilst the people who suggested that I'd rush back to my former friend and just carry on where we left off were wrong (I couldn't do that), it's fair to say that I would politely respond to her, if she got in touch.  She hurt me badly, but I've forgiven that and I've moved on from the situation.  I didn't have to forgive her, in order to move on (because, as I've written about before, I don't actually believe in the idea that you must forgive someone who hurts you, in order to move on with your life), but I'm aware that the situation was a complex one and can't be casually explained by just lumping blame onto her shoulders.  We both made mistakes.

So, when a couple of people were shocked at my willingness to ink over the original friendship tattoo, I found myself conversely unsurprised by their reactions.  I've never been particularly tough when it comes to closing doors on people.  I've always been a second-chance-giver.  Often, I'm a third or even fourth chance-giver, before I eventually walk away.  And yes, that's led to me getting hurt.  Probably more than I care to admit to...

Maybe I am too forgiving.  Maybe I see good in people who are anything but.  Bizarrely, aside from a select few (my abuser included, obviously), the people who I can't and won't forgive, are usually those who've hurt my family or friends, rather than those who've hurt me.  And those people who have hurt me to an unforgivable degree are usually people whose "crimes" have been way more serious than just "we fell out," or "they made me mad."  If I don't forgive you, generally speaking, you've got to have done something pretty awful to me.

Some would call me weak.  But for me, the alternative - holding grudges and never forgiving anyone - would be far worse.

I can remember saying - possibly even here on this blog - that I would never forgive one of my best friends, after we had an argument that blew up into way more than it ever should have been.   I was deeply hurt by the aftermath of the argument; far more than I ever was by the argument itself, which, had we both been more sensible, could have been done and dusted and forgotten about within a day or two.  And, because I was angry and upset, I told myself - and others - that that was it.  I could never forgive that friend for how painful that whole experience was.  

And yet, I'm sitting here and I can say, with my hand on my heart, that if she messaged me now and said "hey, want to meet up and talk things through?" I'd absolutely say "yes."

That's not because I'm weak.  It's because I realise that the actions that hurt me came from a place in which she was hurting, too.  It's because there are two sides in every argument and, whilst I'm obviously still on mine, I can see hers.  It's because I've taken time to look at the situation from every angle, including the ones that don't paint me in the most flattering light.  I made mistakes, just as much as she did.  I bear just as much responsibility as she does.  But more importantly than anything else, it's because the friendship we had outweighs the fallout.  The many years of closeness, in-jokes and mutual support were and are more important than the bitterness and passive-aggression of an argument gone too far.

Forgiveness, for me, isn't about being too soft, or overlooking everything a person has done wrong.  It's about understanding why something has happened and being able to analyse my part in it (if I have one; there's a reason I don't forgive my abuser, after all...).  It's about processing the anger I'm feeling and neutralising it so that it can't hurt me, anymore.  Because that's all that really happens when you hold onto anger for too long; it becomes the stick you beat yourself with, rather than anyone else.

I'm not, of course, saying that I have the definitive, right approach.  Forgiveness (or non-forgiveness) is such a personal matter, that I don't believe that there even is a right or a wrong attitude to have towards it.  That's why I get so angry by people who blindly post statuses on social media, insisting that you must forgive those who've hurt you, as though doing so somehow makes you a better person than those who don't or can't forgive.

Everyone's threshold is different, in terms of what they can be put through and still forgive.  Time is also a factor; sometimes, a significant length of time needs to pass, before forgiveness is possible.  That old adage that "time is a healer" has a lot of truth to it, when you're talking about forgiveness.  It's like moving further away from a bright light; you need to be a safe distance, before you can fully open your eyes and see things clearly, again.

And of course, sometimes we find ourselves on the other side of things.  Sometimes, we find ourselves either in genuine need of being forgiven for our own bad behaviour, or - worse - we discover that someone we had a mutual disagreement with, holds us entirely responsible and has opted not to forgive us.  That can be enormously frustrating, particularly if we've struggled to reach a point where we forgive the person who cannot give us the same.  It can reignite feelings of unwarranted self-blame.  It can make us question ourselves, unnecessarily.

Maybe that's why I'm so quick to forgive - or at least, perhaps that's part of the reason.  I know that, as a fallible human being, there will be times in my life when I say or do something that unintentionally causes upset to someone.  There's nobody on this planet who can say they've never hurt anyone, after all.  And when that happens, I will hope that those who know and love me will accept my apologies and forgive me for whatever it is I've said or done.  If I hope for forgiveness for myself, surely I can't be someone who denies it to others?!

I guess the answer to last night's question in my head - am I too forgiving, or are others not forgiving enough? - is... Both.  At different times and in different situations.  There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to forgiveness.  You can't have a standardised response to something which is ultimately so personal.  

And the fact is, you won't always get it right.

There have most definitely been situations in my life, when I've forgiven someone who has hurt me, only for them to do it again - and worse.  But equally, there have been times when I've forgiven someone (or vice versa) and our friendship has been strengthened as a result.

Every situation is different and all anyone can do is what feels right to them, at the time.  What we mustn't do, is try to force our views onto others.  If someone wants to forgive a person we don't think deserves a second chance, we can voice our concerns, but we can't insist that they change their mind (cases of abuse being the only exception I can think of to that rule).  Equally, if someone is unforgiving towards a person we think deserves forgiveness - or, if they're unforgiving towards us - we can't force them to do what we want them to.

Forgiveness is far too complicated an issue to really untangle in one, relatively short blog post.

Am I too forgiving?  Well, yes.  And also, no.  And if you're horribly confused by this post, which is essentially a case of me trying to untie the knots my brain tied itself up in last night when I should have been asleep, then don't worry.  

I forgive you. ;-)


  1. Did you ever cover the tattoo?

    1. I did! With a beautiful feather. I kept one part of the old design, out of respect for what it used to stand for; together the new tattoo represents to me letting go and moving forwards to a happier place in my life.


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