People have an enormous capacity for forgiveness, if the person who has wronged them simply asks for it. On TV shows I’ve seen people say “I forgive you” for the most amazing things…like the girl who forgave a drunk driver who caused an accident that left her horribly burned and disfigured for life. People even grant forgiveness to those who cause the accidental death of their loved ones. We forgive people who break our hearts, betray us, disrespect us and embarrass us. But how do we forgive those who never ask? Especially when they either don’t know or believe they did anything wrong, or when they just won’t admit it.
The important thing to remember about forgiveness is that it doesn’t have to mean that your relationship with the offender (if you had one to begin with) has to go on like before. When someone has deeply wronged you, you won’t forget it very soon, so it would be extremely difficult to forgive an unacknowledged wrong and then have to “make nice” with that person every day. You don’t have to continue a relationship at all, you don’t have to be close, and you don’t have to like that person or be happy to see them.
Forgiveness is just a way of finding enough neutrality to say, “I don’t care. I’m not going to let it ruin my peace of mind.” Forgiveness means that you’re not letting the person who wronged you live rent-free in your head, causing you pain and anxiety, especially when they are going merrily along their way, not the least bit concerned with how you’re feeling. So how do you get to that point?
- Rise above, or pretend to. The expression says that “living well is the best revenge,” so let’s just think for a second about how that works. Someone has wronged you. If they find out you’re spending all your free time alone with the shades drawn, crying and feeling victimized, then in some way they’re apt to be even more dismissive of you. Instead, do what you can to appear composed and dignified. Don’t go around acting maniacally happy—they’ll see through that in a minute. Just be calm, and think of what happened as an unfortunate incident you want to put behind you. The more you fake it, the more it will become true.
- Write a letter (even if you never mail it). When I was twenty-three, I picked up my wedding dress from the bridal shop one day. Strangely, that night my fiancé didn’t show up as usual, nor did he ever show up again, except to do his best to escape being contacted by the girl he was crazy in love with the week before. It was the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever been through at the time, made worse by the fact that he would not explain. Several months later, on what was to have been our wedding day, I wrote him a long letter. I don’t remember what it said, but I remember that as the very end of the whole episode. I said whatever I would have said if he’d been willing to listen, and then I was finished.
Stop clutching onto the pain. If you’re hanging onto a grudge when the offender and the rest of the world have all moved on, what are you getting out of it? What would you do, what would you think about, if not this? You might feel a little lost at first until you find a new focal point, but there are so many better things to fill up your brain with than pain and hurt feelings. And forget the apology that never came. It only takes one to forgive, and that’s you.