Everything You Need To Know About Forgiveness

by | Dec 15, 2018

Recently, there is a certain Mr Yong who hopes to reconnect with his daughter whom he has lost contact for many years. Dover Park Hospice linked up with Zaobao to run his story on the papers, hoping that somehow that could lead them to him.

This story is not uncommon, especially when we realise our time becomes dangerously limited, pursing what is meaningful for us becomes paramount. And as 2018 hovers close to an end, I would like to dedicate this post to a broader idea related to reconnection and rekindling of relationship: the theme of forgiveness.

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Photo by Zaobao.com.sg

As we start growing older, the concept of ‘Forgiveness’ seem to gain more prominent importance insidiously. As I come across more folks who are diagnosed with life limiting illness, the power of pursing ‘Forgiveness’ is often underrated. It remains a valuable process that could unlock much of our unhappiness, many of which are unconscious and deep-seated.

Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of forgiveness does not always apply to wrong doing in an absolute sense or for people who are highly dysfunctional in their daily life. Watching too many Korean dramas may suggest a certain type of histrionic scenario worthy of imploring forgiveness. But essentially, these are really scripted drama. Our reality is usually more subdued.

The truth is that life is made up of many crossroads, of which every turn demands challenging decision making. After making about one hundred of such choices, it is only natural to figure out later on that possibly 20% of those decision could have been better made. Regardless of outcome, time unilaterally force us to march relentless forward, regardless of impact caused by those choices.

Reality always make it seem that we don’t really have a choice.

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Photo by Victor Dueñas Teixeira on Unsplash

When The Dust Settles

Most people are highly functional. They hold a job. They go through their daily activities. They go for social gathering. They are contributing member of society. They are not clinically depressed.

They are like everyone else. Everyone else is like them.

However when the dust settles, especially when we are alone, a quiet sense of unhappiness may arise. Not cyclonic or raging, but dull and slow burning like charcoal. Sometimes, we are unconsciously triggered by certain event, context or people. Over a causal post on social media or a seeming innocent conversation with someone else. But the truth is that these are usually not the catalysis because the aches are persistently familiar. The dull aching intensify, fiery-consuming that part of our heart and mind we cannot seem to extinguish for the longest time. The feeling is a mash of unhappiness, sadness, pain, regret or guilt. But it has become so rojak that we may identify it collectively as an unnamed entity, but specifically none of the above.

Over time, it has evolved into something alien. Not dealing with it may not result in apparent dysfunctional lifestyle, but it greatly limits our quality of life. Especially on the way we experience personal authenticity, intimate relationship with others and the rich range of emotions that makes human more human.

If you are experiencing something similar, then this post may be for you.

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Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

It Is Really About Us

The first principle in the realm of forgiveness: in the grand scheme of things, is really about ourselves. Sometimes when we are so caught up with our poignant experience that someone else has hurt us so badly that we give up the right and ability to release ourselves from this prison of pain. Our emotions often delude us to think that forgiveness is about the other person, but it is really more about ourselves.

I am sure some people may become agitated reading this halfway. And it is for good reasons. There are many situation in life where people are obviously victim of circumstances (e.g. rape victim), so shouldn’t it be rightful for us to blame the other person/s?

Actually there are two distinctive layer: one is the behaviour that we experience and the other is the emotional response to the behaviour. Blaming the other actor may be natural and rightful because we may not have complete control over what has happened. But the emotional response to our situation, though keenly related, is a separate layer of issue which we have much more control over.

A simple illustration of the above point: someone stepped on my toe. I could have move myself away prior before the accident happened. But for some reasons I didn’t and things happened. I may have little control over what has just happened and rightfully become pissed naturally. However, beyond that instinctive moment, I actually have more control over my emotion. In the sense where I can decide how long I want to remain in this state or decide if I should process this feeling later on with the purpose of transforming them.

These are well within our span of control.

We often mixed up these two things because we get the feeling that forgiveness does sound like letting people get away easily from the hurt they have inflicted on us. Bearing the pain and grudge against people who had hurt us in the past sadistically delude us to feel that if we can’t let go, the other person wouldn’t be able to as well. Obviously this isn’t true and ultimately only serve to sustain the dagger of pain inside us indefinitely.

The inability to transform our pain affects no one else except us. This crushing burden is only on our emotional shoulders.

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Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

It Requires Active Processing

Another common myth about the need for forgiveness or to receive forgiveness is that time will do the trick. The hard truth is that it requires active processing. Time alone does not do anything other than to distant ourselves from the ‘site of pain’, which end up allowing us to get used to the pain, but does little to transform them. Without real transformation, the scenario displayed in “When the Dust Settles” often relapse in various confusing forms.

Avoidance is also a common but poor long term strategy used by people with deep seated pain. It may relieve us in the short run and provide us some needed respite or face value. But it has great limitation to emancipate us from the real deal in the longer haul.

The good news? We can always choose otherwise later on. And this is only made possible because we are actively processing our experience, which strangely also give us freedom to expand our options. If one actively chooses avoidance, then it is kicking the can down the road… only having to pick it up later on in life.

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Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

What we can do?

Sometimes, we don’t give ourselves enough credit on how we deal with issues. Sure, on hindsight, it was probably the 20% we could have made better choices. But bearing in mind that was the best that we could do at that point of time, with the amount of resources given, state of mind and circumstances. Though there are always better ways of dealing with things, it only became clearer to us looking backwards.

Active processing has two important but necessary dimensions. One involves forgiveness on our contribution to the issue and the other involves forgiveness on the decision made thereafter. These are again interrelated but distinct issues.

For the first part, sometimes, it may be necessary to deal directly with a specific person to heal wounds and close chapters before forging new paths ahead. For such cases, the template is about your closure, not theirs. Hence, it is what you need to do to conclude this chapter meaningfully and not what you expect the other person to do or say to you before you can seal it. Many people pursue the latter, going in with a rigid template of forgiveness only if the other person responds to us in a certain way. That usually backfire because it breaches the first principle as ultimately, it is about us, not the other person.

For the second part, the wisdom of finding inner peace through forgiveness is also to recognise which part of ourselves and our relationship to reconnect and which part to let go. Frankly, this is extremely challenging. But when in doubt in making an accurate judgement, always believe that the right answer is probably right smack in the middle: there are both aspects that requires reconnection and letting go. Doing only one usually make recovery tumultuously and outcome less desirable.

One helpful tip is to express these two aspects openly, either in writing or in speech (or in whichever form you reckon is appropriate). Because when you are able to externalise the feeling and provide a description, you give names to these emotional aliens. This will allow you to expose them to active processing and prevent these shadowy emotions from hiding into your unconsciousness.

You can only transform what you expose. Those lurking in the dark remains in your unconscious.

Perhaps, this is why it helps when we could process our issues with someone we trust because we all have blind areas that are challenging to spot. Looking at our issues from same narrow perspective may inevitably serve to entrench our hurt deeper because we end up finding solutions to deal with symptoms but not the essence.

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Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

How Do We Know It Works?

You know the signs of pursuing forgiveness is working when you are able to go back to the same painful scenario, accidentally or purposefully, without being triggered. You will still be affected during recollection, just that you have more control over the access of your memories and being able to talk about it instead of having to deny access so as to better manage your emotions. Through the process, you would also gain multiple perspectives and be enriched by the entire experience. The pain will be lighter, less progressive, lingering or persistent. You find it unnecessary to ring-fence certain parts of your experience and sharing does not invoke anxiety. Essentially, we feel wholesome, accepting and calm. We won’t feel the need to avoid.  

The process is transformative. For some, we may reprioritise our needs and begin new journey. For others, the internal transformation is about quiet equanimity.

If you still have unsettled dust this year, you might want to set your personal resolution in the coming year to consider the theme of Forgiveness. Let me know how that works out for you.   


Featured Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash