I don’t believe in asking for forgiveness. That doesn’t mean I don’t screw up and need to address my mistakes.
Here is my theory, and what I attempt to practice: It is my responsibility to assess whether or not my actions or words (or sometimes inaction or silence) have given rise to hard feelings, caused actual harm, or been wrong, unjust, or unfeeling. If the answer to my assessment is “yes” I can then attempt to judge how large a responsibility I need to take, and apologize or see if amends can be made. Asking for forgiveness is none of my business. Offering forgiveness is the purview of the offended or hurt party. They either can, or cannot, they will, or they won’t. Asking “Will you forgive me?” places the responsibility on the shoulders of the other party. For me, it feels far more empowering to say, “I apologize for these actions and want to talk if you are willing. Is there something I can do to make amends?” It also feels more empowering to attempt to forgive ourselves. Sometimes I think self-forgiveness is what we are really longing for, and feel we don’t deserve it unless someone else lifts the burden from our shoulders.
The process of forgiveness is long. It requires us to reclaim the energy that gets bound up in another person, or situation, or in the retelling of a story so as to dig the emotional reality deeper. Untangling all of this can only happen within each party. No one outside ourselves can do this for us. We can, on one side, get to a place where we can see the other person’s point of view, take responsibility for what we can, and try to make what amends may be possible. We can, on another side, examine our feelings, figure out how much is our story, how much happened that we might like to see acknowledged by the other party, and then ::drumroll please:: decide no matter what the other party does or does not do, that we can take our power and energy back from the situation and stop injuring ourselves through continued sorrow or anger.
All of this takes time. Forgiveness requires moving through emotions, attempts at dialogue, and space and time for wounds to heal. It cannot be forced prematurely. It cannot be forced at all. Sometimes a rift is so large, the other party will never come around to forgiving us. We still have to figure out how to deal with that inside ourselves, and in our lives. If we wait around for forgiveness to come from the outside, we may never be able to learn, to heal, and to move on, better able to try once more.
Part of the trouble comes a wish to fix things right away, and part of the trouble comes from an attachment to identity and stories. We get so caught up in our own stories. Stories can help us figure out the meaning of things and stories can also set in stone something that was mutable, or multifaceted, grinding it into a form that is static and singular. “He said, she said.” “It’s not my fault.” “I’m a failure.” The richest tales allow for many viewpoints, but to work well, to go on to nourish our souls, these viewpoints must intersect to form a cohesive narrative over time. In one way, our stories run parallel to each other, but reality is, we are all co-creating a larger tale together. We create stories of opposition and cooperation, of joy, victimization, power, rising up, oppression, love, anger, and of possibility.
What is your experience? What is the story you tell yourself about it? How does this inflame or depress your emotions? What story do those emotions wish to tell? How is the story helping you move forward or holding you back? What might we have missed? Coming to wholeness requires us to engage ourselves, engage each other, and open the streams of forgiveness within. No one can do this for us. Can we listen?
What story do you want to tell? And is there something you may need to forgive yourself for?