For many years I thought I forgave others because I was a good person and wanted them to be at peace with themselves and be comfortable in our relationship.
I saw myself as being on a much higher moral ground than them because I was forgiving them. They were receiving my forgiveness.
But even though I forgave readily and without any qualms, I used to have a nagging sensation in the back of my mind about forgiving them too easily or too nicely. That they didn’t have to work for something that I gave them. That if it had been someone else in my place they wouldn’t have been forgiven without any effort on their part. I saw myself as a benevolent benefactor who bestowed forgiveness for free. And I saw its beneficiaries not really valuing it. I started to see my habit of forgiveness as my weakness. I started to see it as my defense mechanism in the face of blatant oppression and my own attempt at coming to terms with antagonism.
So this made me dislike forgiveness. This made me dislike myself when I forgave people.
And today I believe that I was right in disliking myself because my intention or Niyyah wasn’t to forgive. You see, my attempt to forgive people wasn’t because I wanted to show kindness. It was because I wanted to avoid confrontation. And in order to live peacefully despite knowing that people owed me answers for the injustice they carried out against me, I used forgiveness as a defense mechanism. Sounds familiar?
When we don’t forgive through the system of forgiveness, we do not attain contentment. When we don’t forgive with the intention of truly moving on and letting go, we become passive-aggressive. When we don’t forgive with compassion and kindness, we continue to live in the antithesis of forgiveness. Forgiveness should result in purification of the mind and soul. It should do something for us. It doesn’t have to do anything for the other person.
While I was happy in the knowledge that I was this amazingly selfless person who didn’t hold a grudge against anyone and had no bones to pick with anyone, I was slowly turning into a resentful person. And my resentment wasn’t affecting my offenders. My resentment was affecting the people who deserved my most compassion and kindness, my husband and kids.
Suppressing an unpleasant event or feeling is a great defense mechanism to get through the day. But it doesn’t work long term. For several reasons. One, it can’t be your lifestyle. It can’t be your mantra. It can’t be the principle you live by. Because suppression can burden your mind with feelings with no distinct event attached to them. That’s what sometimes constitutes PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. I think many women go through PTSD at the hands of their in-laws. They practice what I practiced. Superficial, flaky forgiveness for their offenders and considering this the kindness that would change their life. I’ll tell you this much! This attitude changes your life but not the way you hoped.
After wrangling with the concept of forgiveness for years and finding no clear comfort in forgiving people, I started evaluating my forgiveness critically. I thought to myself
“Why isn’t letting go feeling like letting go?”,
” Why is forgiving someone still resulting in me being the offended party?”,
“Why isn’t this quality of mine, that is so rare amongst the people I know, valued more?”,
“Why am I still finding myself philosophically and ideologically at odds with the same people whom I forgave for those differences a long time ago?”.
That’s when I started to look for answers and the answers kept coming to me.
The first thing I learned and that I particularly want to share with you is that forgiveness is for us. It’s not for the person we forgive. The peace, calm and deliverance that we expect from forgiveness benefits us the most. Sure it helps our mutual relationship but its biggest benefits are reaped by us. When we know that we’ve forgiven and moved on, we start new chapters for us. We begin new relationships. Or we work on existing ones. But whatever we do, we change the way we approach a relationship because we have attained a calm about it. Because we are calmer about our relationship and have experienced its effects on us, we can process it and handle it with much more composure and strategy.
The second thing I learned is that forgiveness is an exercise in integrity. It can only be practiced by people who have some form of belief system, a way of life, an ideology of faith, principles. Not just anybody can execute forgiveness to reclaim their soul. The kind of forgiveness that transports our soul from experiencing an earthly grievance to a spiritual acceptance of our differences requires a strong person with integrity and morality.
Another thing that true forgiveness taught me was the authority that we have on ourselves and how malleable we are. It also showed me that the only person we can change is ourselves. We can’t change anyone else. We don’t have that power on anyone else. Forgiveness when practiced in its purest and truest form liberated me from mundane thoughts about retribution and payback and made me refocus on what’s important in life. It strips us of vanity. It reminds us of what’s important.
I also learned that forgiveness doesn’t mean transcending all human traits and attaining sainthood. No! It is natural and just to ask for an explanation, expect remorse, wish for retribution and pray for fairness by Allah when we’ve been wronged. Forgiveness isn’t discounting our feelings or our right to justice. It’s anything but. It’s about being kind to our own selves and taking the trash out. Forgiveness can begin with openly confronting a problem and after analyzing it with the offender learning to find a way to live peacefully with the knowledge that we could be harsher in our approach but chose not to. Forgiveness is the upper hand in a conflict. Forgiveness is the strength in a disagreement. Forgiveness comes from strong, complete people.
When we start practicing forgiveness we see a new value to our life with our loved ones. We learn to limit the chatter. We learn to enjoy the simple things in life. We learn to accept the apology we never got and we learn to forgive the offense that we know they’ll commit again. This is how forgiveness truly liberates us from the things and people who keep us away from the real purpose of life .