I read a line in one of my self-prescribed self-help/do-good books this weekend that made me pause. For the most part, I loved the book because it was about embracing your messy, fucked-up life but there was one chapter in particular that talked about forgiveness, saying we must always forgive because “Forgiveness helps quiet the anger.”
What gave me pause wasn’t that we should aim for forgiveness so much as it was the idea we should quiet any negative emotions we feel for fear of how others will perceive us. Anger is not meant to be quieted, it is meant to be expressed in whatever safe and healthy medium that we identify with. For me, I choose to express my anger through writing and running because both activities leave me feeling empty of hate instead of consumed by it. For others, anger is expressed through painting or even smashing plates on the sidewalk (Liz can attest to how much fun this actually is). Whatever medium you identify with, expressing your anger is far better than stifling it.
I think back to the day I found myself curled up in a ball on the hardwood floor of my parent’s bedroom sobbing and gasping for air. I kept telling myself the best thing to do was to forgive and let go. The reason I didn’t – couldn’t – do that is because I was not capable of forgiveness at that point in time. As much as I would have liked to say I forgive you and I wish you happiness and love because I have loved you so much, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. Why? Because that’s not actually how I feel. In fact, at the risk of sounding maniacal, this is what I really feel: I hope he loses all his money because he prizes stance and stature more than anyone else I know. I hope he gets divorced as quickly as he got engaged and married. I hope his new wife cheats on him and gets pregnant by someone else (because he did that to me twice and I would really love for him to know how that feels). I also really hope he ends up unhappy and alone and the sooner that happens, the better. I am not ashamed to say I feel any of this because this is HONESTLY where I’m at.
The point of sharing this is to illustrate that we can only hope to reach forgiveness by going through all of the other emotions we feel, not around them. Whether its depression, anger, hate and bitterness or just plain hurt feelings, we are so often taught to quickly release those emotions as soon as we feel them because they’re exhausting and they consume our energy. Yes, they are all of these things, but I can honestly say that quieting those emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you are ready to do so does not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. To forgive someone before you actually feel it in your bones is not forgiveness. It is something else entirely. We must endure the ugly side of hurt even if it brings out the most un-redeeming qualities.
I believe the idea that we must always forgive (and well before we are ready to) creates an undue pressure and hardship on our hearts. I also believe it is not necessary to forgive in order to let go. It is only necessary that you first be kind to yourself and second that you love yourself more than anybody else could. The only way to do both is to honor what you feel by going through your journey, not around it. To promise to show up every single day and embrace the ugly side of hurt. To express the emotions that rise up because otherwise (like me) you spend years forcing yourself not to feel. You really only need reach acceptance in order to let go. Quieting the anger is not an option but releasing it is.