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Forgiveness and Wicca Part Two - How To Forgive

By Mortir


Okay, so we know why we should forgive, but how does one go about it? It is not as easy as many people think. It is absolutely, categorically, not just forgetting that whatever happened did happen, or pretending that it never did happen and trying to make things like they were before.

First, recognize that the wrongs done to you were wrong. Recognize that your pain is legitimate and understandable. Don't feel guilty for feeling angry, hurt, or betrayed. Anger and pain are hard-wired into your system - they are vital parts linked with the self-preservation instinct. They are there to keep you and what you cherish safe, and some of the things we cherish most are the ways we believe the universe and people are supposed to be and act. If you find yourself see-sawing back and forth over whether you contributed to the situation, or it was all your fault, and it was all that jerk's fault, stop. You've been hurt. It is right that you feel hurt and angry. This isn't about acknowledging your own faults right now. You can only forgive when you know how deep the hurt is, and you can only find that out by feeling it fully, admitting it to yourself, and letting it be. This is not about assigning blame to anyone. Read that last sentence again because it is very important! This is about you and your feelings; it is not about anyone else. So don't hold onto the pain, just acknowledge and feel it. Recognize that you're supposed to feel anger and betrayal when someone does you dirty. And please don't take the bit between your teeth and run full-tilt-boogie in the other direction and expect that your life is forever ruined because someone shafted you without benefit of lubricant or a thank you. If you do that, then you are the one shafting yourself, choosing to keep yourself in a place of pain and hurt and anger for no good reason - it doesn't help you and only keeps you in pain (and yields the other person power over you), and doesn't really hurt or help the one who messed you over, although in some corner of your mind you may think that it will. Don't assume that everyone will agree that the other person did betray you or play foul (this isn't about assigning blame, remember?). There may be a lot of perspectives on the matter, each valid from their own viewpoint even if it's not valid from yours. What is important, right now, is knowing that you hurt, are angry, and why. Spend some time with this, because the pain will lead you to what exactly got hurt, which is important later.

Next, choose to forgive. Choice is important, because you really don't have to forgive. Choosing to forgive makes you wrestle with why you should choose to forgive. If you want to hold onto your pain forever, well, that's an option. But remember that forgiveness is letting go of ineffective forms of anger that hurt and/or limit you, yourself (reread part one for the sales pitch on why it's a jim-dandy idea to forgive rather than hold a grudge). Remember in answering the question "Why forgive?" that "Because I should" is a cop-out. It's gotta come from you, your heart and mind and will, together (gee, sounds like a magic(k)al act, doesn't it? Funny, that...). Forgiveness does not mean that you lose, that you have to lie down and have "Wipe feet here" tattooed on your back, that you have to pretend that nothing ever happened and go back to business as usual, or deny that you still have pain over the dirty deed (whether done dirt cheap or at any price).

(Okay, at this point, I'm assuming that you've actually chosen to forgive, because if you haven't, I have no idea why you're reading this.)

Things have changed. You need to work with the change to come out better off. Please realize that you may well feel some amount of pain or anger or injustice over this and similar matters for the rest of your life. It is in using these effectively without harming yourself or others that the magic(k) happens. And believe it or not, that's a good thing. Forgiving can take quite a long time and take a lot of effort. To work with a change, you must acknowledge that a change has happened. It takes time to properly grieve a death, for that is what has happened - something has died, whether it is a relationship, a way of seeing someone else, or a role you have played in your life. This is why the tarot card Death betokens a large change; the death of what had gone before must be mourned and accepted. It is rarely done quickly or easily. It happens to everyone.

It can take a long time to get back to a position of balance (ah, balance, the keyword of Wicca. You did know it would crop up sooner or later, didn't you?). Holding on to bitterness or a grudge will keep you from it, make you bridle quickly at real or imagined slights, make you froth and foam even when you have only best intentions (darn it! I wanted to forgive `em, but they pulled their crap again and I just lost it! Rats. I guess I'm just no good at this forgiveness stuff...). Relax, willya? It's going to take time, and you're a human being, aren't you? That means you're going to act like one, maybe a pretty feisty or up-tight one from time to time. That's life. But that's not an excuse, either - if you get out of line, you're responsible, so make it as right as you are able. Apologizing for your bad behavior is not excusing anyone else's, and anyone else apologizing for their bad behavior does not excuse yours. But take your time, expect some back-and-forth, some good days and bad days and the occasional eat-sand-and-blow-glass days. Forcing yourself to "be good" and never waiver from your intention to forgive, especially when you've been deeply hurt, will only make it worse. It's a balancing act, and you're likely to overbalance a bit while working your way back to the center. On the other hand, try to avoid thinking of the other as an evilly-intentioned perverted little monster, because whether or not it's true, repeatedly thinking such thoughts only feeds and holds your anger closer rather than letting go of it. More balance here - occasionally is okay and understandable and perhaps even necessary, but consistently is bad. Anger and pain can be a habit, and you know what breaking a habit is like - take it day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute if you have to.

Now the work of the process of forgiveness becomes more active and focused. Having made the decision to forgive, establish well-defined boundaries and communicate them as one equal to another. If you don't do this, you are tattooing that "welcome" sign on your fanny and lying down in front of your unlocked door. This step is vital for your self-respect - for genuine self-respect. You have legitimate feelings and needs which deserve respect, and allowing others to disregard your boundaries about them perpetuates the problem. Establishing boundaries is not as hard as you might think - think of it as saying an appropriate "no" at the appropriate time. Be firm in, and unapologetic for, setting your boundaries, but not autocratic or superior (this can be a real temptation if you've played the subservient role in the past, but being a dominating jerk yourself is just the flip-side of the coin, a psychological game that has no winner, and maintains the problem! Fairness and equality are important, here, so work out very carefully what fair and equal actually is, and then be it). Don't expect others to be happy when you do this, especially if you've let them walk all over you in the past. You know where the boundary needs to be for you, it is your responsibility to set it, communicate it to others, and to enforce it.

Kindly note, don't look at this as permission to set your boundaries as an attack on the other - telling your soon-to-be ex that this city is yours and they have to leave it and never come back, or that these are your friends so s/he better stay away from them, etc., is going way overboard. Try "I really don't want to talk to you for a while, don't call me again. I'll call you if and when I'm ready to talk." Boundaries should be only in relation to you, not in their relationship to the world or their relationships with others (except in situations where you are responsible for someone else, such as when you are a guardian or parent). Be assertive, but not aggressive. The focus must be on your boundaries (this is good for you), not on trying to hurt or wound the one who hurt you (doing this only perpetuates or worsens the problem). Be committed to fairness, and if that means that your path doesn't follow along with what someone else wants, well, that's too bad for them. Expect to have your boundaries tested, because they are likely to be. Being flexible about them and waffling now will only hurt you. Again.

You are probably noticing that others may think quite a bit less of you than you'd like. If you are complaining to everyone who will listen, you may be looking for something beyond validation of your right to feel hurt and angry - you may be looking to be told you are right to hold onto your anger, maybe even hatred, or worse, trying to get even. If you find yourself thinking of those who only confirm your viewpoint as your friends and those who do not as your enemies, or at least not-nice people, you are probably getting yourself into trouble. At some point, your going to need to start taking others' perspectives into account. Then it becomes time to start a delicate dance of distancing yourself from the need to judge somebody wrong, to condemn someone for your pain - the dance of letting everyone have their own equally valid viewpoint (yourself included), and not demanding that everyone support only you. Here comes another place where Wiccan philosophy helps - here, we revisit "perfect love" and "perfect trust". What! Love and trust when you've been betrayed and hurt by that... that vile monster?! Er... inconsiderate SOB?! Um, okay, okay... person who hurt me?! Yes. But let's take a look at what exactly "perfect love" and "perfect trust" means. Perfect love is loving someone for who they are, human beings, part deity and part animal and part human, in short, both glorious and pains in the... rump. Perfect trust involves understanding that these human beings have their own viewpoints, motivations, lessons they are working on, and understandings of the world, and their own understanding of their and your actions and that they will be different from yours. Perfect trust honors those differences. Much of the pain you may feel may have more to do with your not realizing that a difference was there and believing that such a difference shouldn't be there - likely, it was there all along, but you hadn't seen it. Well, in that case you've "should" all over yourself and others, and that's unpleasant for everybody. It is time to try to see the person you feel betrayed and hurt by as who is really there, not the picture in your head. This will probably require actually listening to what the other person has to say, letting them express their perspective and feelings, and trying to understand that viewpoint and those feelings, and the situation from their viewpoint. They're most likely to have some points that you need to fairly acknowledge. When it becomes really understandable how the relationship became so wounding, you have made real progress. Now you can begin to accept ownership of your legitimate portion of the pain and of the problem, and most importantly, figure out how not to have that problem again (in a better way than "I just won't get involved with that jerk again."). In short, learn the lesson. Dishonesty with yourself, not being the genuine human you, at this stage, dooms you to repeating the lesson (same jerk, different body).

The stage is now set for resolution of the matter. You should see how everyone contributed to the situation, and realize that the other people involved and the situation itself, was beyond your direct control. You can't control other people, you can't control the world outside you, but you can control yourself, your actions, reactions and judgments, and thereby influence the world. Part of what is so vexing is that we often live with the illusion of control - we think we can control others and they think they can control us, and we strive against each other for mastery of the situation and each other. We forget that others are free to make their own choices and responses, and that these are sometimes going to conflict with ours. Wiccan ethics respect free will; isn't it odd that we can so easily find ourselves violating them, or at least wanting to do so really, really badly? It is so instinctual, and so easy to forget that the ability to control is an illusion - we only "control" when others choose to let us! Expecting that others will always freely choose to let us control them is, well, ridiculous, isn't it, when you put it that way? But so very often, that is what we do, and then try to build our world using that expectation as a cornerstone. Of course when that cornerstone crumbles and our world shakes like Kathryn Hepburn doing the lambada ("the forbidden dance"), we shouldn't be too surprised. But we are, and it hurts. Taking this into account while we're reconstructing our world can help prevent future catastrophes, if not odd visualizations while reading essays written by Mortir.

Now comes what can be the hardest part of the process of forgiving for many of us - accepting that others either choose, or have chosen, differently than we would like. But with that pain is also promise: you, too, are free to choose your own way. Striving to control everything is the surest path to losing control of what you can control - yourself! It is to be hoped that you will choose to grow and learn and thus complete the lesson you have set yourself to learn. Free will also extends to the choices you have made as to which lessons to try to learn, and this has been one of them. Focus on that, and change the world by changing yourself. This is the crux and heart of the matter! For the majority of the pain to go away, for most, or even all, of the anger to recede, you must carefully decide what to change about yourself, and then actually change it. Part of that change must also be to forgive yourself.

You may be able to work with those whom you've needed to forgive. You may not. You may be able to mend the relationship, working with the changes in the relationship and each other. You may not. You may realize that they were right, or they may realize that you were right, or you may be able to agree to disagree. Maybe not. Even if the other person or people choose not to, or simply cannot, put the dealt-with issue behind them and move on, you can. To forgive fully, you must. If you're still hurting grievously over it, you still have work to do, perhaps another lesson to learn from it (remember, though, you may still have some pain even after having fully forgiven). But do not allow others to hold you back or down with their pain, or their inability or unwillingness to forgive and move on. That is their issue, their lesson, not yours. (Hey look, another boundary!)

When boiled down to its essentials, the process of forgiveness sounds pretty simple and straightforward - but like anything in life, theory is great, but when it comes to actual practice as an individual, we are all different. In fact, every time we have to go through the process it is different, because we are different than when we went through it before, and hopefully, it is not the same people or things that you need to forgive. It helps to have friends, especially friends who can be objective and not merely confirm your old perspective of things (and thus undermine your chances and ability to grow meaningfully). It helps to have a non-judgmental priest or priestess (or a therapist) who doesn't have a dog in the fight, someone who is not personally involved and has no personal axe to grind, to help you move through the process of forgiving by affirming your feelings and your right to them, but also challenge you to grow by helping you see what you need to change in yourself.

Forgiveness is about letting go of ineffective and self- harming anger, healing your wounds, and creating a better you by learning the right lessons from your painful experience. Because you create a better you, your world becomes better. Having let go of the weight of pain and anger and having learned from and let go of the past, you are free to embrace the present and look forward to a much better and brighter future. You are free to possess more genuine self-esteem and a better understanding of yourself and others. You are able to build a more stable, less shaky world where you can actually trust others, the human beings that are really there. You are free to regain your balance, your center, which is the place where we touch the gods, and they embrace us. Isn't that true joy?

SerpentStone, All rites reserved.
Used with permission



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This page last updated March 10, 2004