WITHOUT doubt one of the most significant themes I meet in the therapeutic setting is that of, forgiveness.
It can take years to come to, and for some, maybe something they never achieve.
While it may have religious connotations, when it is reached it can ameliorate the deepest hurt.
I meet so many people in my clinic who struggle with the notion of forgiving the person who perpetrated such a wrong against them. And of course, forgiving someone who has damaged something fundamental about who you are is a very difficult thing to do, at times nearly impossible.
However, in my conversations with clients I try to point out that forgiveness is more about reaching a state that allows them to move on rather than letting someone off.
We can often get caught in this type of thinking and for people who find it difficult to forgive, they get trapped in a bind where in their reluctance to forgive because they do not want the perpetrator to feel they are off the hook for their offence they ruminate on the person or event and end up punishing themselves further.
Forgiveness is not about letting someone off but more about setting yourself free.
When I think of the theme of forgiveness I often utilise the allusion of The Odyssey.
When Prince Hector is slain by Achilles, Priam has to supplicate himself in front of the man who has killed his son and desecrated his royal body.
This image of the grieving father willing to do what has to be done in order to get his son’s body back so he can give him the funeral rite deserving of his lineage is an image that has come to symbolise the power of forgiveness.
Many poets and writers have used the image to illuminate the need for forgiveness in our lives. In the wonderful poem ‘Ceasefire’ by Michael Longley he uses the same image to illustrate the need for forgiveness in Northern Irish society if it is to move on from the psychic scar of the troubles, he paints a tender scene of Priam ‘curled up at (Achilles) feet’ where he gets down on his ‘knees and (does) what must be done/ and kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of (his) son’.
The poignancy of this scene captures something fundamental about forgiveness — it has the power to set us free. And yet, we can be reticent about introducing it into our lives, because we mistakenly believe to forgive is to turn the other cheek.
We can think that to forgive is to place ourselves in a position of weakness, or make us vulnerable once again.
And the truth is that forgiveness is about power.
How do I forgive?
While it can be a very healing conversation to tell the person that has wronged you that you forgive them, forgiveness can often be a very personal space.If someone dies who has perpetrated a slight, what do you do now if it has to be face to face? So, often forgiveness is something we offer internally.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you forget that the offence was ever committed. In fact, forgiveness can often mean the person is still excluded from your life.Sometimes the slight is so great, it’s not about welcoming them back into your life but about your ability to move on.
Remember, forgiveness is not something you offer to help the perpetrator; forgiveness is something you offer for your own wellbeing. This is such an important understanding to come to in relation to forgiveness.
Often we believe to forgive is to help the person who was severely wronged us.
And in fact, to forgive is to help ourselves because to hold on to something can really impede our potential happiness.
We will all be wronged to varying degrees throughout our lives.
Hopefully the nature of that hurt will not be too severe.
However, for some of us, it might be something that has a lasting impact and leaves an indelible mark on the narrative of our lives.
Yet, if we learn how to forgive and understand that by forgiving we are helping ourselves we can truly move on from a deep hurt and live the life we deserve to live.