Not one of us makes it through this life (or even most days) without making mistakes, occasionally saying or doing something thoughtless, taking people and things for granted when they’re truly gifts in our lives, or showing up as our best selves in every moment. Hopefully in those instances when we are all-too-human, we catch ourselves quickly, apologize from the heart when needed, and try to make better and different mistakes moving forward. If we are fortunate and wise, we both receive and extend forgiveness as a necessary means to have real intimacy with people and get through this life with open and fulfilling relationships to celebrate. There’s no intimacy without communication and forgiveness. That is not what this post is about.
This post is about people who seemingly lack empathy about how their behavior might affect those around them. People who might have lied to you, betrayed you, disrespected you or abused you emotionally or physically with little to no understanding of why their actions upset you, and no tools to offer a meaningful apology. Maybe you have people like this in your life, people who stampede over your boundaries and look at you like you’re nuts when you get upset. You might even have people very close to you who were “supposed to” look out for you, nurture you and protect you, who “should have” cherished you and received you as the miracle you are, but were completely unable to do so. I put supposed to and should have in quotes because while we might have certain expectations based on societal norms, there’s no guarantee what we expect is going to sync with what someone is able to do. How do you forgive that, and what does it mean to try?
Forgiveness does not mean you have to decide that anything and everything someone may have done is okay, or even tolerable. It does not mean you have to pick up the phone and call the person. It definitely does not mean you have to have this person in your life. It simply means if you spend a lot of time looking back over your shoulder and blaming past events or other people for your current unhappiness, you are keeping these old events alive by dwelling on them, renting space in your head to someone who has hurt you. Where our attention goes, our energy flows. So it’s good to consider how much energy you’re spending on things that have already occurred and can’t be changed or rewritten.
If you have examined your past, your patterns, the things that have happened along the way that may have shaped your worldview and your feelings about other people, if you have gleaned all the information you can from a situation, then there’s no potential left there. There’s no kernel of anything that’s going to suddenly help you find your freedom from all of it. The truth is, we show up in people’s lives whenever we show up. Sometimes they’re ready to meet us with open hearts and lots of love, and sometimes they are deeply struggling or hurt, angry or bitter or totally unprepared to receive the love we’re offering. Re-read that if you need to, because you will notice none of that has a thing to do with you. It’s not about you, it’s about the other person. This is even true if we’re talking about our parents, and perhaps most especially true there. It is so hard not to take it personally if your own mother or father didn’t love you, for example, or didn’t love you in a way that felt like love to you. What could feel more personal than that? Of course it’s understandable to feel like there must be something broken in you if your own parents can’t love you, but there’s something broken in them, not you. Do you know how many people I’ve worked with over the years grappling with that? Me neither, because I’ve lost count.
When someone lies to you, they’re disrespecting themselves first. At that particular moment in time, they are dishonest people and they know that about themselves. It’s not a good feeling to know you are a liar, or that you’re breaking your commitments. Good people make really bad decisions sometimes out of desperation, or because they find themselves in a soul-crushing situation and can’t see a decent way out. It happens all day, every day. It’s easy to sit in judgement of other people and think you would never do what they’re doing, but the truth is, if you had that person’s life and her experiences, you’d be doing exactly what she’s doing.
Hopefully we can all let the little things roll off. We can be big enough to forgive people for thoughtless moments and loving enough to easily accept heartfelt apologies for small offenses. When we’re talking about the larger things – betrayal, emotional abuse or neglect over long periods of time, a basic lack of empathy or understanding or ability to consistently show up with respect and kindness – the essential thing is to recognize it isn’t personal. When someone cuts you off on the freeway, it isn’t about you, this is how they drive all day long, and they’re going to cut off a whole bunch of people after you. Same with the above. It isn’t personal when someone lacks the tools to recognize truly hurtful behavior, this is a reflection of something lacking in the other person, not you. It can’t be easy to go through life being unable to have real intimacy with anyone. If possible, forgive people who’ve let you down. You don’t have to invite them over for dinner, just clear out the space they’re taking up in your mind, and try to wish them some healing and peace if you can.
Sending you love,
Ally Hamilton Hewitt