How to forgive

by on 01 February 2017 | filed in Leadership Productivity Self Development

In a scene from Shane Meadows’ powerful ‘This is England 90’, Woody tells Milky “forgiveness is fucking underrated mate” and it’s become like a little internal mantra for me. Whenever I feel as though I’ve been the recipient of some seemingly unfair treatment, I can hear it pop up in Woody’s idiosyncratic voice, and the process of appraisal and analysis begins. I start with a question: is it a forgivable result of high emotions, a mistake or a misunderstanding, and therefore is it forgivable? This thought process has become essential to my well-being and that of my family, so I thought I would share a few simple thoughts on a very complex subject.

Luckily, when I was younger, I didn’t need to spend much time considering forgiveness. The closest thing to a ‘fall-out’ I ever experienced was playground squabbling, with the usual ‘breaking friends’, followed by excitedly ‘making friends’ a bit later when it had all been pretty much forgotten.

This was, again luckily, the case until relatively recently. As an adult, the idea of ‘falling out’ with someone was still only something I had observed every now and then, but not something I had ever really experienced myself. But for whatever reason, over the last few years, I have seen more and more relationships and friendships fracture through what seems like an inability to forgive.

Unfortunately in my own separation, some previous friends seem to have taken sides and for the first time, I have been the recipient of some pretty harsh judgment, which, to be honest, was truly hurtful. But before this turns into a self-indulgent ‘poor me’ kind of post, I need to admit that I’ve made some of those harsh judgments myself in the past, based on heavily filtered information and a good dose of self-righteousness. I was the one in the seemingly happy marriage, watching others go through what I thought I never would. But the last few years have provided some profound learning for me, and I reckon it would be a bit silly not to share it because I believe that, to reinforce Woody’s argument, forgiveness is not merely underrated, but essential to our happiness.

So here are a few things to remember next time you have hurt, or been hurt by someone close.

1.Good, wonderful people have the potential to say and do bad things. We all get it wrong sometimes.

There is no rulebook on how to deal with every stressful situation, so a healthy dose of understanding and benefit of the doubt goes a very long way. Allow people to make mistakes and accept apologies or explanations, with the added understanding that apologising is difficult. People who make mistakes, and we all do, can become very embarrassed and confused, especially if they have nobody to share their feeling with.

2.There is always more to the story.

You never know what’s really going on for that person, so rather than immediately judge their current reality on your own, remember that it could be, and probably is, very different to yours. And always remember that all information you are receiving, whether in person or second hand, is very heavily filtered by your own biases and experience, or those of somebody else. Refer to number 1.

3.People don’t go bad overnight.

Think about it. You know someone that you have judged to be a good person and if they say or do something that offends you, there’s a good chance that you weren’t wrong all that time. It truly amazes me when I hear about previously close siblings or friends who haven’t spoken for years because of something that was said or done. Refer to number 1 and the last line of this post.

4.It is nearly impossible to act and think rationally when stressed.

When we are angry, hurt and upset, our limbic system-the most primitive part of the brain- goes into fight or flight mode. When this happens, the pre-frontal cortex-the part of the brain responsible for all of those things that make us human (empathy and rationality)-goes off line. It stops working properly until we take some time out and give it all a chance to re-set and come back online. This isn’t an opinion; it’s science. Try not to make any decisions you may regret when you’re upset, and wait a good few hours before sending that text, because you can’t undo it once it’s gone. Use this understanding to empathise. Refer to no 1.

5. If someone says that you have hurt him or her with your actions or comments, it’s true.

They’re not making it up. You may think you have done nothing wrong, but that’s irrelevant. Regardless of whether you meant it or not, give people time. If you think there’s nothing to forgive, but the other person does, there is, because it’s all about perception. State your case, apologise, and wait. If they don’t listen to your side of things, send them this post if you like it. If they still don’t listen, apologise to, and forgive, yourself! Then find others who will love you enough to do that as well.

6. You may feel like you are ‘winning’ in some way by holding out and not being the first to apologise.

You’re not. You win nothing. It’s a lose-lose all the way. Pride is so powerful and can prevent us form achieving so much, whilst creating a great deal of pain.

So what makes me the expert? Well I’m not one, but divorce mixed with an obsession for analysing behaviour, especially my own, means I’ve learnt a fair bit. When thinking about my journey, I hold my head in my hands and cringe at some of the things I said at my lowest points. I don’t really recognise myself as being me at certain times (a little bit like thinking back to some of the, thankfully harmless, crap I was spouting after too many wines over Christmas). But that’s all part of our development as humans. It’s always best to learn from mistakes and behaviours, rather than ignore them. So appreciate those around you who give you their time.

My friend, whilst dying of stomach cancer, told me that the only things that matter in the end are family and friends, and I’m pretty sure he had no reason to lie.

Thank you so much for reading. And please please share or comment if you like my ramblings.