From the time I was a child, I’d heard that people born under the sign of Scorpio couldn’t forgive others. They held grudges forever, and these diabolical creatures, when wronged, were never satisfied with sticking the knife to their enemy (figuratively speaking, of course). They had to twist it from side to side.
Yikes! I happen to be a Scorpio (as if it matters), and this isn’t a blog about astrology. It’s about what I’ve learned about forgiveness, Pluto be damned. (Yes, Scorpio is ruled by a rock that is no longer considered a planet, so that tells you how much stock you should put into these things.)
Further, believing such a thing about yourself and committing to it is demoralizing, self-sabotaging, and self-destructive— not just for people born in the latter part of October and earlier part of November but for anyone.
The good news is, I was never doomed to be an unforgiving Scorpio or anything else I didn’t want to be, and neither are you! Nobody can tell you who you are, and you alone define your limitations. Our wills are more powerful than our experiences if we want them to be, and it’s a safe bet they’re more powerful than any effect the sun may have had on us at the time of our birth. The whole idea that we can’t help being who or what we are and have no control over it is utter nonsense. We can do whatever the hell we want, and we alone are responsible for what it is we decide to do.
Besides that, if we want to recover from our afflictions and tragedies, we need to heal and learn and grow and continue to evolve until our dying day. For this reason, we must come to understand forgiveness and the vital part it plays in our lives.
Those of us who’ve been in twelve-step programs for one affliction or another have likely come upon literature that explains the whole forgiveness thing better than I can. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “Resentment destroys more alcoholics than anything else because deep resentment leads to futility and unhappiness and shuts us off from the Sunlight of the Spirit.” Addiction Treatment magazine notes that “Harboring anger can encourage you to be in a constant state of anxiety, which then can cause numerous physical health problems. Too much stress and anxiety can lead to cardiovascular issues, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and other potential ailments.”
Now, if you ask me … (You are asking me, right?) Forgiveness involves coming to terms with the truth.
For trauma survivors, like me, that’s not as simple as it sounds. All our lives, survival instincts had kicked in when necessary, leading us to strategize, justify, deny, etc.—whatever we had to do to cope. We may have even learned to deceive others with or without realizing, because we were deluding ourselves. That’s quite the dilemma when coming to terms with the truth is the only way to determine our level of responsibility for what happens in life.
Bear with me now because the first time someone told me I needed to own my part in everything that happened to me, I was royally pissed. If that included some horrific thing I surely didn’t deserve, it seemed downright cruel.
Well, when it comes to trauma survival, the idea of ‘owning our part’ is indeed cringeworthy, but it’s about addressing the issue of what we might do differently going forward. It’s the same question we’d ask in any other life-altering experience that leaves us shaken. The wording is appropriate when applied to the more typical betrayals or arguments—people hurting and rejecting one another in the way imperfect humans do. Either way, if we are the victim of someone else’s bad behavior, self-evaluation doesn’t mean the culprit is absolved of wrongdoing or that he or she is any less vile. It’s not to say that you or anyone else is okay with what happened, or that you are required to understand the reprehensible motivation behind what this person did.
The things that happen to us in life, good or bad, are learning opportunities that can increase our awareness about the world we live in, about others, and ourselves. No one says it’s fair or easy. Children can learn it from loving adults, what to do, what not to do, going forward, understanding that what happened wasn’t their fault. The acquired knowledge does not guarantee anything, I know, but it certainly helps. That’s what we’re owning.
You may have heard it a million times, and it’s still true: forgiveness is, first and foremost, for the one who suffers. It takes place so that whatever or whoever has hurt you no longer owns you or has control over your life. It’s a letting go that allows you to live and breathe and move on, survive and thrive by not allowing the perpetrator to cause you more suffering than you’ve already endured.
Excluding any justice sought in a criminal act, it didn’t take me long to see (even as an evil, menacing Scorpio) that retribution happens to abusive people without any help from me. They are their own worst enemies, and, sooner or later, the piper catches up to collect what he is owed. Some people balk at me when I say this, but I’ve learned to send love whenever these damaged souls come to mind. They surely need it. When I was at my absolute worst, I needed it, too. I still do. In fact, we all do.
However, despite all I’ve said here, nobody can tell you how to handle your feelings. We can talk about what works for us, with the hope that it might help someone else find the peace and joy that we’ve found, but that’s as far as it goes.
There were many times I’d witnessed a person expressing anger and grief over a traumatic experience, and others got upset about it. The others, in response, would say things like, “Well, I have a friend who went through that, and she had counseling, bla bla bla. She’s fine now, and maybe if so and so did that, he or she wouldn’t have to dwell on it and could move on.”
Well, no, people don’t necessarily react to trauma in the same fashion, so expectations of how people should behave are absurd. As for therapists, there are some who make it worse by revictimizing, or re-traumatizing because they don’t deal effectively with the repercussions of trauma. If you’re lucky enough to find the right counselor, therapy is excruciating work that leaves you raw and vulnerable to your very core. You have to be ready for it and strong enough to see it through.
So, yeah, no one has the right to decide for another person when it’s time to stop being angry, and to forgive and let go. Anger, like every other stage in the grieving process, must run its course.
If a person is never ready to stop being angry or forgive, it’s not for me or anyone else to judge. Healing is an ongoing process that, for all we know, may continue beyond this lifetime.
As I see it, we don’t forgive for the sole purpose of appeasing others. We do it when we’re prepared to rescue ourselves from the onslaught of continual suffering. And that’s where, in situations that are not so cut and dried as to who did what to whom, coming to terms with the truth helps determine our level of responsibility.
In any case, we cannot allow people to deny our reality of what we experienced or accept their spin on it if it has no basis in truth. We don’t want justification for what cannot be justified or for others to minimize the damage. We may be guilted and shamed into keeping quiet or making concessions, but to do so would impede our progress. Deciphering what is true and what is not is more important than appeasing others who need to deal with their own wounds. Their place in the healing process is different from ours, and we can’t wait there with them. We have work to do.
For us, the secrets and lies must end. It’s a fight for our well-being and our sanity. We’ve already endured the pain of silence. We’ve suffered too much already from the consequences of denial. We went through years of being protectively dishonest. We told ourselves we were okay when we weren’t yet. We said we’d survived while our brokenness continued and thought we were thriving when we were hanging on by the seat of our pants. We can’t afford more delusions about any of it. We have a right to be well and whole again.
It is critical that we stand up for ourselves and find out who we are as opposed to what other people want or believe us to be. It is crucial that we slowly and continually peel off every layer of the false self we present to the world, that we become more and more honest with ourselves and others.
After that, forgiveness exists at different levels, all of which amount to some form of healing and resolution. Perhaps it is forgiveness for resolving differences, where two people have worked through it, allowing the truth to sort things, and their relationship to resume with a clean slate. Maybe it’s forgiveness for peace, where you don’t have to trust this person again or have what you once had, but you’ve relinquished the hard feelings. And maybe it is purely for self-love and healing, and it doesn’t involve having to deal with that person again.
No matter how it plays out, we’ve taken our power back. It doesn’t mean we won’t be triggered when we see the same thing happening to us or to someone else in the future, especially when those people are silenced or dismissed. But we will be whole again.
All I can say is, if I’d bought into that nonsense of being unable to forgive, I’d be permanently screwed. It would have kept me from rising in my power and from the ability to summon my courage and my strength whenever I need it.
The hell with that!
Copyright © Kyrian Lyndon January, 2019
Feature photo courtesy of Pixabay