Forgiving Wrongdoing

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When we feel that we’ve been wronged the instinct is to seek revenge, to punish the perpetrator for that wrongdoing. But of course we don’t usually call our revenge fantasies revenge, we call them justice.

More often than not those white hot revenge fantasies cool off and turn into slow burning resentment and hostility, which we carry with us everywhere we go like a heavy yoke around our shoulders.

We don’t know how to let go of the resentment and hostility, we don’t want to let go, because in our minds letting go of the resentment and hostility seems like letting the perpetrator off the hook for what he or she has done to us.

If we believe we can carry around resentment, hostility, and revenge fantasies for months or years and come away unscathed we have another thing coming. If we believe we can take revenge and come away unscathed we have another thing coming. These negative pent up feelings and destructive actions eat away at us, they adversely affect our own happiness and self-actualization and they eat away at the health of our intimate relationships. We don’t know how to handle those unwanted feelings, which causes us to make ourselves and those around us suffer in the futile attempt to rid ourselves of the pain without ever adequately working through the source of that pain.

Our meaning in life shifts from loving community and from unfolding the best of who and what we are over to the need to get even, to make somebody suffer for what’s been done to us. If it can’t be the person who actually wronged us then someone else will act as a stand in. We wait for the people around us to do something we don’t like, and then the transference situation kicks in. We punish the new perpetrator on some plausible grounds, we make that person suffer, all without realizing that the real engine behind what we’re doing is all the pent up hostility and resentment from the original unresolved trauma.

The irony is that while forgiving wrongdoing might seem like liberating somebody else it’s actually about liberating ourselves, it’s about freeing our psyches from that constant painful weight that we may have carried around for so long that it’s come to feel like it’s simply a part of us. Forgiveness might cleanse the psyche of the wrongdoer and it might not, but it certainly cleanses our own psyches. It allows us to finally put a period on what happened and move on in a healthy, productive way. It allows us to transform destructive thoughts and feelings into compassion for ourselves and others. If we’re still struggling to make sense of what happened, if we’re still carrying around a lot of emotional and psychological pain, we might not know how to forgive the person who wronged us and that’s okay. The first step is to decide that holding on to the resentment and hostility is making us suffer, not the person who wronged us suffer. The rest will come in time.