Thursday, August 30, 2007

Being unable to let go of anger and mistrust...

is a terrible burden to bear. There are a few things that still bother me, even years after the fact: old wounds from a marriage, misunderstandings of a friend or lover, underminings of my work by discreditors. And when I see it in another person, I see again how painful and debilitating it is, to continue to carry this burden.

But when I stand in judgment of those others who also experience this burden, I am reminded of how hard it is to let go of it, to drop it, to move away from it. Prayer has helped me let go a bit, to let the pain diminish, but it doesn't take much to reignite the flame of resentment and mistrust. It'll flare up again at a word, at a look, at a memory.

When I left my marriage, unwilling to live in that situation any more, I did a lot of hard thinking and exploring with a therapist. Over the years after the divorce, I learned more about how I had contributed to the unhappiness in our partnership and eventually, after doing 12 step work, went to my ex-husband and asked for his forgiveness for the ways I had hurt him. He gladly gave it, but he did not do the same for me. He did not ask forgiveness of me. He may have meant to do so, but it didn't happen in any discernible way. This has made it hard to let go, as though I am still awaiting that moment, a moment I can't force to happen, a moment I have no control over.

A friend who has rejected me and refused to accept my apology, over slights both unintended and unknown, has stayed stuck in my resentful mind and I brood more often than I would like over that hurt.

In my first ministry, years ago, the conflict which caused me to tender my resignation from that congregation had a mixed outcome: several people who had criticized me harshly, had insulted and damaged my reputation publicly, felt regret for their actions and came to me and apologized after I apologized publicly for my own errors. Others did not and I still feel that resentful anger arise when I think of them, even these many years later.

The pattern I've seen, as I've looked at these events of my life, is that apology, asking for forgiveness from someone we've wronged, is a healing balm for those who are wronged and also for those who have done wrong. We heal ourselves when we ask for forgiveness from someone we've hurt. And we offer healing to others as well, when we acknowledge our errors and make amends, for without that apology, that amends, we make it difficult for the other person to let go of the anger and mistrust that are the outcome of our wrongful act.

So what do we do when we have not received an apology, not been asked for forgiveness? I hope we learn that we can't control others' actions, that we may not take revenge even though we might want to do so very badly, that lack of closure of such a wound is not often fatal unless we let the wound get infected and make us sick. I hope we learn to pray that we might be able to forgive that person who has wronged us. I hope that we might find closure in another way, if no apology is in sight.

I hope for these things for myself and for the several people I have talked with in the past week who are suffering from this burden of anger and mistrust of others.


Ms. Theologian said...

I think of apology-forgiveness sort of as a social contract. Without an apology, usually there's no forgiveness. But you raise a really important point: How do you let go without an apology?

Wish I knew. I've created small symbolic ceremonies, written about the hurt, and am always looking for other ways to let go.

Joel Monka said...

I have faced this problem, and wrote this into my personal book of Shadows:
Note that forgiving doesn’t mean becoming a patsy. Let’s say someone has a history of hurting you and others, has not repented or reformed, and has not asked your forgiveness; do you forgive him? Yes- because the bitterness you are holding onto is your baggage; it is your stomach being soured, your outlook being darkened. By not permitting the wound to heal, you are committing the same sin he did- to yourself!
Does that mean you now trust him, because he’s forgiven? No. It means that you acknowledge his behavior patterns without rancor, without emotional entanglement. Spiders bite, cats scratch, and jerks hurt people- these are facts to be noted, not reasons to spoil your harmony. You will still take precautions- you screen your windows to keep out spiders, and you screen your calls to keep out jerks; make sure you perform the second as dispassionately as the first.
For many people, forgiving yourself is much more difficult than forgiving others. The problem here is that we know ourselves too well- we know what we were really thinking when we said the right things aloud, what our real motivations were, how petty our emotions can be. We see the correct behavior around us, and we know how bad we can be at heart. How can we forgive ourselves, when we know how good it felt inside when we hurt that jerk?
It is said that no one who likes sausage should ever watch it being made- it’s not an appetizing process. People are like sausages... when we look at a person, we don’t see all the disturbing things that shaped their souls. We don’t see the moments of shame and triumph, the instructional pains layered one upon the other since childhood that forged the soul we see. We see the finished sausage, and somehow imagine they were born that way.
But when we look at ourselves, we don’t see the sausage; we see all the horrible things that went into it, never dreaming that the sausages around us contain equally unsavory bits of meat and filler. What a gift it would be, the Scottish poet Burns tells us, to see ourselves as others see us. Try it once if you can: Block out all the secret knowledge of self, and look only at what the world can see... a talented, valued member of society. Accept that judgment now and then.

I hope this is of some help to you.

Miss Kitty said...

Ms. K, I wrestle with the same sort of things quite often. I've heard it said that forgiveness is something like being really close to God (can't remember the exact phrase), and I wonder what's wrong with me that there are some people whom I simply can't seem to forgive. So I keep working and praying about it.

Thank you for this post.

Mile High Pixie said...

Great post, Rev Kit. I have the hardest time forgiving people with whom I no longer speak, but it's funny that i never think about if they might need to forgive me,like it never crosses my mind that *I* might do something wrong. Usually, when I'm not holding grudges against people I can no longer see, I'm holding them against myself. Thanks for something for me to think about.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to all of you for your input.

Joel, you've offered some real wisdom, but for me the challenge is to let go effectively and for good. I am cognitively aware of all you are saying but so far have not found the mechanism for actually letting go, permanently and for real. Maybe there isn't one, except for time and maturity.

I think I just needed a chance to spout off about it after listening to several people in the past few days complain about how badly others have treated them without considering what they might have done to inspire such treatment. I always have to hold that experience up and measure myself against it, to see how I would handle such a thing.

ms. kitty said...

It also occurs to me that I need to forgive the people who have wronged me, that part of this scenario is that I have a hard time doing that and consequently it keeps coming back to haunt me.

Joel, you're saying that too and I thank you.

Joel Monka said...

Of course, my saying it doesn't necessarily mean I can do it easily, either; that's why I write all this down, and reread it constantly. It's like doing homework- the lessons need repetition to sink in, even when they're your own.

Robin Edgar said...

Better to get even than get angry. . . ;-)

And I very much agree with Ms. Theologian`s point that forgiveness is something of a social contract that often, if not generally, requires those who seek forgiveness to clearly and unequivocally acknowledge their wrongdoing and apologize for it.

Anonymous said...

When you look at life with optimism and know that your life is made of many things, it's easier to let the ONE thing go, try to forgive, but unfortunately the relationship will never be the same. I still cannot trust, and am guarded with the dishonest person. That is their fault, not mine. It does hurt, you just have to fill your life with other good people and good memories so you can outweigh the hurts from the one who disrespected you. Let him or her go!!! Move forward with your lifee. They should be suffering, not you. Good Luck!

Tiara said...