Growing up, on our Living Room wall hung an interior decorating picture. It was based on Corinthians 13, the Loooooove Chapter. Your mother probably had one too. There were nine boxes and inside each box was a calligraphy excerpt from Corinthians 13: “Love is patient. Love is kind…”
One of the boxes said, “Love forgives all things.” From what I saw at home, that meant that love had to tolerate abuse and come up smiling, forgiving, coming back to be raged at again and again, hoping things would change when they never did. And that’s when I began having grave doubts.
Forgiveness continued to baffle me into adulthood. Whenever the topic came up, people said, “You’ve gotta forgive. Just do it. Do it for yourself.” I’d ask them how one does it. Some people say it’s a choice but no one can explain how one goes about doing it.
Is it a feeling? A transient emotion no one can describe, like love?
Is it an act? A physical action? An emotional abracadabra? Whaaaat!? Tell me!
What if the person “who done you wrong” 1) did it knowingly on purpose and 2) isn’t the least bit sorry. What then!? Do we still have to forgive them?
Or is forgiveness making a jolly good list of excuses to “let the person off the hook”? But then that begs the question…what about pedophiles? rapists? perpetrators of incest? People who knowingly, willfully and strategically commit heinous crimes against humanity. Are we supposed to forgive them too!? Does the “forgive seventy times seven” thing apply there too!?
I don’t know. In the words of Gene Stratton Porter in her 1913 book Laddie: A True Blue Story:
I know all about the forgiveness on the cross! I know God is big enough and merciful enough to accept even death-bed repentance, but what is that to compare with laying out your course and running it a lifetime without swerving?
My sentiments exactly.
But maybe I’m changing my tune because I learned a lesson in forgiveness last week that was so powerful, I may never recover.
I’ve been too simplistic about this whole forgiveness thing. I’d seen forgiveness as just one thing: a teeth-gritted, fists-clenched “Well, okay, whatever” emotion. A letting people off-the-hook when they weren’t the least bit sorry and did not see the error of their ways. Had they to do it all over again, they’d do exactly the same crap.
No, no, no, no. There’s another type of forgiveness. A kind where you run towards them and they run towards you, arms flung open, tears streaming down your faces, both of you screaming, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know! I did the wrong thing. Please forgive me.”
Spontaneously, without trying or even thinking about it, you realize you’ve already forgiven them. Didn’t even have to try!!! It just happened. All the bitterness, pain, resentment washed away. It feels amazing!!!
It’s like a chemical reaction. The recipe is…
2 teaspoons of empathy
5 Tablespoons of humility
2 dashes of “I’m truly sorry”
1 pint of reaching out to the other person
And three cups of tears
Conspicuous by their absence are excuses or rationalizations.
We said we were sorry. And meant it.
They said they were sorry. And meant it.
How quickly it was all talked through shocked me. I’ve been accustomed to scenarios where I was supposedly in the wrong and had to apologize to narcissists, often for crap I didn’t even do. What followed as a big long lecture, the complete destruction of my self-esteem, then grudging, condescending forgiveness by my narcissists.
For days afterward, I crept around the house feeling more worthless than dog crap. A second class citizen, persona non grata, in my own home. That was my experience with forgiveness.
Maybe it wasn’t forgiveness at all!
This new forgiveness was so simple. So straightforward. So fast!!!
Everyone apologized. Everyone admitted they done each other wrong. Everyone cried. And then they got on with living and loving each other again, almost as if nothing had ever happened.
I sat around with my mouth hanging open, asking Michael, “What just happened!?! Where’s the resentment!? Where’s the hours and hours of talking it through??? Have we swept it under the carpet or something? Is this going to come back to bite us on the ass!?!”
Michael just smiled. “No,” he said. “We’re not going backwards, we’re going forwards.”
So what’s the takeaway lesson from this experience? How can we apply this to our narcissists?
Yeah, not sure. Because, you see, even if somewhere deep in their soul narcissists are sorry (which I’m sure most of you snorted at), they’re too damn fragile to admit they were wrong. They can’t work the recipe for forgiveness (above).
I know that if my mother were to reach out to me with empathy, humility, regret and tears, No Contact would go bye-bye post haste. Maybe I’m just an Old Softy, but I miss my mom. I don’t write Narcissism Meets Normalcy for you. I write everything for my mother. Narcissism Meets Normalcy is my love letter to her.
All I want is a sign. To know that she gets it. Gimme a sign, Mom. No matter how hurt and angry I am at you, Mom, I’ll never stop loving you. You gave me an incomparably happy childhood and made me who I am today. Considering that my teen/young adult years were summed up by my friend in the words, “Damn! Did they dream up ways to torture you!?” I’m probably an idiot. What can I say? You never stop loving your mom.
But I digress.
I could get used to this forgiveness thing. Being angry and hurt and hardening your heart is unnatural and difficult. Families should be together. Unfortunately, most of us have had no option but to go No Contact for our own protection. But c’mon. No one wants to. What you want, is for the family who’ve hurt you to see the light. To reach out with humility and empathy. To confess and beg your forgiveness.
What reader of NmN wouldn’t meet them halfway, more than halfway, and crush their mother, father, sister, brother, child in an unforgettable embrace of forgiveness!?!
The Prodigal Son Story comes to mind. It’s not just sons. Anyone can be prodigal. Fathers prodigal from sons and sons prodigal from their fathers. What were his exact words? From memory I think he said, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Empathy, humility and regret. His father probably reciprocated! With tears. The magic recipe.
Then what happened? His father threw the biggest shin-dig you ever saw! No lectures. No shaming. As I recall, he didn’t even taken the time to say, “Son, I forgive you.” The Bible just glossed over that part. It was assumed. He just got on with the party!
I’m beginning to really dig this forgiveness thing. I needed to be forgiven and I needed to forgive. It takes two to tango. My soul feels ten pounds lighter. It feels amazing to forgive and even better to be forgiven!