For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed? ~Bell Hooks
Bring your attention to someone you care about, maybe a close friend or a partner, and imagine them making a perceived mishap or a misstatement. Pay close attention to what happens as your thoughts and feelings appear and then develop around this encounter.
What is your reaction? How do you show that you understand they are perfectly imperfect without criticizing them or shutting them out? Are you able to learn from the situation? Can you see how your thoughts ignite your emotions and create a more significant problem? What do you gain from holding on to these reactions? Do you continue through the same reactive patterns, or can you sit back and reflect on the scenario?
Those are the questions I asked myself after a recent misunderstanding where I know I did not display the best version of myself.
A friend and I were out to dinner with a couple of his acquaintances. We enjoyed our meal and some light banter around the table. One of the remarks that my friend said to me hurt, and I took it to heart. My emotions immediately shut down and it felt like I built a wall to hide behind until I could express my feelings. I was unable to articulate how I felt because there were others around us, and it didn’t seem appropriate at the time. My delay was not out of a lack of respect for him but to protect myself from becoming even angrier and acting out.
Later that evening, I communicated my hurt. I also did a self-evaluation with another trusted friend who guided me without judgment or validation as I told my story. In turn, I could see a broader perspective of his side of the story.
I was feeling detached from my friend, who had completely shut down and stopped communicating with me. I shared my observation of my actions and that I understood how he was feeling. I felt that I had done the right thing by expressing my feelings, but I still felt shut out. I didn’t understand what I had missed.
A few days later, he expressed some of the challenges with the progression of events that evening. After openly discussing this with him, I understood my reaction to his initial comment created a chain of events based on our past experiences. I told him that I had already forgiven him for what he said, but I was struggling with the dismissive behavior. He shared that he needed to hear the words “I forgive you” because his past experiences with silent treatment led to passive-aggressive behavior. In my mind, that explained our earlier discussion. I know now that I need to be more specific with my words.
In this situation, both of us chose to guard ourselves against being hurt and brought our experiences with dysfunctional interpersonal relationships into the current situation.
I am so grateful for the level of communication I have with many of my friends. Sometimes there are slight hiccups, but most of the time, we return to the fact that we are all perfectly imperfect and are doing our best to build deep, meaningful relationships.
Your words’ power, thoughtful communication, and open perception create a strong bond with the important people in your life. There are multiple sides to every story, and it often has less to do with you and more to do with another’s past experiences.
Lastly, if you forgive someone, tell them.
Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
~ Saint Augustine
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