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How I Learned To Forgive People In My Life Who Weren't Sorry

Whether or not you heal is entirely up to you.

Love & Relationships

Something that I'm being very intentional about until my next birthday (June) is healing from my childhood PTSD. Very long story short, I've endured just about any kind of abuse you can imagine growing up. Add to that, parents — and grandparents and some aunts, uncles and cousins too — who were in the spotlight but also used religion as a way to not take full ownership for their actions and/or neglect; meaning, no matter what they did, they wanted me to focus more on forgiving and moving on than their need to take responsibility and make amends. What I realized is the trauma made me pretty codependent. It also caused me to continue to re-victimize myself by choosing friendships/relationships/situationships that reflected my childhood.

See, when you're a child, you love from such a pure and innocent place. You just want others to feel loved, so no matter what they do — good, bad or super ugly — you keep on loving them; even to the point of overcompensating in hopes that it will make them 1) feel loved, 2) love you and/or 3) stop hurting you.

Next, you tend to keep repeating this pattern over and over again until you say to yourself, "OK, something isn't right." Then, rather than choosing more people who will harm you, you slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on healing so that you can learn what love really is and start selecting individuals to be in your life from that head and heart space.

As far as the healing process itself? As much as a lot of us may not want to accept this blaring reality, it does include forgiving those who caused us so much pain. Only, what I'm learning is just like a lot of people presented a jacked-up representation of love, they did the same thing when it comes to forgiveness.

As I've been working on forgiving from a healthier space, this is how I've learned how to forgive others — whether they take ownership for their actions or not:

Remember That We All Need It.

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Being a marriage life coach has taught me A LOT about forgiveness. One of the main reasons why is because oftentimes when there are issues in a marriage, BOTH people have to accept some of the responsibility. That means both people have to be willing to humble themselves and forgive each other so that they can move forward.

I've had a lot of crap happen to me and I've done a lot of crap too. I accept that it's definitely arrogant and borderline dangerous to think that I deserve forgiveness while someone else doesn't. Or, someone should forgive me while I shouldn't forgive them.

Knowing that I'm gonna need to ask someone for forgiveness at some point makes it easier to be willing to give it to someone who asks.

After all, forgiving someone is simply not holding what someone did — or didn't do — against them. I certainly don't want a ton of folks holding things against me, so why not put good karma energy into the atmosphere? A bonus is I can put the emotional energy that it takes to stay mad at someone towards something far more beneficial and productive. Plus, it's proven that forgiveness is really good for my physical health and that's always a good thing.

Feel the Pain. Then Choose to Heal from It.

We're not designed to embrace pain. We're designed to embrace love. So when someone hurts us, it can be almost devastating to our being. Not allowing yourself to "feel that out" is not only unrealistic; it's unhealthy too. But again, you are made from love and designed to embrace love. While you didn't choose to have someone hurt you, you do have the power to choose to not let the pain consume you.

How do you get past the pain and on the road to healing? I'll tell you what I do. I spend a season (sometimes it's days, other times it's weeks) saying "I can't believe they did that!". Then I move into the season of "I didn't deserve that because I'm better than that". Then it's "What can I do to prevent that in the future?"

Once I get to that third question, healing starts to happen because no longer is my time, effort, and energy going into what someone else did. It's now focused on the lesson I can learn and how to set better boundaries.

When you stop looking at the wound and start looking for the lesson in the wound, you're well on the road to being able to forgive someone. Whether they are sorry for what they did — or not.

Accept That the Past Can’t Change.

Although I think author Gary Zukav is the originator of the quote, I remember hearing Oprah once define forgiveness as "Accepting that the past cannot change." Listen, if forgiveness has a foundation (other than God himself), this would be it.

No matter what someone did or how much they hurt you, no one can go back in time and change it. Yet, if a lot of us are honest with ourselves, that's what we can't get past — wishing that the "offender" did things differently from the beginning.

Once you get to a place of accepting that only the future has the ability to be different, that opens your heart up a bit more to at least considering giving someone who hurt you another chance — that is if they apologize, put forth concerted effort to right their wrongs, and ask for one.

Value Your Sanity More Than Their Offenses.

There's a conclusion I've come to as it relates to relationships where I'm doing more work than the other person is. If I'm keeping record of who's doing what, something is imbalanced.

What I mean by that is, when you're in a relationship (this includes a friendship) where both people are showing up, being emotionally available and giving, not only do you not need to keep tabs; it's almost impossible to. Oh, but when what they do is so far and few between that you can count 'em on one hand (give or take a few fingers), that's when you know the scales are off.

That said, there's a woman in my life who has been a taker since the beginning. If she needs something, she has no problem asking (and expecting). But if I need something, it's an inconvenience.

It used to piss me off to no end because 1) it's been years of this and 2) she never thinks she does anything wrong, including her feelings of entitlement. But one day, I said to myself, "While she's going on about her day without a care in the world, I'm over here mad as hell." Who do you think was winning?

Just recently, she did something that was SEL-FISH (like the deal-breaking kind). But for the first time since knowing her, I decided that my sanity was worth more than staying frustrated with her.

She's probably not gonna apologize but I forgive her anyway. My sanity needs me to.

Know That Forgiveness Is a Process.

A man by the name of Cedric Dent presented forgiveness in a very wise way. He said that if he tells someone a secret, they tell others but then come and ask him for forgiveness, and while he's going to forgive them, he's also not going to tell them anything (that he doesn't mind getting out) for a while.

His motive isn't spiteful or to "punish" the individual. What he said is, "Obviously confidentiality is a weakness for you, so I'm not gonna tempt you to hurt me and our relationship again by giving you more information." What this taught me is forgiveness is a process. Just because I "pardon an offense", that doesn't mean things are supposed to immediately go back to the way things were.

A wound needs time to heal. A scab is only the beginning. Relationships need time to heal. Forgiveness is only the beginning.

Here's the thing, though. If someone is truly remorseful, they will be patient, loving, and careful to not do the same offense during the healing process. If they're not sorry, then it's easier to see the weakness for what it is. And weak people who are too weak to choose to be humble enough to apologize? They are who we should truly feel sorry for.

I promise you, the stronger you get, the more you'll realize that if anyone needs forgiveness, it's them. I forgive you for being so unhealthy that you can't help but be toxic and do toxic things.

Oh, the irony of what forgiving someone who isn't sorry can do for your heart, your life, and your overall perspective on things. Try it. It's worth it.

Featured image by Shutterstock

Originally published on December 16, 2018

Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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