About a year ago, I got one of the nastiest messages of my life.
I’d actually never met this woman before – let’s call her Courtney. She was, however, good friends with a mutual acquaintance of mine with whom I’d had an incredibly rocky relationship. Apparently Courtney had heard a lot of one-sided angry comments against me, and had already made up her mind about my character.
She sent me a long, accusatory message, calling me some of the worst things I’ve ever been called in my entire life.
Unbeknownst to her, she also sent that message when I was going through one of the worst times in my life. I was clinically depressed, had multiple family members who had cut off contact with me, and all in all was just in a really delicate emotional state.
Her message, which under normal circumstances would probably have hurt but not crushed me, ended up destroying me in my fragile place.
For months, I tried to get over the hurt, anger, betrayal, and pain of her words. I would be lying if I said that I was actually having a lot of success in that endeavor. It was a constant emotional roller coaster. Some days I’d be mostly ok, but other days the bite of her words came back to haunt me in full force.
Then, a few days ago, I actually met her.
I found out a couple of days in advance that she was going to be at the event I was going to. I’m glad for that, because it gave me time to mentally prepare. I still struggled a lot. What do you say to someone who has already decided that you’re a terrible person before she’s even met you? It didn’t seem to me that there was any possible positive way to move forward.
Nevertheless, my mind seethed and roiled with made-up conversations. Every one went a little differently, but they all had the same result. I eventually made some biting remark when I met her that left her embarrassed and me vindicated.
While a large part of me wanted desperately to get back at her, the better part of me knew that that would not help the situation. What was done was done, and perpetuating the argument would only make things worse.
Instead of acting out any of those pretend conversations I had rehearsed in my head, in the end I kept my script much shorter in real life. When a mutual friend tried to introduce us, I responded simply with “I know who you are. And I forgive you.”
I must admit, I stumbled over the second sentence a little bit. I don’t think I had really decided that I forgave her until I actually uttered the words. When I did, however, the change was miraculous. I walked away with my head held high. I was not proud out of ugly malice and retribution, but because I knew I had done the right thing.
The miracle was that once I said the words “I forgive you,” I actually believed them.
Courtney never apologized. She never expressed any remorse over the awful things she said to me. She did not really even acknowledge knowing who I was when we were introduced. I’m ok with that, though. I decided to forgive her – not for her sake, but for mine. She didn’t deserve to steal away any more of my happiness. I decided that I deserved better, and so I forgave her – for me.
Forgiveness is a hard topic for many people. It’s so easy to believe that if the perpetrator hasn’t apologized and shown remorse for their offense, they don’t deserve to be forgiven. Many people will refuse to forgive even if apologies and remorse have been offered, because they want the person who hurt them to continue suffering.
But resentment and unforgiveness is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die. The only person you’re hurting by holding on to your anger is yourself. Is there someone you need to forgive today so that you can move on with your life? Start working towards it today. Don’t let them continue to hurt you with your unforgiveness.