#SorryNotSorry: Not Needing to Forgive

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“It’s fine,” you begrudgingly reply.

You have to say it because you were taught to be the bigger person. Despite what they have done, you want to remain polite. You don’t want a confrontation – it’s bad enough that it even got to this point. After all, they did apologize. You don’t want to seem stubborn or bitter.

But why the hell not?

Why do we condition ourselves to compartmentalize our feelings? Why do we feel guilty when we haven’t done anything wrong? Why do we choose to cater the one seeking forgiveness? Forgiveness. It’s one of those tricky words. What exactly does it mean? How does it apply to the “real world?”

High school cafeteria. Two girls have just left the table. I remain with my three best friends.

Them: “Sorry we just sat there when they dumped food crumbs all over you.”

Me: “Oh, yeah. No worries. It’s cool.”

That’s how I responded. When in fact, it was the complete opposite of cool. The three girls that I believed were my friends sat there as two other girls wiped all their crumbs onto me. Multiple times. When I finally received an apology – one that I had been waiting for, I immediately accepted. Perhaps I was worried that if I declined their apology, they would revoke it. If they were to revoke their apology, then my worst fear would come true. This distorted notion that there was nothing to apologize for because I deserved the treatment. So I minimized the entire event. The amount of friends that I had at the table outnumbered the crummy (pun intended and therefore proof that I am not extremely bitter – remember that) girls  – so what? My friends made a mistake – several times – , but they took ownership. That’s what matters right? Not the fact that the apology derived from guilt rather than recognizing the error of their ways.

But because I uttered that, I felt compelled to stand by it. I couldn’t bring it back up because I had already accepted the apology. Going back on my word would just make me look bad. Instead I wish I would have replied with,

“I’m sorry too. Sorry that you will all amount to nothing more than a coward.”

The camera would then pan to their faces – with all of their jaws opened of course, as I walked away from them, my hair lusciously bouncing. All of this followed by a zoom in of my face as a smirk spread across. Vindication. Cue credits.

In films, we heroicize the protagonist when they stand their ground, but when it comes to the “real world,” we have completely different expectations.

All of a sudden, the would-be hero is viewed as petty, “stooping to their level.” We are told, “Give them a break. They said they were sorry.” Emphasis on the word sorry since that is all that matters, not the intention behind the word or the proof of change. I know that I would have felt a lot better if I said how I really felt instead of blindly accepting an indecent apology.

And I get it, you shouldn’t tell everyone off that tries to apologize, but you certainly don’t have to forgive everyone.

I’m going to be honest, there are people in my life that I have not quite forgiven. This confession will probably make many view me as a bitter person. I can hear them now: “How can you still hold a grudge after all those years?” “Harboring ill feelings towards others only harms yourself.” Yes, thank you, I will take both embroidered on a pillow. It will fit right next to my “Live.Laugh.Love” and “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile” so that I can complete my collection of nonsensical statements. The embroidery would be completely wrong. Choosing not to forgive someone does not necessarily mean that you hold a grudge against them.

They tell you that time heals all wounds, but I disagree. Thinking back upon things that have been done, it does not hurt any less than when it first happened. Sure time has made it easier to address these feelings; however, they haven’t disappeared. I suppose that some people would respond saying that I am not over it – and perhaps they are right. Yet why do we attempt to make others feel guilty for harboring hurt feelings? We preach that forgiveness is beneficial for both parties, but if you are not ready to move on, you should not feel inclined to forgive.

We want to believe that everyone has the potential to change. That there will be some monumental event in their life that will act as a catalyst for their new persona. Often, we like to think that their apology is the trigger. Maybe we just want to think that because what is true of others, might be telling of ourselves. If they can change, then I can too. If my three friends can be forgiven for just sitting there while I was being constantly belittled, then I can forgive myself for allowing others to belittle me.

We act like those that do not forgive dwell on the past. If you don’t forgive, you foster resentment and anger. We are told, you can forgive, but you don’t have to forget. Is that even possible? If you claim to forgive someone for a transgression, yet you choose to remember the mistake, doesn’t that lead to resentment as well? By choosing not to forgive some people, I am removing deceit.

In high school, there was this boy named Keith (not his name, but definitely what his name should have been). I would constantly go above and beyond for him. We were friends – at least I believed that to be the case. Then I got a wake up call, he would only show up when he needed something, so I began to cut him off. Remove the toxic before it poisoned me slowly – yet that is what happened anyway. He began to lash out, telling me that he didn’t know what it was but “he didn’t like seeing me with other guys.” I forgave him, and the cycle continued. Because that is the side of forgiveness that they don’t teach you about – one can forgive someone, but that doesn’t mean that the other person is going to change their behavior. One day, when I was almost out of his grasp, he approached me and attempted to make amends. I refused. I sent him a beautifully crafted AIM message: “I have never been anything but nice to you. Whenever you needed me, I was there. I’m happy you finally realized your mistakes, but I can’t forgive you” (Netflix, you can use this for your next teen movie, just remember to grant me writer’s credit.

I don’t wish Keith any harm. I don’t have anger channeling through me after reliving it. In fact, in a way, I still want what is best for him. Hence me changing his name (as if this post would ever reach him) and me omitting almost everything that he did. The people that I have yet to forgive do not occupy my daily thoughts. I am not consumed by them. I simply don’t welcome them in my life. People who ask for forgiveness are often looking for validation and I think that it could be given without having to compromise your own well-being.

I think that when it comes to forgiveness, we need to remember that it is a choice.

It seems to be that we often guilt the victim into forgiveness rather than guilt the culprit into reforming. Just because someone apologized or time has passed, forgiveness should not be obligated. That is how we can heal. If we are given the opportunity to process the situation on our own terms, we can come to an understanding. When we are wronged, we no longer have authority over the moment. By having the power to forgive, the order of control is shifted. I may not be able to control what is done to me, but my reaction is my choice.

I am not advocating that we should hold grudges. As mentioned earlier, I don’t believe that choosing not to forgive always aligns to a grudge. We shouldn’t feel bad if we choose not to give someone a second chance. The person that harmed you did so through their own accord. Some things may be unforgivable – and that’s okay. Through being selective in the forgiveness that you grant, you create boundaries. If you constantly forgive and provide chance after chance, the only person that you’ll create an unforgivable grudge with is yourself – and for some reason, that person is always the hardest one to forgive.

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