“And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me”
~Don Henley, Heart of the Matter~
What is your definition of forgiveness? Forgiveness is such a simple concept and complex ideology rolled into one word that glides off your tongue. We teach toddlers this concept before they can even form a complete sentence. You hit, kick, or physically do something considered “bad” you look the victim in the eye, and mutter, “I’m sorry.” Most young children are taught to hug or show affection after words, to inherently drill into their little sponge like minds, “poof, you are good again, forgiven.” When behavior is deemed as wrong in elementary school, more formal apology methods are implemented. Written letters, meetings with both sets of parents, you get the picture…its more structured. (I only found myself in a serious setting like this the one time-again, Matt Chaput, I’m sorry spitting is wrong. I got sent to the principals’ office, you still were a jerk to insult my team of choice worn on my sweatshirt for non uniform day.) I had to write an apology letter, and was “forgiven.” Little shit smirked at me knowing he didn’t care I acted out towards him, he just wanted to tattle on me (as a well behaved student.) I paid him back the next year in the third grade, when he purposely ate glue to show off.
The rolling theory of forgiveness theory and modeled teaching, appropriate behavior is further complicated for me. I was raised Catholic, and, a cornerstone of our religion is the sacrament of reconciliation. So around the age that I was figuring out other classmates will throw you under the bus to humiliate you into an apology (and karma for future tattling); I was learning to bottle things up and save them for confession. I remember being terrified to go in the first time I had to go to confession, to the point my stomach hurt the entire day at school. But, like a good Catholic school girl, I made my list during theology class, marched in, hung my head, and said what I had done wrong (mostly fighting with my younger sister.) So then I was told to recite certain prayers until the next confession, patted on the head, and avoided making eye contact with the priest during Sunday mass from then on after. Why, because one of the very first male authority figures I wanted to please in my life now knew that I was bad. I sinned, and any future wrong in my life I would have to ask to be forgiven for.
Huh. What a concept and its no wonder why in my early adult 30s I am struggling with the paradigm of what role forgiveness plays in my life, within relationships, and perhaps with the most important relationship I need to cultivate, with myself. Putting the successive thoughts down, upon reflection of recently reading “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton have put me into a mental swirl. It’s no wonder I am struggling to keep my head above water in an ocean of perfectionist hell. I was never once explained why it was so important to forgive someone, or why any wrong I had done was wrong and should not be continued behavior. It was black or white, you are either good or bad, absolved or with sin-there was no middle ground to help sort out behaviors, lies, wrongs, hurt, or open space to not internalize things. I have been taught my entire life to take the high road and forgive others, confess my own wrongs, and basically to “suck it up buttercup.”
How could a child not develop a complex as they mature into adulthood?
I have forced myself to do some serious digging into this topic as I’m mentally exhausted from beating myself up for mistakes I deem as “greater sins.” Past behaviors I have tolerated. Majority of them with men I was trying to keep happy or please. I will use a solid example. One of the best relationships I have ever had started in a whirlwind of pure bliss. We were in that amazing state of wanting to spend as much time together as possible, while learning about each other, and molding into one another’s lives. I was a tad over 27 at the time, and felt so grateful to have finally have found a great man who treated me so well. Remembered I took my coffee black, brought it to me in bed, was not afraid to be affectionate in public, would put Elvis on the jukebox at a dive bar and twirl me around (still a favorite memory), and I was falling for fast. I consider trust to be a huge part of a relationship, and was very open about a past ex who had strongly violated my trust. I voiced my need for trust, but never found a way to break out the fact that I needed him to love me for me. As I was, as a I looked, without question or conviction. I will own that I was in the best physical shape of my life when I met him, and darn proud of it. Mind you my new time spent sleeping next to him cut into my 6 am Boot Camp classes I attended religiously. Morning sex trumped burpees and sprints. We also dined out a lot, I drank more than usual, and I had a serious asthma flare up that put me on prednisone (steroid.) So guess what; I gained weight!
The thing was I had noticed it, but wasn’t as upset about it as I was in a happy relationship. I knew things would even out, the “crazy steroid pills” would no longer be needed etc. I was happy, I didn’t care. I will never forget waking up on my side of the bed next to him one Sunday morning, and him rolling over to what I thought was to spoon me. Smiling in the morning sunlight trickling in at another morning happy next to this man. Instead, he grabbed my stomach and said, “jelly belly.” I smacked him off of me and instantly said, “What the hell? do not do that to me!” I plodded to his bathroom and stared myself in the mirror. Did that really just happen? Did my amazing boyfriend just fat shame me before I had even had a chance to take a morning pee, brush my teeth, coffee? I felt defeated and as if I had been punched in the gut. He had started coffee and I awkwardly got dressed in my gym clothes as he made breakfast for us. THEN, he brought it up again. I can still seem him sitting on his brown leather couch, coffee cup in hand stating this to me. “As for what I said to you this morning, you know I make it a priority to take care of myself, and I expect the girls I date to do the same.” I literally stood there with my heart beating out of my chest. I wanted to scream and cry, I was so happy just an hour ago. Wtf was happening? Why wasn’t he loving me for…ME?
This turned into our first fight because it was pretty noticeable I was trying not to cry and had turned to silence before trying to leave. He actually stood in front of the door and tried to hug me stating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t cry. You can’t drive or leave when you are this upset.” I broke down sobbing and shrilly yelled, “how do you expect me to feel?” He took my coat off, stumbled me to sit down, put his arm around me on the couch, kissed the top of my head (in effort to calm me down), and rambled a long apology about how neither of us had been eating healthy, and lets just work a bit harder on it during the week. That he was sorry, he hadn’t meant to go about talking to me that way, please eat something before you leave (seriously…in front of you who just fat shamed me) and please forgive him.
So I did. I managed to mumble out, “you really hurt my feelings and yes I forgive you.” So then I internalized what I really felt at that moment, and turned it on myself. I did this, I should’ve been keeping up better appearances. I turned my anger to myself and “forgave for the sake of forgiving.” I get so upset when I look back at this and reflect on my pattern of forgiveness. I wish I would’ve stood my ground and said I’m not a Barbie, or perfect. Shouted how broken I felt at that moment, and who the hell was he, I was 12 years his junior for Christ’s sake-his friends all teased him about have a “hot” girlfriend. Instead I said I forgave him and left completely dejected. I never felt 100% around him after that. I never let him touch my stomach again (which made him mad and then I would snap, “its YOUR fault!) I used to report back how much I had worked out, if I had lost a pound, you name it to compensate for insecurity I felt with him. The thing was, this was not forgivable behavior in my mind and I knew it. I remember hearing a little voice in my mind saying, “leave, walk out right now and don’t ever come back.”
I remember thinking I was the one that needed forgiveness or to say I’m sorry. I had put on about 7 lbs, and it showed. So just like I had done in 2nd grade with another male, and a male authority figure, I tolerated, endured, and internalized for the sake of putting on an “I’m sorry face,” Guess what 27 year old Kate, I am sorry, I am sorry you thought that behavior was acceptable and something you needed to allow.
The thing I am learning about forgiveness, is that not everyone deserves it from me. People want the validation of “I’m sorry” because we learned so young that is how we move on. Sometimes, an apology isn’t appropriate. Sometimes we have to say I am really not okay with the way you treated me, talked to me, etc and voice that you need space to compartmentalize yourself away from the situation. “I’m sorry” should not juxtapose the framework of a relationship and friendship. Saying I understand someone is sorry, and stating you need space is completely appropriate. I have forgiven quite a bit in my personal relationship world. I have allowed lying, cheating (during our entire relationship), yelling, name calling, disrespect and more. None of it was helpful to me in the long run. I need to think about space and how I should forgive others. It allows me to dissect on my own timeline, and to not revert back to the horrible habit of internalization. Internalizing creates havoc and further allows that person to have power over me.
In the book mentioned above, “Love Warrior” Glennon is forced to evaluate her own habits of internalizing things because she was not holding herself in a position of true worthiness. She didn’t like her body or herself, so tolerated and forgave bad behavior. I found myself relating and reflecting back on past patterns of forgiveness. I’ve put up with enough shit and think sometimes a hard line in the sand may be appropriate. I do not have to accept forgiveness from anyone. Tolerance and allowing resentment fosters negativity. Fosters feeling of unworthiness. I am worthy. I am so fucking worthy of happiness, respect, and getting what I want from a relationship.
I am not saying I will never go to confession again, or forgive petty disagreements (for the sake of moving forward.) I know this, my forgiveness moving forward in life is not going to bountifully given out at an all you can take buffet. Also, to the 27 year old Kate who has been mentally kicked across my mind for not making a different decision that day, you are forgiven. You did what you were taught, trained, and what you knew to be right. Live, learn, and sometimes, stand the fuck up for yourself.