a former colleague cost me something valuable by lying to a local arts board and I’ve been having a hard time coping with the deceit, particularly since I’m fairly certain this person has no remorse for what they did. I confided my feelings on the matter to a friend last night, Melissa Perhamus, and she could see how hurt I was and still am. She consoled me and advised me not to rush to forgiveness, especially if this person refused to ask for it or show contrition.
Melissa this morning followed up on her excellent advice with an article on forgiveness written by Anna Valerious. Besides being moved at the thought Melissa was looking out for me, I also found the article very insightful. I’ve decided to excerpt the passages I found most useful here. So for attribution purposes the following thoughts are from Anna Valerious article, “Forgiveness”
“Real forgiveness is never a one-way street; real forgiveness can only be given if reconciliation and restoration in the relationship are desired by both parties. Forgiveness isn’t just about you or your feelings. It is about a relationship between at least two people.
Forgiveness is the transaction that allows for restoration. On the offender’s side there must be confession (admit to their act against you), contrition (show sorrow for what they’ve done to you) restitution (pay back what they took plus a penalty) and repentance (show solid determination to not re-offend). The person being asked for forgiveness, you, can then offer a large measure of grace if you are convinced of the sincerity of the offender’s efforts. When you see these above actions by the person who hurt you, your heart is touched and you will likely offer mercy and reconciliation which usually means you ask them to pay less than is owed you and call it even.
True forgiveness is very much like a business transaction. It is a transaction on the material and/or emotional level. In a real way a debt was incurred against you by the misdeed of the other party. The transaction of forgiveness is what allows the books to be set to right again allowing a relationship to be mended. The word “transaction” means that forgiveness can not happen unilaterally. It takes two to dance this tango.”
Valerious later writes:
“As mentioned before, you may see true contrition and genuine effort to restore what was taken from you on the part of the thief/abuser and decide to forgive part of the debt. That is the reconciliation aspect of forgiveness. Your acceptance of their efforts to make things right is clearly shown by your willingness to forgive part of the debt. In the emotional realm this is even more true because it is impossible for the offender to put everything back to the way it was.
This illustrates an important aspect of the forgiveness transaction: the person forgiven is a recipient of your mercy. This is very humbling. Even though you’ve forgiven part of the debt, you do so at cost to yourself and therefore you are by default in a position of moral superiority. Not that you feel that way, but the reality is the forgiven party realizes they still owe you in the moral realm even after you’ve forgiven them…their debt should now be one of gratitude. Can you see why a narcissist has such a problem with the transaction of forgiveness? He has to humble himself in order to receive a true gift of forgiveness. He has to receive your beneficence humbly and gratefully in order for things to be set right…The dynamic of a true forgiveness transaction reveals the reasons why the narcissist will refuse to acknowledge their debt to you. They are not willing to pay the cost to set things right again. It would require they admit to a wrong, show genuine remorse for it, do all in their power to make things right, and determine not to wrong you again. They do not value the relationship enough to incur that cost to their pride. They will do nothing that will admit to your moral superiority. They can not abide by the idea of them needing something from you. They are god. You are beneath them. How dare you think they owe you anything. Narcissists make it impossible for them to receive true forgiveness from you.”
This last statement helps me understand that I will receive no contrition from the person who hurt me. So what’s next. Well Valerious sums up beautifully how a hurt party can achieve agency again. She writes:
“So here you are. All alone with your anger and distress with no hope of restoration of a relationship because the narcissist refuses to engage in the transaction of forgiveness. Where does that leave you? What next? If a gift of true forgiveness can’t be given what are you left with? Where the hell do you find some peace of mind? I am sure that it varies from person to person, but I think there are some basic things that must happen for us to find that quiet place in our minds so the past abuses of the narcissist don’t continue to ruin our lives.
We’ve all heard the phrase “coming to terms” with something. Have you thought about what that means? When we “come to terms” it means we have found a name for a thing. Naming things enables us to categorize, quantify, qualify and talk about that thing. When you don’t have a name for something it usually means you are in a confused state. When you are able to properly and correctly name a thing it becomes possible to know what it is. You have discovered a name for the destruction and evil that has wreaked havoc in your life. It is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People who are dealing with this evil personality are incredibly relieved to find out there is a name for it! That is the process of “coming to terms”. You finally have a name for what has been perplexing you and vexing you and sucking the life out of you. Do not minimize the importance of this process in coming to a place of peace in your life. It is an important first step.
Once you have “come to terms” it requires you to make a decision. If forgiveness is not an option because the other party will not participate in the transaction, you are left with two possible decisions. Either you decide that you, your life, and your well-being are of so little importance that you allow the perpetrator to have continual access to you where they can continue to hurt you over and over again at their whim, or you decide that you have the right to remove yourself from a destructive person and minimize the possibility that they can continue to commit crimes against your person because you are a person of value. You can not expect your anger and hurt to dissipate if you choose to remain where this person can continue to abuse you. Removing yourself from (or greatly minimizing) the malignant narcissist’s contact is a major component to finding peace in your soul. “Forgiving” acrime in progress will only fuel your anger. How reasonable is it to expect that you can “get over” what has been done to you if you continue allow the same types of abuses to go on? Acknowledge your right and power and responsibility to remove yourself from a person who persists in hurting you, even if that person is family. If you don’t value yourself, then who else will? Certainly not the narcissist.”
Finally Valerious says:
“You don’t have to give out forgiveness like penny candy in order to prove that you are a good person. A truly good person, one who is acting like God does, waits until forgiveness can be received for the gift it is. In the meantime, you can willingly relinquish your right to vengeance. Leave the vengeance part to God who is capable of perfect justice. If you are not a Christian, this principle still applies. If you rule out vengeance as an option you will enable your mind to stop dwelling on the past abuses which fuels your anger. Letting go of the right to mete out justice will allow you to concentrate your mental and emotional energy on healthy pursuits. You will allow yourself to stop turning over those painful memories in your mind and use your mind in ways that will not corrupt your emotions and actions. What we focus our mind on day in and day out is what we eventually turn into. Letting go of vengeance keeps us from becoming like our abusers. It also allows peace an opportunity to grow in your life.”
I’ll end my heavy quoting of Valerious’ article here and close with my own thoughts. I wanna be a good person and struggle with letting go of rage when I feel I’ve been wronged or when I’ve fallen below my own standards of decency. I’ve been this way my whole life. I remember how harshly I condemned my mother for being an addict and not being a better mother. I remember how I wanted to die when I betrayed the man I loved because I thought there was no redemption from my selfishness. I’m clearly not perfect and in a poor position to judge others, but my time I’ve decided is valuable and its best like Valerious says to excise people around you who cause severe and remorseless hurt and focus on just being a better person.
Here’s some flowers I’m thinking of painting. Until next time y’all, do be well.