The Forgiveness / Resentment Two-Step

The ongoing process of forgiveness and resentment is like no other, but with work, you can get closer to acceptance and relief.

BY Wendy K. Williamson

I recently ran across an uplifting document. It was one of those lists, the kind that leave you dumbfounded, that makes it all so clear in a succinct, well, list kind of way.

What spoke to me, the topics-du-list, were resentment and forgiveness. At least, that’s what hit me between the eyes in the article. Like a country line dance, I saw myself move over this imaginary line, back and forth, resentment, back, forgiveness, forth. And take it from the top—forward and back, resentment and forgiveness, just like a two-step. Step backward, resentment, and forward, forgiveness.

This line I envision is the process I go through—and it can be with anything—that I have trouble with. Usually, this dance is with my writing. The emotional process of forgiving and handling resentments is like no other.

Resentments are like tiny Legos that a child absentmindedly picks up and plays with. They can turn into an over-flowing tub of recyclables, long past the pick-up date, if I don’t forgive.

Forgiveness … I have forgiven myself for my past. However, forgiving others over my mental illness abandonment wounds has proved far more difficult and has taken longer.

Why is that?

I have forgiven my biological father who left when I was six months old. I have forgiven the men that assalted me. Yet I haven’t forgiven—all the way—the one family member that holds my illness against me. This is the one that gets me.

I try but as hard as I do, it’s never final; it’s a process, like the two-step, or like washing your hands. I do it over and over, and then the dirt creeps up again. I wash; it’s back. And I wash it off again. I stare at my hands and wonder what I did wrong.

Am I am getting closer to letting the hurt go? Yes. And each time I get closer, I feel better about my progress. It is more in focus as I get older, and surely this must mean progress, but I realize people are limited. I understand that some people are black and white and I cannot change their perspective or opinions. But then I slide backward into the other school of thought: this illness isn’t my fault! Why am I the forgiving one? The answer I arrive at … Because I want sanity.

I’m sure other people with a mental illness are dealing with this, too. My happiness is incomplete and peace and serenity hinges on acceptance of other people as they are.

Usually in my life, I’ve found the greater the pain the higher the reward and complete freedom sounds pretty darn good to me! But it’s definitely work. Riding on a horse into the sunset simply by jumping on one sounds glorious, but…let’s face it, not very realistic.

I have to change my attitude. While I think the other person needs to change, they won’t. People are who they are, just like when you get into a relationship. Lord knows my partner is stuck with my attributes, the good and the bad.

For now, I have to work on my own attitude. I talk to my mom and my partner and God a lot. It helps, but ultimately the change has to come from me. Acceptance, my attitude, realizing that some people are just ignorant, for life maybe, that’s okay. It is what it is, as they say. My need to stand around and wait for someone to accept me is futile.

While I wouldn’t change anything about my life—except winter depression, and okay, August and September mania—I like my life. I like who is in it and I’m okay with who is out. Sticking by people who love and accept you is the kind of thing that is good for your soul.

My friend once said she gets such relief when she forgives someone. After a weekend with old friends and forgiving one of them she reported feeling lighter. She said, “Who can I forgive next?” It got me thinking. Who do I have left on my list? When I think I’m in the clear, someone always surfaces, reminding me of the work I have yet to do.

Who can you forgive today? Is there anyone on your list too?