You may remember that in August this year, I did the Ventura Storytellers Project, where I shared my story with a room full of strangers who somehow through those moments of sharing vulnerability, joy, struggle and victory became friends. One of the other storytellers was a man who shared the horribly poignant details of a terrible childhood, and yet he went on to get married, have kids and be a productive member of society. He talked about this:
Forgiveness is for the Forgiver, not the Forgiven.
It’s a really strong statement and one that truly gave me pause. Intellectually I could see how that was true. Forgiving someone for something that they had done to you, no matter how horrible could truly help assuage age-old, long-buried emotions, and truly help you move on.
But, I didn’t understand it in my heart.
I came across someone from my past who, for whatever reason decided that she needed to come clean to me about how she had treated me over a decade ago. This was someone I had the deepest respect and admiration for. Someone I could say was like a role model and mentor to me. She was a tough one, never shied away from doling out tough love to help me learn lessons of life. She had changed her perspective about me and therefore had changed the way she treated me through what I had perceived was no fault of mine. Or at least, none that I was aware of. She had made our relationship tenuous, but I never knew what had caused that to happen. Things got so tough, that I just had to cut her out of my life because it was affecting my health and my life. I had a little toddler at home, and couldn’t afford to be stressed out and miserable all the time. Since I couldn’t get a straight story out of her about why our relationship changed. I eventually moved on. I resented her for quite a number of years thereafter. I wondered what I had done to deserve this. I didn’t have the skills then to ask the right questions to get the story out of her, or to understand things from her perspective.
She went on to tell me about a couple of other women in our circle. People I considered friends. Women I would have done anything for. They had colored her judgment of me by feeding her blatant lies (her words, not mine) about me. They had been literally building a case against me to drive a wedge between the two of us. And it worked like a charm. So, this woman, this second mother figure, decided that she was going to take their words as truth, and not give me a chance to tell my side of the story. Although till today I don’t know what story I would be telling. She wouldn’t tell me why they decided to do this.
I had hairs rise on the back of my neck as I flashed back a decade and thought of these two women; both of whom I considered close friends. I had shared so many moments of vulnerability and weakness with them, I had let me guard down with them.
You see, when I first moved to this area, I had no women friends at all. I had moved from New York to get my MBA at Pepperdine, where I had hoped to form close friendships but didn’t. I was a commuter student like most of my classmates, so while we did do things together socially, I somehow didn’t get to form much wanted long-lasting college buddy friendships. From college, I started working for a very small organization where all the other people were nearly twice my age. No opportunity to form friendships there either. So when these women started entering my life, I was ecstatic. Women friends have always been important to me as an adult, perhaps just because I didn’t have a lot of girlfriends growing up. Needless to say, I was shattered when my friend had so abruptly turned on me without any indications why.
Now here she was; she said she had carried the hurt of this in her heart for all these years and she just needed me to know. She said she has watched me from afar, and is proud of the life I have built and the relationships I have nurtured over the years. She hopes that I would forgive her.
Ahhhhhhh I get it now. Forgiveness is for the Forgiver, not the Forgiven.
Yes, of course I forgave her. I had forgiven her years ago. I had made my peace. I knew that if I ever saw her again, I wouldn’t hate her, I wouldn’t wonder why, I would just embrace her as if none of that had happened.
But she had lived with this for over a decade.
She hadn’t forgiven herself.
I had moved on.
Her heart still hurt from the role she had played in sabotaging our friendship.
The ripple effect in my life of moving away from that relationship had been astounding.
To say that my life flourished thereafter would be an understatement.
I learned so much about myself through that whole process, and I also learned my boundaries.
I learned that people will treat you the way you allow them to.
We have to train people the way we want them to treat us.
I learned so much about what goes into a good relationship.
I learned about being a good friend and not being a pushover friend.
I learned it was okay to say NO.
I learned to say YES to myself always.
But most of all, I learned that my gut has never let me down.
And that in the noise of the outer voices of people’s opinions about me, I had drowned out the whisper of my inner voice; And the latter is the only one that mattered.
So, as is always the case, the toughest critics, the biggest backstabbers, the most challenging situations are always the people, places and issues where we have the biggest breakthroughs in our lives.
So the next time someone challenges you, irritates you, upsets you or plain annoys the heck out of you.
Say thank you to them silently.
Then go sit with yourself and ask yourself…
What am I to learn from them?
If you’re quiet enough for long enough, you’ll get an answer.