Forgiving, For You.
We all know the feeling. The heart-pounding, reverberating through our whole bodies. Heads feeling swollen with anger. The full body ache of hurt.
That feeling when someone close to us betrays us. When someone rebuffs our efforts of kindness. When someone plays “the victim.” When they twist our words and mangle our intentions. When they say words that cut us to our core. When they disengage and stop showing up altogether.
Conflict happens all the time. When it is someone close to us, a family member or a close friend, the resulting pain increases. We are engulfed with feelings of loss, of anger and of hurt.
Until the conflict is resolved, we carry around these negative emotions. They gnaw away at our self-composure, at our body’s equilibrium, and our nervous system. The loss of that person can feel like an empty space and a relief: simultaneously. Either way, unresolved disputes get carried along in our pockets. They stay with us until we choose to let them go, one way or another.
Sometimes confrontation, conversation, and empathy can lead to peaceful resolutions. That beautiful feeling, “We hear each other, we understand one another,” that comes with genuine remorse. That sweet relief of a connection that is still alive, emanating from the other side of the table.
But sometimes, we are the only one sitting at the table. We are the only who wants to fight for the relationship. That unequal feeling is unfair. Our mind is open, we are ready to forgive and forget- to engage the tough stuff and come out- both of us, better for it. But often, those feelings are not mutual.
Sometimes it’s us who walk away first. Sick and tired of toxic interactions, and ready to move on with our lives. Not willing to give another ounce of our precious energy, to someone who won’t appreciate it. We know we deserve better and are ready to engage in new relationships.
Either way, when we walk away with conflict unresolved, we carry the conflict with us. It lives inside us even when we choose to ignore it. It takes up real estate in our memories, ready to surface when we least expect it. When triggered, it brings with it a fresh surge of hurt, as if it was just yesterday that it all began.
I struggled like that for a long time. So deeply zealous in my beliefs of right and wrong, conflicts lived inside me long after the last word was spoken. Even when engaging in empathy for the other person, I was still left with a loss at their refusal to meet me halfway. With some, I knew I was better off because a clean break was the only way to unravel the relationship. But I still keenly felt the absence of that person in my life. In other situations, I struggled to let go of the betrayal I felt, and my anger perpetuated the pain.
I learned the hard way that we cannot control others. We cannot make them treat us with respect, apologize for their wrongdoings and mean it. We cannot change them or make them feel what we want them to feel. The only thing we can control is our response to the situation.
Internally, I need “to let it go.”
I try and look at the situation from their perspective through the prism of the affection I once felt for them. Sometimes that helps, and though they are not present, I hold on to that good feeling, wish them well and leave it there.
Sometimes, I am left to acknowledge that if resolving this situation was beyond what they were capable of, it is not reflective of myself or my worth. Some people do bad things. Some people say hurtful things. It is proof of why they no longer fit into my life.
I take responsibility for my own part I played in the problem. Did I hurt them? How did I contribute to this dysfunctional dynamic? How can I learn more about my flawed self, and be better in the future. I see it as a learning opportunity. A chance to grow.
I forgive myself. For the unkind things, I said or felt. For the way that I allowed myself to get sucked into a dynamic that was unhealthy for me. For allowing pain to fester and rise. For feeling bad feelings, and for allowing myself to stay in that space. I acknowledge that growth hurts, and I would never reach my highs if I didn’t hit those lows. I give myself the freedom to have been in that process and to move away from it.
Lastly, I pray. I pray for those who have hurt me. That they should have their needs met and feel fulfilled in their lives. That we both should achieve peace within ourselves. And I pray for myself. That I should have the strength to maintain my good wishes. That I should be strong enough to enter into that conflict no more.
In this time of repentance and forgiveness, may we all work to relieve ourselves of the burdens of conflict. Those we can resolve together towards resolution, and those we make peace with on our own.
Taking those steps, we make more room to live peacefully. Hopefully, that intention will bring us one step closer to being written in the Book of Good Life.
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.
She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.
She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.
Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.
Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.