This week I have been thinking about forgiveness. I was inspired after listening to the TED Radio Hour episode on forgiveness. I was particularly moved by the TED Talk by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger titled "Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation." Thordis and Tom talked about their shared experience as the perpetrator and survivor of rape. Thordis was 16 years old when her then boyfriend, Tom, raped her. He was an exchange student from Australia and he left for home shortly after the incident without recognizing what he had done. After 9 years, Thordis decided that she wanted to confront Tom and to find forgiveness. She said so powerfully in this talk, "But deep down I realized that this was my way out of my suffering. Because regardless of whether or not he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace. My era of shame was over."
They talked over email and then met in person to work on reconciliation and forgiveness. Tom acknowledged then took up the responsibility and blame for his actions. They co-wrote a book about their experiences: South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsibility. The Dear Sugar Radio podcast titled "Dear Dad, It's Over" also touched upon forgiveness of hurtful relationship with parents.
"Because regardless of whether or not he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace."
What struck me the most about this TED Talk is the courage it took for both Thordis and Tom to talk about the shame-filled experiences of rape. This provides some answers and clarity to my question from my last blog post of why do men shy away from talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault? Because it is deeply shameful. Because the perpetrator does not think of themselves as a "bad" person. Because being labeled as a perpetrator is dehumanizing. Because, as Tom puts it, he didn't think he was capable of this kind of act. He thought he was "made up of something else." Because we often define a whole person by an act, a mistake. Because the stakes are so high.
Forgiveness From Within
I have been reflecting on the people that have hurt me deeply in the past and whom I have a hard time forgiving. I thought that forgiveness means that I condone the acts of violence, oppression, neglect, violation, or hatred against me, which I do not feel. I thought that forgiveness means to take care of the feelings of the person who hurt me, which I do not care about. I didn't know that forgiveness can be for me. For letting go of the past that still haunts me. For severing, once and for all, the anger, shame and regret that still ties me to the people who hurt me. For moving forward without taking out my anger on me or the people around me.
In practicing forgiveness, I have been journaling and talking with my therapist about the experiences that left so much wound on my soul. I have also been practicing forgiveness meditations in which I visualize with as much detail as possible the person who hurt me. I reflect on any goodness that I can remember of this person. I image giving them a hug, telling them I appreciate them for the good things they have done and I forgive them for the pain they have caused. I tell them that I wish them the best. Then I imagine them walking away. I feel lighter in my heart after these meditations, like I have put down a heavy burden.
How do you find forgiveness in your life?
Healing Through Therapy in Seattle, WA
Finding forgiveness is not always a linear path. If you are feeling resentment, anger, or sadness towards those who have hurt you, you are not alone. Mending those wounds will take time and effort. You can start the journey towards peace and forgiveness with one of our licensed therapists. Schedule a 15-minute phone consultation today to get started.