I’ve been told so many times that forgiving is a huge piece of overcoming depression. On top of addressing the brain’s chemical balance, exercising, eating well, reaching out for help, and repeating mantras and good thoughts, I’m supposed to forgive those who have wronged me. I also need to forgive myself.
Except I don’t know how to forgive. And that makes me feel sometimes like I’ll be stuck with depression forever.
Some people talk about forgiveness like it’s simple. It’s not, especially if you don’t know how. It’s not just a matter of saying “I forgive you” and “I forgive myself”. I’ve tried many approaches and I keep working at several. Whatever I try doesn’t magically wipe away all the shit stuck in my head. It doesn’t make me forget it all and how it feels. Even if time takes the edge off the rawness of the feelings, I’m still very reserved around people and situations where hurt has happened before. Worse, when more shit happens, it accumulates on top of what’s in my head. My mind traps it. The buildup is heavy and doesn’t go away, while negative feelings and emotions can repeat on a loop.
Sure, I’ve been working on doing helpful, positive things and changing my mental programming. Guess what, though? The shit’s still there. The good news is my depressive episodes are fewer and farther between, and are generally shorter in duration. But the shit is still there.
I’m sure fear is what keeps me from forgiving. But sure, OK, I’ll work to lose the fear. Then what?
Here’s what I know
- Without forgiveness, there’s no true healing.
- Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a mental shift over time.
- Forgiveness is letting go.
- Forgiving myself is part of it.
Here’s what I don’t know
- How to forgive.
I haven’t figured out how I can let go of stuff that will never be forgotten. Experts say the pain gets less, but that pain remains a blueprint for how my mind works. So, how the hell do I reform my thinking and my life while still carrying this crap inside?
Forgive, they say.
Well, fucking how?!
It’s like a chicken and egg thing. I need to forgive to heal, yet I feel like I need to heal in order to forgive.
Power vs letting go
When you don’t know how, it’s easy to associate forgiveness with being a doormat. Just forgive them and let them walk over you again.
Yes, I know, forgiveness isn’t really like that. It’s supposed to be about letting go, so whatever happened no longer has power over me. But I’m still stuck at the question… HOW?
Before you say it…
Don’t tell me I need religion. I grew up the son of a clergyman in a liberal branch of Christianity that is open, tolerant, accepting of science, and not literal in its bible study. Forgiveness was mentioned so many times through my upbringing, so I know what it is. I just don’t know how to do it. None of the religious stuff I’ve come across addresses how. It just says to do it. For me, forgiveness is a distant idea.
I’ve left religion behind now, not out of resentment or pushback, but for thoughtful, considered reasons. Religion makes no sense to me. Furthermore, it involves a lot of circular thinking – and circular thinking is a big factor in depression. I don’t need any more of it.
Meanwhile, I still need to learn how to forgive, otherwise my depression will continue on a loop.
I’m making an effort
I do daily mantras that are based on the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono. They involve invoking people, situations, ideas, and goals and saying, “Forgive. I love you, I forgive you, thank you.”
I also know empathy is an important part. I have lots of empathy for those who are wronged and suffer bullying, discrimination, and persecution. But my empathy disappears when somebody wrongs me. It’s a real struggle there.
The last place to find forgiveness is online
Everywhere online, we don’t see forgiveness. We see arguing. We see raging. We see people acting out. Especially in comments and discussion sections. I’ve done a lot myself. When people argue or rage online, they’re most often acting out against somebody in their life or against something that happened. They can’t yet face the source of their emotional upheaval. Inside they’re hurting and stuck in the grief process, usually fluctuating between the denial and anger phases. People get triggered to act out through road rage, fighting, being tough on their children, telling others to toughen up and not be snowflakes, and so on and on. Whatever it takes for them to pretend they’re stronger than what happened to them. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, they’re acting out against a target they see as easier. Hence a lot is done online behind a screen.
Those with the loudest voices online are the ones who have grown up with the least empathy or had something happen that took it away from them. These people may or may not have some kind of depression, but it’s easy to see how depression can develop and why it’s so prevalent. They shit on others and have an approach where they have to make others feel stupid and worthless in order to feel better about themselves. Some rage openly, some just act superior and pompous.
The superior thing has been me, many times. I know I’ve acted out against anyone triggering my emotional memories and anyone who “stood in” for the people and conditions at the heart of my depression. I had to prove them wrong. I had to “win”. I’ve cut down this behaviour, a lot.
For healing to occur and peace to reign, the source needs to be addressed. Forgiveness is huge for this. I know that much.
In my case, the acting out includes pushing people away and keeping them at a distance. That’s because my depression started with isolation as a child and the emotions and feelings that went with it at that age. Stuck in the anger phase of grief for so many years, I was bitter about isolation and so dished out isolation to others. I wanted them to know how I felt and even experience it themselves. If anyone vaguely wronged me, I wrote them off. If anyone betrayed my trust, I hated them intensely and cut them out of my life entirely. I thought I was giving them a taste of my isolation. What I was doing was acting out against the source of my own isolation and making it worse.
I needed forgiveness. I needed to learn what forgiveness is.
We all need forgiveness.
My question remains
How? I don’t know how to release the wrongs I felt people did to me. It’s so hard not to lash out and act out.
I guess I have to keep going and doing what I can, one baby step at a time. Maybe I’ll discover the secret to forgiveness. Maybe one day I’ll forgive everything and everyone at the heart of my depression.
Maybe one day I’ll forgive myself. It’s not that I did anything wrong at the time of my depression’s causal incidents, but I still put blame on myself. The incidents, the unresolved emotions, and the depression itself combine together to make me feel powerless and I blame myself deep down for that.
Here’s to learning how to forgive.