Friday, February 17, 2023

Forgiving is hard

Image by Ashlee Marie
I lost a friend recently. He didn’t die. He’s just not my friend anymore. When a friend does something you never thought they were capable of—like betraying your trust—it's painful, but it's not just the pain of betrayal that you're feeling; it's also grief. Losing a friend is a loss like any other, and grief is a normal response.

You're not grieving the loss of the person who betrayed you, but the friend you thought they were. Then you start to wonder, were they always like that, and you just didn't know? Or did you have a real friend who changed into someone you wouldn't want as a friend?

It can feel like they died. Either they died when they changed, and grief was delayed because you weren't aware of it. Or they took advantage of your trust—because you’re supposed to be able to trust your friends—they had you convinced that they were your friend for so long that when the illusion was broken, it seemed like a stranger showed up and murdered your friend…

Now they're wearing your friend's face and sticking around... and you have to learn to live with that. And that's not even the hard part...

"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men."—Doctrine and Covenants 64:10

I think forgiveness is difficult for most people. I’d like to think that I’m a forgiving person. In the past, I may have confused forgiveness for an unwillingness to establish healthy boundaries—which usually meant forgiving people repeatedly for hurting me in the same way again and again. I suppose the platitude of “forgive and forget” gets stuck in one’s head, setting you up for a weird feedback loop. They hurt me, I forgave them, but then I remember that they hurt me—does that mean that I didn’t really forgive them? If they hurt me, and I forgive them but set a boundary—to the point of removing them from my life—their absence certainly makes it less likely for me to remember that they hurt me, but does that mean that I didn’t really forgive them? No, of course not. Setting boundaries to protect yourself from being hurt again and forgiving those that hurt you are not mutually exclusive.

Then there’s the intense aversion that I have to dishonesty. I still find it difficult to forgive others for lying, especially if they lie to me. My trust issues are rooted in experiences from my youth where the people I was supposed to trust the most had no qualms about being deceptive, manipulative, and hypocritical.

When I joined the Navy, I remember learning the “Core Values” of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment.” I took them seriously. Especially “Honor” because it encompasses being truthful, honest, and ethical. Of course, my military “career” took place during the Clinton Administration; bookended by “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (a policy that essentially forced people to lie—through omission—if they wanted to serve their country) and one of the most infamous lies in U.S. History. I remember so many people being angry with him for cheating on his wife. I was angrier that he lied about it.

It’s taken quite a while, but I think I’ve actually made some progress in learning to be more forgiving of people who lie. Being lied to doesn’t hurt any less, but it’s amazing what applying a modicum of empathy and understanding can do to bring one’s perspective into focus.

An unexpected source of insight was the series “Dead to Me.” The series’ protagonists, Jen and Judy, meet in a support group for people who have lost their partners. Jen is a widow, and Judy is mourning her fiance… until we learn that her fiance isn’t actually dead. Jen is appropriately angered by this revelation, but the group moderator comes to Judy’s defense, saying that people grieve in different ways. I had never considered it possible that anyone would lie for anything other than selfish reasons, a means to an end. Lying out of grief was a new concept. It made me look back at all the other times I was hurt by someone else’s lies and think, “It probably wasn’t grief, but maybe it was something other than just being a dirty, rotten, stinkin’, no-good liar!”—baby steps.

I could imagine some short-term gains my friend probably thinks were worth lying for. However, to be fair, I also have to entertain the possibility that he may not even see it as lying or even being dishonest—having a warped perception of truth doesn’t automatically give him a pass, but, for him, it might not be about the short-term gains at all. It could all be rooted in something deeper that he may not even understand. Again, Considering that possibility does not excuse his behavior, nor does it earn him back any trust, but it does help me to be more forgiving.