I am an angry, bitter person. Anyone who knows me decently well (or anybody who has read my writing) knows this well. So I wanted to write about the complexity of forgiveness.
The conventional wisdom has a serialized view of forgiveness. Let’s say someone gets mad at you and breaks your Wii controller. You are understandably angry and harbor some resentment but over time they make up and help pay you for a new one. So you willed yourself to forgive them and the resentment dissipated. The point is things went in a linear fashion. The wronging, resentment, and resolution came in neat little steps. The psychological establishment says this works for small things (like a broken Wiimote) so it must scale up and work for big things. It doesn’t.
The reason it doesn’t scale up is because life is messy and our experience and thinking is too nonlinear and interconnected. Think of your mind as a folder on your Windows desktop. The conventional view is that the files are all organized by the Date Modified heading so the ones in the past one doesn’t notice as much. But the truth is your brain clicks on those other headings. For example organizing the files by size, so a divorce that happened five years ago comes to the top. Or organizing by name so the close friend you haven’t seen in years is on your mind.
It gets even messier than that. The mind is a big Indra’s Net where the whole of it is reflected in every part of it. If something has embittered you to the point where you can’t forgive, a good portion of your non trivial thoughts will contain residue of the ramifications of what embittered you. I’m not talking here about dwelling on the incident or incidents that embittered you (though what I’m talking about does sometimes serve as a catalyst for this kind of behavior). I could write reams about things I’m bitter about but some of the things are being run and locked out of the vocational world (due to my disability) and the fallout that has occurred because of this. So whenever I think of church I think of the church people who rejected me because I didn’t have a real job. Or people who either ignore me or treat me like a charity case because I’ve fallen so low in society. The point is whenever I think of relationships (and who doesn’t) the residue of what embittered me is there.
Anything sufficiently big to put the adjective “bitter” by your name is not something that can easily be forgiven, if at all. It’s like if a computer virus had infected every one of the files on your computer and trying to remove it would render the files useless. Or like a scar that never fully heals, and then suddenly opens up as a new wound. It only takes something seemingly trivial to open it again. But the thing might have been trivial in and of itself but the way it was connected to the core of your being made it not so. Also, in most situations of serious bitterness the relationships involved are either completely broken or not up to the capacity where things can be worked through.