Do you think it’s possible to forgive someone completely?

A student wrote in to ask:

Do you think it’s possible to forgive someone completely? Especially when the person has hurt you a lot a lot. I tried to recall back the painful past and tell myself to let go and move forward but it’s so hard. But then a lot of resources on the Internet tell people to let go, move forward so you can have a better future and all. Do you agree? For me I feel like me having this pain and not letting go motivates me to do better and better so that I wouldn’t be looked down on again. However sometimes I feel like that just makes me a person stuck in the past, full of hatred.

This was a very heartfelt question, so I took quite a long time thinking about an answer:

Thank you for having the courage to ask this question. I know it’s not easy. And I want you to know that I too am going through a very similar situation as I’m writing this. So, I totally feel you on this matter!

Firstly, the advice to “forgive and forget” is complete bullshit. It is not forgiveness if you forgot the event. There is nothing to forgive if you cannot remember it. It is perfectly ok to remember the hurt and the pain. We are the sum of our experiences. All the good things that has happened to us, as well as all the hurts, betrayals, tragedies and dramas. The good and the bad: they shape us to be who we are.

What’s more important is to transform that pain, that hurtful memory into one of loving acceptance: this is me now, this is who I am, and I’m ok with it.

How do we do that? We need to give ourselves time and space to grieve, to cry, to emo, and also to process it. The reason why hurt and pain linger for so long (and maybe even fester in our hearts) is because we haven’t given ourselves the chance to let the emotions run their necessary course, by bottling it up, or simply avoid facing up to it.

So let me reiterate: It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to emo and cry. It’s ok to feel the hurt. Let it flow through you and out of you.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what you mean by “having this pain and not letting go motivates me to do better and better so that I wouldn’t be looked down on again.” It sounds like one of those gongfu movies. You know, the kind where some villain came and slaughtered your entire village when you were a child, but you were spared because you were hiding inside a cupboard or something. So you spend the next 2-3 decades of your life cultivating that hatred in you so that one day you can have the satisfaction of revenge.

My question for you would be: What is the emotion that’s driving you to do better? Is it anger? If it is, that’s not healthy. You can’t maintain anger throughout all your life. It will affect how you interact with other people, and it will affect your mental/physical health. You still can be just as motivated if you allow yourself the chance to grieve and process the hurt.

I’ll say one more thing. Time does heal all wounds – physical and emotional. I used to do a lot of shit in the past. And it never ceases to amaze me how, after 2-3 years later, many of these people don’t hold my past failings against them. I was incredibly relieved. The experience of being given a second chance by other people was such a moving experience. And it did inspire me to do likewise. If I like and desire to be forgiven and given a second chance, then I too should do the same to others. It is only right.

But you need to be clear what you mean by forgiveness. Minimally, forgiveness (and not forgetting) means you won’t hold their past faults against them. It is akin to saying: I know you have hurt me, and you might hurt me the same way again, but I am going to give you a second chance and I trust that you won’t let me down.

Sometimes, giving the person a second chance doesn’t mean a chance at the same thing. E.g. if it was a bad romantic relationship, then don’t go back to a romantic relationship – a second chance can just be the chance to be friends again. Or if you’re unsure, at least the second chance means a chance to reconnect and see where you go from there.

But give yourself plenty of time and space. There is no hurry to forgive. We all recover from our hurts at different rates.

A Wounded Love is the Key to Healing a Wounded Soul

Sometimes, whenever it comes to romance, we can’t help but hold on to an ideal romantic picture where all is warm and fuzzy, where everyday is always a day of smiles and never will there ever be a day of sadness. Yet, the reality is that hurt is unavoidable.

What I’d like to do in this entry is to explain why hurt is, FORTUNATELY, a necessity for any relationship to blossom. Yes, that’s right, it is not a typo error. Hurt is indeed a blessing when it happens in a relationship. It is painful and should rightly be avoided where possible, but there is something beautiful about it when it does happen when we least want it to occur.

Whether we like to admit it or not, deep in the depths of our very heart and soul, we all hold on to some hurt. We have been wounded at some point of our life – either because of rejection, insult, or neglect. But whatever it is, it is unfortunate that these incidents have left us scarred such that we develop insecurities and self-hatred in varying degrees as a result.

In those moments where we have experienced unkindness, we pick up lessons that we shouldn’t have: we begin to “learn” that there’s something about us that makes people dislike us.

Ironically, two seemingly contradictory things take place. The first is that we begin to dislike/hate those parts of ourselves that we thought to have led to those insults, rejection, and neglect. As a result, we end up becoming ashamed of those aspects of ourselves, and we try our best to hide them thinking them to be ugly and hideous. The second is that having thus been wounded by unlove, we become all the more desperate for love.

Yet, such painful moments of hurt have made us to believe that nobody will ever love us for those ugly parts of ourselves. And so we try our best to hide them, and yearn all the more for people to love us for those parts which we beautify. This is why we invest a lot of time and resources just to give others a good impression. But try as we may, deep down, we all know that behind that smile or look of confidence which we show, is someone who is weak and lonely.

While we may have many friends around us, we will continue to remain lonely because we are not looking for someone to love our beautiful side. What we really want – from the depths of our soul – is for someone to love us entirely – to love both the good side, but more so with our most ugly and detestable side.

It’s always easy to love that which is lovable. We know this because we all practice this. But because most people simply love our lovable sides, we are unsure if they truly love us for who we really are. At times, our insecurity drives us to question the sincerity of the person’s love since it has never ever been tested before.

Only when that detestable side has been revealed will a person’s love be tested. Yet, the irony is that we are afraid to reveal it. We have been enslaved by the chains of the fear of rejection. It’s already painful enough to be hurt once. The last thing we really want to go through is a repeat of that same hurt.

Yet, what we are thirsting for is that our detestable side be loved. All we want is for someone to experience both the best and the worst of our selves, and yet, tightly embrace us, saying, “It’s ok, I still love you.”

Or so most people think. But is that really sufficient to heal a wounded soul?

Actually, that’s still not enough. A person has yet to experience the worst of ourselves to the point that that beloved person has been hurt by us. That is when we have removed the mask which we have put on all along, and revealed our darkest inner-most part of our most hated self.

When that friend experiences first-hand, the hurt from our darkest, inner-most self, that is when that friend experiences our true self. It is at that very moment, when that friend is able to forgive and say, “I forgive you, and I love you,” that our darkest side, which now exposed, begins to experience the loving warmth it ceased to experience a long time ago when it was locked away at the first encounter of hurt.

This is when a wounded love begins to heal a wounded soul. As strange as it seems, it is the wounds of a broken heart that holds the key in unlocking the chains which has, for a long time, left us enslaved to our own self-hatred and fear. This is the love which liberates us and brings us to true freedom – a freedom more sweeter and more liberating than all other kinds of freedom.

Because we have finally encountered someone who loves us fully for who we are – the good, the bad, and the damn bloody ugly. Moreover, we begin to hear the truth about ourselves which we have surpressed for so long: that every bit of ourselves is wonderfully lovable.

It is unavoidable that hurts will occur in relationships. Human beings are like porcupines (or hedgehogs depending on which animal you prefer). Eventually, when we’re not careful, we will end up hurting or being hurt by the other. With strangers, we are extra careful. But with the people we love, we begin to relax a little because we trust that the other will not flee at the first accidental prick.

That is why we should consider ourselves most fortunate and blessed when we are hurt by the other. It is a sign of a relationship that is growing closer and closer, and a sign that the other has started to trust us more that he/she is more confident in trying to unveil a little more about himself/herself without the fear of rejection.

While we still try our best not to accidentally hurt each other, we will slip, and reveal that most dreadful side of our selves, thereby providing such opportunities for a wounded love to heal that wounded soul. (Of course, if the person constantly hurts you and has little or no respect for you, it’s different. That person is a jerk, and it’ll probably do both of you more harm than good.)

Of course, healing a wounded soul doesn’t mean that hurt will forever be completely terminated. We will still accidentally hurt one another time and time again, but with each moment comes the opportunity to renew and remind each other of the liberating and healing love that we can give to each other, that no matter what, no matter how crappy we are, we will be there for each other, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and we will love and honour each other, every single day of our lives till death do us part.

On Personal Relationships and the Hedgehog’s Dilemma

Human beings are like hedgehogs. We want to love and be loved. Yet, whenever we get too close to each other, we end up hurting and being hurt by the other. There is perhaps nothing worst than being hurt by the ones you love, or hurting the ones you love.

Sometimes the hurt can be so bad that it seems best not to grow close to people. Yet, we desire to be close to others. But the fear of hurting/being hurt is enough to prevent us from doing anything at all. And so, we often find ourselves living a life of contradiction – of yearning for closeness yet shunning away from it. At the end of the day, we hurt ourselves even more as a result of this internal conflict.

But we think it is alright to live like this. Why? Because we sometimes think like this: It is better to hurt myself than to hurt others or be hurt others. At least the hurt which I inflict towards myself is less painful than the hurt which comes from the ones I love.

We have all been wounded at some point of our life. Nobody has gone through life unscarred. At some point, we have been betrayed, backstabbed, disappointed, ignored, insulted, teased, and even rejected by family and friends. How could they do something like that? They’re supposed to love me, right? They do love me, don’t they?

That is what the hedgehog’s dilemma is about: We meet someone for the first time. Not knowing whether or not we will be accepted or rejected by the other, we try to look good. After being accepted for some time by the other, we begin to feel comfortable and relaxed, slowly and slowly, we begin to remove the mask and show bits of our true self. Yet, like the hedgehog, our true selves are, unfortunately, full of spikes. But the mask functions as a shield covering our spikes so that no one will be hurt. It also covers our vulnerable selves so that we won’t be hurt either. But as we begin to grow closer, we begin to slowly remove that mask to reveal our true selves. We expose our vulnerabilities and expose the sharp spikes which could hurt someone.

And so, there will come a point in time where we get too close to each other and our spikes come into contact, thereby wounding each other in that dangerous embrace of friendship.

A friend of mine commented that the name, “hedgehog’s dilemma”, is quite a misnomer. Hedgehogs don’t get injured when they come close to each other because they know how to withdraw their spikes when coming in contact with their own kind.

If that is the case, can we still consider ourselves analogous to hedgehogs? Oh yes! Definitely! We are very clumsy hedgehogs: Firstly, we don’t realise we have spikes until we have wounded and have been wounded. Secondly, even when we know about our spikes, we have difficulties controlling them. Thirdly, sometimes we can be so absent-minded that we can forget that our spikes are out.

But just like the hedgehogs, we can learn not to hurt and be hurt by learning how to master our spikes. Unfortunately, this learning requires the courage of enduring some hurts from each other until we get the hang of it.

This is why the best and closest of friendships are those where both parties have survived a really terrible conflict. There will always be a point in any relationship where the other begins acting like a retard, annoying the crap out of you, and/or pissing you off as if he/she had been paid to do it (or has an axe to grind). This is the point where the mask has been removed and the spikes have come out. This is the point where we begin to hurt and be hurt by the other.

Unfortunately, sometimes, some of us cannot endure it any longer, and the relationship ends. However, when we begin to accept that he/she has these spikes, and there’s very little we can do about it, that is when we begin to learn how to avoid being hurt by the other, and avoid hurting the other despite the closeness. That period of conflict is the learning stage. Once both have learnt it well, the storm dissipates and both are able to grow closer together.

Of course, periods of conflict will arise time and time again. That is part of the package in being a “hedgehog”. As we grow closer than before, we need to learn how to master our spikes in such new situations of closeness.

Such mastery of our spikes gives us the ability to develop long-lasting relationships with people. We can be comfortable being ourselves with such people. There is no need to wear protective masks, nor do we have difficulties embracing them without hurting/being hurt.

It is interesting to note that traditional Christian marriages never wish couples a “happy marriage”. Instead, the Church wishes them that they may remain as “one flesh”. In Chinese culture, one concept central to the culture is 和 (he), which means unity, harmony, and even happiness. I’m sure other religions and cultures have something similar to say.

Nonetheless, the point is this: since ancient times, people have recognised the problem of the hedgehog’s dilemma. People have known (since ancient times) that a happy relationship free from hurt is not a real relationship – it is either a fantasy or there’s no closeness at all. There is no happy marriage or friendship where no one gets hurt. People will hurt one another. It is an unavoidable thing in life.

The goal in any human relationship is to learn how to be so close as to become like “one flesh”. It is this harmony and unity that is a pre-requisite to happiness. Once we have learnt how to handle hurts are we then able to develop close and happy friendships.

Love is not just about loving the good parts of the other. It is also about loving the person’s spikes. These spikes are part of our being. We too have a deep desire for people to love us and our spikes. It’s easy to love the nice side of people. But a lot of effort is required to love those spikes. That is why we really appreciate the people who can love us despite seeing our ugly side. But it’s not just for the effort alone. We appreciate such love because such love embraces our whole self – not just a part, not just the mask – but a love which embraces the very core of our being.

But we’re all in a deadlock waiting for someone to do that to us. Everybody’s waiting.

So, to put an end to the deadlock, allow me to get the ball rolling by saying: Thank you for being my friend. I may have experienced, or have yet to experience your spikey side. But rest assured, I may initially be shocked, annoyed, and even hurt – but that will not mean an end to the friendship. I accept you and will still love you as my friend regardless. And I apologise for the hurts which my own spikes may have caused. We just need time to learn.

Let us, with courage, strive for deeper, closer friendships!