A guide to getting back control over your own life
On February 12, 1995, Sister Rani Maria, a Carmelite nun working for the upliftment of the tribal people in Kerala was murdered brutally. She was stabbed in her chest and abdomen 51 times by Samandar Singh, a local farmer who was vehemently against the conversion of tribal people of Kerala to Christianity. After murdering her, Singh panicked and ran away. Maria's body lay in a pool of blood for four hours on the street afterwards – unattended till the authorities arrived. Singh was later arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Over the years, Singh's anger melted into remorse. He felt terrible regret, tormented by what he had done. On August 21, 2002, Selmy Paul, Maria's younger sister visited Samandar Singh in prison. Guilty and weeping, Singh stood before Selmy with folded hands. "Maafkarna. Bahutbadighalti hui hai," he said, weeping bitterly. Please forgive me. I have sinned terribly.
But Selmy's response was perhaps even more shocking than Singh's admission of regret."We have forgiven you. Do not keep anything in your heart," she said, tying a Rakhi – a sacred thread promising kinship – on Singh's trembling wrist.
Later on, Singh admitted that after he was convicted of murder, even his closest family had stopped visiting him. Consumed by dark thoughts, he had been biding his time in prison, planning to kill the two accomplices after his release and then kill himself. These thoughts vanished when he was visited by Maria's sister. An act of kindness on Selmy's part saved his life and made him a changed man.
You must be wondering how this can be true. Such acts if kindness do exist, and they aren't even unique. Several such stories appear in the news each year – when family members forgive a murderer for the death of a loved one. I don't know if I can do it myself, but yes, it does happen.Forgiveness is an act of phenomenal emotional strength that allows both parties to move on from the tragedy and carry on with their lives.
But first of all, what exactly is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the conscious decision of not letting traumatic events of the past shape you as a person and dictate your future actions.
Apart from reducing your anxiety, anger, and grief, forgiveness also allows you to reclaim control over your life. If you forgive someone who caused you pain, you are essentially taking away their power to hurt you further.
An important point to remember here is this: forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting. You can forgive someone and not let them know. It can be a gift you give yourself where you choose to not let negative events from the past affect your mood or relationships. The takeaway here is: forgiveness can be purely psychological without having any worldly repercussions.
When you carry resentment around with you, it becomes like a boulder tied around your heart. No matter how hard you try, it weighs you down and will never let you soar. The ability to forgive is an important life skill that you need to learn so that your future is not forever tainted by your past.
That being said, it is not easy to forgive. How can we learn to cultivate forgiveness in our lives?
Self-help author Mark Manson has devised something called the SUE ME technique that can come in quite handy. It stands for-
S – Separate the action from the person
Everyone does bad things in life. But not everyone is a bad person. There is power in detaching the act of malice from the perpetrator.
U – Understand their motive
Every person has a moral compass that guides them through life. To them, whatever they do is always justified. Yes, the person who caused you great trauma might have had their reason, but that does not give them the right to hurt you like they did, right? Of course, it doesn't. But we already separated the action from the person, remember? So, understanding their motive will give you an explanation of why they did what they did. It will help you empathize.
And forgiveness, you'll soon learn, often stems from empathy.
E – Empathize
This is easier said than done, because you will have to imagine yourself in the person's shoes, and really feel what they felt at their moment of weakness. If you can see that they didn't hurt you because that is how they are as a person, but simply because of a small character flaw, you have already reached a stage of forgiveness.
M – Mark your boundaries
Now that you have separated the action from the person, understood their motivation, and empathized with them, you need to draw your boundaries and decide what role, if any, you are going to let them play in your life. Telling someone to get out of your life can be difficult, especially if they are a close friend or family member. But once you have made your decision, it will be easier for you to understand that what they do does not impact your life. This is because, mentally, you have already drawn your boundaries and they aren't allowed to come close.
E – Eliminate emotional attachment
The final step of forgiveness is to let go of the emotional attachment you've developed around hating this person for so long. Let the anger fade away, let the dreams of revenge die. Such thoughts aren't helping anyone, least of all, you.
Hating someone is tiring. There are so many productive ways you can use that energy. And yes, it is possible to forgive someone without forgetting what they did to you. Take it as a lesson and move ahead, one step at a time, till you don't have to keep looking back.
(Anangsha Alammyan is Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, National Institute of Technology, Silchar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)