There is a difference in saying “I’m sorry” or “I’d like to apologize for…” and “I’m sorry that you felt hurt when I….” They reflect different degrees of admitting responsibility and of accepting how the other person has been hurt by your actions.
There is the true sincere apology statement, and then there is the one where the person is going through the social obligation of acting sorry. One is real, the other is fake. Don’t be misled. Even saying “I’d like to apologize for” doesn’t mean anything. The person would like to apologize, but isn’t actually doing so. And worse, saying “sorry” doesn’t really even mean anything. If you hammer nails into a tree and then pull them out, there are still holes there. Expecting the victim to forgive can actually re-victimize her. It puts the burden on her, instead of the abuser. It glosses over the reality of her pain and loss.
If there has been no apology, no restitution, then there is also no closure or healing. Even if there has been an apology or restitution, then is no guarantee that closure or healing has taken place. Once a person has been harmed by another person, sometimes saying “sorry” won’t fix it, and the damage is permanent, especially if the offender has a habit of repeatedly hurting people. It isn’t fair to the victim to expect her to forgive at all.
Sure, Buddha says that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Sometimes you have to forgive so you can go on with your life.
But forgiveness comes when it comes, and no sooner. Saying “Aren’t you over that by now?” isn’t kind or helpful. Saying “But have you forgiven him in your heart?” makes no sense. What about the liver? Is it OK to still hold some resentment there? Getting over being hurt is a lot like the grieving process. Grief takes time, and there isn’t a fixed amount. It takes as long as it takes. Both being hurt and grieving represent a loss.
I think people are nervous around grief or holding onto anger, because it frightens them. They want to rush right ahead to the happy bit, where all is good and everybody is loving and kind. That Hollywood ending isn’t real. That’s why it is in the movies. Movies don’t show reality, on purpose. Sadly, a lot of us have used movies as our role models. This is why a lot of us are in a lot of pain. Our reality never matches up to the reality we were shown, so we feel like we are doing something wrong.
Working through feelings is a long process, and our society doesn’t give a lot of help along the way. You have to process your pain, just like how a cow chews its cud. You have to work on it, and wait, and work on it a little more, and wait some more. You have to transform it into something else.
There is a sort of alchemy here. Trying to take shortcuts on the process only results in it not really being processed. It will come out half way, unfinished, lumpy. It will come out sideways, if it comes out at all. Sometimes it will get stuck inside, with little jagged bits poking into the soft parts of your self, just causing more pain. Take as long as you need, but do the work.
You don’t have to forgive to the extent that you let the abuser hurt you again. You don’t even have to forget. It helps if you can move on, where this rock of grief and pain doesn’t define you, doesn’t limit you, doesn’t keep you stuck in one place. Work on it. Draw. Paint. Write. Go for a walk. Take your anger with you. You aren’t running away from your anger and pain and loss, you’re using it as fuel. You’re transforming it into something useful and necessary. It takes a while. It takes as long as it needs to take.