How to Forgive When There is No Apology

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"When your close your heart to the world, you inevitably close it off to both the bad and the good."

I recently watched The Light Between Oceans and although I admittedly only picked it for the fact that Alicia Vikander is in it (the fact only made more delicious knowing she has just secretly married her co-star, Micheal Fassbender), I was left feeling oh, so much. There was one particular line from the movie that hung in the air around me for the next few days, offering itself to be mulled over endlessly.

How true, I thought to myself. A sense of awe took hold of me as I decided that this was the philosophy I needed to adopt if I was going to return to walking the streets freely. Let me explain:

In brief, I had a difficult brush with sexual harassment that left me both angry and afraid anytime I went out in public. Some shit went down with a deeply disturbed man and, although legal justice prevailed, I emerged a different woman.

I became less trusting and viscously bitter.

Not a day went by in which I didn’t check the hands of every man walking by me to make sure they are safely away from his pants. I couldn’t remember the last time I got in a taxi cab without leaving my finger on the call button of my phone, having already dialed 911. There were times in which a man passed me by on the sidewalk and I immediately thought I hate you. Intellectually, I was well aware that my harasser’s actions did not represent the entire male species. But emotionally, I had tied all men tied together as predators while I remained the prey

I recognized the loss of my softness and my growing anger at the world, not only for what had happened to me, but for the vicious aspects of humanity that nothing can ever prepare you for. And although several weeks had passed since the incident, I remained suspicious and resentful.

In the meantime, I had tried everything to do what I thought was healing but ended up being distraction. I went back to the gym, photographed more, journaled, threw myself into my job, traveled, ate more croissants.

None of it worked because that’s just the thing about distractions: they’re temporary. I started to depend on them until they became counter-productive. Suddenly, nothing was enough to make me smile and I submitted to my depression. My motivation was lost, inspiration no where to be found, and heart heavy with no hope of seeing happiness again. I cut out my friends and my family, because when you close your heart to the world, you inevitably close it off to both the bad and the good.

It became painfully clear that I needed to forgive the man who had harassed me, not for his sake, but for mine. And I should point out that the man who has effectively traumatized me never apologized. There was a never a moment in which he looked me in the eyes and said I’m sorry. 

It took me a long time to realize that the lack of his apology did not mean that I could not move on. Just as one can forgive someone who is sorry, one can also forgive someone who is not. And although the latter may be more difficult, it's not impossible and may be even more necessary. The process took (and is taking—it’s a journey not an over-night solution) a few steps:

Firstly, I needed to recognize the bitterness and anger as soon as it started to rise in my chest. I got into the habit of challenging the negative thinking when it came—and did so kindly: Thank you for the caution, heart, but the scenario you’ve created isn’t what’s really happening here.

Once I challenged these thoughts, my behavior needed to match them. If the instinct was to check passersby’s hands, I didn’t. I left it alone. It was uncomfortable at times. It was hard. But I can assure you that we are stronger than the difficulties. The important thing was to keeping challenging the negative thinking. When you act on the suspicious inner voice, you feed it, letting it grow stronger. So, starve it, depriving it of the chance to keep driving your heart into darkness. The pain of learning to trust the world again will never be deeper than the pain of a hardened and bitter heart. 

The thing about naivety is that it’s inextricably tied with trust. And while reality may strip us of that cherubic innocence, here’s the catch: losing naivety does not mean that you must also lose trust. Believe me when I say that the most beautiful people are those who emerge from life’s tragedies having kept kindness and, yes, trust in their hearts. So, go ahead and start forgiving because you’ve only got to do it once. Use the rest of your energy for something much more worthwhile. I know I will.

Yasmeen Mjalli