A few years ago, I experienced behaviours in a workplace that were akin to bullying. I don’t believe that I was totally blameless. In my opinion, I wasn’t being the best and most resourceful version of me and, like it or not, how I was being in that job led to me being bullied. I am not going into detail. I have blogged about it previously and, I don’t think it is relevant to this story.
I think that I accepted that this experience happened. I don’t feel bitter about it. If anything, I sit in gratitude for it, because so much of who I am today wouldn’t exist without it. I think that I am currently the happiest that I have ever been within myself and I don’t think that I would be saying that without the still very vivid experience of being the least happy I have ever been.
However, although I have been at peace with my experience of that organisation, something that I have not been able to consider is forgiveness of the individuals involved. I don’t believe that I have felt any hatred or resentment towards these people. Rather, I have felt nothing.
Recently, I started to reflect on forgiveness, particularly with regard to these two individuals. I don’t know what started the reflection; I think I was simply ready to explore it. From this reflection, I realised that not only had I not forgiven them, I seemed to be a very long way from doing so. There was no malice, just simply no forgiveness.
This fascinated me. I felt so at peace with the experience yet, when it came to the two individuals involved, I couldn’t bring myself to say that I would forgive them. I never spoke badly of them, or wished ill on them. I could even understand that they were just being whoever they were being at the time. I just could not forgive them.
The thing is, this experience affected me in a way that took me a very long time to admit. When I was living it, I spent significant time wishing that something would happen to me on the way into the office so that the work misery would end. I don’t mean hoping that I would trip over and break my ankle or come down with a stomach bug. I mean hoping and praying that something permanent and final would save me from whatever this experience was meant to be.
I fully accept that my way of being back then was responsible for the way in which I responded to the behaviours of these people. However, I hold an assessment that their behaviour was not ok. Being senior leaders and not displaying an awareness of how the recipients of their behaviour could react was not ok. Being allowed to continue this behaviour, potentially resulting in other people hoping for (or doing) something permanent to remove the suffering was not ok.
As I reflected on this, what I realised was that I didn’t want to forgive because doing so felt as though I was letting these people off the hook. It felt as though I was simply forgetting what had happened. It felt as though I was saying to the people who went after me “The managers who behaved this way don’t need to be held to account. You may be bullied by them and that’s ok”.
I was curious about this. Perhaps I am holding on to resentment after all. What occurred to me was that I was at peace with the experience of the organisation and the events that had happened. I couldn’t change that they had happened, and I was ok with that. However, I had also assessed that I would never see the individuals held to account for their actions. This is what I was opposing. I felt as though forgiving these two individuals meant that we had to forget about the bullying, put it all behind us, and send happy vibes out into the universe that said “It’s ok. You were who you were, and treating people like rubbish, to the point where they were hoping and praying that they would die was perfectly ok”. Sure. I get that. Except it isn’t ok.
In the explanation of forgiveness provided in “The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy” by Dan Newby and Lucy Nunez, I found a massive ah-ha moment: “If we forget the injustice, forgiveness is not necessary, so remembering what happened is essential“. This was huge; the realisation that I didn’t have to forgive and forget, that forgiving and remembering was essential. This gave me permission to hold the individuals in a way that served me, and being free to remember felt like holding them to account.
I read on: “Forgiveness as an emotion must be practiced in order to be mastered. I may say that I forgive a certain deed, but in the future when I recall what occurred, I will almost certainly need to renew my commitment to forgiveness. By doing this over time, my thinking may become more habitual, but will still need renewing.” I didn’t have to get this forgiveness thing right the first time. I could practice for as long as was needed. Wow.
At this point, something shifted within me. A calm and peace flowed through me, and it felt amazing. My shoulders softened as the resentment that I didn’t even know I was holding disappeared. I imagined these people joining my current place of work. As I visualised them walking into the office, I didn’t feel as though I was harbouring a grudge, and I didn’t feel as though I wanted revenge. I felt as though I could be at peace with their presence. I would remember my experience and I would be aware that I could be hurt again. However, I would also be confident that they would be getting a very different version of me, one who could co-ordinate action with them as required, and who would hold them to account by remembering without judgement.
The final step in this forgiveness journey was to ask myself whether I really gave myself permission to forgive these people. I felt a little anxious about this. However, I sat down, shifted to a body of acceptance and visualised the individuals sitting opposite me. Out loud, one individual at a time, I said “X, I experienced a lot of pain and suffering when I worked for you, and I will always remember that. However, I want you to know that I also forgive you for the part that I feel you played”.
When I had finished, I paused and sat in that moment; the moment where I was finally able to forgive and remember. I felt incredibly free.
As leadership and life coach, these points are all points that I am able to help people to explore. If you feel that it would be useful to HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH ME, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.