To be honest, this is a question friends closer to me usually ask, not random strangers on the internet, but I think it’s important message about forgiveness, and explaining what and why in such a situation.
We’ll name the three A, B, and C, to make it easier – the story isn’t about who they are, it’s just why A and B are different from C.
When A and B decided they no longer wanted to be my friend, a lot of different things were happening, and a lot of things – intentional or not – were caused by their actions and omissions.
For example, where my husband and I lived previously, was in a small country town. I’ve discussed suffering from meningitis, glandular fever and encephalitis: What I’m not sure I’ve mentioned is that my encephalitis diagnosis was originally missed, and it was only caught after I infected my husband.
Let me briefly explain: I caught glandular fever, and while I was in hospital having my impacted wisdom teeth partially removed, it’s believed I caught meningitis – however, because a lot of the symptoms were some of the listed side effects from recovering from my surgery, I dismissed the vomiting and fatigue as nothing more than exhaustion after a long year of teaching combined with surgery the week after. After my doctor first diagnosed me, and wrote me a three-month sick certificate (which is not easy to get), everything was okay for the first month or so (in regards to friends). By the time I realised something was up, especially with A and B, several months had passed. During this time period, A and B (among others), would tell people I suffered from Munchhausen’s, and was deliberately ingesting toxins to make myself ill. Unfortunately, either my doctor (by chance) stopped believing that I was actually ill, and I ignored me when I came back multiple times complaining, or she’d heard the ‘Munchhausen’s’ rumours everyone else had heard, but never bothered to share with me.
Regardless of why she chose not to believe me – and I do mean she didn’t believe me; she told me to ‘drink more coffee’, and stop complaining – the result was that my husband, who would come into the same doctor’s surgery a few weeks later, would be diagnosed with encephalitis. Apparently, it’d been going around, the doctor said, because – despite it not being an easy-to-spread disease – the person or persons infected hadn’t seen a doctor, or had delayed seeing a doctor for whatever reason (therefore infecting more and more people).
I’m not saying I’m Patient Zero. I’m not even saying that it’s “most likely” because meningitis turns into encephalitis easily. I’m seriously not. As a teacher working at that particular school, I lost more than one person in my small community to meningitis, encephalitis or meningococcal. Around every six months or so, we’d heard about a small child – in particular – contracting one of those illnesses and not being able to survive. So when I say that I’m not saying I’m Patient Zero in this particular instance, I seriously mean it. While anything’s possible, it’s more likely the “Patient Zero” of that mini-outbreak was a miner.
What I am saying, though, is that, at the very least, as a consequence of people doubting my credibility, my husband’s health and life was put at risk – constantly.
While there’s so many heinous things A and B (among others) did that I could list to make it clear why I don’t “forgive, forgive” them, it would be pointless and meaningless. While I have – with time and help with patient loved ones – moved on from them, I would never seek to try and rekindle a friendship of any kind with them, and the answer is very simple:
Unlike C, their behaviour was malicious.
Let me explain.
C did betray me, and hurt me. C did believe those rumours, and what’s worse, is that she knew me better than that to not even question me. However, it was a difficult time. C – like everyone – had her own things in her life. After the trauma of being incredibly sick, struggling to find answers, and not understanding why my so-called friends abandoned me, I wasn’t the same. I’d been told I was too dramatic, so I tried to be very serious around C to lose the drama label. I was told I was too emotional when talking about being sick, so I’d become robotic, or I’d be told not to talk about being sick, so I’d pretend like it was no big deal. When A and B were trying to convince C that I was crazy, some of my behaviour probably was nonsensical to her. For a healthy person, it can be incredibly difficult to not only believe but understand people with invisible illnesses, and I don’t begrudge her that. We weren’t living together anymore by this point, so she was also obviously seeing far less of me. Even if A and B hadn’t been trying to convince C of anything, my behaviour was drastically altered after those events, so if she thought I was different, it’s because I really was – and you can’t fault another person for that.
While I think she let me down in so many ways, I don’t think she was ever deliberately cruel or malicious. I think she wanted peace and happiness, and I think she’s the type of person who doesn’t always like to deal with conflict head on, and I don’t think I respected that enough of her. I think it’s also easy to believe that people like me who are chronically ill are “faking” because the truth is so much harder to understand. It’s hard to believe that it’s not an episode of House where you’re diagnosed within the hour, or to understand that sometimes, no matter what a person wants, they might not be able to ever ‘get better’, and something I’ve learnt since C is that being open and honest about what’s going on is usually for the best. With C, I’d vary from telling her everything to not much at all, which must be conflicting and confusing for someone who is trying to reach out and understand what it’s like to be sick and not know why.
Again, while this is disappointing and painful, it’s something I can understand. If I believed C really wanted to be my friend again, I could see the potential there, simply because she wasn’t malicious in her behaviour.
However, when comparing that to the behaviour of A and B, their behaviour was deliberate. Even if they didn’t tell people like the doctor I referenced earlier, a lot of people knew the rumours – so much so that it spread to Adelaide, my husband’s hometown. And not an accidentally spread, a deliberate spread, where my husband’s friends had to tell us what was happening. The only possible way for rumours to deliberately reach that far is if someone is deliberately spreading them that far, and if you’re deliberately spreading them that far, you know what you’re doing is shitty.
On top of which, Munchhausen’s is incredibly fucking dangerous. Many of the people who heard – and even some who believed – the rumours attended our wedding.
That meant that there were people on our wedding day who thought I was capable of hurting myself, and potentially hurting my husband.
Let that sink in.
If these people really believed it, the very least thing they could do is pull my husband aside. After all, anyone who’s seen The Sixth Sense knows how Munchhausen’s tends to end, so …. Seriously. What the fuck are you people doing? Being like, ‘Yeah, bitch is probably poisoning him. Poor bastard. Well, at least there’s free wine at this wedding. Hopefully it’s not a Red Wedding, but it’s cool, because we’re Psychologists who graduated from the University of Armchairs and we definitely know how to handle this. Plus, if it’s a Red Wedding, think of the gossip.’
I’m going to go with no, those people probably didn’t have me or my husband’s best interests at heart. And, considering the mountains of documents I have and the bills we have to pay, this shit would be fucking easy to prove if you were really that worried.
So that’s why.
For me, it’s not what the person necessarily did, but the why. Were they cruel? Or could I imagine myself in their shoes? With C, while I think she fucked up, I can also empathise with her position, and she wasn’t – ever – cruel.
While these three mentioned friendships have become distant memories now – though I like to remember the fond times, of all three of them, because even through the cruelty they showed me, they all had amazing traits – I think it’s something you should consider yourself, and when deciding on whether to forgive a person, or rekindle a friendship, ask yourself these questions (assuming you’re the hurt party in this situation):
- Do I want to forgive this person, and try and have them back in my life, or do I want to forgive this person but move on with my life?
- Do I believe they are genuinely sorry for whatever they did to hurt me, and are willing to work to make amends (if necessary)?
- Did the event happen intentionally or unintentionally? (For this one, if you’re unsure, I like to use an example we were taught when studying law, because I think it highlights what I mean perfectly. Okay, so many years ago, when I was studying criminal law, we were looking at a case where someone had robbed a bank, fired a shot at the ceiling, and that shot had caused part of the ceiling to collapse, killing the man. **It’s irrelevant if this really happened or not, and I don’t care what laws your country has. It’s relevant for my country, my laws, therefore my anecdote.** We had to decide: Was the man guilty of murder or not? In the end, we learnt – much to my surprise – that he was guilty of murder. (Please not, ‘guilty of murder’ did not mean the case was successful and someone was imprisoned for murder; I mean, that he was guilty of the act. Whether or not you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt is a different exercise; this one was designed to learn what constituted as ‘guilty’.) The reason? Our legal professor told us that because the man had entered the bank with a loaded shotgun – intent – and had planned to commit a criminal act, that that meant he was guilty of murder, even though he wasn’t even aiming the weapon at the person who died. My point? Sometimes the consequences of a certain event are unintended. I am certain no one ever planned for my husband to fall sick, and I’m certain that A and B would be mortified if they knew that that was a possible consequence of their actions (simply because they’re humans with basic emotions). However, while some of their actions may not have been possible to foresee – or even intended – they did in fact occur because of their initial intentions: Which was to destroy and ruin my reputation and credibility. It’s important to consider what the person also might be sorry for: Are they sorry for the unintended consequences, and not their behaviour? Or are they genuinely sorry? Intent is crucial.
- Was I at fault in any way (or do I contribute to the event)?
I think it’s really important that you answer number four as honestly as you can, because it’s an important part of your self-reflection. I am not a perfect person and I have no intention of trying to pretend to be: And something I’ve learnt is that my mistakes have made me a better person. I can honestly say that I can look back on all three aforementioned relationships and see my mistakes (some greater than others). However, I can also see a lot of the improvements I’ve made because I reflected on my behaviour. Some of the positive traits I’m starting to gain is that I’m better at active listening now, for example, because I think communication was a large part of the demise of C and I’s friendship, and I think I listened to her, but I don’t think I heard her often enough.
And, when applying this to yourself, it doesn’t have to be a thing that means you did anything majorly wrong. I’m not saying that if I heard C more things would have changed, but I am saying that I am aware of my short-comings, and I hope that I can not just listen to my friends but hear them in the future.
And I think that desire, that ability to look at myself and go, ‘Yeah, you fucked up there’ or even ‘You could’ve handled that better’, will hopefully make me a better friend – both to my new ones that I haven’t met, and the current ones I’ve never lost. It’s not an easy task – I still suck at it – but I think it’s the most important one you can learn.