I read an article today and it has been playing on my mind because it is a topic that for years I have battled with. It is something I heard every day of my life in terms of the healing I had to do in my past, from people who abused, hurt or betrayed me.
And that is ‘Forgive ‘them’ so you can move on and heal.’
I call Bull sh*t.
Here’s why – there is this common misconception that to move on in life, heal and become emotionally superior to all who ever hurt you that you have to follow some sort of godly path and forgive them no matter what their sins. I guess depending on your definition of forgiveness plays a massive part on how you view it. It has become such a generally known ‘step to healing’ that literally more common than not it is raised in abuse groups I am in constantly. Victims feeling they are failures because ‘everyone says I need to forgive him to move on and I just can’t’
Yes YOU should give THEM a pass on the things they did to YOU, that you never deserved nor asked for, for YOU to somehow feel better.
Let that sink in.
I mean it sounds a lot like victim shaming to me, in a way. And it does seem to be the phrase of choice in many walks of life and all situations ‘Oh just get over it already and forgive them.’ That somehow not doing so will forever stunt your ability to be a better person, make better choices and find a fulfilling life.
Hmmmm, okay. Not actually what forgiveness in healing is all about, but we will cover that below.
I mean personally – forgiving to me is saying ‘what you did had a reason, or is excusable and I no longer harbor ill will towards your actions’ and that is just not true for people who have come through severe emotional and physical abuse. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than ever give myself the message I should justify what they did or accept I played a part.
I can see what people assume they mean when they pressurise you to heal, move on and forgive and mimic the self help quotes. It’s never healthy to carry all that weight and pain and many instead of facing those issues will turn to addiction, toxic coping methods or forever carry the anger around them like a shroud. It is healthier to open that book, read the pages, absorb and learn how to move on.
Many do live with it long term and carry those scars and behaviours in obvious ways for a long time. Those are the people who are not being helped to move on or simply can’t find their way to do so. Maybe all they hear on a daily basis is ‘forgive and move on’ and it is in no way helpful. It just silences their pain and makes them feel more alone.
MOVE ON – that’s not the same as forgiving your abuser. Those two things are in no way co-dependent. And moving on requires a hell of a lot of steps and time and patience.
The mistake people make when they feel you need to make changes in your life is to first urge you to forgive the other person. Like it’s an all powerful tool which erases the past and somehow covers you in a thick warm blanket of love and empowerment. They don’t realise that the forgiving is not towards your abuser – it’s to forgive ourselves. But that is lost in translation with general people and articles and anything to do with moving on.
Take a moment for the light-bulb to go on- forgiveness in healing is not in any way shape or form about the abuser.
You wouldn’t tell a rape victim that first to start healing is to look at her abuser and think ‘maybe he just has issues and can’t control his urges and I should not be mad about what he did’
NO, just NO.
What you are doing is invalidating the pain and putting the responsibility of the action on the victims shoulders. It is not their job to forgive someone who is doing absolutely nothing to rectify all the evil they carried out. Who often show no remorse and will go on to do the same things to others.
Why do we encourage this? Because the bible says so and we assume that is the definition we should follow? Doesn’t it also say something about an eye for an eye? Let’s bring that back instead of the pressure to forgive LOL
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The Good News: Don’t forget that we receive forgiveness, and, in turn, should be kind and forgiving to those around us. “The Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Stop saying it to people. If you want to tell them to forgive, first know what you are helping them to forgive and why it is wildly important not to confuse the two. The clarification is SOOOO important.
Forgiveness is a very complex thing – it’s level of need varies case by case. For example, my kid breaks my new vase by accident. I may be mad, I may have just lost whatever money I used to buy it, but yeah it’s not a life altering sadistic crime that I should never forgive him for. Of course I will and we move on with no lasting effects to relationship or life.
Now, say I am a teen girl who has been sexually abused by her father for the past 14 years, carried mental and physical scarring, a life forever altered and the sickening fall out of CPTSD that comes from severe traumatic abuse – should I be forced by society to forgive him all he did to me? Why should it be on me to make the effort and take responsibility to put what he did behind and yet not him?
Why are people telling me I am wrong from being bruised and broken and crying for help? Why am I wrong in walking through life full of fatigue when my nights are broken hellish nightmares and every person who comes near me causes me to flinch or recoil. Why am I the one being pressured to release that monster of his sins?
Here is something that I have forever despaired over and that’s this definition here which only fuels the misconception.
“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. … Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.”
This has not been true thankfully of any psychologists I have known, who literally did know the difference and actively made it obvious. Never did they tell me that my healing was dependent on ‘forgiveness of abusers’ They quite rightly called this process ‘letting go’ and allowed me to harbour grudges and mistrust of that person, but just in less damaging ways.
Not specifying the type or direction of the forgiveness means you gloss over one major step in the process of FORGIVENESS –
Step 7: Take Responsibility for Your Part.
This is where the problem lies for many victims. They had no part in what happened to them and this is where we keep damaging their process to heal by strengthening this message that healing requires forgiveness of the ABUSER. We are telling them they did something in their life to actually ask for what happened. We are blaming them.
Now if you actually realise the forgiving needing to be carried out is the victims own self guilt and shame, their part is simply the process of blaming themselves. Taking responsibility of condemning and torturing themselves for what they could not control. We help them let that go and realise, they never asked for any of it.
See how one definition is completely harmful and one actually does something to help them move on?
It is literally one of the most infuriating phrases I have had said to me in my lifetime. And it has been said by family, friends, doctors and all sorts as a youth. It took me many years to realise – I was to forgive ME and no one else. It took a psychologist to explain the massive difference. I had a lot of anger issues and aggression. I never cured them by forgiving anyone. I cured them by FORGIVING MYSELF. Because I never asked for anything to ever be done to me and the guilt we carry and shame – those are the things we SHOULD be telling our loved ones to forgive.
I can harbour a permanent mistrust and negative feeling towards someone for an eternity and it will never affect my life at all. In fact, it reminds me there are people who are not worthy enough to be in my life and I will measure all new contributors up against this file of people and any who have similar red flags, shall never pass the threshold. It’s self preservation and natural. It’s how animals know which species to avoid because they will eat them.
I can’t however, harbour those feelings internally when they are pointed at me, blaming me for my part in something I had no control over. Telling me those natural feelings are toxic. That is the soul destroying part and adds to our guilt.
The huge piece inside of you which replays and remembers and blames yourself for not being stronger. Not being able to see past lies and masks, and not being able to say no. For not running when you could.
We need to change the dialogue of how we help our people. We need to stop applying pressure to make them feel like they have a ‘use by date’ on their feelings of anger towards another human and instead completely focus on the ability to learn to forgive ourselves in our own healing path. When we address the way we feel about ourselves then it has a knock on affect and we change our outlook and behaviours. The rest falls into place.
I am a strong woman with strong friends who have all had colourful pasts, lead fulfilling lives with good friends and real joy. None of us believe in forgiving people who deserve to be left in a black hole to forever suffer in darkness. We understand the difference in who was to be forgiven.
There are some things you cannot forgive and yet society puts all the pressure and weight on one person, warning with threats of stunting yourself emotionally if you do not ‘put it in the past.’ If someone in your life is acting out, has destructive traits because of past trama, stop dictating what they should do in terms of their abusers or what happened and instead sit down and talk to them and try to find the steps to healing on their own terms.
We keep telling people HOW they should heal. None of that ever worked for me. Ever. Not any sessions or anything related. Not medication, nothing. Talking about it helps, when the person listening doesn’t push you to heal faster or judges you. Dictation forces me to pretend I am fine and wear a mask and isn’t healing at all. There is no timeline on a single persons journey to healing. Don’t give them a schedule.
My own therapy came in the form of writing my books and releasing every thought and feeling and insecurity so I never again had to carry the burden again. Every book took weight from that file and blew it away in the wind. This is why therapists encourage diary and journal keeping.
And yes, my villains all carry the personalities of those people I never forgave and most met some sort of unhappy end. That is how I closed the book on people who I deem unforgivable. As you can see, I learned to love myself and let go of the responsibility of events I couldn’t control. Writing books gave me control over closing the chapters in ways I felt I could rest easier with.
Here’s the epic mind blower – I have forgiven not one single person who caused me major emotional harm in my lifetime. I still to this day view them as worthless soul sucking demons I would never want to see again, and don’t.
It has never harmed me in any way in my process to healing. Bear in mind though, this does not mean I obsess over them, hate them with passion and waste my time or energy thinking of them anymore. They have little to no presence in my adult life, even mentally. That is the natural path of healing. They are like distant memories of another life or maybe a dream.
I am all for personal growth and any who know me well will tell you, I am a positive problem solver. Always got time for people and lead a busy and fulfilling life. I have no severe emotional stunting , in fact I have a good relationship of 15 years and two kids to prove it. I have no twisted dark bitter soul because I carry the weight of my grudges. (well unless you are one of my readers and they disagree hahah)
Instead I have a very clear file in my brain marked ‘people who are not worth it’ and unless I need to open that file to remind myself why those people should forever walk naked in the sahara dessert during a heatwave and with no water, then it doesn’t affect my life.
See these scars they say will only heal if you forgive them and move on – is utter bollocks. I have scars in places from people I have forgiven for minor misdemeanors. Dented trust and all sorts and they look exactly the same as the scars from those I didn’t. They don’t plague me any less. A scar is a scar, no amount of balm ever makes it fully disappear. Instead of hiding them, despairing over them and trying to eradicate their existence, I learned to accept them, work with them and no longer draw all my attention to them. They are now just a part of the fabric of me.
To me there is no physical evidence that forgiving someone benefits me in any way. Unless I am trying to salvage a relationship.
To me forgiveness is a choice – to let that person have another chance and stay in your life, or it’s used to burden the victim with blame and bitterness if they decided to draw a line and walk away. It’s no longer holding that crime against that person, but some people should be held accountable for life.
True forgiveness in the terms of healing-
It’s self acceptance, it’s making peace with the past, you were not to blame and realising you can forgive yourself.