My caveat: I understand that we all have our own histories and beliefs. These are my personal feelings towards the word forgiveness. They are not meant to sway anyone’s way of dealing with their abusers or their belief system.
The conversation surrounding the word forgiveness came up again for me last week when I had a business meeting with someone who was looking for ways to increase their client base, in an extremely crowded therapeutic community. It was going well until this person became adamant that the only way a client can heal is if they forgive their abusers. When I said that I believed that there may be other ways to look at forgiveness, the meeting went downhill and became uncomfortable for both of us. To be honest, I’m not sure how we went from talking marketing strategies to this topic, but it happened.
Forgiveness, what does that really mean in terms of healing? That word can be a hot-button for me and for many people I know that have been through trauma. There was a time I thought if I heard someone say “you can’t fully heal until you forgive your abusers” one more time, I would explode all over them. It sounded trite, and for me, increased the shame storm that was always brewing inside of me. My perpetrators would never expect forgiveness. Why? They didn’t and still don’t think they did anything wrong. To them, I was an object, not a person.
I came up with this thought: Forgiveness in healing does not have to be about forgiving my perpetrators. Some abusers, torturers, and silent watchers do not deserve to be forgiven. In my situation, forgiving does not let them stay accountable, rather lets them take a deep breath and move along. So for my own health, I changed the word forgiveness, to understand. The concept may be the same, but for me, it is emotionally less charged.
I have learned to understand it is an absolute fact that I had no control over what happened. I understand and give myself the room I need for expressing my feelings of guilt for not knowing what to do to get out of the abuse. I’m learning to understand and let go of the guilt, the shame, the humiliation, the powerlessness, the hopelessness. I also understand that those feelings are universal for people who have been through trauma.
My therapist worked hard with me to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong, and I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me. He still has to remind me it wasn’t my fault. When I started thinking and verbalizing that okay, I forgive myself for the grief, shame, or any other emotions or feelings I had surrounding my past, but, I would get confused. Was I forgiving myself for being hurt? That didn’t make sense.
That word, forgiveness was just to super-charged. When I began to metabolize the concept, that I had no control over any of the situations I was placed in, so there was nothing to forgive. I didn’t do anything wrong, so why do I need to forgive myself? It was all becoming so convoluted and I needed to have a better understanding what I was forgiving myself for. With my therapist’s help, and continued reassurance he has taught me the concept, that I forgive myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul. That works for me! I believe that….well, with a lot of reassurance, I believe that!
I know this is all semantics, but for me, the notion of understanding that I was a victim, and not having to forgive myself for being a victim, was what I needed to learn to begin to heal. It was less confusing.
And how do I feel about understanding or forgiving my perpetrators? I have healed enough and understand enough about my past, that by now, I don’t care about them. My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally and now I don’t give a shit about them. For some, they would say That is forgiveness. For me, that is a Victory.
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph