My caveat: I understand that we all have our own histories and beliefs. These are my personal feelings about the word forgiveness. They are not meant to sway anyone’s way of dealing with their perpetrators or their belief system.
The conversation surrounding the word forgiveness came up again for me last week when I had a 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 interjected 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. Some abusers, torturers, and silent watchers do not deserve my forgiveness. In my situation, there is nothing that keeps them accountable. They don’t need or want forgiveness, as they move along to the next person, and their feeling of omnipotence grows.
I came up with this thought: Forgiveness in healing does not have to be about forgiving my perpetrators. For my mental health and well-being, I changed the word forgiveness, to “understanding.” The concept may be the same, but for me, it is emotionally less charged. I don’t forgive some of my sadistic perpetrators, but I do understand.
I understand what they did to me, and I understand it wasn’t about me personally. I could have been anyone, and in fact, I was one of many. I have learned to understand it is an absolute fact that I had no control over what happened. I’m learning to let go of the guilt, shame, humiliation, powerlessness, and the hopelessness.
I have worked hard in therapy to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me. Still, sometimes I need to be reminded that it wasn’t my fault.
When I first started thinking and verbalizing that I forgive myself for the grief, shame, or any other emotions, or feelings I had surrounding my past, I would get confused. Was I forgiving myself for being hurt? That didn’t make sense.
That word, forgiveness was just too super-charged. The concept was getting mixed up with the definition of the word and it was becoming too convoluted in my head. I needed to have a better understanding what I was forgiving myself for.
I learned to understand, that I forgive myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul. That works for me! I believe that! Sometimes with a lot of reassurance, but, I believe that. Understanding that concept helped me take huge steps in the process of acceptance and healing. Forgiving myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul is a simple concept for me to internalize and accept.
I have healed enough and understand enough about my past that by now, I don’t really think about my perpetrators as individual people. If I see them on the news, I hear their names, or someone brings them up, my mind creates more of a concept of who they are/were, not the ugliness of what they did to me.
My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally. For some, that is what they would define as forgiveness. For me, that is what I define as my mental-health victory!
I understand that we all have our own paths to healing. Our belief systems play a large part in keeping us safe in our mind, body, spirit. I respect the language each person needs to use in coming to terms with their abusers. What matters most, is that survivors learn to accept their past, shed the shame and learn to live (and thrive) in their present.