For trauma survivors, there are many paths to healing and moving on. Why does forgiveness culture demand that survivors forgive their abusers?
hen I say that I am against forgiveness, I am not judging individuals who choose to forgive. If doing so helps you, then by all means, forgive. What I abhor is a culture that places demands on victims and survivors, insisting that we are not whole until we forgive. Forgiveness culture implies that betrayers and abusers can expect to be forgiven — they can hurt and harm and rage — and should their targets decline to forgive, they can rest smug in the assurance that the refusal reflects a flaw in their victims, not in themselves.
I can relate many small wrongs after which the offender has apologized, claimed he would never demand forgiveness, and then become condescending when I’ve not immediately accepted the apology. “We don’t have to be enemies, but sure, I’ll leave you alone,” said one text message. I had not said I would not forgive him; I had simply not forgiven on demand. Still, this incident was relatively minor.
I have chosen not to forgive the perpetrator of my worst trauma. I will never forgive the man who raped me. Despite conventional wisdom, I have not failed to move on. I have continued to grow as a writer and a teacher, moving around the world (literally — I’ve lived in three new countries since that night) with an open heart because I have chosen to do the work to keep myself open to everyone and everything I have yet to know. I have dated and had one long-term relationship, which failed not because I am a survivor of sexual assault but because the man was an alcoholic who envied every success I earned.
Following the end of that relationship, I took advantage of the free counseling to which I had access as a doctoral candidate. I wanted to make sure that I had dealt with whatever issues may have lingered. My counselor was taken aback by how high-functioning I was despite my traumas. She never asked me if I had forgiven the rapist. She knew I did not need to forgive to thrive. There may be correlations between forgiving and having better physical and mental health, but correlation does not prove causation. In a culture that stigmatizes those who refuse to forgive, the added stress can lead to poorer health and slower recovery. Those of us who choose not to forgive would be much happier and healthier if we were not told we were simply not ready, or were hurting ourselves by making such a choice.
Worse, the stigma can silence victims. I never reported my rape to the police. I had no proof; Jon and I had been dating and had had consensual sex on many occasions prior. Moreoever, the NYPD is not known for compassionate treatment of sexual assault survivors, and I moved in radical-progressive social circles that viewed the justice system as a site of unenlightened vengeance. But I did post my story on Livejournal where mutual friends would see it. I wanted to warn other women who knew him. Some people supported me, but others criticized me for naming him. One even told me I should forgive him, just days afterward, since at least I would get a story out of it.
Over the next few years, I heard stories from other women, stories that had I heard beforehand would have stopped me from getting involved with Jon. In some cases, the women had repressed the memories until reading my experience. But there were women who said they had forgiven him (after all, as more than one pointed out, he had his own history of being sexually abused — though we had only his word on that) and remained friends with him. Many encouraged me to do the same. I don’t blame them.
What I blame is the cultural assumption that forgiving makes a person superior. Without that assumption, more women would have called him out, and it would have been harder for him to continue his predation.
The story gets more troubling. During my first week in Belfast, where I was working on my Ph.D., Jon sent me an email that carefully skirted anything legally actionable but let me know that he had been tracking me and could show up any time. After that, I took to Googling him occasionally so that I knew where he was living. A few years later I found his obituary. I celebrated. I’d have danced on his grave if it wouldn’t have required a transatlantic flight — not out of vengeance but out of joy that he could never hurt anyone again. If I’m ever in the nowheresville in Pennsylvania where he died, I will have my dance.
At the time, however, I was curious about what happened and I found the answer in a Livejournal entry by his first love and lifelong friend — a woman who knew that he had raped me and sexually abused at least one mutual friend of theirs. He had overdosed on barbiturates. She went on about how she had forgiven him for the ways he had hurt her and it was especially sad because he had been getting his life together. He was studying to teach disabled children. And it was that last fact that put me in a rage. I commented, anonymously, that the way he died was not as painful as he deserved. Then it was her turn for self-righteousness: What was wrong with me, speaking to someone who was grieving that way? People like me had ruined Livejournal! So I asked what was wrong with her, thinking it was fine for a known predator to work with a vulnerable population. Then I answered my own question: She valued her fairy tale of forgiveness and redemption over the right of those children not to be abused. I never went back to see if she responded because nothing she could have said would have made it OK.
But I was wrong. I should not have blamed her personally. Trying to derail his redemption narrative, even for such legitimate concerns, would only have led to accusations of a failure to forgive. True, forgiveness is not supposed to mean tolerating someone’s foul actions, but the effect of mandatory forgiveness is often the same as if it did. If you cannot publicly condemn someone, then you must condone them by your silence.
Now that Jon has died, forgiving him would not endanger anyone, but I have no reason to do so. I have let the hurt fade into the background of my psyche and gone on with my life as best I can — much in the way I have dealt with the grief of loved ones’ deaths. Forgiveness would not add anything to that. It would not make me a better person, though it might well make me more certain of my goodness.
Pseudo-spirituality has made forgiveness a marker of personal virtue. If you forgive, then you know you are enlightened. Deepak Chopra describes forgiveness as the “recognition that actions that are perceived as hurtful or wrong are the perspective of the small ego mind, not the higher self.” If you perceive an assault on yourself and your body as too wrong to forgive, you are being small-minded.
This attitude ignores that the choice not to forgive can come from a place of strength. It can represent a legitimate response to an offender’s continuing actions and place in society. The absence of forgiveness implies neither desire for revenge nor lack of enlightenment, and assuming otherwise minimizes what forgiveness really means. Those who truly forgive make a conscious choice to do so for personal reasons that go beyond wanting to be healthy or enlightened. And it takes work after that decision. Real forgiveness is an achievement, and denying the validity of other paths to healing minimizes that truth, even as it erases other, equally authentic ways to thrive.
At the same time, coerced forgiveness — a forgiveness granted because it is believed to be the only virtuous or healthy thing to do — breeds resentment. Coerced forgiveness merely paves over rage or the desire for vengeance. Nietzsche saw violence as the solution for such ressentiment. According to Anglican theologian Giles Fraser, that perspective reflects Nietzsche’s treatment of violence as “almost a game” and, as also argued by sociologist René Girard, Nietzsche’s failure to understand that Christian ressentiment results from the triumph over violence. But I would argue that as long as hatred lingers, even corralled, the cycle of violence is only paused. Breaking the cycle requires transformation. Real, voluntary forgiveness is only one way of achieving that kind of internal change. Simply living a life of my choosing is my way, but compulsory forgiveness is not another.
The truth about my rapist’s death is that no one will ever know whether he committed suicide or overdosed accidentally. If I knew the former were true, I would choose to forgive him because I would know that he was aware that he had done horrible wrongs. Indeed, the work I have done to move forward would transfer to the path of forgiveness, meaning that I would have little work left to do once I made that choice. Genuine forgiveness and other ways of learning to thrive despite wrongs are not so different. Demanding that survivors of trauma forgive denies us agency in choosing how to heal, even though denial of agency is often a key part of trauma and its reassertion is essential to moving forward. Forgiveness culture claims to know what is best for us, but it only makes it harder for many survivors to thrive.
Your article is well -expressed and feels familiar to Jewish thinking about forgiveness, i.e. forgiveness is only an appropriate response when the perpetrator is genuinely repentant. One other thought is that it matters how forgiveness is defined. Acting as if you were not hurt, finding excuses for evil behavior, making others happy by saying you forgive, is a far cry from letting go of that person’s power to hurt you further and (for me) trusting that ultimately a higher power will provide justice, i.e. giving up my legitimate right to hurt back and instead to pursue personal joy and freedom….that too, is forgiveness.
The right to hurt back and the pursuit of happiness, though, aren’t mutually exclusive for everyone. Just a thought.
Love this. Well said I couldn’t have said it better myself. How I have forgiven is to not be angry or resentful about the hurtful experiences through imperfect humans but rather to reflect let go and to educate myself through trauma experiences that have impacted me negatively and studying God’s word the bible to help me better understand that I’m a sinner to and if I am repentant of my sin and I ask for forgiveness from Jehovah that what ever I know I have done will be forgiven. Of course your actions after the offense with that person or all people and others need to change and its the matter of the heart and mind coming together. If I don’t forgive others how can the Lord forgive me for my shortcomings. Forgiveness is not for the other person but truly for yourself to help you to let go but not to forget or agree with such an offense. You can forgive and have no further contact with this person ever who have done you such abusive harm. Forgiveness is never condoning an abusive act or violent behavior, or even emotional for that matter. You are free to set your personal boundaries to keep yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.
I’m torn over this, I used to believe if we forgive we take away the power from those that wronged us, now I’m not so sure. I’m probably the most forgiving person you’ll ever meet. But lately I’ve had some of my past feelings resurface. I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. As a teen I was brutally raped by an older boyfriend. I was emotionally, physically and sexually abused in my first marriage. I thought I had moved on from my past because I “forgave” my parents, “forgave” my rapist, “forgave” my ex. What I’m realizing is I more likely just hid those feelings away so I wouldn’t feel them anymore. I’m not sure if forgiveness works for everyone. I think if you can forgive and move on in a healthy way then forgiveness can work. If you can’t forgive and release the pain than I think forgiveness may not be the answer. Constantly complaining about being wronged doesn’t solve anything. Being able to move on to a productive life is the most important thing and I think we just need to do what works for us to get there. For me, it’s going back into therapy so I can be the person I’m supposed to be without the baggage holding me back.
I think forgiving a wrong requires that the offender show remorse at the bare minimum. I can’t bring myself to forgive my abuser simply because someone in the cosmos dictates that I should. At the risk of sounding selfish….what’s in it for me?
Will these chains of misplaced guilt and blame magically fall around my feet after binding me all of these years? I doubt it. Right now, I think I can go to my grave not forgiving despite what everyone thinks about it. I know that I will never get an apology nor a word of regret about the horrors that I’ve suffered.
I’ve come to terms with that. Will I ever change my mind? Who knows? That changes on a monthly basis but I can’t commit because with each one that passes, there’s a month of chances that he missed to make things right.
This was a really incredible read. You make excellent points about the difference between forgiveness forced on the victim (the equivalent of making all the kids on the playground hug, not matter how much they dislike one another — it really does no good at all) and an individual choosing to go through the forgiveness process. I have gone through this with one person in my life — my mother, and it will certainly be a lifelong process — and this is the first thing I’ve ever read that made me see what an _individual_ choice that was, imposed by no one. And how much more it means to me and my life because of that.
And this point about a forgiveness culture allowing abusers to be in charge of vulnerable populations — YES. Forgiveness (voluntary or not) on the part of victims and society in no way manufactures remorse or change on the part of an abuser, and it puts others at risk. Thumbs up for this; I hope it gets read widely.
It would be nice if we could draw some distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness has its roots in the debt and repayment realm. It originally meant to forego the right to repayment/retribution. It was a world in which if you hurt me I had the right to hurt you back. In that context, forgiveness did not in any way imply that relationships were restored. That is what reconciliation is. To my mind, one can choose to forgive, to let loose of the desire/intent for the other person to suffer without any movement toward reconciliation. One might choose to forgive without the other’s repentance and so be released from a form of unpleasant and possibly unhealthy thoughts. But reconciliation without repentance isn’t healthy. The original meaning of repentance is much more than saying, “I’m sorry”. It is to one’s change behavior too. Especially in the case of serial abusiveness, I would submit that it is both unwise and unsafe to reconcile without repentance. In such cases, without repentance, reconciliation is essentially saying that what the person did to me doesn’t matter that much. That’s not healthy for anyone, me least of all.
I appreciate the distinction, but I still say no one is obligated to forgive. No matter what definition we use, trying to coerce people into forgiveness is still harmful and silencing and it is NOT a substitute for accountability.
I’m with you, Elizabeth. When I wrote my first book about my experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was asked frequently (by survivors and non-survivors alike) if I had forgiven my abuser in order to move on.
I find this question incredibly intrusive and steeped in religious dogma, which assumes I have those same beliefs. Whether or do or not is nobody’s business. Trauma and abuse, are personal, yet I’ve shared my stories as a way to dispel the stigma, and be a voice for others.
Forgiveness has no part of it, for me. And if it does, it’s something I will decide privately. Thank you for your honesty and saying what many survivors feel.
Brava to Elizabeth and to you. I’ll never forgive my abuser, he has done nothing to earn my forgiveness and even if he prostrated himself on the floor and cried for forgiveness, I don’t think I would.
It’s a personal decision. If someone does feel the need to forgive, it should be the very last thing. You can’t dig out all that anger and blackness when you’re trying to forgive someone.
I’m afraid I cannot and will not ‘forgive’ my rapist.
I’m having a hard time forgiving myself (yes, I’m working through unresolved issues, quite honestly the counselling I had at the time was only a (very poor) response to my attempted suicide driven partly by the attacks). Like Colette I thought I had forgotten and forgiven – in effect what you describe well as coerced forgiveness.
But the more I read about the serial nature of such abuse, the more I struggle with the notion of forgiveness. The more aware I become about the reality of the way I was manipulated the less I can forgive. Because he was taking away power. I saw no repentance to forgive. Only further attempts to manipulate- from which I was luckily protected by friends.
As you well observe, what would forgiveness give me except a feeling of self righteousness, something I despise in others and so in myself. I will forgive myself in time, for all I put myself through. That is taking back my own control and self. And that is the healthy way to be. If I choose to ‘forgive’ him, I question if I can really move on. Because I’m perpetuating the wrongs by dragging them up in such a conscious fashion.
The only person who needs to change is HIM,. You don’t have to forgive or have to act a certain way or feel a certain way. I wish more people in our culture knew this!
J Blalack, you have fallen into the category ofsuperstitious believers… you mistake “Forgiveness” with “forgetting.” Forgiveness is mandatory, but to forget is stupidity, or a lack of learning your lesson. Perhaps you are also a victim of believingin the “Original Lie.” Purity is a shadow under a snakes belly in a sunless jungle. It is a generalization which annonces itself Emperor over all idealists. It is nothingness masquerading as a priceless jewel. Once the fear of losingb it can bring the greatest of evil out of good men, then they have lost it already. It is the Devil’s rod. Purity is a lie. It does not exist. Why must so many people reflect purity in your eyes? This is why you cannot forgive. All you have been given was not earned, so why do you ask everyone else to pay in full?
I know I can’t forgive the two guys who shot me in the back of my head/neck area. What makes it worse was they both got off even after being ID. The detectives proved they lied, the other people with me ID the guys, but because of their family members lying for them they got off free. I spent 2 years of my life recovering. I am still missing over 8 months of memory, and now almost 20 years later I am still dealing with all kinds of physical pain that will never go away because of that one night. I still have nightmares and will never have it gone.
I, however, survived and moved forward with my life. I stay focused on what I enjoy in life and what I can still do. I have my family and friends who are very supportive. I know I will never forgive and it hasn’t stopped me from moving forward. I haven’t stopped living my life because of them, instead I have refocused my direction of work and life.
Forgiveness works for some but forcing it onto someone as the only way to heal isn’t a good plan, instead just makes them want to bury what they are feeling and dealing with. Each person deals with their situation in a different way and goes through a different and varied route for healing. Having people just support them is the key, and supporting them means helping in their needs not directing their needs.
Brilliant and well-written. Thank you for sharing it.
Forgiveness (in my opinion) is an empowering act that can help alleviate angst and deep-seeded rage. Letting that rage sit and fester, over time, will manifest itself (unintended) in other areas of your life. Forgiveness means acknowledging that what the aggressor did was what he did. While haunting and invasive and horrible, it doesn’t make you (the victim) “less than.” Forgiving means that you hand the perpetrator over to whatever your higher power may be. Forgiveness is healing. I’ve found that most people who don’t want to forgive others are the ones who typically don’t forgive themselves. I see, and will always see, forgiveness as a healing act of one’s soul. It’s what lets people move forward in their lives. And it’s what Jesus would have done. That’s why I’m quick to forgive. Forget? No. Forgive? Always.
Do victims need more condescending advice, or do they need real accountability for the perpetrators?
It’s so interesting to me how many people are concerned with what the author and other survivors do and their actions, but don’t seem to have any sort of commentary about the abusers’.
I like this comment, J. Thanks.
What you are talking about is ‘acceptance’. Of course, acceptance of what’s happened is essential to moving on – acknowledging that this happened, it’s real, etc. But forgiveness is another thing entirely.
The tendency for people to demand forgiveness from people who have been seriously traumatized, it fails to honour what the person has suffered, and more importantly, it fails to hold the perpetrator accountable for what they have done.
Only repentance and change can warrant forgiveness. All else is inauthentic spiritual prattle at best, victim blaming at worst.
How about telling the abusers to repent for their sins and sincerely apologize to their victims instead of trying to force others to do something they cannot do? Victims don’t need to be blamed and shamed in the name of religion!
Thank you for this. I’ve been trying to say something like this for years, but always get shut down and told I must still be angry and how I’m poisoning myself to hurt the enemy. I moved on – a lot of that stuff was so long ago. I moved on, I am happy and surrounded by love. I felt if I wasn’t allowing the past to hurt me, it was good enough to claim to others I had forgiven per requirement, while knowing some things I never will. And that’s ok. Until this moment, I felt like I was the only odd one who was both happy with life while not forgiving a couple people in the distant past. I appreciate you for putting this out there.
I disagree with this article. Forgiveness is for US, not for the other person. To walk around with all that anger and hate, and mistaking it for strength, will only hurt you. This is deeply flawed logic and just a bitter person holding on to anger they must let go.
Forgiveness is not about THEM or what they did. It’s about YOU, gaining peace and happiness and the ability to move on. The key word being, peace.
Calling the author a “bitter person” is close to crossing a line regarding personal attacks. Please read STIR’s comment policy on the “About” page.
Laural: One of my great teachers, a mining engineer from South Africa, made these crucial distinctions:
Agree: Consent to do or act on.
Differ: Consent to take in and consider but not necessarily agree.
Disagree: That is ‘war’. When one disagrees, they may attempt to change the other or defeat them in some significant way.
He parsed out many other words we use badly in our culture to enhance heart-to-heart communication. (The definition of communication is “heart-to-heart”. Interaction is “head-to-head” and it is where we mostly spend our lives, in interaction.)
A) You can disagree without calling names.
B) Ordering her to forgive by telling her she’ll never have peace or happiness or the ability to move on if she doesn’t, when she apparently already has all three, demonstrates exactly why and how you’ve completely missed the point, and is oppressive. There are many ways to feel, and many ways to heal, not just your way.
Not forgiving doesn’t (necessarily) mean you walk around filled with hate and bitterness every day. It doesn’t mean you’re not happy. And I don’t think you need forgiveness to let go of trauma and heal. If that worked for you, fine, but other people may have a different experience.
And for someone who is still filled with bitterness, anger, rage, despair, etc. there is help for letting it go and not controlling your life. When I went through my countless years of therapy, I did a lot of work on expressing my rage. For one exampe, a few friends and I took our recyclables to a distant place and threw the glass bottles screaming all the things we wanted to say to our abusers as we did it. I’ve done healing guided imagery with a trained therapist. I’ve written and written and written. I’ve cried. I’ve helped other survivors. All of those things have helped me heal and forgiveness was not required for any of it.
You are exactly the problem this article was addressing.
Anger does not feel bad for everyone.
I started to question forgiveness after being approached by someone with your exact advice, Stephen. (actually, everyone says almost the exact same thing as you. Everyone. Why did you even comment? Did you seriously think there is someone out there who hasnt internalized that concept that has beaten into our brains over and over again since grade school? But I digress)
I struggled and read and read and prayed and prayed for so many years. I started to have my epiphany when in my desperation, I started to try to get people to actually define in concrete terms what that meant and how EXACTLY to do it. Finally after many years of feeling like shit for NOT being able to do whatever this mythical forgiveness was, I realized something that really set me free. I realized that I was only ever told that I needed to forgive when I mentioned something bad that had happened to me and the natural inevitable trauma consequences. The subject only came up when I told my story. In effect, everyone was uncomfortable with even a simple retelling of the FACTS of my life and my experience. The one thing this advice all had in common was this: Its goal, and for a long time, its result- was to silence me, or to force me to conform to the social and culture expectations by always putting a positive spin on my story. The guilt that I felt, and I suspect many, is guilt at not being able to feel authentic while telling their story, and guilt for not being able to feel good about something horrible. Letting go of that was my first step to freedom, and the ability to truly process my experience
So very well said. Thanks. It’s a form of silencing.
People aren’t obligated to forgive! Let others decide for themselves what’s best for them!
I agree with the article. I, myself have suffered immensely because the people who have hurt me always demanded forgiveness, and even telling me that I have to forgive in the name of Christianity. At first, I believed them but when I saw the same abuse over and over, I believed in forgiveness less and less. I kept hearing over and over from people around me that the offender never has to apologize or be sorry to be forgiven. I NEVER believed that a person can be forgiven if they don’t care enough to say that they are sorry, or to make a change in their behavior or actions. I am tired of people telling me to think about what the person (who abused me) is going through. WHAT ABOUT WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH?! I can’ be expected to consider how another person feels if the person I am talking to doesn’t care enough to validate how I feel. Personally, I am through with people who don’t care enough to change for the better. I have to say that feel the same way the author does. If someone who has hurt me repeatedly suffers or is hurt in some way, I have to say that I would rejoice as well. Not because I like to see people suffer, but seeing a person who always hurts others and is smug about forgiveness to find out what it is really like to be hurt, abused, alienated, etc. I am sure that everyone has at one time or another say to someone, “How does it feel?” “It doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end, does it?”, “Now do you understand how I feel when you treat me that way?”
I read an article somewhere that forgiveness is really about benefiting the offender more than it is about healing from a hurt. Next time you are seeking forgiveness from someone, ask yourself how it would feel if that person would NOT forgive you. For many people, forgiveness is a means for letting go of guilt for hurting someone not so the victim can heal. They are seeking a way to feel better about themselves and trivializing what they did. It’s kind of like sweeping a wrong under the rug. I also think that deep down most people feel that forgiveness does not make things OK. Things feel different, awkward, and uncomfortable after the fact. There have been times when someone expected to be forgiven for hurting me, but when I did forgive reluctantly, the person was able to tell that things are not okay between us. That’s when ties are severed, sometimes forever.
I feel that people should be exposed when they do things to harm another person. Such a person should be confronted about their actions. There should also be personal consequences for the offender.
What do you mean “disagree” you malicious asshole? Then don’t write that comment here on this website, that you seem to know is precisely against your type of toxic philosophy, but rather join the rest of the Internet trolls that would agree with you.
The idea that “Forgiveness” is something that a Perpetrator is automatically entitled to receive whether they deserve it or not, or that the Victim is automatically obliged to hand out, is the most patronizing, nefarious garbage ever. The worst part is that the people who say this are not even “well-intended”. It’s pushed by evil individuals who want to be able to get away with what they’ve done so are trying to create this mentality.
Because the whole point of someone suffering at the hands of another and be lucky enough to survive and tell tell the tale, is so that they get the authority or position to be able to make a valid decision as to whether they want to, pardon the wrong-doer, at their very own discretion. It’s not so they can just get asked to ‘let go’ by assholes like you or their actual perpetrator – what would the be the point of a Victim going through hell, just for that? Nothing is ‘unconditional’ in this world – everything has consequences.
I think that this entire ludicrous mindset originated only from the Western Countries, along with other obnoxious nonsense like ‘Positive Thinking’ that tells people, “Happiness is a choice and it’s your fault for not being happy’. It has become quite an Agenda that is viciously being pumped and enforced on the vulnerable. It tells people that Forgiveness is a ‘strength’ – which itself is problematic because it should come wilfully and naturally not by force. And that unforgiveness is a weakness, which places responsibility on Victims who are made to feel bad.
I dream of the opposite World where Victims are encouraged NOT TO forgive, and in fact those who choose to forgive are scrutinised instead.
When an evil person viciously harms a good person, that good person, understandably, accumulates feelings of righteous anger and hatred inside of them. You are nobody to tell them to gag that or take that and shove up their ass or ‘let go’ of it.
This hatred is not the same as the hatred that the evil person felt for the Victim i.e the way Hitler hated the Jews is not the same hatred that Jews today feel towards him in response to that.
If I got raped, it isn’t for you or anyone else to dictate what is “best” for me. There are many rape Victims who pushed for their Rapist’s Death Penalty in court… I suppose you’d call them weak too? Do you know how much strength it takes to get revenge on someone? There is a dictionary definition of forgiveness and that doesn’t specify “who it’s for” (that’s just your opinion), which is the whole point because to some Victims our Perpetrator is not a “person” or a valid entity at all – they’re worthless.
This entire ‘Forgiveness Agenda’ that’s sweeping the modern world needs to be fought and stopped and articles like this one are a long way to go.
Forgot to add regarding the “It’s for us, not for them” – don’t pretend you give a damn about the victim and their feelings. Disguising your intentions to be ‘well-intended’ is not the best idea.
For me the “forgiveness ” was letting go of the notion that things could have any different. It just was what is was and I have so many “levels” of the abuse that was doled out to me, from Terrible things that happened as child, (unforgivable ) to things that happened to me as a adult, also not forgivable, but are able to be pushed to the back of my mind. When IT happened to me..the “letting go” it actually just creeped up behind me and hit me over the head. it was a wonderful beautiful feeling of peace that took almost 60 years to accomplish..I “just felt like all that STUFF flew out onto the freeway and got run over a million times..I’ll never be able to acquaint it as “forgiveness.”.it’ was simply just giving up and giving in like I said , that things couldn’t or wouldn’t have EVER been any different..
Good for you. I agree. I never forgave my abuser, and was angry for years afterward. most of my life. But I dealt with it and functioned and did not pass on the abuse. Few people would even know I had issues. I still haven’t forgiven, and I feel great. Not forgiving is also a sign of strength. We all deal with trauma in our own way, and for some ‘wise’ man to tell us we MUST forgive, is crap.
It is a positive thing to ‘allow’ the victim to make a choice about how they want to deal with abuse, etc. I agree that pressure should not be put on victims to feel differently than they do, or respond differently than they choose to.
There is nowhere in my heart where I feel like I have to condone, forgive, excuse, forget, absolve, exonerate, etc. (interesting the synonyms on thesaurus.com) the man who raped me and dozens of others.
I think it’s interesting that so far only men (apparently) have disagreed with this.
There are women who buy into the notion of dictating to others what their healing process should be. I’ve seen it happen. What I’ve also seen is they tend to over-identify with men, particularly men who behave hurtfully, and they also tend to reject all but the “choice” aspect of feminism–i.e., we’ve got equality already, so we get to make choices. Stockholm Syndrome all over the place. It’s the only way I can explain it.
I really like this article. It states the plain truth in the problem that so-called culturally dictated spiritual mores can end up abusing the already abused because they attempt to take away the individual rights of the victim yet again just as the perpetrator did initially.
I think of forgiveness as a by-product or an afterthought to the healing process. I had attempted to swallow the forgiveness potion years ago and it just came back to haunt me later in life for the simple reason that I was being asked to deny self yet again.
As with any form of kindness, the concept of forgiveness per se can and is often appropriated by narcissists and psychopaths and people who do terrible things to others and then demand forgiveness….another assault to the psyche.
The greatest damage done to someone who has been seriously violated is the damage that is done to the relationship that they have with themselves which makes them vulnerable to being forced into accepting others believe above their own as opposed to fully honouring themselves and their own process.
The author of this article may or may not still be working through her anger at what happened to her and that is her right. Such coercive comments as you need to move etc. only serve to violate the person and delay their healing process. It is vital to have respect for victims own time frame and point them toward self-empowerment and self- nurturing, as only they can heal themselves. Forgiveness may come as a by-product of compassion we develop for ourselves but no necessarily and it is not a requirement of being a ‘good’ person.
This article is powerful and honest. Forgiveness is not healing, but healing can result in forgiveness but is not a requirement for it occur.
Doris and Mae bring up good points: we have to define what “forgiveness” is, exactly, before we go making grand conclusions about it — that everyone must forgive those who’ve wronged them, or that we should be “allowed” to wander around in a state of not-forgiving without being judged for it. Is forgiveness some kind of compassion at heart? Is it the definition Mae gave, of relinquishing your natural right to retribution?
Personally, I don’t think that forgiving someone requires repentance or acknowledgement on their part. My rapist is dead. He can never repent, but I can still forgive. To me, forgiveness isn’t this one, single act: “Tah dah! I forgave him tonight! Now I’m done!” It’s more a feeling that ebbs and flows, a changeable state of being more akin to anger or happiness than to one single moment of action.
When I thought I had forgiven my dead rapist, I went to a memorial temple that my people build every year, where we write the names of our dead, display their photos, and then burn the whole building down. I wrote on the temple with a huge graffiti marker. I wrote what I intended: “R.I.P. LEE BRISKEN, I FORGIVE YOU” but then my hand continued on, in tear-smeared fury and despair, “YOU FUCKING RAPIST!” And I proceeded to have a massive sobbing breakdown. Yet really, a couple weeks before, I had forgiven him; I really think the forgiveness was genuine. It’s just not realistic to expect that to stick forever.
The awful part about forgiveness culture is that it gives condescending advice to the victims instead of seeking justice and holding the perpetrator responsible.
Forgiving or not forgiving is a personal process, and how much it helps any one person is something only they really know.
It also is NOT a solution to abuse, and it is NOT a substitute for holding abusers accountable.
You say “we need to define” when the whole point is that people like you love making up new definitions and forcing them on people when there’s already one in the dictionary that is more than sufficient.
It was wrong of you to forgive your Rapist and an insult to other Victims that you did so.
I will never forgive my abusers. For 35 years I tried because I was “supposed to” for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, a very talented, compassionate professional helped me understand I didn’t have to. It took a while, but when the day I finally understood that was one of the most healing days of my life.
Thank you for writing this.
A while back I had a sort of epiphany where I let go of a huge amount of anger toward my abuser. Part of this process was seeing it through his eyes and seeing just how truly pathetic a person he was with a lot missing from his soul (for want of a better description). For ages I thought this as forgiveness because people always insist on framing it as such. But I’ve realised that it wasn’t forgiveness, what he did was unforgivable, especially as he gave nothing good to the world to make it worth forgiving him. For me, forgiveness is reserved for people I care about, who’s behavior I thinks was out of character or who have genuinely changed. All it was in the case of my abuser was my letting go of anger which had been a really heavy weight for me to carry. And I don’t think I need to do any more than that. In fact I think it would be unhealthy to expend any more energy on him by trying to forgive.
There is a chasm of a difference between forgiveness and forgetting. The problem with forgiveness, that is very apparent here in the comments, is that it has so many different meanings. To me, you need to find a way to make peace within yourself, somehow, so pain and anger do not tear YOU apart. Forget the other, whatever you do you do for yourself. If you CAN forgive, and this may be possible, when the other is contrite, you will never ever forget. And you shouldn’t ever forget. There is the chasm…
I think that any kind of reaction to trauma is so individual and personal that we can’t judge or prescribe for anyone. Yes, there is a cultural bias toward forgiving those who have harmed us, but I think that feeds into our cultural need to tidy things up and move on. That said, I think we have to be clear on what we mean by forgiveness. I have forgiven the person who sexually abused me, but that does NOT mean that I condone his actions or think he ought not to have suffered severe consequences for that behavior. It does not mean that I would ever think he was reformed or should be allowed to be near children or that I would want to sit and have coffee with him and tell him to his face that I have forgiven him. For me, forgiveness is more about acknowledging his humanity, recognizing the fact that I have not walked a mile in his shoes and could never know what his life was like. It is also about giving myself the gift of not having to spend any more time or energy hating or trying to figure out how any of it could have been different or what it all meant. I have simply incorporated the scars of trauma into my identity as a person and made a conscious decision to use my energy elsewhere. Does that mean I would hesitate to scream bloody murder if I ever found out he was in a position to abuse others? Not at all.
But then there are people who feel that it takes more energy to suppress the hate and not feel it.
Honey, there’s a dictionary definition of forgiveness – so we don’t need you to “clarify” that. Forgiving DOES to a great extent mean that you condone his actions, because you don’t see his actions as unforgivable.
And it’s not a ‘cultural bias’… Its more of a deliberate Agenda to shut Victims up.
A wonderful article, thank you for having the bravery to publish an unpopular opinion on a very sensitive subject.
My first marriage was to an emotionally, spiritually, and financially abusive woman, who thinks of herself as a highly evolved human being who only wants to help heal the world. I was in mourning when I met her and very fragile, and our relationship was founded on the fiction that she was “helping” me to uncover the abuse she “knew” I had suffered when young. The fact that I could not remember any of this abuse was somehow “proof” of how bad it was- because I had “obviously” repressed it.
We married and had a child. Over time, she started becoming more “frustrated” with my “lack of progress.” Things devolved to the point that I was commanded to sever relationships with family, friends, and professional colleagues. If I ever objected, there would be wails and howls of protest over how my refusal to accept her “help” was abusive and disrespectful of HER. My behavior was constantly scrutinized and criticized, down to the most mundane actions. I was once treated to an hour-long lecture of how the way I ate my cereal was indicative of my lack of emotional awareness.
I have had to continue dealing with her, long after our divorce, and witnessed the devastation and carnage her “help” has wreaked upon her subsequent relationships, family, and friends.
One of my greatest moments of healing and clarity about all of this was the day, 20 plus years on, that I realized I was not just a victim of unfortunate circumstances and bad luck. I was targeted for my vulnerability, and the revelation of my secrets and fears in our early relationship was just her gathering ammunition to use against me later.
I can honestly say that there are some ways in which I am truly grateful for all this, and how much I have learned about the nature of true love and contentment and dignity and self-possession. These are the things I most treasure, and now my life is good. Very very good.
But forgive her? Never. She is a cruel and deceitful person and has had plenty of chances to look at herself and see the damage she has done to those she supposedly loved, but she shows no sign of recognizing it, much less repenting. She believes she is righteous and pure and is still out there, looking for more people who are vulnerable, so she can pull them into her web of lies. “Forgiving” her would just be forcing myself back into the life of lies. It would be perpetuating the co-dependence that made me attractive to her in the first place, as a victim.
I value my own clarity and understanding too much, to forgive her. Forgiving her would just mean becoming her victim all over again.
This was a great comment. The only thing is that I think “codependence” is a word that encourages people–maybe including you–to be too hard on themselves and think that there is something wrong with them. It’s she who is wrong all over, not you.
You got suckered by a textbook emotional abuser–it can happen to the best of us in weak moments. Good for you that you recognized it eventually and got out. I’m especially intrigued by the idea that so-called “help” can be a form of control and bullying. I had one of those in my life (my mother), and her “help” always came in the form of large monetary gifts that I was weak enough in my 20s to accept, only to realize too late that the “gift” was her way of trying to buy control of me. These days I can’t even think of the word “help” from another person without being a tad suspicious. It’s possibly my loss in some cases, but I find that many people use that concept as a way to ingratiate themselves with you in order to get what THEY need. What seems like a generous gesture can turn out to be an extractive/exploitative one too often.
Congratulations on your clarity.
I (Cristina Deptula, not Brant Waldeck) was in a relationship several years ago where I was the abuser, by cheating and lying and saying hurtful things. I own up to the fact that I was in the wrong and that there was no excuse for my actions, and in my new relationship I have committed to not repeating the same behavior. I would gratefully receive forgiveness as a gift from my past partner but don’t expect or demand it because it’s not my place to do that. I can’t make the decision to forgive for him by pressuring him and I don’t think anyone else should either. Forgiveness is admirable but needs to be a choice rather than an expected norm to have meaning. Also I don’t believe forgiveness has to involve overlooking serious wrongs. Even in Christianity, which I think still influences a lot of our cultural thinking and our holding forgiveness up as an ideal, people have to accept the gift of Christ’s forgiveness and acknowledge that they have done wrong in their lives in one way or another and commit to working on self improvement. Forgiveness is a free gift in the faith but we have to acknowledge that we need it and commit to sincerely work to follow Christ’s example in the future. And it came at a price (Jesus’ death) so wasn’t just a casual statement that we were all going to get along now even if you’d abused someone. It’s not the easy nice thing people sometimes make it out to be. Even just in regular society, religion aside, I would fully respect someone who said, “you’ve done terrible things, you have hurt others, there is no excuse for what you did, but right now I choose to see you as more than just those wrong actions. You are a person who is capable of better than that and rather than hating you I choose to hold out hope that you will apologize and change your behavior and make amends to those you have hurt. Right now I need to protect myself from you so we have to stay apart but I wish you a lifetime of transformation and growth and healing, for healthy relationships for others around you and for yourself.’ One can forgive without excusing actions or brushing them under the rug.
Thank you. This is brilliant.
This is a strong article. I have never been urged to forgive and the idea of it makes me feel resentful. I believe that what you are calling forgiveness culture is the same culture that I have thought of as “It’s okay to cause harm” culture. I think it is essentially Christian. All the talk of forgiving seems to come from that corner. Forgiveness that simply gives a person the opportunity to do more harm is actually an act of being irresponsible. Kind of like when the Bishop sends a priest to a different town to molest a new set of children instead of holding him responsible and requiring him to take responsibility and make, if possible, amends. “Oh, can’t you let it go by now?” No. The harm caused by harmful people is not to be dismissed. The dismissal of it is not to be glorified by being called forgiveness. No one should be asked to forgive people whose actions are essentially and fundamentally unforgivable. Suggesting that one should forgive such misdeeds is an assault in and of itself. It is an act of taking sides and siding with the harmful person, pretending that the harm is not harm, pretending that is should rightly be accepted. No. Don’t forgive if doing so provides a person with the opportunity to do more harm. Rather, that persons should be held accountable. Only the the harmful person should ask for forgiveness. For a third party to advocate forgiveness in the absence of contrition on the part of the harmful person — that’s just ridiculous — the word for that is busybody, I believe, if not bully. No one should ever be so self important that they would think it is okay to tell someone else to forgive anything. It is none of their business and it is neither kind nor friendly. That is not a benign individual promoting peace and harmony. That is a person who is in league with the enemy. I am thankful that no one has told me that forgiveness is superior. For some, I hear, forgiveness can be an important step in giving up their own hostile feelings that may cause more damage to themselves. For some, then, forgiveness may bring relief. But this is an internal struggle that one must work out in their own good time. It is not something to be pushed on anyone, ever.
” I believe what you are calling forgiveness culture is the same culture that I have thought of as ‘It’s okay to cause harm’ culture.”
Yes, this exactly! What nonsense that this is somehow considered virtuous or brave.
I forgave the man who abused me. I didn’t do it for him. I did it because I am a Christian. The Bible shows that if we don’t forgive others, even those who sin horribly against us, God will not forgive us. That is my own choice. I did it on my own without pressure from anyone. I don’t expect others to choose it. I share this to show my viewpoint. Whatever anyone choose to do is between them, and their belief. I no longer hold onto the hate. I use what happened to help others like me who were horribly sexually abused. If you don’t want to forgive, don’t. It’s your life, and your choice.
If you don’t forgive, God won’t forgive you? And you don’t think that’s pressure?
Sounds more like it was God’s choice.
“I no longer hold on to hate”? That is very sad because the self hate and hate from God must be crushing your soul.
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I’m not sure that God wants insincere forgiveness, doing it not out of your heart but because your were forced. Using Gods image in vain to make God sound like a monster, that God is not loving.
That’s you own opinion. I’m sure you don’t speak for God, so don’t even try to.
Don’t tell her what not to try – any good person can speak for God, except nefarious devils like you who force forgiveness on people.
Thank You so much for this article. No one really knows what forgiveness is – there is not one coherent definition of it. And yet trauma survivors are expected to embrace it “for their own good”. It is crazy making. Tragically, the people I know who claim to “forgive” their abusive families continue to struggle with addiction and depression. My abuser is long dead and good riddance to him. And I stay far away from family members who speak of him as if he were a wonderful person. I wouldn’t hang out with people who demean my child or a good friend, so why would I hang out with people who demean me? Unlike my more “forgiving” peers, I am free of addiction and depression and in a loving stable relationship. And my family members are a mess. Life is too short to debase yourself just to look “good” in other people’s eyes.
Thank you so much for writing this.
When I was a young woman, I was raped. I’ve done a lot of healing work and my experience has, I think, enabled me to be helpful to other women who have been raped. When people ask me if I have forgiven the man who raped me, I hesitate- because, honestly, I’m not quite sure what they mean. Do I think of him with rage or resentment? No. I don’t think about him much at all. Do I wish him ill? No. The truth is, it doesn’t really feel like it’s my business to “forgive” him- and I don’t say this callously but with a sense that it’s just not about me (as in fact the rape was not about me in any personal way but about something in him.) It feels like something he will have to work out himself- with himself or with any sense he may have of something larger- and I wish him well with that, because that must surely be difficult when you have done great harm to others. Is that forgiveness? I don’t know. But I am at peace with it.
Congratulations! You are an inspiration to me.
All I can say is thank you for writing this, I feel less alone now.
When you get your travel plans arranged to BFE, Pennsylvania; send me a message with your shoe size and favorite colour. Life is too damn short to not accessorize well. For this well deserved grave dance, I will buy you the most cha cha shoes I can find.
Why is it this mentality of forgiveness wrapped up like a kum bay ya moment? You were hurt, you forgave, everyone hug, say cheese for the picture and thank God, ok! Your recovery is yours! Victims had no control when the asswipe committed the crime, none. You must reach your own version of taking back your soul! This mentality is no better than being in 7th grade and wearing clothes you hated just to fit in. Fitting in, staying sweet, my abuser had a rough childhood; pardon me, but kiss my ass! Recovery isn’t a cookie cutter, its our lives! I choose not to eat shit with a knife and fork any longer. Are we as victims on our way to Stepford Wife Recovery& Reconciliation INC? Take your path, your recovery, chart your own map. Do we want our fellow sisters and brothers to be truly well, or shall we photoshop?
I am in awe of the truth. You were most fierce in sharing yours. Let me know about the shoes now, don’t forget!
Thank you so much Elizabeth! You have written so eloquently what I couldn’t find the words to articulate in so many, many years. Reading this means more to me than you will ever know.
Thanks very much for this article. Lots of food for thought.
Well written essay. I like what you had to say.
I know I am late to the game with posting a comment but I only found this amazing article today.
I was married to a man who abused me in every kind of way. three years ago I left him. It has been a struggle some days and there are those who say, including my mother, that I HAVE to forgive him and move on if I want any kind of life. Feeling like I had to forgive him horrified me. My father saw me in tears one night and I expressed everything I was feeling. He looked me in my eyes and told me that I didn’t have to do anything and if I didn’t want to forgive him I didn’t have to, as it wasn’t like he deserved it anyway. honestly some people do not deserve to be forgiven. It was the most freeing feeling deciding not to and moving on with my life. In less than three years I have been promoted twice, graduated college last week, and have given my son the happy life he deserved and wanted, all without forgiving my ex. So I think you made excellent points. in order to move on and have a fulfilling life, they don’t have to forgive those who wronged them.
Tremendous job! I loved it!
Well written article and well thought out and argued. I admire your strength and I believe your right to choose gives you power. I too choose not to forgive as to do so, for me, condones those who still choose to abuse emotionally and psychologically and I will not allow that any longer.
I agree. Judith Herman’s important work “Trauma and Recovery” discusses the unrealistic nature of forgiveness and how it isn’t really the best option survivors. You can find that in chapter 9 or 10 I believe. She talks about how forgiveness usually requires an apology and commitment to change, and most victims will NEVER get that (and thus can’t truly forgive). She further asserts that anything (revenge or forgiveness) that puts the power in the hands of the offender is not the answer to healing. It makes the victim’s power dependent on the offender’s fate, and that isn’t how victim’s regain their agency and power.
I realized this truth when I watched the documentary on one of Mengele’s last twins Eva Kor http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0489707/
The documentary is about “forgiving” Dr. Mengele, but it definitely didn’t seem like she had. Perhaps, what she had done was not forgiveness. Watch it and see if you agree with me.
Thank you for sharing your story. It is similar to mine. I, too, am a writer. During the second year of my MFA program, I was raped by a man I was dating. The MFA was supposed to be a time of growth for me, and instead most of that second year I was scrambling to repair the psychological damage he had done. He is not sorry for his actions. I don’t see how pretending that I forgive him will somehow help me move on. What helps me heal is connecting on an intimate emotional and physical level with my husband, noticing and calling out sexism when I see it (because I think misogyny influences rapists to think what they do is okay), taking care of myself (exercising, eating right, listening to music), and reading books. My healing wouldn’t work for some survivors, and that’s totally okay. In the same way, forgiveness isn’t going to work for me.
Forgiving doesn’t mean accepting wrong behaviour. It is realising a person hurting another cannot do that without hurting himself first (generating anger etc), and often has indeed had a sad past himself.
Forgiving is realising that holding on to pain and anger (“If I’m ever in the nowheresville in Pennsylvania where he died, I will have my dance.” or “I’ll never forgive what he did” will only cause yourself harm (internal distress).
The person hurt you once (or twice, or more), but at this moment he is not hurting you- so why should you want to keep hurting yourself?
You can still forgive someone, but condemn the behaviour. I do agree that this is a process and that it requires work – it won’t just happen (and I am the first to admit that I am no good at it yet either).
I do understand the writer’s point completely, that if it is put onto you by the outside world, it might/will raise resentment- especially when people act superior.
People that act superior, are themselves far from enlightened.
No person should be condemned if they can’t forgive (yet)- I do mention ‘yet’, as it is a process and there might be more factors that need solving before one can get there.
I one wants, chooses to and works on it.
The idea that ‘forgiveness’ is not a mercy that can be bestowed upon the wrong-doer freely, willingly and mercifully by the Victim at their own discretion, upon the Perpetrator, but rather coerced or forced by pressure, is a most NEFARIOUS idea, enforced by nefarious individuals who have malicious intentions.
Somehow this because mainstream and popular in the western nations – I can’t imagine how.
These individuals are Trolls (many of which are on this forum reinforcing their Agendas, instead of showing any respect to the author’s words), that pretend to care about the Victim’s well-being. They’re assholes basically want to tell us,
“Oh you were raped? Just ‘forgive’ the Rapist and think of him as your Brother! It’s for your own good and peace of mind!”
As Victims we feel like replying:
“Tell you what? How about I do the same thing back to you, and THEN you can be the one to forgive me for your own good?”
I think the last post is a little manipulative (ie. Why should you want to keep hurting yourself) and an argument I have heard again and again and again that puts pressure on the survivor to ‘forgive’ because they are just hurting themselves. This article is freeing. I have been pressured and blatantly harassed by people who had no business to do so to ‘forgive’–even by some of the arrogant wrongdoers themselves (what they really mean is pretend like it never happened) while they deliberately fail to acknowledge MY reality, MY truth, MY pain and what is ACTUALLY healthy and wise for me and my family at this time. These same ‘forgiveness’ advocates want whats best for themselves, not me, and do not care if they put me and my family’s wellbeing in jeopardy… But I’m only ‘harming myself’ by not forgiving, right? Better to release it, give the abusers a free pass, and potentially put myself in harms way again. No! I think part of what has slowed my healing process is this constant notion of ‘I must forgive’ because… Jesus says so and God won’t forgive me or… We are all imperfect therefore everyone is owed my forgiveness even if they aren’t sorry and continue to abuse… Or it’s somehow good for me if I choose to forgive asap. Forgiveness in and of itself becomes the goal rather than my own personal healing and wellbeing because I somehow ‘owe’ everyone else (including God) and not myself and my own inner wellness. I’m realizing that this is crap! Forgiveness is organic and can be a by product of healing (or not). When I look back on the past and those I can genuinely say I’ve forgiven (meaning, I don’t necessarily want them in my life again, but I honestly wish them no ill will and could acknowledge them respectfully as a fellow human being) it’s just happened naturally over time without me having to put a lot of effort and self-guilt into it. I allowed myself to feel outraged at them and all my other angry, sad feelings, and I eventually moved on and don’t feel anything really at all for these people and could be a ‘good Samaritan’ toward them if I had to be. That’s how I know I’ve forgiven, but it’s not because I forced myself to!
I have always thought that it was really convenient that the class of people who commit the most amount of abuse believe that victims should forgive. I am alluding to white people whose country has overthrown governments, created dangerous sacrifice zones all over the planet, etc. These white people go along or perpetuate terrible things done to African Americans, Native Americans, women, gays, etc. and stress forgiveness as a remedy. Plus, it is cheaper for victims to forgive than to jail abusers, leaving the society with more money to perpetuate warfare. Just to set the record straight, I am a white person.
After years working in the mental health field, and survivor of an abusive first marriage… I think the “forgiveness movement” in pop-psychology is mostly bunk… perpetuated by therapists who are really collusive with predators. The unrepentant predators want a “get out of jail free” card… Now if they repent.. make amends beyond the affront.. and beg ‘forgiveness’ … MAYBE…. Now I’m not talking little personal slights here… certainly a rare cruel comment spoken in anger… etc… and apologized for is “forgivable”, but rapists, murders, batterers, the guys who ran ERON, etc… did “unforgivable” harm, forever burdened their victims, and brought inter-generational stress to them. I think the “forgiveness” movement wants to act like these sort of wounds ever heal (they don’t). And that the worst sort of predators can be healed… last I knew —they can’t. Its a fantasy generated to make OTHER PEOPLE feel better — not survivors…
Beautifully expressed and written. I agree with every point that you have made. The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world were if someone wrongs you, you are almost obliged to forgive them. I’ve had my fair share of betrayals here and there, and while I accepted their acknowledgement of the fact that what they did was hurtful and wrong, I never really forgave them. Looking back, when the perpetrator told me that the first to forgive was the bravest, i had every right to lash out at her, but then again that would basically pull me down. Instead, I became civil with just for the sake. Everyone of my friends forced me that I should have just forgiven her and forget about the pain, but none of them really understood the magnitude of what she had done. In the end, I became better than her, scholastic performance and all. Success is a great revenge without hurting anyone.
Forgiveness isn’t something you ‘do’ and it’s not really something you ‘give’…and, if it’s done by coercion, I am suspicious that true forgiveness has even happened.
The problem with the ‘forgiveness culture’ is there are truly different definitions of what it means.
Here’s what it DOES NOT mean:
It does not mean giving the person the opportunity to do it again.
It does not mean trusting the person again.
It does not necessarily mean forgetting what they did–there might be lessons in remembering that are helpful to you-might make you better prepared should the issue arise somewhere else in your life.
It does not mean ‘acting as if it didn’t happen.’
Forgiving is truly for the person who was harmed. To forgive is to lay the burden down… to let go of the hurt feelings and release yourself from those ties to that person and the past.
BUT, most importantly—forgiveness is to be done when the person doing the forgiving is ready. A realization (hopefully) will come across you that if you really forgive them, you can move forward, stronger, healthy and clear.
Forgiving another is for your own peace – it is not a free pass for the perpetrator–they must find their own way and, eventually, that’s between them and God. But, why put energy into carrying around their transgressions? I don’t say ‘let it go’ lightly–that belittles the person who has been wronged-and, if you’re still sorting it out, it’s not time yet. But, eventually, hopefully, you can reach a place where you understand that the gift of forgiveness is something that you give yourself.
Again, just write a long, poetic, preachy paragraph on what you ‘think’ ‘forgiveness’ is or isn’t and just poo-poo everything the article even says.
“Forgiving another is for your own peace” – what if watching the crows feast on their eyes gives me more peace?
I have been working with forgiveness for a while in my life… and compassion, I know I choice to feed the wolf of forgiveness, compassion and love… but I kept hearing in my head, I only want true love, and preventive, forgiveness and compassion one the notes there has been a transformation in my life, and truly provides the true nourishment I need to thrive, not the toxic nourishment we call love.
actually reading this article bring up sleeping dragons of my true feelings one that has use forgiveness as a way to mask the trauma cause to me as a child, not only for sexual assault but of parental traumas, almost a way to possess a person with a false sense of serenity and or love to help a person think they are doing ok, or thriving with actually feeling bad, many people can’t stand the guilt, especially parents.
My preventive forgiveness does not excuse the actions but hold a person accountable, rather than feed the denial.
health is truth.
what are you thoughts about teaching a preventive compassion, and or forgiveness?
I am not sure if I understand what preventative compassion is. But what comes to mind is that I would probably withhold doing any kind of favor for the the abuser or wrongdoer who hurt me. It’s almost like taking a privilege away that person because of what he/she did; maybe similar to a parent taking their child’s cell phone privileges or grounding for a specific amount of time.
An example that I have is my mother and I have have pretty much never had a healthy relationship because she was always physically and emotionally abusive. After I moved out and got my own apartment, my mother was still trying to manipulate and even yelling at me when talking on the phone. I started to be distant with her for many years. I would only see her on occasion, but I would seldom return her phone calls. Then one day, after many years, my mom had a sulking tone and she apologized for the way she treated me throughout my life. She even said that she has no excuse for what she did. She hopes that I would be able to forgive her, which I reluctantly did, but probably should not have. What I should have said to her is that I don’t know if I can right now, I need time. That might have given her more to think about in terms of the damages she caused me.
I think that the only reason that she even apologized in the first place is because she probably always told people that I never talk to her, and she doesn’t know why. From talking to my sister, I do know that my mom was starting to give my sister hell just to nit-pick. So, she probably sought someone else to bully because I wasn’t around. So, it’s possible that someone who my mom listens to finally told her that she needs to stop hurting and yelling at me all the time, or she might lose me forever. I just think it was something that my mom felt she would lose if she wouldn’t change. Hopefully this makes some sense.
My personal policy is to always forgive but never forget. This position is closely aligned with an old maxim that says “An angry fighter is a losing fighter.” This is very different from the ignorant cliche “forgive and forget,” which in the context at hand is a directive to be submissive: Pretend nothing happened. As noted in the article above, this response supports and enables the assailant, putting oneself and others in real danger. Denial and repression may be convenient for those who habitually use them to make bad things go away, and for a society that would rather not confront its own inherently violent and abusive nature. But denial and repression are associated with neurotic pathologies for good reason: They produce destructive material results in the real lives of real people.
Pseudo-spiritual hacks like Chopra teach magical thinking, in the sense that “pretending makes all things so.” According to their pitch, when bad thing that happens to good people that is really the good person’s fault for “manifesting” an assault, disease, poverty or etc. in their lives. The core market that buys into this pathological frame of reference is an idle middle class demographic that can’t resist an opportunity to attribute their privileged status and comfortable lives to their own moral superiority, vs. more realistic and less flattering models based on material cause and effect.
With the help of people like Chopra and literature like A Course In Miracles, when True Believers see people suffering that only proves that they are “better human beings” than those people. Their social obligation (if any) toward the “less fortunate” is to tell them that they brought it on themselves and advise them to stop doing that. If that doesn’t work, oh well, nothing can be done for them. Forgive them for existing and forget that they do exist, in one smooth, practiced gesture. (Course In Miracles includes a program of exercises for learning how to wish inconvenient things away.)
Why does an inherently pathological “forgive and forget” paradigm for recovery from traumatic violence enjoy the support of established institutions and the “helping professions” today? All I can say is, those who forgive AND forget, a.k.a. “shut up and get over it,” do not rock society’s collective boat. They don’t think about, much less recognize and speak against, the structural causes of violence. The same institutions and professions that tell rape victims to “just get over it” strongly promote something called “PC culture” which itself is an attempt to repress signs and symptoms of culturally indoctrinated violence, which if addressed at their source (good old fashioned Consumerism and class warfare) would rock a LOT of professional, political and economic boats.
I can forgive them for that, because I know what motivates them. But I will never forget, and if that makes me a radical activist, that’s OK. You meet a better class of people there anyway.
There is a wonderfully helpful and bracing book out there called THE FORGIVENESS MYTH. It covers much of what you’ve written here but goes into great depth on the illogic behind mandatory forgiveness rhetoric, and the many other options people have to move on. The key point is that, as someone who has been hurt, YOU are the only person who can decide what you need to do to heal and thrive. No abuser, loved one, church, or counselor has the right to bully you on this point.
I have never been raped or traumatized in that acute sense, but I was mistreated by two very damaged, self-absorbed, and emotionally incompetent parents. They are still alive, I maintain a cordial but empty rapport with my father (mostly for my son’s sake) and have had to cut ties with my mother (although I might try to see her before she dies; I haven’t decided, and if I do decide, it will be based on what I feel I need and can handle).
I spent many years embittered while my life proceeded along. In order to thrive, the key for me was not forgiveness but rather a realization that they would never, ever be able to acknowledge my pain in full. The dysfunctional dynamics in our family continued even long past the time of teenage screaming fits and other obvious acting-out on my part. They still had some power to hurt and manipulate me and still used it. More to the point, they were continually asking (demanding?) that I forgive them for their failings, when in fact they had never even articulated any real remorse, never made any definitive actions toward remedying past wrongs. AND in my mother’s case, she continued to use me as a vessel onto which she projected her own deep self-hatred.
I just got tired of it and realized it was holding me back in my own life, so in my 40s I cut contact. By that point I was a mother myself, and although it gave me some insight into the stresses my parents must have been feeling, I still found myself aghast at the kinds of things they’d say and do on a regular basis–I can’t even begin to comprehend treating my own child so shabbily, even in my angriest moments.
I feel sorry for my parents that they did know how to become better people at the time when it was crucial for their children’s development. I understand the stresses they were under, and the fact that in the pre-Internet days you couldn’t order up a dozen books on parenting and try to make a study of psychological family health. And they had shitty parents themselves. But there’s still some part of me that just can’t fathom what seem like simple failures of common sense. That said, I don’t walk around in a constant rage. I have a really amazing life, even if the fact of having lousy parents has permanently affected its course.
That doesn’t mean I am thankful to them for their failures, though–another racket of rhetoric you sometimes hear. I would have chosen a happy home life and fewer redemption stories to tell afterwards, if I’d been given the choice.
Thank you. I’m so tired of hearing how all the wrongs done to me should be forgiven, especially when I know damn well that there is no remorse.
I graduated from college suffering from years of depression. Then, I still had my naiveté: I imagined if I just changed enough things (looks, city, etc.), life would get better. I moved far away to a new city for my first real job — and shortly found myself ensnared in my vulnerability by someone who emotionally and sexually abused me for the next decade. Thereafter followed a series of abusive relationships. I guess I had “victim” tattooed to my forehead.
I have forgiven all but a couple, and I’m working on those two. It’s easy for me to imagine how messed up their inner lives were, how broken and damaged they must have been to behave in the manner that they did. It’s like the canard: it’s not about you, it’s about them — in all things in life. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. But I’m perhaps like others, in that really horrible crimes perpetuated by some against others I find hard to forgive. Or even to imagine what could drive someone to behave so.
I’m still a depressed mess — a wiser mess, I guess. To me forgiveness is for me, about forgiving myself really, for having made the mistakes which resulted in my being victimized by so many women. By no means should anyone feel compelled to do so by others.
Drat. That was supposed to be a general comment, not a reply to Amanda. My apologies.
I will never forgive my ex-friend for what he did to me. I knew him for a year; during that year he dumped all his emotional and psychological baggage on me left over from his ex-girlfriend and his abusive, interfering family who still treats him like a child. Instead of taking it up with them, he put it all on me, and used me for sex as a release for his problems. Then he blamed me for all the troubles in his life and treated me like a common, worthless street walker, wanting nothing more to do with me. He married a few months later, so he had someone else lined up during those few months. No one will ever know what pain I’m going through; I can’t talk to anyone about it. He has done permanent damage to me, left permanent scars. I loved him with all my heart and all he did was use me. I don’t think he’s a bit remorseful, either. He and his wife are on Facebook looking like the happy couple. Even if his marriage crumbled tomorrow and he sincerely apologized, I would never forgive him, and I wish he would try someday so that I can tell him where to go and let him know how much he traumatized me. I’ll never be able to put my faith in anyone else again because of him. However, I doubt he would acknowledge it or care about it. Someone like him does not deserve any forgiveness; I hope someday he suffers some tragedy and learns something from it.
I maintain that human beings are not capable of forgiveness, that the entire concept of forgiveness is a myth perpetrated by religious entities for the purpose of controling human populations as religion has always done. It is nonsense that is spouted by those who know only to repeat like birds who imitate the human voice. The most that a human being is possibly able to do is to let bygones be bygones.
The silliest spouting is the idea that forgiveness is “really for oneself” so one can “move on” and not be burdened or poisoned by ones “anger”. This makes no sense whatsoever yet we play this verbal game as if it were the case. Lol.
I see what you’re saying. The past two churches I went to (they’re all the same in this aspect) teaches this form of unconditional forgiveness. They claim it’s because God is a loving and merciful God and forgave man for all his sins so they should do the same as Christians. I’ve heard it all before. Although I still believe in God, I’m starting to doubt Christianity more and more. I couldn’t keep going to church knowing that I have a hate in my heart towards a family member, which is something they’re completely against. Besides, forced forgiveness isn’t all that healthy either. It’s not letting the survivor or victim of whatever tragedy befell them let out their anger. I’ve just started to express my anger in details with my therapist. I don’t want to hide it anymore.
This article spoke to me on so many levels. Late last summer, around late August/early September, I came out about being molested by one of my older half siblings. I’ve told about two people from my old church and my mom’s side of the family found out from one of our cousins’ ex-girlfriends. My aunt tried to force me to forgive my sister because “life is too short.” Yet, she never forgave our uncle for whatever he did ’til he died. This half-sibling is my mother’s eldest daughter. I swear when I think of her, I just shutter in disgust.
Although I talked to two church people in pretty specific details about what I’m feeling in regards to my sister, I realized they can’t really help me in the way that I want or need. One lady suggested I go to a faith-based counseling service, but I told her I already go to a therapist who works with Catholic charities. However, the way they work is different from a religious service. They have to respect a person’s beliefs even if they were an agnostic or atheist. I left this part out to the church friends I talked to about what happened. I wouldn’t go to a faith-based service because I’m not too comfortable with the idea of forced forgiveness. If someone wants to forgive another for whatever wrong doings, they are free to do so. But, you can’t force someone else to do it if they’re not ready OR if they don’t want to.
Meanwhile, my rotten half-sister is trying her hardest to lie to everyone including MY PATERNAL grandmother about what she did. It’s so sick. Whether someone molested her early on is another story. It’s possible. I’m just so angry about this whole thing. Last I heard, she’s seeing a psychiatrist because she claimed to be “depressed” over what I said. However, I believe CPS made her get some help. In the beginning of the sessions with my therapist, I told her I still feel she is a threat to other children. So, my therapist, in turn had to notify the state and the police who just said they had my record of abuse on file, but can’t do anything unless I request it because I’m over 18 now.
Honestly, I don’t care what my abuser of a sister does now. Even if she did the unthinkable, it wouldn’t bother me one bit. She knows what she’s done. She can’t hide anymore.
You do not get to tell other people to forgive. Ever. If you are doing this you are perpetuating their abuse. End of.
No need to reply to me, because if you disagree you are wrong.
Yes, that’s right I just said if you disagree with me You. Are. Wrong. I won’t be tone policed. I haven’t just attacked you. I have stated the truth. Sometimes things really are that simple.
Accept it. Learn from it. Move on.
As a Buddhist, however you decide to label your conclusion about a traumatic event, forgiveness or vengeance, the most important thing is self-compassion and letting it go. You do not have to forgive or forget completely but you have to arrive at a place of acceptance; not acceptance as in “it was acceptable” but acceptance as in “yes, this happened to me and it is in the past.”
It is in our nature to self-examine for our own culpability when something bad happens to us, but we must realize that bad things happen to good righteous people for no reason at all. I have had trauma and I have not forgiven, and I never will. But I am past it influencing my thoughts negatively or my view of the world. It is part of the fabric of who I am and I have used it to create more compassion for myself and others. Life is bigger than all of us and unpleasant things can happen. Hiding these things creates shame. How we carry and think about ourselves after things defines that thing.
*reads article telling people not to force others to do something*
*viciously reinforces exactly what the article is against*
Well done ‘Buddhist’. Keep meditating under your Bodhi Tree.
I’m about to block you, Varshaya. I no longer have the energy to moderate this kind of commenting. Please move on.
Don’t tell me to “move along”. Move yourself along.
My “kind of commenting” is fantastic compared to the the individuals on here who are asking Rape Victims to “forgive”. They can see that this is clearly an article that is against such a mentality, so why do they feel that need to come on and reinforce their own malicious agenda on other people?
As a moderator why don’t you block them instead, instead of blocking people with Noble intentions?
Does that sound like a sweet idea to you Laurel?
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