My therapist had said a strange thing:
“Don’t worry about forgiving your abuser; let’s work on you forgiving yourself first, on healing ‘Stephanie’”
In my experience, forgiveness comes with processing the wrong that has been done to you. Not merely processing but also understanding (arriving at a meaning or purpose) how or why it happened. You can’t forgive that which you have not yet come to grips with and that is where therapy/counseling helps. People need to work through the feelings and the maze of emotions that come with being hurt and betrayed. I do not believe it is healthy to try and force yourself to forgive someone immediately. Immediately saying ‘I forgive you’ to appear to be the ‘bigger’ person is not only superficial but unfair to yourself as well.
Used as a church tactic..
That being said, I remember having a conversation with a religious leader wherein I was upset with him for something he had done and previously denied. His first words to me were: “Do you forgive me?” I was silent. I wanted to hold on to my anger. It was justified in light of what he had done and it felt good for a change to be the one doing the chastising. “I need to know that you forgive me!” he insisted in desperation. He had not attempted to explain or excuse the action. I did not get the chance to even process what I had come to learn, yet his first request was my forgiveness. When it became apparent that his main concern was discretion, I told him I forgave him and rang off.
It was during my trying year of slowly disentangling myself from the organization and so I just let it go, but not before noticing that image was more important than my opportunity to process my feelings. He nipped the whole thing in the bud before I had a chance to deal with it. He invalidated my feelings (anger), which is a form of emotional abuse. I forgave him and that was that. We never spoke of it again. It reminds me of a word I learned in New Convert class: Justification – just as if it had not happened.
I can’t forgive my abuser
I have spoken to abused women who share the sentiment: I can’t forgive my abuser! This is a sign that healing is either incomplete or has not taken place. Even adults who have not yet remembered their childhood abuse find themselves displaying inappropriate anger as a sign of lack of closure. I think it is even worse in the case where you have no one to direct the anger at because of repressed memories. Who do you forgive then?
My therapist gave me a set of goals to work on after our first session; two of which were ‘self-esteem’ and ‘memory’. I now understand why. Low self esteem can be associated with an abused person who believes that they deserved the abuse. You can’t forgive someone for doing you wrong if you have not identified that act as such. In some circumstances, the inappropriate behavior was not perceived as harmful at the time as mentioned in my post about Borderline Personality disorder and sexual abuse. See post here.
The first priority is not to forgive your abuser, but to heal yourself.
Most abusers have been abused themselves and although this is NOT an excuse it helps to understand the frame of mind of the person who hurt you. Personally, I try to imagine my abuser as an innocent small child, scared and helpless.
It would be especially challenging to forgive an abuser who is still doing it! In my case, my emotional and spiritual abusers are still at large so to speak. My emotional abuser still tries to control me with psychological tactics. I combat my childhood feelings of helplessness by promoting awareness. I feel as if my small act of documenting my experiences is my way of processing it and ‘doing something’ about it. Although I am sometimes triggered by my own posts (lol), it feels like a journey of healing.
Explanation is NOT justification, but it can offer some fresh revelations that can lead to complete closure and healing. When you do forgive it will be the authentic, liberating act of a ‘whole’ person and it will not be for your abuser but for you.
What do you think? Is forgiveness a part of the healing process or a prerequisite for healing?
Thanks for reading