The topic of forgiveness came up recently over on the DoNM board I go to and it got me to thinking. What does forgiveness mean exactly? Is it necessary to forgive our abusers to fully be free and move on with our lives? Does forgiveness mean I am saying that the abuses done to me are, in effect, okay? These questions and more have been running through my head.
To start, let's get a definition of what it means to forgive. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines forgive as:
1. a : to give up resentment of or claim to compensation for <forgive an insult>
b : to grant relief from payment of <forgive a debt>
2. : to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)
I think it's the first definition (both parts, a and b) that many DoNM's would take offense to. To give up that which we feel we are owed by our abusers - be it an apology or them making amends, etc. - is especially hard because, by all rights, they should be expected to make amends for the chaos and trauma they inflicted on us. However, the reality of the situation is that those amends will likely never come to pass. I'm sure there are the rare exceptions but, for most of us, the N's in our lives believe with total certainty that they have done nothing wrong, certainly nothing that warrants an apology. Rather, they see us as the ones in the wrong, the ones needing to make amends and apologize, usually to them. If we refuse to let go of our pain and anger unless and until our NP's give us what we feel we're owed by them, then we are only hurting ourselves because while the N's in our lives are happily going about their own lives wreaking havoc, we remain stuck in frustration, pain and resentment.
To me, forgiveness is more along the lines of the second definition given. It means that I let go of the resentment and bitterness and hatred I felt toward my abusers and give it up to God (or Karma/Buddha/whatever your preference). It means I refuse to allow the pain, frustration and all those other negative emotions take up space in my head anymore. Having allowed myself to feel it and then processed it, I am now letting it go and moving forward in my life without that weight on my shoulders. Do note that the key words in that last sentence are "having allowed myself to feel it and then processed it". There is a time and place for us to allow ourselves to feel our anger, pain, frustration, etc. We need to acknowledge that we feel these emotions and that we have a right to feel the way we do. After all, an injustice was done to us. We didn't ask for or do anything to deserve to hand we were dealt with our NP's and it's okay to be upset and angry about the unfairness done to us. But it becomes a problem when we cease to let it go at some point. This is just my personal opinion but I believe that so long as we hold on to that anger, bitterness and resentment, so long as we insist on being what Dr. Phil refers to as being "right fighters" (i.e. someone who is more concerned with being right than moving past the issue), then we are unable to truly move beyond our past and live a happy, healthy life. Because we insist on clinging to all that negativity, in effect, our abusers continue to control us.
Does forgiving our abusers mean we are saying that the atrocities done to us are now okay or that they somehow didn't matter/weren't that bad/etc? Not at all. Forgiveness, in my opinion, is done for the one doing the forgiving, not the abuser. It's about saying, "I refuse to allow myself and my life to be controlled by all this negativity any longer so I'm choosing to let it go."
There is a saying about forgiveness that, quite honestly, rankles me to no end. It goes, "Forgive and forget." I know I used to hear that from my N FOO all the time, as I'm sure many of you have also. Basically, they are expressing their expectation for us to just sweep all the abuse done to us over the years under the rug as if it never happened. Even if I wanted to do that - which I very much do NOT - it's not possible. How does one forget being called "stupid", "worthless" and the horrid "c" word (the one that rhymes with "runt") and that awful feeling of being unloved? How does one forget being told by one's stepjerk that he wishes your mother had either aborted you or given you to your monster father? How does one forget that awful dirty, violated feeling of knowing your stepjerk ogles you with his eyes whenever he gets the chance? The answer is, you DON'T forget or, more appropriately, you CAN'T. I feel in my heart that I've forgiven my NM and, for the most part, NSJ as well. I no longer feel the intense bitterness, anger and resentment toward them that I used to feel, but that doesn't mean that I have in any way, shape or form forgotten what was done to me.
One final question that has come up here and there is how, exactly, does one go about forgiving? Is it some magical emotion or moment that just sweeps over you at some point? My belief is that forgiveness is a conscious choice. Basically, a point comes in your life when you say to yourself, "Enough. I've dealt with this anger for X amount of time now. I've allowed myself the right to feel it, I've come to terms with it and dealt with it as best I can and, now, I choose to let it go and move forward."
I read somewhere once recently (can't remember the source, sorry!) that forgiveness comes by speaking our intent into the universe. Basically, you speak it and speak it until it comes to pass. The first day you may have to say it 100 times, as well as the next day and the next. But eventually, you'll only need to say it 50 times, then 30, then 10 until, one day, you realize that you're at peace with it and the actual forgiveness has come to pass. I personally never went this route, though I did pray nightly for quite some time that God would help me let go of the pain, anger and bitterness in my heart. Eventually, it came to pass and, as I said above, I've now pretty much entirely let go of it all and am at peace with how I feel.
My wish is that all of you will find peace at some point, be it through forgiveness or by some other route, and that you can move beyond your painful past toward a happier, healthier future.