I’ve been sitting on this article idea for a little while since reading Alexi Rose’s very heartfelt article regarding Forgiveness and why she has deep misgivings with the word. I too had similar misgivings when I was struggling through my own healing, and so I’d like to share some of her thoughts, as well as what I’ve learned going through my own process.
Alexis has been through horrors unimaginable to most of us, and after years of intense therapy and inner work has emerged much wiser and a powerful teacher. You can read the article here which got me to thinking deeply on the topic of forgiveness. Here’s her Untangled book plus her book about PTSD.
As Alexis says in her article:
“Forgiveness, what does that really mean in terms of healing? That word can be a hot-button for me and for many people I know that have been through trauma. There was a time I thought if I heard someone say “you can’t fully heal until you forgive your abusers” one more time, I would explode all over them. It sounded trite, and for me, increased the shame storm that was always brewing inside of me.”
As someone who has needed to go through my own healing process in order to reach a place of inner peace and to be able to have some very good tools to deal with life, I’ve had to work deeply on the whole topic of forgiveness.
When I was in two evangelical churches, I had been strongly directed to forgive. I was told that if I wanted God to forgive my smallest sin I needed to forgive even the largest, most egregious hurts done to me. I felt forced to forgive, as I was afraid of not having God’s forgiveness. As a damaged person, my insecurities were immense, and I had a deep need to be loved and accepted, both by God and by Christians. So, before I had worked through the layers of my feelings, we’d do heartfelt group prayers.
How did I feel afterwards? Honestly, I struggled for YEARS to work through my feelings of what forgiveness meant and what the different aspects of it were, both externally to my abusers and internally to myself. I struggled with the guilt of not having deeply forgiven, of not having the ability to forgive deeply, of feeling inadequate to forgive. Those were difficult years.
Forgiveness has many layers, and each time we achieve more healing and wisdom in our lives, the whole concept of forgiveness will come up again, though perhaps in a different form, with different meanings, even with different wording.
The word forgiveness has many emotions attached to it, and can serve as a trigger for more anger and pain.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the perpetrator is absolved of what they did! It doesn’t mean that they aren’t responsible for what they did, or that they don’t need to be held accountable for their choices as an individual to participate.
When is it UNREASONABLE to ask or to tell someone else they need to forgive?
Is there a time when it’s not wise to push a person towards forgiving their perpetrators?
Yes! When a person is still raw and in pain! When their brain still cringes with memories. When the inner healing hasn’t progressed to the point of even being able to comprehend the thought!
TELLING someone to forgive is like forcing them to do something they cannot do, which will then bring up anger directed inwardly and guilt for not being able to forgive.
Since the ability to forgive comes incrementally as we delve deeper and deeper into healing, telling or asking someone to do so before they’re ready is like throwing them right back into the fire they’ve come out of.
Are there circumstances which are unforgivable?
“My perpetrators would never expect forgiveness. Why? They didn’t and still don’t think they did anything wrong. To them, I was an object, not a person. Some abusers, torturers, and silent watchers do not deserve my forgiveness. In my situation, there is nothing that keeps them accountable. They don’t need or want forgiveness, as they move along to the next person, and their feeling of omnipotence grows.”
Many people have been through excruciatingly painful life events which they didn’t feel they could ever forgive. Some were able to forgive later and some were not.
Was their inner healing compromised because they weren’t able to forgive? Good question. Perhaps each person’s understanding of the word and how it needs to be applied is the ingredient which needs to be looked at! If a perpetrator doesn’t think they did anything wrong, would it be beneficial to forgive them? What would that entail?
Are there alternate words we can use instead of forgiveness which can help us heal?
“I came up with this thought: Forgiveness in healing does not have to be about forgiving my perpetrators. For my mental health and well-being, I changed the word forgiveness, to “understanding.” The concept may be the same, but for me, it is emotionally less charged. I don’t forgive some of my sadistic perpetrators, but I do understand”
I too had come to the same conclusion years ago: to use the word UNDERSTAND as a way of healing and being able to cope with the emotional feelings of hurt and betrayal.
I had come to understand that my abusers were themselves very damaged people, acting out in very hurtful and destructive ways. They lacked the tools to deal with life and so attacked people.
I have understood the forgiveness aspect of healing to be for ourselves so we can be released from the pain and anger, not necessarily to benefit the perpetrator.
If a perpetrator understands that what they did was wrong and seeks forgiveness, then forgiving that person can be very cleansing and healing.
However, if the people who did horrible things and don’t see they did anything wrong and don’t seek any level of forgiveness, offering it to them only to be further despised wouldn’t work well for you.
A victim’s self-blame needs to be released
If we’re the victim of someone else’s abuse, our soul has internalized the toxic concept that we somehow deserved it. The shame and guilt needs to be released. Many will say that it’s forgiving ourselves, yet that’s not really it is it?
When we reach a stage of understanding the big picture, why the abuser did what they did, we also need to include learning how to release the negative feelings towards ourselves that we have internalized.
“When I first started thinking and verbalizing that I forgive myself for the grief, shame, or any other emotions, or feelings I had surrounding my past, I would get confused. Was I forgiving myself for being hurt? That didn’t make sense.
That word, forgiveness was just too super-charged. The concept was getting mixed up with the definition of the word and it was becoming too convoluted in my head. I needed to have a better understanding what I was forgiving myself for.
I learned to understand, that I forgive myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul. That works for me! I believe that! Sometimes with a lot of reassurance, but, I believe that. Understanding that concept helped me take huge steps in the process of acceptance and healing. Forgiving myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul is a simple concept for me to internalize and accept. “
So, when does forgiveness come in?
The act of offering forgiveness is usually one of the last steps in healing and can be very cleansing, and the understanding of the word will vary from person to person.
The benefits for the victim is that it is an act of power and control in a situation they had no control over.
As a step in healing, it gives the victim back the control they feel was taken from them, thus making them whole again.
We do it for primarily for ourselves, secondarily for the perpetrator.
Perhaps we lack a good word in the English language to express that we choose to release the person from our minds and hearts. We choose to release the pain they have caused. From what I have studied of the meaning of the word, it was to give a conscious release to the victim, to cut the invisible thread of pain and anger that connects them with the perpetrator.
Above all, I believe we choose to release being tied to them through that pain.
“My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally. For some, that is what they would define as forgiveness. For me, that is what I define as my mental-health victory!
I understand that we all have our own paths to healing. Our belief systems play a large part in keeping us safe in our mind, body, spirit. I respect the language each person needs to use in coming to terms with their abusers. What matters most, is that survivors learn to accept their past, shed the shame and learn to live (and thrive) in their present.”
In my forays into understanding Quantum Physics, our words have the power to affect our physical environment, which includes our bodies and our minds.
As I learn more about this science (Amit Goswami, a Quantum Physicist, has some amazing videos on YouTube where he explains things in an understandable way) I see that what Jesus taught directly fits with that science! It’s fascinating!
Here’s some articles I’ve written on this topic: Choosing Our Thoughts: From Adventures of the Soul! and Manifesting our Thoughts: More from “Adventures of the Soul”… The missing ingredient! and Fulfilling the Human Condition from “Adventures of the Soul” and Raising Our Level of Consciousness from “Adventures of the Soul”.
There’s also a Hawaiian prayer/mantra which I’ve found very comforting:
I love you,
Please forgive me,
– H0’opono Mantra
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~ Buddha
I wish everyone strength on your journey! May your healing lead to peace of mind!
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