What Is Forgiveness?
I struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Why? Forgiveness has been misused and abused far too often to count. Many times, I’ve wrestled with myself while ruminating over questions such as, “will I be doomed to a life of regret and bitterness if I never forgive my abusers?” “Will I harbor unforgiveness to the point of physical exhaustion?” “Will I get into heaven if I cannot get this forgiveness thing together?” The fear of what might happen to me if I did not forgive was enough to add to my distress.
My religious upbringing mixed with the unwritten social contract of humanity tells us we have to forgive. There is no other option. However, as I grew older and saw the callous ways in which some treat others with no remorse, I began to look at forgiveness a bit differently. By definition, forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift. Forgiveness is also your deliberate, intentional decision to release negative emotions and feelings.
How did we come to understand forgiveness as forgetting ways in which we were wronged?
As I began to fully process what forgiveness really is for myself and not what I have learned it to be, more questions began to arise. Why is the burden of forgiving one who sought to destroy you more important than healing first? Why does society tell us we cannot heal first unless we make room for forgiveness? The amount of pressure these ideologies place on an individual who never asked for their abuse is inexplicable. Most survivors are struggling with forgiving themselves. So, why are we then told, not asked, to forgive if we want a fighting chance of any normalcy moving forward? As a result, many of us wind up feigning forgiveness for fear of what might happen if we choose not to forgive.
The same fear that kept us in the abuse forces us to forgive before we are ready.
What is the moral contract then for abusers? What do we tell those who constantly ravage the souls and bodies of others without blinking twice? Nothing. Abusers cannot be controlled, and we as a society recognize that. In fact, their lack of self control is what accounts for the heinous decisions they make. So what happens? We turn to the abused. We turn to the mistreated, the helpless and we pressure them to forgive through a jaded lens. We remove their voice and power and replace it with ideology and beliefs for the sake of peace. We re-victimize the oppressed with phrases like, “if you never forgive, you’ll be miserable all your life” or “I promise you that the abuser isn’t thinking about what they did to you, so why hold it?”
You did not have a choice in your abuse, but you do in your healing. I strongly believe if your healing process somehow leaves room for forgiveness, that is awesome but also your choice. Forgiveness is weaponized so often and affects the survivor, not the abuser. The pressure of what might happen to you if you do not forgive is daunting especially after struggling from years of abuse. So, take as much time as you need and focus on you and your healing first! If you’re like myself, most of the abuse stemmed from lack of self-care and boundaries. Putting yourself first is necessary for healing. You are doing yourself an injustice to continue focusing on forgiving those when you have not first forgiven yourself.
Where you end up on your healing journey is for you to decide. Always remember, you are in control of how you choose to heal.