Thursday, 16 March 2017

Forgiven But Never Forgotten

I admin a group on Facebook for people who have been abused by sociopaths, and the subject of forgiveness came up recently, as it frequently does. This time the discussion was initiated when someone posted this article to the group. One of the members asked, 'do we have to forgive them?' Interesting question.

I've blogged about forgiveness, or rather my lack of it, in the past - about how for me Steve would always be The Unforgiven. Yet I find that this is no longer true.

Whilst there is no obligation to forgive someone, I have found that as I've moved out of victimhood and into healing and a thriving life, I have forgiven him without particularly trying.

I think part of the problem is that the mantra of 'forgive and forget' causes a lot of misunderstandings about what forgiveness is and what it requires. As I wrote in that previous blog, I truly believed that forgiveness meant wiping the slate clean. That was something I learned from my Mother, ironically a woman constitutionally incapable of saying the word, 'sorry,' and meaning it. I no longer believe that. Steve's abuse stays fully listed on the slate, and I would no more speak to him in the street than I would poke my own eyes out. He has shown who he is and I have no wish for anyone like that to be in my life.

In reality, forgiveness is pretty well defined in Wikipedia:
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).
In certain contexts, forgiveness is a legal term for absolving or giving up all claims on account of debt, loan, obligation, or other claims.
So forgiveness is to stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop requiring repayment. I like that definition.

I bear Steve no ill will. I bear him complete indifference. Occasionally I'll hear of bad things happening to him, and I admit I'll have a little inward smile, because he surely deserves all he has coming to him. But I don't wish bad things to happen to him.

I do disagree with the Elephant Journal article when it gets to the point of talking about how to remain close to an unapologetic person. Why would you want to? A lack of apology is a denial of your reality. Why care for someone who cares so little for you as to do that? It goes back to the Circles of Trust described so well by Natalie Lue - trust can be earned, and trust can be broken, and a non-apology means some broken trust - and an easing away of that person from your circle is a sensible boundary to have.

In the end, though, unless you have forgiven, you haven't let go. Until you let go, the weight of holding on drags you down. Forgiveness actually comes organically from the letting go. One of the reasons people don't want to forgive is because they think that it is 'letting someone off the hook' for what they have done. It isn't, it's letting yourself off their hook finally and completely; it's allowing yourself to move past what they have done; it's breaking another tie that binds you to the abuse.

So in short, the answer to that question of 'do we have to forgive them?' is no, you don't have to forgive. But I believe that if you want to heal, then you have to be open to forgiveness happening, because when you heal, it will.