Alexander Pope wrote “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” But is it necessary? A perpetrator’s sense of entitlement to forgiveness and the filthy torment left in the wake of abuse often strangles a survivors capacity to truly untangle the knotted complexity of forgiveness.
A. A life without armor
I remember sitting with tears in my eyes in an Alison Armstrong training having finally made the decision to lay down my “sword.” The suggestion to discontinue wielding a sword of vengeance against men felt like a threat to my safety. How would I protect myself? I was living in a world where I felt that almost 49% of the global population was ignorant as to how the remaining 51% lived. Each time I was in a relationship with a man or talking with men about what life is like for women living in a patriarchal paradigm I was angered at the blank faces of naive male entitlement staring back at me. How is it possible that the burden of their re-education lies in the hands of women?
I didn’t want to carry this burden for men. I was already over laden with trying to live my own life clad in full body armor. Each rivet in my protective garb representing reasons why I refused to be vulnerable; reasons why I couldn’t allow myself to trust another person. It was exhausting for me to live my life as if always prepared for battle. As Louis C.K. explains:
Could I afford to consider forgiving others, if it left me exposed and vulnerable? How did it work? Was there a secret combination to the altruistic forgiveness padlock that I had never been given?
B. Broccoli in the refrigerator
I often tell my clients that repressed emotions and an unwillingness to process historical anguish are like leaving broccoli in our internal refrigerator. That resentment might keep for a few days, but eventually it begins to decay and stink up the place. Anything else I might put in there will be tainted with the stench, and thus the rot spreads. This is the affect carrying hatred, resentment, and pain has had on my life…I decayed from the inside out.
No one wants to be around a stinking decaying person for too long, unless their own smelly effluvium resonates with the stench. This is why I have found myself in situations of downward spiraling power struggles. There came a day where I had to look at myself in the mirror and recognize that in each relationship I was the common denominator. I was so done with fighting; done with the battle; yet until that day in the training, I was still weaponized.
C. If I can’t who can?
If I didn’t have the combination to the forgiveness lock, how could I get it? Did I really even want it? I believed deep within myself that my anger at my perpetrators gave me strength. I was afraid of who I would become if I no longer carried that fury. Would I be saying that what they did was ok if I let it go? If I forgave?
Survivors carry a stressful weight of determining the necessity to forgive and how to achieve it. Is it necessary to meet your perpetrator or to rekindle a relationship with them in order to forgive? Through working the 8th and 9th steps in recovery:8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
And by working through the Courage to Heal Book & Workbook I learned that I do not have to continue obsessing over the burden of forgiveness any longer. I was given permission to love myself. I forgive myself for how I have disrespected my body and my heart, and thus have disrespected the lives and feelings of others.
I had to let go if I wanted to change. It has not been an easy process. I was so afraid I would be left with nothing if I no longer had my anger, but that anger was rotting me from the inside out.
I now know that I have the willingness to forgive anyone, including myself. The actual result of forgiveness is an outcome. I am in control of my actions today, and the God of my understanding is in control of the outcomes. This realization has freed me, and in so being released I have been bestowed with forgiveness. Today I can honestly say that I love my perpetrators. I love those with whom I have instigated unhealthy relationships. I can no longer afford to carry that sword that had been melded to my fist, and thus the burden of forgiveness has been lifted from me.Mastin Kipp recently Tweeted: Forgiveness sets you free. Isn’t it time? I responded: As survivors we may give ourselves permission to release attachment to the burden of forgiveness. Self nurturance = freedom He inquired: Burden of forgiveness?
My hope is that this piece enlightens those for whom the journey of survivors is an unknown story. Jackson Katz speaks to men’s issues:
How heavy is your burden of forgiveness?
What is the next step on your journey of freedom?
© Amanda Lee
Well done, Amanda! regards, Nicky
I marvel at how you can make a blog into a story and close it with your point in a rather quick tempo. I can imagine the confusion of the question of forgiveness being a burden. I would be less confused with being pointed out about the burden of the process of not being able to forgive. The burden of forgiving.
I see today how the topic of abuse is one of many levels of forgiving. The self harm of a survivor carrying the hatchet year in and year out is often not mentioned in the media. Forgiving oneself is not that obvious in this regard.
I loved the video segments in this blog. Nice to have two men giving the message, both of which are white. Nice touch.
Thanks Amanda, for your beautiful and touching perspective (and of course the great writing 🙂 I guess it is difficult for some people to understand the ‘burden’ of forgiveness when they have not been through trauma inflicted by a close one, a stranger or a family member.
In my case, I’ve finally been able to remove the ‘revenge armour’ and have moved on to have a cordial and almost normal relationship with my father, who inflicted physical and emotional abuse on me until age 16 when I finally had the strength to start standing up to him and he stopped. And then the healing started. Ending with the forgiveness phase. All in all it took me a good 35 years!
The case of my late husband, who was arrested for attempted murder on me after torturing me for several hours, is a little more tricky case. He died suddenly after the abuse and we did not have time to deal with the resulting issues before his untimely departure. He was a very sick puppy: before he kicked the bucket he kindly informed me that if he should die, he’d come back to haunt me. He’s been dead for nine years and I’ve only now been able to start making my peace with this dead man. You’d think it would be easier to forgive a ghost, but no! Go figure 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this very tricky subject with us. It’s made the world feel like a less lonely place for me today!
Thank you, Vera, for your courage to share a part of your story and to continue placing one foot in front of the other on your road to healing. I was told that the further I dared to travel on this journey of wholeness the more like a magnet I would become for other survivors. By taking care of yourself you help others know it is possible. xxx, A.
So true, beautifully put.
Like a magnet you are, more and more! Am loving these explorations with you. Tally-ho I say!
My favorite post so far. Thank you for sharing these important and inspiring messages about forgiveness. I wish everyone could see that TED talk!! I will share it – I’m glad you posted. 🙂 XOXO
Thank you Jeneen…keep reading…there’re golden nuggets to be found in each article! That TED talk is wonderful, isn’t it? xxx
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