Let’s talk about the “F” word for survivors. “FORGIVENESS” is just as offensive a word to most survivors as the real “F” word is to some people because it implies so many erroneous ideas. Once again it puts the responsibility on the victim and seemingly holds no benefit for her or him. Recently a client told me she was struggling with anger and bitterness toward her abuser. She lamented that she wants to get to the forgiveness stage but can’t imagine doing that. I said, “You don’t realize it, but you are actually in the beginning stages of forgiveness.”
Until you feel the full impact of what has been done to you and take an inventory of all the things that were taken from you as a result, you never get to the forgiveness stage. Instead you are minimizing, justifying or excusing the behavior and the offender. Anger is a scary emotion to most people. It seems to contradict who they really are. My little anger speech is another blog for another day, but it is a necessary emotion to identify and confront injustice. We should always get angry whenever someone takes advantage of another even if that other person is ourselves.
What forgiveness is… and isn’t.
- A decision
- For your benefit, not for the abuser
- A process
- Relief from hatred
- Using your anger for good
- Letting go of bitterness
- Balancing the ledger
- Deciding to quit seeking revenge on the person
- A commandment
- Voluntarily extending forgiveness
- No longer living YOUR life focused on what the abuser did.
VERTICAL FORGIVENESS (GOD TO MAN)
- Requires repentance by the offender.
- God chooses to remember it no more.
- Requires two parties, us and God.
- Restores a relationship.
- Gives immediate emotional relief.
- A feeling
- A restoring of the relationship
- A one-time act
- Not holding the abuser personally accountable
- Losing your anger
- Pretending it doesn’t matter
- Saying abuse was okay
- Not seeking restitution for damages.
- A suggestion
- Waiting for the offender to ask for
- Permission to hurt you again
HORIZONTAL FORGIVENESS (MAN TO MAN)
- Does not require repentance by the offender.
- We sometimes can’t forget even if we want to.
- Only requires one person, the offended party.
- May not restore a relationship.
- May take time to “feel” better.
The one thing vertical and horizontal forgiveness has in common is: They both benefit us.
The Parts of Forgiveness
- Make a list of all the effects of the abuse on your life (abuse, abandonment, loss of innocence, etc.).
- Now take each item on your list and forgive the person who injured you and anyone else involved. Ask God to help you to let go of the need to carry the offense.
- Forgive yourself for any survival behaviors that contradicted your values and beliefs.
- Make a list of the behaviors you have developed in order to survive the effects of the abuse (over-reacting, control, perfectionism).
- Now take each item and ask God to restore your awareness of His love to you in place of the feelings of hurt and despair and to help you forgive yourself for these behaviors and the consequences they produce in relationships. Ask God to replace with His love what had been taken from you.
The Paradox of Forgiveness
- You cannot genuinely forgive until you acknowledge the full scope and impact of the offense.
- You cannot forgive and deny the offense at the same time.
- You cannot forgive someone else for an offence and carry responsibility for that same offense yourself.
- You cannot carry shame for an offense yourself and at the same time forgive someone else for it.
The following letter was written by a 27 year old man to his father who walked out of his life when he was just 8 years old. I will not identify the author of the letter, but it is shared with his permission:
Things may never be the way I want them to be. I’m grown enough to see that. However, I can’t carry the weight of this all my life. I forgive you for not being there as I grew up. I forgive you for not teaching me the basics of being a man. I forgive you for not being involved. I forgive you for not teaching me how to drive a stick. I forgive you for placing the blame on mom and pretending like she was the only reason you weren’t there. I forgive you for stealing my Gameboy from the hotel that day. I forgive you for the pain I’ve carried all these years. I forgive you for leaving me behind. I forgive you for showing someone else’s kids the love I felt I deserved. I forgive you for everything. I forgive you. This is purely a selfish forgiveness. By that I mean I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing this for me.
I’ve carried around this weight for so long because I repressed all this and pretended like it didn’t matter. I was wrong. It does matter. If it doesn’t matter to anyone else, it matter to me. I needed this. I need something to look back on and be able to tell myself to man up because I’ve already forgiven you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean to forget. It means I’ve made peace with the demons holding me back. From this day forward I can look back and feel better knowing that I let myself forgive you.
I can let go of the anger, the hurt, the resentment, the lack of understanding and everything else I’ve been clinging to because that’s all I had. I can let go of this weight. I can actually feel it coming off my shoulders as I type this. I didn’t do it alone either. Eric Thomas inspired me to do it. It took over a year of listening to him for me to finally wake up this morning and say today is the day I free myself from all this and hold my head a little higher as I walk into the next stage of my life.
I’m not looking to start anything. I’m not looking for a radical change in our relationship. I’m honestly not expecting anything to physically change. Just what’s in me; what’s in my head can finally change and I can be free of who I used to be. I forgive you and I forgive me for putting myself through this for longer than I can remember.
The deeper the hurt, the longer it takes to forgive. I personally don’t like the term “recovery” although in my line of work, I use it repeatedly. Recovery indicates you can get back what was taken from you. You may recover a stolen purse but in the case of a lost childhood, that can never happen. Fortunately there are other “R” words that raise us to a higher level of function and happiness.
Restoration: God can restore us to wholeness and bring beauty from ashes.
Resurrection: Bring to life that part of us which died, such as feelings.
Redemption: We can be rescued from the consequences of someone else’s sins.
Final words on this subject: Forgiveness is near the final stage of recovery , not the beginning. I have heard some say you must forgive before you can begin to heal. I disagree. I draw my conclusion from my own experience and that of countless other victims over the course of my professional life.
Feel the hurt, get the professional help you need, replace the hurt with love and the negative experiences with successful ones. Then you will understand the need to forgive for your own sake.
Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.