“For a long time l thought that forgiving my parents for what they did, somehow meant that l approved their despicable behavior. Not until quite recently did I begin to understand that my forgiveness has nothing to do with them, and everything with me.
Forgiving them does not mean denying what happened or allowing them to continue their toxic behavior. All it means is that I decide and allow myself to move forward. It means I can let go of my past and move into the future!” – K.
The discussion about forgiveness always leads to heated debate among survivors. Is it essential to healing? Is it a fake and pointless gesture? Is it just setting yourself up for more abuse? Here are some thoughts on forgiveness and how it can help you on your journey of healing.
Leaving the Toxic Situation
It often takes victims a long time to understand the abuse they suffered. Having been exposed to a chaotic and dysfunctional relationship for an extended time, it can be difficult to understand that you find yourself in a toxic and harmful environment. Once the realization hits, a victim can move away from that toxic dynamic and start their journey to become a survivor.
In this stage, the survivor will start remembering things and evaluating their history against the new found insight of the abusive dynamic. This re-evaluation of your personal history is an important step in creating distance from your abuser, and will aid you in “getting out and staying out”. (Leaving abuse is no easy feat. Here are some of the reasons why you may find it difficult to leave, even if you are aware of what is going on.)
Getting Stuck in the Swamp
The realization of the abuse and the insight in its effects on your everyday life are overwhelming, and some survivors find it difficult to move beyond the experiences of their past.
Part of every healing journey includes a trip through what we call the “Swamp“, a place of rehashing our stories and finding our truth. Articulating and receiving validation for your story is vital for the recovering target. Some survivors find it difficult though to move beyond this stage of their journey.
“When I first started to recount some of my experiences and read about the emotional problems and dysfunctional relationships that ruled my childhood, I kept feeling a need for recalling incidents. I watched childhood videos, read my diaries, in short, I immersed myself in my own past, just to analyze things within my new-found insight. Although this experience was initially very liberating, after a good few months I started to notice that remembering was holding me back almost as much as the original dysfunction had done. How could I dream of a better life if I constantly surrounded myself in the memories of that dark history?” – K.
Having that realization, and then moving on is much harder than it sounds. Some survivors feel so validated by being able to speak their truths that they find it hard to move past this stage of their journey. And who can really blame them? Their stories and feelings have been denied for so long, it is somewhat addictive to now find a place where your truth is heard and understood.
At this stage of the journey, many survivors experience a great deal of anger towards the abuser. Experiencing anger is an essential for the healing journey, and serves very many valid purposes. It helps us in setting and maintaining boundaries, for example. However it is not an emotional state where the survivor should get stuck, and when maintained too long will slow down recovery and healing. Do you know that Mark Twain quote? “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” This is regardless of the appropriateness of the reason for the anger.
So, Where Does Forgiveness Come Into This?
The validation and anger that the survivor may experience when first coming to terms with the abuse, is very powerful. Although some people get stuck at this stage, there are also many survivors who -like K- hear the call to move on. To take that step forward, they do need to look at forgiveness (forgiveness, not a pardon)
“Part of letting go of the past,is accepting that it will be part of your life. Forgiving my parents and their flying monkeys was going to be hard. But forgiving myself… That was a big one!”
When looking at the dictionary definition of forgiveness, it tells us: to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong): to stop blaming (someone).
Forgiveness is not about shoving things under the carpet, to simply pretend something did not happen. We have been having to do that for far too long!
Forgiveness is not about giving people (who do not even acknowledge their discretion against us) a free pass.
Forgiveness is about acceptance of the past and letting go of anger. If we do not find a way to turn away from our anger, it will continue to color our perceptions and actions. It stresses our bodies and minds beyond healthy limits, taxes our self-control and inner-peace. To keep with the words of Mr. Twain: it will keep corroding the vessel it is stored in.
It is also – maybe even most – important that we let go of any anger, frustration, and blame we feel toward ourselves. Without extending forgiveness to ourselves, we cannot heal from our past.
The Final Destination
If you have difficulty even imagining yourself feeling forgiveness toward your abuser, please be patient with yourself. The desire to move beyond the sharing and validation stage is something that occurs at different times for different people. Talking and sharing with all types of survivors at various stages of their journey will help you compare and validate as you progress.
“I have gained so much insight from conversations with other survivors. Whether they are survivors that have been healing for years or victims that are only just getting away from the toxic relationship, everyone has insight and ways of expressing their ideas that will trigger new realizations for me. Every day it helps me move past the muck that is my parental relationship and move towards healing” – K.
We speak of a “journey” for many reasons. When you start a journey, you try to map out where you are going, and have certain expectations of things that may happen along the way. Of course, if we are realistic, that also means we will expect some unexpected events. But for the most useful of journeys, it is helpful to have a concept of the desired destination – a life of peace and joy and freedom from our abusers.
At the end of the day, forgiveness frees us to move forward toward that goal and rescues us from getting lost in anger.