Ah, “forgiveness.” That “F” word that is thrown around by well-meaning people after you have been wronged in some way. Then at some point you admit to being a survivor of abuse and people around you are prone to a whole new set of platitudes and niceties. But the forgiveness thread runs through the fabric. You’re told it’s best to forgive and forget. You’re told that forgiveness is a tenet of your religion. You’re told that if you don’t forgive the abuser, it will eat you alive.
They are all absolutely wrong…and absolutely right.
Living with an abuser meant “forgiving” over and over and over.
I forgave infidelity.
I forgave him raging and hitting my child over and over.
I forgave him putting the family cat outdoors where the Coyotes could get her.
I forgave him throwing a table saw at me.
I forgave him calling me “fat” and “crazy” and “lazy” and “hypochondriac” because I was too afraid to do otherwise.
See, what those who are lucky enough to never have to have lived with abuse don’t understand is that we lived our entire lives in a state of forgiveness, just to keep the peace. So after my escape and during the early parts of my recovery, I had to look at this another way. Because I realized that the continued long distance abuse was still damaging me.
A Different Perspective on Forgiveness
Forgiveness in this sense is more akin to a bank forgiving a loan. It doesn’t mean the loan didn’t happen, or that you didn’t owe the money, or that the bank won’t suffer a loss by granting the forgiveness. It’s just that the bank has weighed the options and decided that forgiving the loan is a sensible course of action.
Early on, I called this CATting. Cut the Abuser’s Tether. I realized that by continuing his behavior, even from far away, he was dragging me around by some invisible rope. Fear and sickness were still motivating my every choice. In the first year and a half post-divorce, he violated the court orders over 30 times. I filed zero enforcement actions. That was part of cutting the tether. Forgiveness, in this sense, means letting go of an expectation… Or as the Facebook meme says: “Forgiveness is accepting an apology that you will never receive.”
This was the hardest part of my healing. I still have my WTF moments where I wonder how in the bloody blazes someone can so blatantly target his children’s mother and take away from his children. In my world, forgiveness had nothing to do with letting his behavior off the hook, and everything to do with celebrating the things I have that he doesn’t and never will: empathy, an enormous circle of friends who have my back, a bright future, a positive outlook, the ability to truly love, and most importantly, an incredible relationship with my children. I cut that tether and “forgave” his debt by recognizing that even a repayment of his debt would never make it right nor take away the wonderful things I have.
Forgiveness Takes Practice
No, it wasn’t simple. What worked for me one day sometimes didn’t work the next. As time wore on and I practiced more, I was able to also forgive his father and mother for their abuses of him, and the family of origin dysfunction that set him up for failure. Make no mistake, I hold him solely responsible for his actions. We all know that abusers can choose their behavior. They would never act toward their bosses or people who can do things for them the way they act toward their targets. But I managed to take myself out of the equation and focus on reasons why he is such a horrifically deviant individual.
When I first began to practice this skill, I would just say, “Oh, whatever, Captain Crazy.” I would blow him off and give it no credence. Pretty soon, it became such a habit that I internalized the function of letting go. That is forgiveness. Letting go of the debt.
Let It Go
There is so much freedom in that kind of forgiveness, rather than the type of forgiveness that kept us emotionally enslaved. It is powerful to say, “I’m letting that go” because in letting something go, you are also denying its ability to have any impact on you. In other words, cutting its tether to your soul.
Over time, I cut so many of those tethers I began to envision myself as a marionette whose strings were being severed one by one and who, on the severing of the last string, began to dance freely.