This is a paragraph from the description of the podcast. It kind of made me sob.
"But what about abuse victims? What about those who have been physically, sexually, emotionally abused—sometimes relentlessly and violently? How would they hear such messages? Is a warning that they must forgive their abusers, rapists, torturers or else they are even worse sinners than them a good one to hear? Can certain messages that are wonderful in most cases (and no one is imagining that abuse victims were on President Uchtdorf’s mind when he gave his remarks) be heard in spiritually and emotionally damaging ways by those whose self image distorted by internalized shame over the abuse they received as a child or whose lives are in danger or souls are being warped by abuse even in the present? Can such messages actually re-victimize these people? Are there circumstances in which even the beautiful message of “Families Are Forever” be heard as a threat—heard in such a way that a person might express a deliberate choice to live in hell rather than be forced to associate with their abuser(s) in heaven? The answer is yes."My first thought was, "Where the hell were you people when I needed you?!?"
And then I remembered what the people in my life said YEARS ago:
(Here's an excerpt from the post I linked to.)
"She gave an analogy that hit me as absolute truth.
She is giving a presentation on eating disorders to 70 RA's tomorrow. Knowing that she is talking to people who like to help others, and are college students, there will be about five people in the audience with disordered eating. She was worried about giving certain suggestions or saying certain things, because she didn't want to say something that would hurt those five. She came to the conclusion that the sixty-five needed to hear what she had to say, and she had to hope that the five would be okay.
Just because they are saying it in conference, does not mean the message was to me personally.
She said, "If I told you I was falling apart, and I really needed you here," and I finished her thought, "I would be there tomorrow... In fact, I have thought about getting on a plane when you were sick, even when you didn't ask, because I love you and I wanted you to have a friend."
At the end of President Monson's talk, I also got a text from BJ:
"He was not talking to you. I listened to the entire talk. Not once did he say, 'Hey Jen, listen up!' or 'Now I am want to talk to victims of abuse that can't say no to people yet,' He didn't say anything close to that.""
Their words and their insights were invaluable to me, probably saved my life, and definitely made my life more livable.
So, knowing that was what this podcast was about, I both really wanted to listen and wanted nothing to do with it. A few months ago, I wrote about wanting to dump the baggage that the word forgiveness had for me. Listening to the podcast felt like a next step.
They started by talking Elder Uchtdorf's talk.
I didn't listen to the talk, but I read it because it got so much attention. This was the response I wrote in my journal:
"The thing about talks like this is:As I listened to the podcast, I felt like they described my thoughts on forgiveness, love, boundaries, and choices perfectly.
Selfish assholes hear it, and think, "Yes. Everyone else should be more loving, accepting, and forgiving of me. Why doesn't (doormat) be more loving and just do what I want?"
Self-sacrificing doormats hear it, and they think, "Yes. I need to be more loving and accepting. Next time (asshole) says something awful, I will tell him that I love him and just do what he wants."
It's like the perfect recipe for a disastrous relationship."
Just a few thoughts as I listened:
(Sorry if it's a bit disjointed, these are the notes I took while I was listening.)
It is not appropriate for a mortal to try to absorb the consequences of another person's actions. If I do something to protect an abuser from the consequences of their choices, that is what I am doing. It isn't my job to protect them, it also isn't my job to punish them.
Forgiveness is NOT about the other person... It is NOT doing things to make the abuser's life better or easier... Forgiveness is about ME. It's about me leaving my pain behind. It's about me finding peace.
I've heard that thought before - we don't forgive for THEM, we forgive for ourselves...
I have also experienced abusive people asking for forgiveness because it made THEIR life easier, better, less painful... "Forgive me and just do what I want you to do." That is NOT forgiveness. It is manipulation. (And if a person is apologizing in this matter, it is not a real apology. A real apology ESPECIALLY in the case of abuse, will show more concern for the person that they hurt than for themselves. I wrote about what it felt like to get a real apology here.)
I can be Christlike and be forgiving, and yet not open my arms to an abuser that continues to cause me mental (or physical) anguish. Forgiveness is not about sacrificing your personal boundaries... I still get to choose who and what I want in my life. I ALWAYS get to choose. Forgiving doesn't take away my freedom - real forgiveness gives me more freedom.
Asking the survivor to forgive the perpetrator as part of the survivor "being a good person" is another way to make the survivor responsible for the abuse. That's WRONG. The survivor is not and never will be responsible for the abuse.
Shame. Shame is such a huge and horrible part of abuse. I have long believed that the beliefs I formed about myself and the world around me were FAR MORE damaging than all of the bruises or physical symptoms. Talks like Uchtdorf's only added to the shame.
If you believe what they say at church, "I am worse, because I can't forgive," and you KNOW you are a defective, bad, horrible person, you work so hard to be "good". You want so BADLY to be good, that you just keep signing up for more abuse... I KNOW that what they did was HORRIBLE, and I don't want to be like that...so I try to be nice, and kind, and loving, and serve even those that hurt me. That is the OPPOSITE of what a healthy person does.
Saying that "not forgiving" is worse than the offense, puts people on equal footing when they shouldn't be on equal footing. Abuse is not the same as the "just being human and needing compassion".
It is GOD's responsibility to be the judge over another person. The "sin" is when I decide what another person should or should not do, and try to control them. Making my own choices about where I spend my time is NOT a sin, but telling another person they have to change or do what I want IS.
"Being judgmental is a sin. Choosing to move on or separate yourself from a relationship is NOT."
Judging abuse as bad, is also okay.
Is saying, "I can't stand that person, and the things they have done to ME," even close to the same as saying, "I hate the choices they are making with their life. I wish they wouldn't drink alcohol, or live with a woman they aren't married to, or have a tattoo."?
Those two statements are totally different, but it has taken me a long time to understand the difference.
Sometimes the best thing to do is GO. Here's an example from the scriptures.
Nephi left. He got away from Laman and Lemuel. He didn't stay and take more abuse.
Follow your heart, your divine intuition, it's the only way to live, heal, and BE.
There are situations when anger IS righteous. Anger can protect us.
We can't paint with a broad brush. The journey and the process is VERY individual.
Suggestions on how to be helpful if someone trusts you enough to share their story:
- Don't make assumptions.
- Ask questions.
- Do NOT give me advice.
- Don't presume you know these relationships better than I do.
- Don't presume you know what I should do better than I do.
- Reaffirm my worth. I don't need you to reaffirm my courage. Don't marvel at me or my strength...
- Don't presume what will happen, in this life or the next... Talking about a "forever family" is not always a comforting thing. (Although my family has been great, one of the big things that got me thinking about the church was when I looked at some of the people at church. I thought if I had to spend eternity with them, that would not be heaven, that would be hell.)
"They know they are going to the celestial kingdom. I want nothing to do with them. If this is what heaven will be like, I'd rather go to hell."
- When I said that, I MEANT it. Hell was better than what I found in my relationship with the church.
"In my opinion, a relationship becomes abusive when one person tells someone else they are not good enough. They need to change. And at the same time, won't let that person leave the relationship. (You are not good enough for me, but I won't let you be with anyone else.) That is what it felt like being a member of the church. I wasn't good enough for them, but I didn't have the choice to leave.
Only, I did. I have the choice. I am not ever going to go back to a place or a relationship with anyone or any organization that makes me feel less than."
- Abusers are charming. Victims stay quiet. You never know what other people have been through.
- It is NOT. NEVER will be. the failing of the survivor who can't "hang in" any longer. NEVER. NOT. That is so so so so so wrong.
God brings comfort and love. Total comfort and love. Anything else just isn't God.
I love what she said at the end... about her friend... She couldn't handle touch, so her friend sat at the edge of the bed and held her big toe. SO grateful for BJ. He'd touch my head. The only place on my body that I could handle being touched was my head, and then my hands, and then I wanted to be held. So, he held me for hours and hours while my body and my mind healed.
You don't have to forgive, at least not in the way the church teaches forgiveness, in order to move on. It is not required of you.
The only thing that was hard to listen to in this podcast, was talking about horrific abuse... I have spent many years saying, "It wasn't rape, because it wasn't like what they experienced." or, "It wasn't abuse, because it wasn't as bad as it could have been." I have also listened to friends who said, "I wish he would have beat the shit out of me, because then at least I would have had the scars, and I could call it abuse." etc... Emotional abuse is devastating. Just because abuse doesn't look like it looks on TV, doesn't mean that it isn't. It is okay to move on and separate yourself even if you are not experiencing the VERY horrific things that Tresa and Natasha talked about.