Saturday, April 28, 2012

Loaded Words: Forgiveness

Recently, I was asked the question, "What does forgiveness mean to you?"
So, I'm writing about it.
Bad news: I'm a little bit all over the place in my writing.
Good news: I like what I wrote, so I'm leaving all of it...

There was a time, I would hear the words, "Forgive them," and I would hear, "Take their abuse. Let them hurt you." So I'd do that... Only the peace I was hoping for, never came. Instead I only felt used and abused and crazy.

I chose to forget the word "forgive", because it had too much extra baggage associated with it. And then, in January, a friend of mine posted this on facebook.
"Lately I hear of so many people ignoring or being rude to their own family members or close friends because of choices that person has made. It's so sad to me that in our society, people are so selfish and unforgiving and judgmental. They hold grudges and don't talk to siblings, parents, cousins, friends, etc. because they are sad, mad, angry, or whatever toward that person. For some reason, they feel like they are entitled to hold a grudge because they are choosing to do so. I wish people would learn to take the advice "Be QUICK to forgive" seriously."

I wrote this in my journal that night:
"For me, two things happened at once.
1. I love it. I agree wholeheartedly. YES. Stop holding grudges. Stop letting the pain of unmet expectations stop you from having the relationships you want. Love people as they are, and not just when they do what you want. It's not love if you only love them when they fit your expectations. That's just manipulation. I hope she reads what she wrote... I hope she gets it...

2. I hate it. "Be quick to forgive" was used over and over and over to get me to go back to very harmful situations. He raped me. He beat me. He assaulted me. He called me names. He said things that made me go crazy. He tried to manipulate me. He pushed every boundary until I thought I would rather die than to have to be around him. But none of that mattered, because it was MY job to forgive. My job to love him and give him another chance... My job to accept the apologies over and over and over, even when he kept on hurting me...

In my world, "Why can't you just forgive?" meant, "You have no right to choose what you want.You have to spend time with him, you have to give him what he wants, you have to... That is what God wants you to do."

A mere mention of the word forgiveness, and I felt incredible guilt, because I was angry and hurt when he hurt me. I'd start beating myself up in my head. And in the past, I'd vow to be better at taking the crap. To not care if he hurt me, but instead to be nicer. Kinder. Quieter.

Forgiveness meant to forget myself. 

I recognize that she was not talking to victims of abuse. I recognize that most people at church would never tell a person to stay in an abusive relationship. (I say most, because I know of a few bishops and members who WOULD and they DID.)  I recognize that who she was talking to might just benefit from some awareness that parents getting divorced or someone leaving the church isn't worth losing family over.

I recognize that what I think and feel about the word forgiveness isn't what the word is intended to mean. It's a "Loaded Word". Because of my experiences and the beliefs I formed about myself and those experiences, forgiveness has taken on a meaning that I don't like.

I don't like that when someone talks about forgiveness, I feel anger and pain and guilt. I feel violated. I don't like that THAT is my internal reaction. I don't like that what I hear is, "Forget yourself completely and only think of what THEY want." I would like the word to come to mean something else to me.

I shared my thoughts with BJ, and he gave me this quote:
"Forgiveness is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator."

I'm very aware of what forgiveness is NOT meant to be: It's not meant to make me forget myself. It's not meant to make me sacrifice ME, so that other people don't have to make sacrifices. It is not meant to keep me in situations that are harmful, or even keep me in places that I don't want to be in.

Forgiveness is not supposed to be used to manipulate and abuse... What IS forgiveness meant to be?"

I haven't thought about it much since then... Until the question, "What does forgiveness mean to you?"

The only answer I could come up with that really meant something to me was, "Making peace with the stuff that hurts me." It's an individual thing. There are things that really hurt me, but they won't bother someone else. There are things that don't even hit my radar, but are life shattering to someone else.

Husband having an affair, not a big deal to me. End the marriage, go our separate ways. Easy.
Bishop telling me it was my fault that he had an affair, and I couldn't end the marriage but instead had to work harder to serve my husband and make him happy, HUGE deal. I'm still working to make peace with that. (I read in a book once that you'll know you've forgiven when you no longer have an emotional reaction when you hear the person's name, or in this case when I am reminded of the situation. I still feel anger and disgust at the bishop for saying that, and anger and disgust at myself for believing him and trying to do what he said. Why didn't I just say, "Fuck you. You're an idiot!" and walk away? Eventually, I'll make peace with that.)

ME being raped... painful, and I worked through it, I dealt with it. I'm at peace with it. A friend being raped... I don't know how to make peace with that. I feel anger at their abusers that I have never felt towards my own. (Which in some ways has been healing. Getting really angry and yelling, swearing, and crying, at what happened to them has somehow helped me make peace and move past my own stuff. In that, I guess I am grateful for the things they went through and their willingness to share their painful journeys with me.)

In the book Forgive for Good, he says, 
"there are really only two steps in the process: grieving and letting go. Grieving, after you have been wronged, means letting yourself feel the anger, hurt, and trauma in all its original pain—but not indefinitely. After about two years, most people have had plenty of time to process, then they're ready to move on."  
It was impossible to forgive or make peace with a situation when I kept saying, "It's okay. It doesn't hurt that much. It's no big deal." I had to acknowledge the depth and severity of the emotional wounds. (Ummm... Are there emotional wounds to knowing that a friend was raped? Are there emotional wounds to learning of a friend's abuse? How do I feel the hurt and trauma of the original pain if the pain wasn't mine to feel? I don't know the answers...)

I'd also add to his thoughts that as long as I allowed myself to continue to be abused by other people, I couldn't even begin to start the grieving process... My therapist repeated to me over and over, "As long as you allow yourself to be abused, you will never heal from past abuse." Sometimes I felt resentment, because I didn't set up boundaries. He (pick a him, any him) violated me, and my resentment came because I let him. Once I started standing up for myself and taking care of myself, the anger and resentment just fell away. I wasn't afraid anymore. Once I knew I would not sacrifice myself or my body just to make someone else happy, I experienced a lot of healing.

My friend explained forgiveness this way:
"I totally believe in forgiveness... the kind that says, "I don't give a fuck what you do, I'm going to be happy." I don't believe in the kind that says, "I don't give a fuck what you do, I'm going to let you be in my life and fuck me over..." There's a big difference between the two."
I believe I can forgive without allowing someone back into my life. I have very few hard feelings for Larry, but I don't ever want to see him again. Seeing him, and allowing him in my life would take a lot more work... For me AND for him. Luckily, he seems perfectly content to never talk again.

And maybe the quote that seems to fit my definition the best is this:

"Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed."

Forgiveness means:
I no longer wish that I had never been raped, or that I had never gotten divorced, or that my parents had been different, or.... I no longer wish that I could change the past for my friends. I no longer wish that I had learned all of this stuff when I was nineteen, so somehow I could have prevented all of the pain. I no longer wish that I could have done it differently.
It means I'm at peace with my past and with my present.


  1. Forgiveness is the F word for me... my friends know not to use it because it just makes me mad, sad and guilty. Mainly because I don't know how to forgive, and also because I don't want to. I feel like he doesn't deserve it. People say forgiveness is for me and not for him, but it doesn't feel that way. Forgiveness has always seemed like saying, "What you did to me was okay," and even though I don't think most people mean it that way, it makes me very wary of people telling me to forgive.

    You are so inspiring to me the way you can take a "Loaded Word" and turn it into something positive. You have inspired me to think about redefining the "F word" for myself. Your writing is beautiful. Thank you for this <3

    1. I will always be very wary of people telling me to forgive... Might be because I am wary of anyone telling me what I should do. And it also seems that those who tell me to forgive usually say it, not because they actually care if I forgive or not... They just want me to do something that serves them.

      And thanks, it means a lot when someone I admire as much I admire you says I'm inspiring. <3

  2. Forgiveness is confusing to me and I've been thinking a lot about it lately. How do I know if I've forgiven someone? Will I feel different? Will I feel better? Probably not. I've decided that forgiveness absolutely does not mean forgetting or condoning but probably for me accepting what's happened has happened and is a part of me and has shaped how I act and react now and being at peace with me now. It's being able to look back at what happened and feel sadness but not contempt.
    Probably different for everyone and every situation.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I like this thought, "accepting what's happened has happened and is a part of me and has shaped how I act and react now and being at peace with me now."

      And I agree, I think it is different for everyone and for every situation.
      Thanks for your thoughts. :)