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Abuse And Forgiveness

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I've written extensively about things of a personal nature in order to offer people an example of some of the processes available to those who have suffered trauma. I'm no expert or psychologist; all I've been able to offer is a sample of the things I've experienced and the protocols my doctors have employed to help me deal with the past continuing to impact my present, in order to give me a better future.

Some of them had to do with finding more appropriate means of expressing my emotions. Others dealt with behaviour that might have been appropriate for survival, but that could now be discarded. Still others helped me in assimilating the events of the past so they wouldn't live on in my mind and my emotions.

It's been a long slow process dealing with the accumulated crap. There were times I had assumed I was done, only to find more buried away which required excising. Yet, after being in therapy on and off for fifteen years, I can finally see that I'm getting to the point where I'm capable of coping on my own. The emotional scarring and wounding may never heal completely, but I have reached a point where I'm no longer controlled by events that occurred when I was a child. Ironically the length of time it's taken to get to this point is roughly equivalent to the length of time the abuse lasted in the first place.

Now in spite of what you might have seen and heard on daytime talk shows specializing in dissecting people's emotions for the enjoyment of their audiences, with hosts or guests believing themselves capable of dispensing wisdom to heal everybody of their ills, there are no cut-and-dried happy endings to this type of thing. While time isn't going to be able to heal all wounds, it's only through time's passage that you're going to get relief from their pain. There are no magic formulae to speed up the process of recovery, nor is there any one method that will solve all of your problems. Anyone who says that they have discovered a system that will "cure" you is deluded at best, or at worst a liar.

Sure, there are all sorts of panaceas that can make you feel better about yourself for a moment or two, but they're no better than any of the other things that people take on their own to suppress their emotions so they don't feel any pain. There's no difference between what these hucksters are offering and the drugs and booze I used for years to mask my own pain. Reciting some silly mantra, calling upon a guardian angel, or reciting an affirmation about you being worthy of love won't stop flashbacks of the abuse from occurring or help you deal with underlying behavioural problems caused by the abuse.

However, there's something even more misguided and dangerous that occurs on some of these shows. How many times have you seen staged reunions and reconciliations between long-estranged family members, great weepy scenes where people fall into each others' arms forgiving each other for past misdeeds and vowing eternal love? The implication is that if only you can forgive the person who caused you pain, if they would only apologize, everything would be better.

One of the hardest things for the child of abusive parents to deal with is the reality that the happy family which society tells us is the norm was so comprehensively denied them. Most of us spent years trying to figure out what was wrong with us that made our abuser break that promise, only later understanding that it was the abuser, not us, who was the problem. After years of trying to figure out ways of making someone else happy so they would love us, or at least leave us alone; years of being told we were only getting what we deserved; or years of having the love between a parent and child perverted into something awful, the idea of family being a shelter and a haven from the world takes quite a beating.

It's probably difficult for you to imagine what seeing one of those TV show scenes feels like to somebody who spent years forgiving their abuser in the hopes that tomorrow would be better. Maybe, you would tell yourself, after they apologize for what seems like the hundredth time, they really mean it this time. Maybe the tears they shed after forcing you to have sex with them are real, and they really feel remorse for their actions. Even if as a child you weren't capable of comprehending what it was you were doing exactly, by trying to love them because they were your parent you were practising a form of forgiveness.

Therefore, the idea that forgiving somebody years later for what they did to us as a child will make things better, when they didn't respond to our gestures of forgiveness at the time, can't help but seem unrealistic if not stupid. Sure it makes for great television and appeals to everybody's sentimental nature, but it fails to take into account that in order to forgive someone there needs to be some sort of reciprocity of feeling. How can you forgive someone who never showed any remorse for their actions or never took any steps to change their behaviour?

There have been things I've done in my life that I've had to apologize for, and I know how hollow some of those apologies were until I was able to change my behaviour sufficiently that my actions suited my words. While there is a school of thought that says unless we learn how to forgive those who have hurt us we will never fully recover from the damage inflicted upon us, it sounds far too much like the same behaviour we practised as children in the hopes of making things better. It still feels like we're not standing up for ourselves, and giving the abuser power over us. People can say all they like that forgiveness doesn't mean you condone what somebody did, but quite frankly I'd rather just have the strength to tell them to fuck off out of my life and leave me alone.

As a child I didn't have the power to do that and was forced to do whatever necessary to survive. I no longer have to surrender anything of myself to my abuser and I no longer have to try to make them happy. Asking me, or anyone, to forgive their abuser, no matter what shape that forgiveness comes in, is like asking us to return to being a victim. That's not about to happen anytime soon.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • A very moving and well-considered piece… thank you for writing it.

  • Richard,

    I second everything that Jon said above.

  • Very deeply moving and insightful presentation, Richard. It certainly does seem to place natural limits on “forgive thy enemies” precept, doesn’t it?

    If I were you – and forgive this remark, please, if you find it insensitive – I would definitely think about writing a book. From my admittedly limited experience with pain and disappointment, it is one way of being able to come to terms with the past and with oneself.


  • Irene Wagner

    Excellent, Richard. What a burden it is for the seriously wounded to feel they’ve missed forgiveness if the relationship is not restored. An enemy isn’t a friend or spouse you’ve had a tiff with. Forgiven or not, he’s an enemy.

    To Roger Nowosielski: The Greek word for forgive is apheiemi — which also means to forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone, omit, send away…It carries the connotation of “letting go.”

    Praying for enemies means relinquishing their fate into another’s hands. And after that, you stay away from your enemies to protect yourself from their influence–and that includes purging yourself of the poisonous hatred they poured into you.

  • I have had one experience of just so doing – forgiving an enemy. And it was liberating, Irene. But the situation was nowhere near like what Richard describes. That’s why I am inclined to think that forgiveness (for humans) might have natural limits.

    And yes, it is a form of prayer. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it’s impossible outside of the context of prayer.

  • Irene Wagner

    I think you may have misunderstood #4, which was probably too long a comment. It appears to me that Richard HAS forgiven.

  • I’m aware of that. What I was addressing is the long and protracted process.

  • Umm, just to clarify matters – I’ve not forgiven my abuser and have no plans on doing so now or in the future, although I have left most of it in the past.

    Roger – if I wrote a book about my abuse I’d have to go on Oprah and that would just be too much for my blood sugar to handle! Seriously, I’ve no interest in foisting my life’s story on the rest of the world – nobody needs to read about it as there’s enough pain in the world that people don’t need to read about the details of mine. Articles like these are to talk about a particular issue or technique that has to do with what survivors of abuse go through and I use myself as an example becaue it’s the one I know the best.

    Thanks everybody for commenting about the article

    Richard Marcus

  • Thanks for responding, Richard.

  • Sorry I did want to ask Jon something – where did you find the painting(picture) that you used on the front page with the article. That’s a great image thanks for using it with the article – very appropriate.

    Richard Marcus

  • This piece must have been very difficult for you to write.
    Thank you for sharing such a painful story with the world.

  • Someone once told me you can only forgive someone if they ask for your forgiveness. Otherwise the sentiment of forgiveness is misplaced.

    That may seem rather cynical but it actually prevents wasting your time expending forgiveness on a person who doesn’t want it.

  • Richard, thank you for this piece. In many ways your sentiments reflect my own.

    I, too, am sorry for many of my actions in my younger days. The first two thirds of my life were governed from the perspective of a child who was abused, betrayed and left as a pawn. It doesn’t forgive some of the things I’ve done but in analyzing my life, I learned why I would react to specific situations. Once my grandmother confirmed that she knew, right down to the date of the first act, about my abuse things radically changed. And in that turmoil, a process began that lasted a dozen years. The man I am today is a far cry from the frightened, indecisive belligerent man I became after puberty.

    Eight years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to my former abuser one on one. HE was scared, didn’t know how to respond. I learned how he had been arrested twice for being caught in the act with a girl and a boy. I then learned that family members pulled their aces with politicians and local police officials to get him off. These arrests, by the way, occurred before my abuse began. Unbeknown to him, I was already made aware of the phone calls and favors that were collected.

    In our discussion, I made it clear that I did not blame him entirely for what happened. My own grandmother’s betrayal (including that of her three sons who knew what went on and remained silent) was far more egregious than the abuse itself. Abuse is something that can be worked through — betrayal is quite a different matter. My abuser was wrong. He should have been punished. The politicians and police officials who pulled the strings were wrong and they should be held to account for all the victims that followed me. They were and are the enablers and as such they should share in the blame and subsequent fallout.