The definition of the word “forgiveness” focuses solely on the person being forgiven. It says nothing about the person doing the forgiving. It doesn’t say it should be done and it doesn’t mention any good or bad that might come of it. This is precisely why the word “forgiveness,” and the practice of it, has no place in the process of recovery from abuse of any kind.
Working your way through the myriad of emotions incurred by abuse to arrive at a peaceful place is not forgiveness; it’s recovery and healing. Pardoning the crime and/or the criminal is not only unnecessary; it’s not a requirement for healing and it can hamper recovery.
Forgiveness is, at its essence, letting someone off the hook – no more and no less. If you’ve loaned someone money and it’s clear they’re never going to pay it back for whatever reason, forgiving the loan is a way to cut your losses and move on with your life. Being on the receiving end of someone’s abuse, however, is not the same as loaning money – or a car, a power tool, or a cup of sugar.
The transaction of a loan is between two consenting people. This is why forgiveness has no place in physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse recovery. Abuse is never consensual. Even when it looks like it is, it isn’t: It’s the predator forcing the victim to choose the lesser of two evils. If you don’t put up a fight in hopes of keeping yourself from further harm or death, that’s not consensual; that’s the predator putting you between the worst rock and the worst hard place. It’s not his or her right to do so; and whether or not the predator gets caught and is punished, it’s still a crime and he or she is still a criminal.
If it weren’t for statutes of limitation that continue to apply even after numerous changes in the law, the people who hurt me when I was a child would at least make headlines even if they didn’t make it to prison. While there are many who would never insist I forgive a loan of money I made as an adult to another adult, there are as many people who think I should forgive the adults who hurt me when I was a child – including many within the mental health and criminal justice systems.
Contrary to popular belief, not forgiving the people who hurt me hasn’t hurt me. Holding onto my hatred as long as I did served me very well. The garbage those adults dumped into my life wasn’t mine, but it became my job to deal with it – and hatred was the perfect tool for this. Hatred allowed me to see my situation from the outside. It allowed me to stay just close enough to determine who cared about me and who didn’t, while at the same time giving me the distance to act on what I had determined. Hatred honed my ability to see liars, betrayers, and abusers before they could see me.
The idea that hatred could or did carve out a hole in my heart speaks to the inability of others to step outside of themselves and empathize. The hole in my heart wasn’t created by hatred. It was torn into place by the predators who filled it with their crimes. The only reason I can care deeply for myself and for trusted others is because of the depths my hatred went to to clean up the filth left by others. I don’t have a need for hatred anymore. This isn’t forgiveness. This is my years-long, hard-earned triumph of recovery and healing – and I’m not sharing it with the people who hurt me.
When someone tells me “There’s a reason for everything” or “If not for the abuse you suffered as a child you wouldn’t be where you are now,” all I hear is that it’s okay for adults to abuse children. There are plenty of child abuse survivors who don’t write or talk about their recovery from abuse, depression, and being on the brink of suicide. And some don’t recover at all.
What are the “reason for everything” people saying about those who don’t survive – that they didn’t “forgive,” that they wasted the opportunities afforded them as the victims of rape and/or beatings? Some lemons can’t be made into lemonade because they’re not lemons: they’re black eyes, broken bones, torn genitals, mutilated reproductive and digestive systems, brain damage, and death.
The people who insist “There’s a reason for everything” never quite get around to the reason for someone raping a child. This is because there is no reason. There’s an explanation, which is that the predator is a sick, twisted piece of shit whose brain isn’t the same as a normal person and who is only a “human” in the eyes of the law. Even if the inherent neurological flaw of sexual predatory behavior could be removed, there would still be a lack of empathy for others such that a “cured” predator would still feel no compulsion to stop another predator from raping a child.
The things I’ve done to recover and help others are all my own. I could just as easily have done something else and succeeded just as well had I not been abused. I am not successful because I was abused. I am successful because I would’ve been at anything anyway. I can’t fathom why anyone would covertly suggest that the people who hurt me should get credit for anything. It’s as if they’re one sentence away from saying, “Good thing you were abused.”
What makes this line of thinking even worse is that the same people who overtly credit the predator when a victim does well do not also hold the predator accountable when a victim doesn’t do well. Hell, predators aren’t even on the hook for the medical and mental healthcare needed by the people they hurt.
Instead, what we have is a socially-sanctioned program of “forgiveness.” It’s great for those who haven’t been hurt because it doesn’t cost them anything; it makes them feel like they’ve done something of value when they say “forgive” ; and it can be reapplied as predators reoffend as they are wont to do.
People who know what happened to me want me to forgive the predator because it would put more distance between what happened to me and their preferred reality, where crimes against children don’t happen. The predators want me to forgive them because it would put more distance between their crime and themselves. To hell with what they want.
It doesn’t matter whether a person is a predator or is someone who is willing to go to bat for a predator; they’re all insisting that what they want is more important than what I need – and this is completely wrong. My needs will always be more important than what they want. I have no obligation or responsibility to forgive anyone; and neither does any other survivor of abuse – not to your family, friends, co-workers, the people you see on Sunday, and damn sure not the person who hurt you.
The decision to forgive someone who hurt you is yours alone, but do so with all the information:
Other’s desire for you to forgive is born out of their discomfort – which is their responsibility, not yours. If you forgive a predator, especially when the predator is a relative or family friend, there’s no guarantee it will help anything or anyone. Other people know what happened to you and they know who did it. They can’t un-know such a thing whether you forgive someone else or not. So any comfort they might derive from your act of forgiveness will be short lived. This is why, even after forgiving someone, if you suggest to person X that they keep their child away from person Y, you’ll often hear things like, “Let it go already!” and/or “That was a long time ago.” You see, then, forgiveness is not enough. They want you to forget – and they want to call it “forgiveness.” The work of making themselves feel better about the whole thing is on them; it always was and it always will be. You can’t fix them and even if you could, doing so would cost you your own recovery.
If you feel compelled to forgive the person who hurt you, more power to you, but please don’t buy into the horribly misguided notion that forgiving someone is going to change anything or anyone. Please don’t let anyone tell you the good of your recovery and your healing is something you should pass on to the person who hurt you. It’s yours, you worked for it, and you decide who you share it with – and if this isn’t the person who hurt you, that’s a perfectly reasonable and healthy decision.
Forgiveness is the act of pardoning debt. Victims aren’t lenders, and predators aren’t debtors – they’re criminals.