Forgiveness

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Forgiveness

Postby Tarantula » Wed Aug 22, 2012 1:36 pm

I was sexually abused as a child and feel a lot of resentment towards my abuser (father) and the parent who indirectly allowed it to happen by never being around (mother).

I've read lots of self help books, not only for people with backgrounds of my type, but covering all sorts of adversity, as well as spiritual texts and those general '50 ways to become happier' lists you can find on the internet. Forgiveness is always a key theme. Forgiveness is always the point at which I stop reading and recoil in disdain.

I Google defined 'forgive' last night and was surprised to discover that the dictionary definition (or at least, the first definition provided by Google) does NOT imply condonation. As in, it is explained simply in terms of letting go, NOT in terms of letting the other person/people 'off the hook'.

My current understanding of the F word is as a two-stage process; first you let go of the resentment/anger/frustration/hurt, THEN you restore the person's record to whatever it was before the thing they did that hurt you i.e. it's as if it never happened. That's what I think forgiveness means. You can't let go of the bad juju in your everyday life and still maintain a grudge whenever you think of or come into contact with the person who upset you. That isn't forgiveness, that's just letting go. So, forgiveness = 'permitting', 'allowing', 'excusing' the other person, doesn't it?

The dictionary definition doesn't agree, yet if it were NOT the case that forgiveness = condonation, then why do we say 'forgive me'? Surely forgiveness must have a target - a person, or group of people or thing. If it just meant to let go on your end, then what has that got to do with anyone else? I can let go just fine. That doesn't mean that we're cool. It just means I'm no longer identified with the pain you caused me. And yes, I do believe I can 'let go' without forgiving. They aren't interchangeable in my book.

I think the common use of the word 'forgiveness' has expanded its meaning to go beyond simply letting go. It now DOES require an element of letting the other person off, which is why I think it can only ever be a step backwards in regards to child abuse. I think justified hatred DOES have its place, so long as you don't let it toxify your present life. But when I think back to my past, I experience that hatred again - only when I choose to focus on it, mind - and it reminds me that what happened to me was not acceptable, lawful or right. Hatred reminds me that I deserve better, where 'forgiving' my abuser would be my way of telling myself that it was okay, maybe even that I deserved it or was responsible.

My question is: do you have the same understanding of the F word as I do, or is the general consensus that forgiveness ONLY means letting go, and does NOT imply that the other person is 'off the hook'?

I wish the self help books would err on the side of caution when it comes to touting the benefits of forgiveness. Why can't they clear up the ambiguity completely by talking of it strictly in terms of letting go?
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby ILoveChristmas » Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:18 pm

Letting go and forgiving are completely different as far as I'm concerned.

You can learn to live your life to a reasonable level or normality following your abuse, which I would say is you at least some way down the road of 'letting go', but that's a million miles away from you developing a relationship with your father, which I would say is indicative of you forgiving.
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby Ticktock » Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:22 pm

I recently had to consider forgiveness in a personal situation, let me explain.

My partner and mother of daughter died about eight years ago, we were unmarried, my daughter was a baby and I was initially too broken up to cope, so I let my partner's parents help... That turned out to be a fatal mistake as they cut me out of my partner's funeral arrangements, threatened me with court action to take my daughter and stole ten of thousands of pounds from their daughters estate until I recovered enough to catch them and stop them. At that point they cut me out of any contact and used a somewhat naive great aunt and uncle to maintain contact, no letters, birthday cards or presents for my daughter, just the occasional demand to turn up at these relatives (and it was literally done on a days notice) where they would take a few photos and disappear again.

About four years ago they turned up and announced the my ex-partner's father had leukemia and was dying, he looked poorly and I thought the years of sulking would cease, then we heard nothing from them until a couple of weeks ago.

Yet again I turned up at these relatives and was told could they visit as the father was dying of leukemia (again!) Initially I said yes, but after talking it through with my wife I realised that in reality I still wasn't ready to forgive them, and probably never would until I was safely settled in my new home (to explain their actions led to both myself and my daughter living below the poverty line unnecessarily for years...).

I know at some point I will be able to let go of the pain they caused both me and my child, but I will never trust them, contact will always be with some supervision.

To let go of the pain, that focus for your actions is good and needs to be done by everyone, to pretend the reasons never happened and that everything will return to the way it was before is foolish and given some individuals thoroughly dangerous. After all you are never going to trust your father babysitting...

In your case it will probably be in stages, at some point the abuse will stop being a core part of what you are and just become something horrible that happened to you, and in the far future when your parents are much older the danger your father presents may have faded enough for you to have some sort of relationship with him.

Let me give another example, my wife's father inflicted misery on all three of his children with a pig headed adherence to tradition as far as marriage went, from divorce, mental and physical abuse, and one child running away from home for 13 years! Now all those children have settled with new partners and are happy and have some relationship with their father, and nod sagely at his still far from helpful advice. They have forgiven him, but would never listen to marriage advice from him...

These are just our definitions of forgiveness, it is an intensely personal thing, and I will point out that a few years ago I believed I would NEVER forgive my ex-partner's parents, but time and circumstances change, and a maybe does exist.
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby Tarantula » Wed Aug 22, 2012 7:00 pm

Thank you for your replies. Yes ILC, I totally agree - which is why I tend to feel annoyed when I read advice saying that it would be in my interests to forgive my abuser. It wouldn't be. As Ticktock says, it's an intensely personal matter - some things are truly unforgivable.

I should clarify a little Ticktock - I got my father sent to prison for what he did, and although he's out now, I have no interest in any sort of relationship with him whatsoever. The family (or at least, the ones who believed me) has dropped him completely. To be honest, he wasn't exactly a 'nice person' outside of what he did to me, but that's another story.

The abuse has already stopped being a core part of how I identify with myself. I don't think about it everyday, only when something else bad happens/if I'm having a bad day, then something might remind me and I might go on a trip down traumatic memory lane. But for the most part, I'm detached. He's as good as dead to me now, and has been for six years. I still read my books about it though. As ever, there's still work to be done. It'll never fade completely. I know there will be times when it comes back to bite me in the butt e.g. when I'm a parent myself, particularly if I have a daughter - overprotectiveness etc. I see it coming.

But anyway, at least as far as you two go, you seem to make te distinction - as I do - between letting go and forgiving. I'd like the self help community to do the same.
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby Ticktock » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:13 am

Broken_Chord wrote:But anyway, at least as far as you two go, you seem to make te distinction - as I do - between letting go and forgiving. I'd like the self help community to do the same.


No money in admitting in the messy grey world of emotions that clean solutions are sometimes impossible or may take years of work, 'We might make you feel a tiny bit better about yourself' ain't going to sell!
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby Tarantula » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:38 am

Mmmm but there might be money in staging an honest analysis of the concepts they wish to advocate, mightn't there?

Ahh who am I tryna kid.


If I ever write a book [and it's likely], I won't just tell people to forgive as a blanket term. I'm gonna put all this stuff it.
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby snail » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:19 pm

I'm not a huge fan of self-help books myself either; I think most of them are superficial and gimmicky and the authors lack understanding. I think they're best read if you're already stable, and are just looking for a new idea or two. If you really need a philosophy of life or guidance in a crucial area, this is best done by far by a real person (preferably a professional).

Having said that, there are one or two I like (although, thinking about it, both of them were recommended to me by my counsellor, to help me continue working on my own). Anyway, one of them, Women Who Run With The Wolves, has a chapter on forgiveness which I thought contained some useful ideas. The author emphasises that much of what feels like rage at the other person, is more about grief at whatever we lost, and that we have to fully deal with that grief before we will know how we feel about the other person. She talks about really grieving and 'marking out' your grief, at whatever it was that you should have had but didn't. Then she talks about forgiveness. What I thought was useful was that she says that it is not at all a single act, but contains a number of stages, may take a lifetime, and will be different for different people. I found her definition of forgiveness helpful too; she defines it as "A conscious decision to cease to harbour resentment". The she asks, "How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage... You tend to have nothing left to say about it all." Which I thought was a good definition.
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby Bel Bel » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:56 pm

I didn't suffer the same level of abuse as you BC but I was watched and this for me was still intrusive and abuse. It changed me as a person. My level of mistrust with certain people is heightened, I am overly worried about my grandson being left with people and I still block holes in total walls with tissue.

I will never forgive my abuser but I do understand why he was like he was (His own past experiences were not nice). I decided along time ago that he would not hold power over me for a moment longer of my life. This seems at odds with the behaviours I describe above but you simply cannot wipe what has been done away but you learn to live without the anger, rage and be able to function at a "normal" level. Now I consider my beahviours sensible precautions to not being in that situaion again or anyone I know being in it. After all most abuser are people you know not strangers offering you sweets in the street.

Therefore I have to say I am completely into the "letting go" concept but forgiveness (in terms of permitting, allowing or excusing) is a complete No No. My abuser is my half sisters dad and I have actually come to feel more sorry for her in this situation than myself. I could choose to hate him my poor sister feels torn by the fact he is her dad and she should love him. I choose not to hate him as it will require too much of my thoughts which I won't waste on him. Therapy has finally helped my sister come to terms with it but for years she hated him for what he did to me. Finally she has come to that same place of acceptance as me. He isn't forgiven but she will not allow him to dominate and cast a shadow over her life.

I think Christina Aguilera sums the whole thing up in her song "Fighter". Although actually thanking my abuser would be a step too far but I don't think she actually went up and said "cheers for doing that to me mate because I am now a stronger person". However the concept of what she is saying is right we have become who we are today because of all the experiences we have been through. I am not sure that I would be the strong confident person I am today if I didn't feel the need to fight back and show the world (and myself) this or other situations will not break me down.

Like you though I do still hold more resentment towards my mother who stayed with him after I told her about the abuse. She accepted it was the truth immediately but then continued a realtionship with the man. This guy was not my relative, my mother is the person who should have protected me. She is the one person you should be able to trust implicitly. I still have a realtionship with her for my siblings sake but it is fake and minimal. She knows but cannot acknowledge it because that means she will have to explain herself or admit her wrong doing. Not something she is willing to do. I will never forgive her but I have let go by only having the relationship I am willing to have not the one she would like and really wants.

Deep and not necessarily helpful but just my thoughts on the subject :-?
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Re: Forgiveness

Postby rufio89 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:24 am

I think to me, what forgiveness means in these circumstances is more than you could hope to achieve given your experience. It's a massive over simplification of peoples problems.

I try to be forgiving of people. For me that means not holding on to any anger towards them and holding the ability to walk by them in the street without it ruining my day.

I think everyone would agree that you've dealt with your abuse remarkably well and if you can live your day to day life without feeling anger towards your father, that's really MORE than anyone could expect.
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