I spoke in an earlier blog about the need to forgive yourself. In terms of healing, forgiving yourself is the most important thing. As I spoke of already, the biggest challenge and most radical change we can make sometimes is just to love ourselves. So if you haven’t already read those blog posts, I recommend you start there. If you have, or if you are exploring the idea of forgiving someone else, read on.
If you’re anything like me, you were raised in a conservative church atmosphere that preached forgiveness as a necessity to being a good Christian. Growing up, I was taught that I am required to forgive someone, no matter what they did. No matter how they wronged me, or how sick and messed up they are. In this version of forgiveness, I was told that it was my job to tell that person that I forgave them, and then it was their decision whether or not to accept my forgiveness. That view was then supported by my abusers.
“You have to forgive me, or otherwise you’re a bad person,” my brother would say after he’d hurt me. No wonder I viewed forgiveness as a terrible, horrible thing. Forgiveness was essentially a license awarded to my abusers that allowed them to continue hurting me with a cleansed conscience. No wonder I, for the longest time, refused to forgive.
Well guess what? I’ve got a bone to pick with that type of forgiveness. Maybe I wanted to explore my confused views about forgiveness. Maybe I wanted to know if that’s really all there was to this big, overused, misunderstood word, “forgiveness.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that some people really found peace through the action of forgiveness though, so I had to look into it.
The following is what I discovered in my search for forgiveness:
The most important was the radical idea that forgiveness is not for someone else. It’s not so that my abuser’s conscience can be assuaged. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I give someone permission to hurt me again, permission to be in my life again, or permission to do anything at all, honestly. Forgiveness is for myself. Forgiveness is a way to let go of the past a little bit, to find some peace, some release. It’s something I will never let my brother know that I’ve done. I will probably never tell him that I forgive him. Because again, my forgiveness is not something for him to accept, it’s something for me to let go.
Forgiveness is not easy. It’s NOT required. And honestly, if you’d like, you can go your entire life without ever forgiving someone or some situation. But that’s not how I want to live. I feel like if I cling to something my entire life, whatever it is, a bitter thought, a tragic flashback, my childhood abuse, anything negative, that I will allow that negativity to permanently have control over my life. And I don’t want that. I choose to take control over my own life.
But forgiveness didn’t come naturally. Like I said, I had to forgive myself first. I had to find healing within my own life first, compassion for my situation, kindness to my body, mind, and soul. I had to go through counseling, support groups, yoga therapy, travel halfway across the country, start dating again, read countless self help books, and talk to what seems like a hundred other survivors before I could even consider the idea of forgiveness.
So what made me finally decide to forgive my abuser? It was the blinding knowledge that I knew he couldn’t defeat me. The realization, again after years of healing, that what he did to me would not control the rest of my life, because I wouldn’t allow it. It will not ruin the rest of my life either, because I refuse to let hurt and bitterness govern the rest of my days on this planet. I am confident now that my life from here on out will be ruled by love, by compassion, by my ability to set boundaries and stick to them, and by my ability to recognize red flags and avoid allowing negative influences into my life again.
Ultimately, forgiveness is my way to finally, finally, be free from his control over my life. Forgiveness does not mean that my brother is back in my life. It does not mean that I will ever allow him to hurt me again, because I most certainly will not. It doesn’t mean that I trust him, that I’ll talk to him all the time. In terms of outward manifestation, my decision to forgive him will not change how our relationship of hardly seeing each other or ever communicating works. But that’s okay.
Because I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven him. And the feeling is one of beautiful, sweet release. My life is now completely my own.