11 Jun Forgiveness May be your Worst Enemy – and Eat you Alive!
Forgiveness image copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo
If you have suffered a severe trauma – child abuse, rape, domestic violence, the betrayal of a long-term partner, the violent loss of someone you love – your whole world will probably lie in ruins about you. Even getting up in the morning and opening the curtains may feel like too much of an ordeal when all you can do is gaze out at a world that stubbornly goes on as normal, oblivious to your pain and grief. All of those cliched words – shock, numbness, loss, distress – seem inadequate to describe how you feel because there are no words that can ever truly describe the feeling of having lost everything.
Embarking on the Grieving and Healing Process
The long journey towards healing is not a straight one and, in some cases, the agony of trying to function in normal society again may be as unbearable as the original tragedy. On the worst days you will not even want to think about going on – just surviving will be a challenge. But there will be ‘better’ days and any progress you can make, however snail-like, will move you that little bit closer towards your destination. Understand that this is not a process that can be hurried or skipped and one minute of genuine peace of mind in a day is worth more than months spent in alcohol or hedonism fuelled forgetfulness (although losing your way is also fine – the road will always be there for you).
The truth is, having experienced such a devastating, life-altering event or experience you have become fundamentally changed and will never again be the person you once were. Who you will eventually become is a work in progress and few would argue that the way you cope with that is a supremely individual and personal task. Until, that is, you get to the issue of forgiveness!
Forced Forgiveness: Opening New Wounds
Prepare yourself because one day it will happen. You will be talking to someone close: a family member or dear friend – or even a therapist – and they will knock the wind out of you with a single question: ‘are you ready to forgive?’
Because in the minds of many people – particularly those influenced by liberal politics or religious conviction – forgiveness means healing, recovering and moving on. They correctly identify that fixation on the perpetrator, whether parent, stranger or spouse, keeps you stuck in the past but they fail to understand the pivotal and sensitive role that this person, or people, play in your developing identity. It may be that anger and a sense of injustice – hatred even – has kept you going and that the possibility of forgiveness has never entered your thoughts. If you don’t anticipate the question, you may be sent into shock and a whole chain reaction of painful thoughts might suddenly overwhelm you. Are you supposed to forgive? Does not forgiving make you a bad person? Does forgiveness mean that the perpetrator isn’t to blame for the hurt they caused you? If not, who is to blame? Is it your fault after all?
A seething cocktail of painful feelings are likely to accompany the thoughts: guilt at being unable to forgive; anger at being pressurised; intense hatred of the perpetrator; confusion; fear; grief.
It is important to be prepared for the question because the worst thing you can do is to utter an insincere commitment to forgiveness because you will be judged – not least by yourself – from that point forwards. Forgiveness is a big deal to many people: some Christians may equate a lack of forgiveness with damnation; children may blame the unforgiving parent for keeping them estranged from mum or dad while other family members may feel hostile when you ‘rake up the past’ because you never really ever forgave in the first place. This can leave you feeling hopeless, misunderstood, isolated and even re-traumatised.
Whether you choose to forgive or to hold on to the past is integral to how you heal and no-one has the right to expect you to adopt their own attitude to those who wronged you; they have not walked in your shoes. If you are currently going through a grieving and healing process following a trauma you might want to think about how you would respond if you were asked to forgive and move on – because one day somebody close to you will ask that question.