When I decided to leave an abusive 18 year marriage my life improved immensely. It was not and has not been an easy life since then – 1997 – though it’s been filled with many many great moments. You’d think life improving would be a given when someone leaves abuse. It is and it isn’t. We’re faced with rebuilding much of our perspective. So, for example, figuring out when someone is a trusting friend to us or credible adviser, or worthy of becoming an intimate partner, takes a lot of work.
One topic has been a constant drain for me until this year, has been the concept of forgiveness. Most of the time, it’s presented as a way to internal peace. Lots of other times it’s presented as the right thing to do, the moral thing to do, the way to a better life; all wrapped up in the idea that forgiveness is somehow a required end to gain a perpetually happy life.
The truth is, happiness isn’t an accomplishment – it’s a momentary experience like any other experience. The cult of happiness is something I have a lot to say about, look for that post in the future. Today: forgiveness.
Recently Paulo Coelho posted on Instagram “Be Strong Enough To Forgive Without Hearing An Apology.” And it’s a beautiful sentiment (I love a lot of what he posts). Here’s the thing with this cultural concept of forgiveness: for some people, it works. For many many many people, it is not a good or healthy solution. Forgiving forces us to include the person who has harmed us. It causes another form of harm. As in: if you can’t/don’t’/won’t forgive, you’re not good, strong, healthy, living your best life. I call bullshit on that. It’s important for domestic abuse survivors to freely rebuild their perspectives on the world and people without harmful requirements to continually incorporate an abuser in their healing.
I met a wonderful woman and a generous couple while I was going through my divorce. We spent a lot of time talking, digging deep into what I had gone through. Both relationships were pretty one sided, admittedly, skewed in my direction in a comforting way I was able to talk through a lot of what I needed to without finding real solutions to my problems or mental health. I met the woman at a church the ex chose for all of us to go to as a last stand of moral obligation I realized later. As in, once he knew I was not changing my mind about divorce, he read the bible “cover to cover” (of course becoming an immediate expert on religion after a life of mocking it), insisted I see a counselor provided by the church who ended up telling me he hated women (who did I tell? No one. I was still in a state of complete defense, trying to get myself detached from the ex. I went because I felt obligated to go), and the ex applying his narcissistic technique of telling everyone I was damaged, mentally behind my back, all the while telling me I was sinning because divorce was such a terrible sin. So of course except for this one friendship with one woman, I felt more isolated than you can imagine in a place that claims to care for the hurting. I met the couple through a music group I joined and loved and will always cherish. The couple is a deeply deeply religious couple who it turned out also lived in the neighborhood I lived in while married.
The woman’s message and very often the husband of the couple, to me in almost every conversation was something similar to “once you forgive him” “you’ll only have peace after you forgive” “forgiveness is the only way”. To this day I still have great affection for all of them, though I no longer have a relationships with them. I see how the trope of forgiveness rules so many admonitions in religious circles as a subtle form of unconscious gaslighting. Especially for women. Men, not so much (white men specifically). Because men are somehow creatures of no control who are by default forgiven. Women…have to work hard to be forgiven, pay penance to be forgiven, be the forgivers, forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive.
I brought this up in therapy and my amazing therapist helped me scrap forgiveness as any measure of healing. I’m deciding to put things to rest. When I decide something doesn’t fit into my life, my health, my future – I’m putting them to rest.