A Lesson in Forgiveness

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In his somewhat less than fully coherent email earlier in the week, Ed attempted to teach me about the importance of forgiveness.  In a brief note of follow up yesterday, he again reiterated his belief that forgiveness is necessary for healing.

There are a few key things about forgiveness Ed doesn’t seem to understand, for example: There are people who should not be forgiven – namely those who would take forgiveness as a sign that they weren’t so bad after all; this way of thinking opens the door to rationalization of their past, and future, behavior.  Ed has never understood the breadth or depth of what he has done; forgiving him before he fully comprehends would be downright self-destructive for me.

The problem inherent to forgiveness is that the power resides in the transgressor’s hands. The psychological impact of forgiveness on the forgiver is determined by whether or not the transgressor has made amends.  Forgiveness without amends leaves the forgiver with diminished feelings of self-worth.  To date, Ed has not sought to make anything right, he has sought only to move on.

Pain is deeper and longer lasting when the transgressor intentionally caused it – repeatedly.  This cannot be overstated; when you repeat a destructive behavior time without number, you did not make a mistake – you demonstrated something real and lasting about who you are.  Forgiveness for this [child abuse] is a process, and it is dependent wholly and entirely upon the transgressor’s sincere acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for ALL wrongdoing, and their  forthright desire to make amends for what their behavior caused.

Despite Ed’s belief in forgiveness as a panacea, it isn’t simple.  I am not simple.  My self-respect, peace of mind, and understanding are not based in my forgiveness of my father; and to forgive now would leave me despondent because he has not earned it.  Any benefit I could derive from forgiving him would come through his personal growth and desire to make right what he destroyed.

The kind of forgiveness I’m speaking of takes time and concerted effort to earn.  You don’t close the cycle and end the abuse quickly or easily, and those you have harmed need to know they are valued, treasured, cherished and loved now as they always should have been; they need to know it is safe to forgive.

Forgiveness is sobering, and honest.  And while we embrace the sentiment, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” it cannot be universally applied.  We cannot reap the benefits of forgiveness alone, we need the full and complete cooperation of our transgressor, and therein lies the quandary; those with the capacity to destroy the lives of their children seldom, if ever, see the need to repair.

So you see Ed, the ball is most definitely NOT in my court.

Why Forgiveness is Impossible

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To explore forgiveness,  I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for this post. (kind of)

In this post, I took the position of the abuse survivor – myself.  I do that a lot on this blog, actually – it is the premise of Silence Shattered and and integral part of my life experience:

But to consider all of this from the other point-of-view – now that’s foreign to me.

So …

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say Ed and Pat didn’t want to live the last thirty years estranged from the their only son.  Let’s pretend they are capable of feeling the loss in never having known their grandchildren.  Let’s assume they’d like for things to be different than they are.  And we’ll all imagine them to be capable of change and asking for forgiveness …

I’m going to open myself up to all those possibilities, despite their inherent improbability.

I am going to attempt to see all of this through their eyes …

proceed from the ideation that I’m wrong – my memories are false, or I’m a liar, or under the influence of a very bad woman.

I’m going to step away from abuse that bordered on torture

from never feeling loved or understood, valued or wanted as a child (unless I was with my maternal grandparents)

I’m going to believe Ed – he didn’t rape that girl; she was able to consent morally and legally, and she did.

I’m going to understand Pat’s inability to cope with her life and unhappiness as a reason for being cruel to her children

I’m going to understand them, damn it!

I am!

I’m going to sit right here until I do.

If I try, this will come to me.

I.  Am.  Going.  To.  Understand.  And.  Forgive.

Wait a minute, I can’t.

And it isn’t just because I don’t want to, or because I don’t think they are deserving of forgiveness:

I simply lack the psychological make-up to understand,  my mind won’t allow me to.

No matter what I do, I will never get to a place where I understand the abuse, or the denial – or them.

To forgive someone for something, I have to be able to put myself in their shoes – and I have to be able to my admit my part in any shared conflict:

But I was a child, I played no part in the conflict

and I will never be able to put myself in their shoes…

because they just don’t fit.