For Christians, we are taught to forgive as God forgives us. The belief that if we are unable to forgive our enemies (or loved ones for that matter) that it somehow hinders our “forgiveness status” with God. I don’t believe this. Others believe that there must be good and bad for a perfect balance. How would we understand the measure of a blessing if we had not experienced loss or pain? And there’s the belief that in order to have peace, we must make peace with the people we have harmed.
I believe we are supposed to make peace (or forgive) – I also believe that it is based on the most perfect existence in this world. Should everyone have peace? Should everyone have forgiveness and have forgiven their enemies? Yes, we should. However, I don’t live in a perfect world and my life has been far from perfect many times, even painful many times.
I don’t get hung up on what I “should” do. I believe that the only person I need to make peace with is myself. The only entity which I make confessions to, is my God. He knows that I am literally doing the very best I can with what I am. I don’t get hung up on whether I should feel guilty about a loved one not being in our life… I gave them all up years ago (except my husband and children). If someone is toxic to me I don’t include them in my life. Do I feel guilty? I used to and still do on the “dark” days.
I’ve learned that there are times that I may have to give up having relationships with others that I love as a result of my own shortcomings. I am unable to forgive. I really don’t know why, I just know that I used to be able to and then one day, I couldn’t anymore. It takes way too much energy and the result is me trying to make peace with someone who has harmed me or my family. I don’t feel better about that person, I am just trying to make myself feel better. How does that help me or the people I have forgiven? I’m not talking about the “Oh shit, I’m sorry I did …” I can forgive minor indescrepancies or misjudgements but take advantage of my weaknesses, lie, steal, or hurt my husband or kids and I’m done.
In my extended family, we were taught to forgive which really meant we should suck it up because so-and-so was “just like that”, didn’t mean it, or others had survived it and everything was fine. I was the first to make decisions against that grain – if so-and-so was going to be drunk and belligerent, my kids would not go for a visit. Period.
I believe that people confuse forgiveness as a means to avoid consequence instead of making peace with oneself and your God. I do not do things which make me lose sleep at night (save for the extra shopping I shouldn’t have done). If something I have done causes me to agonize over a decision, I hit my knees and pray. Then I over-analyze until I have a firm grasp on what I believe would have had a different outcome. I cannot change what I have already done but I can change what I do in the future. This is making peace to me.
I am also keenly aware that just because I have made peace with my decisions, it does not necessarily mean that I will avoid the consequences. I believe sometimes God gives me a free pass and many times I’m hoping He will. If I have overspent on hobbies and didn’t pay my electricity, chances are that no matter how much I chastise myself, the lights will probably be off soon.
My point is that for many survivors, we are trying to have relationships with people who had somehow been complicit in our abuse. Whether it was the Grandmother who turned a blind eye to the bruises and neglect to the mother who was so self-centered that she didn’t care who she left her child with as long as she got to go out with friends. We spend so much time forgiving those people because it is truly our hearts desire to have family who will love and cherish us as the gifts we are. Unfortunately, for me anyway, that meant I spent a lot of time being miserable interacting with people who only exploited the forgiveness. I spent a lot of time in pain over this.
One of the hardest decisions I ever made was to quit having a relationship with my mother. She was at the very least complicit, if not an active participant, in my abuse and yet since I was a Christian I was supposed to forgive. She never took responsibility for any of the pain and always placed the burden back on me. (For example, in a discussion of my basically raising my sister due to our mother’s alcoholism she responded with “You wanted to be a little mommy so instead of fighting with you, I just let you do it.”) I have, as of this writing, not spoken to my mother in a year. I blocked her phone number from my account, I blocked her on Facebook, and I blocked her emails. At first, I tried to just ignore the texts and messages and then I realized that it only continued to torment me whether I responded or not. I found that I couldn’t help but read/listen to the messages and I was conditioned to respond. I learned that by blocking the interaction it helped me begin to heal.
I am not advocating for anyone to not try to have a HEALTHY relationship with their family or that people should not forgive. I am simply saying that there are times when our angst is justified and we should feel empowered by that instead of manipulated because of it. Survivors carry more guilt than most abusers will ever be able to comprehend. We may not have been able to stop the abuse but we do have the power to determine how that abuse defines us. Personally, I am enjoying the hell out of being a terrible daughter.