One of the common themes through many of the spiritual and religious texts is the idea of forgiveness. The Christians talk about turning the other cheek and New Age and self development leaders have turned into some sacred rite of passage. They teach that only when we forgive those that hurt us can we be whole; that only when we are able to love our abusers unconditionally are we enlightened.
The problem is, you rarely see any information on how to forgive. It’s almost as if learning to forgive the person that took the last biscuit is enough to help you forgive someone who has wounded you deeply.
I know I’ve mentioned it a few times but last year I started on a journey to heal my abusive past. I thought that simply being validated would be enough and I would be able to move on. What I didn’t realise what that I had to re-write some fairly deeply held beliefs about “the way life works”.
We choose what happens to us…
In New Age circles, particularly those that believe in reincarnation, there is the understanding that between incarnations we choose the lessons we need to learn the next time around. Our higher-selves lay out a number of challenging scenarios that will help us grow and progress and as we work through them the lessons are learnt. If we fail to learn it comes around again only this time it’s harsher and we learn or fall.
This is great because it gives us a reason for the bad things that happen, but what it also does is lead us in the wrong direction in how to grow and heal once it has happened.
You see, at the core of this belief is that whatever happens, we chose it, it’s our fault. We take the blame for abuse experienced because we believe that it happened to help us grow.
We must find a way to forgive…
Add the belief that we need to forgive and we expect to go from abuse, to acceptance, to forgiveness. And this is what I did, for 20 years. And the abuses still haunted me.
I had recognised that my first abuser had had a terrible childhood. At the age when I was with him he was very much a product of his awful upbringing. I had taken this on board, understood that he could have done no different in the moment and supposedly forgiven him. But in the process I had laid the blame at my own feet.
I went on to learn that the reason it happened was because I hadn’t been taught to have healthy boundaries when I grew up. I hadn’t learnt that I could say no and I hadn’t stopped it. I worked to forgive my parents because in reality they did little wrong. I know my father tried to teach me to be strong and brave, I took it all the wrong way and ended up weak and submissive. Once again, the fault was mine.
I hadn’t realised it but I had managed to take all the blame from outside and pile it on myself. I was weak, I was stupid, I could have stopped it, I could have walked away. Other victims of abuse will recognise these admonishments, we repeat them over and over like a stick that we beat ourselves with.
The crucial forgiveness that was missing was forgiving myself.
I was a victim….
This is where the third piece of the puzzle comes in; we are taught to be survivors, not victims. To be a victim is to be weak. It is to allow this person to have won, and once that happens we are lost, or so they say. Again I wanted to jump straight to survivor and not go through the process of healing. I wanted to walk away, head held high stating “that didn’t hurt”, but in doing so I had let myself down again. All I had done was put a sticking plaster over the emotional wounds and allowed them to fester.
In counselling I realised that I had to acknowledge that I was a victim. It wasn’t enough to have my feelings validated back to me, I had to accept that I wasn’t to blame, that this wasn’t my fault.
The realisation came….. I was a victim!
All the feelings tied to that word came crashing down around me and I lived for a while as a victim. I held onto the pain I had pushed away, I saw how it coloured my choices and self image.
These were dark days, but then, as the weeks and sessions passed I realised that I didn’t have to stay the victim, I just had to feel it, own it, live it, then move through it, finally to Survivor. I wasn’t a survivor before, I was still wounded and limping through life, blaming the things that went wrong on my failures and circumstance.
I wasn’t to blame. Bad people had done bad things to me and it wasn’t my fault.
It’s hard to explain the shift that happened when I truly took that on board and forgave myself. It left me uncertain as to how this all fitted in with what my spiritual teachers had led me to believe, but I knew that however it came together it would be from a place of self compassion and healing.
A reevaluation of my truth….
I realise now that yes, we do choose these things but it’s not so that we can simply jump straight to forgiving our abusers, it’s so we can learn to love and forgive ourselves first. The learning doesn’t happen when we are healed, it happens while we heal.
I don’t know if I will ever forgive those two people from my past, I’m a long way off from that. I don’t want to jump straight into the trap of making excuses for their behaviour so I can cut to the forgiveness. Maybe I have to finally accept that there are bad people in the world, I don’t know. Maybe this is for another blog in a number of years. But for now, the feeling of compassion I have for myself is enough.
The emotional scars of those times remain, but the way I feel about the memories has subtly shifted. No more admonishments, only love. In time I will find a way to move forward with this aspect of my growth, but for now, this is enough.
For there to be forgiveness, there has to be blame…
I will leave you with one more thought…. how are we ever to forgive if we are not allowed to blame the perpetrator? We can’t take all the blame on ourselves and forgive them, this isn’t how this works.
Find a way to forgive yourself of something today, lean into that feeling, see how freeing it feels.