Forgiveness is Dangerous

I have trouble with the concept of forgiveness. Maybe I don’t understand what it means to forgive. Having been raised Catholic, to me it means to be absolved of sins. Or as the forgiver, to absolve someone else of their sins. But to get forgiveness, you have to be remorseful, to apologize, and to not repeat the act. I’ve known many abusers in my life. And I can tell you that while they may have apologized, they always were repeat offenders.

The first abuser in my life was my father. He verbally abused my mother and his four children, and he physically abused my two brothers. Being the youngest, I escaped the worst of it until my elder siblings had left home. I then became his target. He broke down doors. He hit me. He threw me onto the floor and kicked me. He would later apologize. My mother would force me to accept his apologies. I never accepted them freely. He’s now 82, has Alzheimer’s, and is incapable of abusing anyone. He’s a weak, harmless old man. But he’s still an emotionally and verbally abusive asshole when he can pull it off. And he doesn’t have remorse. Case in point: I was in Canada this summer with Mack. My dad was there. He “joked” several times that I had better do what I was told or he’d beat me like when I was little. Funny guy. Except we all knew he’d done it and he wasn’t speaking in jest. Sometimes at his weakest, most pitiful moments, and there are a lot of those of late, I feel sorry for him. And I imagine what his childhood must have been like with his own alcoholic father and abusive mother. It’s at those times that I feel forgiveness. It’s taken thirty years, but it’s happened. I didn’t force it. It just happened with time. But with some kinds of abuse, I don’t think enough time could ever go by for me to find forgiveness for the abuser.

My brother-in-law was sexually inappropriate (aka, abusive) with me when I was fifteen. He was married to my sister, and he and I were very close. One day when he was teaching me to drive out in the country, he kissed me. A nasty, slobbering, full-on french kiss. I didn’t tell anyone for decades. And then my niece came to live with me. She told me that her father (the same brother-in-law that had abused me) had sexually abused her from about age eight to age sixteen. At sixteen, she got fed up and told a school counselor. Child Protective Services investigated. A protocol was set up to be sure he didn’t do it again. He was not prosecuted. My sister forgave him. Despite being perfectly capable of supporting herself financially, my sister stayed with this man. You see, we learned from my mother that you forgive abusers. You stay with them. No matter how much damage they have done, how much hurt they have caused, you forgive them. You let it go. Shit happens. Accept it. Ignore it. My sister’s choice to forgive her husband, her daughter’s abuser, damaged my niece. She felt her mother had chosen her abuser over her. And she had. That kind of forgiveness is harmful. I learned of this five years ago. I do not forgive my brother-in-law, and I do not forgive my sister for staying with him. Maybe when he is dead and gone and she and I are old, I’ll feel forgiveness for her. But not now. I will never forgive him for what he did. Some things simply are unforgivable. The effects of his acts continue to this day. I hope they stop with my niece’s generation.

And then there’s the latest abuser in my life: Mack. His acts seem almost trivial in comparison. But they weren’t. Emotional abuse does damage to our spirits. Emotional abuse turns strong women into sniveling, apologetic doormats. We can’t afford to forgive emotional abusers. Emotional abusers are manipulative. They prey on our goodness. They count on our forgiveness. And they don’t stop abusing. To forgive an abuser is dangerous.

So how then, do we move on? I think there is a place for forgiveness when recovering from abuse. But the forgiveness is of ourselves. We forgive ourselves for getting, and staying, involved with these men. We forgive ourselves for ignoring the red flags. We forgive ourselves for going back. And eventually, organically, with time, we stop feeling angry. We stop feeling a tightness in our guts when we think of them. We stop feeling that boiling, red fury when we think of the way they treated us. We forgive ourselves for allowing them to treat us this way. But we don’t forgive them. And we don’t forget.

With time, we simply let go.

About Unconfirmed Bachelorette

Unconfirmed Bachelorette, a/k/a Ella, is a 50-something-year-old lawyer who wishes fervently she could retire from the practice of law and write full time. Never-married-childfree Ella resides in Austin, Texas with her three fluffy black rescue cats and two interlopers.
This entry was posted in Abusive Relationships, Breakup, Domestic Violence, Forgiveness, Healing, Letting Go, Love, Manipulation, Mindfucking, Moving On, Relationships, Starting Over and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Forgiveness is Dangerous

  1. I am fortunate not to have experienced what you speak of but I’d guess you won’t ever (and quite rightly so) find it easy to do forgiveness (nor can you easily forget) if ever .. but that maybe the best you can hope for is to find peace, somehow .. *hugs*

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  2. Absolutely wonderfully reasoned and written. Thank you.

    A culture of emotional correctness, pretense, cover ups, and denial has lost another follower.

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  3. Disillusioned says:

    I believe that pretense is bad for your health.

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  4. I am hearing the same dogma from my family “counselors”– It will be ok, forgive and forget. Doesn’t that mean you agree that their abuse is acceptable? They say they weren’t there so how would they know really what happened.. Sorry others are hurting but I’m relieved to read about the experiences and advice of others about these nasty cruel people. How do I do no contact when there is a funeral or other ‘mandatory’ event without being a target again? I doubt they are finished iwth me yet.

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    • No contact. Such a lovely idea. If only it could be done. I wish I were callous and felt no guilt. Life would be so much easier. Forgive and forget? Who ever decided that was the thing to do? It’s not like they borrowed your blouse without returning it.

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    • Human says:

      I read that the Amish people push “forgiveness” really hard. A rape victim is obligated to forgive the rapist(s), and if she doesn’t, she is judged as committing a crime that is much more serious than the assault and rape(s) she has endured. Many non-Amish people seem to operate along similar lines though not to such extremes. The victim is criticized, blamed, commanded, and discouraged from exposing the abuser or from holding him accountable. The abuser is thereby shielded from consequences and can happily continue to cause harm.

      Plenty of people will beat on someone who has been beaten. If anyone tells you what you ‘should’ do, tell them that what they are suggesting may be right for them, but it is up to you to decide what is right for you.

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      • I think forgiveness, depending upon how it is defined, is utter crap. For me, letting go of anger and bitterness is as much as I want to do for myself. I do not forgive him in the traditional (and I’m guessing Amish) sense. And never will.

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  5. Pingback: Kumbaya | Unconfirmed Bachelorette

  6. 18mitzvot says:

    Would you mind if I reblog this?

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  7. 18mitzvot says:

    Reblogged this on 18mitzvot: 4 out of 5 dentists recommend this blog. and commented:
    Excerpt:
    And then there’s the latest abuser in my life: Mack [the narcissist]. His acts seem almost trivial in comparison. But they weren’t. Emotional abuse does damage to our spirits. Emotional abuse turns strong women into sniveling, apologetic doormats. We can’t afford to forgive emotional abusers. Emotional abusers are manipulative. They prey on our goodness. They count on our forgiveness. And they don’t stop abusing. To forgive an abuser is dangerous.

    So how then, do we move on? I think there is a place for forgiveness when recovering from abuse. But the forgiveness is of ourselves. We forgive ourselves for getting, and staying, involved with these men. We forgive ourselves for ignoring the red flags. We forgive ourselves for going back. And eventually, organically, with time, we stop feeling angry. We stop feeling a tightness in our guts when we think of them. We stop feeling that boiling, red fury when we think of the way they treated us. We forgive ourselves for allowing them to treat us this way. But we don’t forgive them. And we don’t forget.

    With time, we simply let go.

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  8. narcopathcrusher says:

    I believe that only people who have been subjected to abuse can understand and relate with the difficulty to forgive. I don’t know how it works for catholics but shouldn’t those who harmed you repent in order for you to forgive them? Or you are obliged to forgive regardless? You already know that i have decided to never forgive any of my abusers so i won’t repeat the same things. But as for forgiving your self…you are absolutely right!

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    • Even if they repent, I still don’t get how some things can be forgiven by the victim. Particularly abuse. I simply don’t think letting go of anger and bitterness requires forgiveness in the traditional sense. I believe you can do one without the other.

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  9. I think that forgiveness is meant for normal people who make normal human errors and are remorseful I found that when I forgave my N, in his mind it meant the slate was wiped clean and he could go out and do it or worse all over again. He used forgiveness as a weapon against me. I was a horrible person to not forgive him. I have always been a very forgiving person and being told I was not forgiving ate away at me. I believe we all make mistakes and at times need to be forgiven but an N is not a normal person. What he does is done with the intent of causing pain. He knows full well what he is doing is going to cause pain and he does it anyway.
    Some times holding a grudge, or not forgiving is the healthiest thing for the victim because it keeps them away from the N, they remember the pain.
    yes we all have to let it go eventually but like you said, I think we have to forgive ourselves and let God forgive the N. I think God will understand why I don’t have forgiveness in my heart and if he doesn’t he will punish me as he sees fit. But if he can forgive my ex for all the pain he caused and not forgive me for not forgiving my ex that seems rather unfair to me.
    I will take my chances.
    My ex used forgiveness to his advantage all the time and I refuse to give him any more of me.; He does not get my forgiveness. I don’t hate him, I just don’t forgive him.

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    • I can relate to what you say here so much. In the days of yore I often let bad behavior go trying to be the bigger person. Trying to take the high road. All it did was invite more abuse. And Ns know how to use our need to be kind, to be good, against us. There is power in anger. And eventually, when you don’t need the anger any more, you let it go. But that’s as far as I go.

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