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Forgiveness & Abuse

I've written rather extensively about things of a rather personal nature in the past in order to offer people an example of some of the processes available to those who have suffered from some sort of trauma. I'm no expert or psychologist, all I've been able to offer is a sample of the things I've experienced and the protocols that have been employed by my doctors to help me deal with how the past continued to impact on my present in order to give me a better future. Some of them had to do with finding more appropriate means of expressing my emotions, others dealing with behaviour that might have been appropriate for survival but that could now be discarded, and others helped me in assimilating the events of the past so they wouldn't live on in my mind and my emotions.

While it's been a long slow process to deal with the crap that had accumulated; there were times I had assumed I was done only to find more buried away which required excising; after being in therapy on and for fifteen years I can finally see that I'm getting to the point where I'm capable of coping on my own. The emotional scarring and wounding may never heal completely, but I have reached a point where I'm no longer controlled by events that occurred when I was a child. Ironically the length of time it's taken to get to this point is roughly equivalent to the length of time the abuse lasted in the first place.

Now in spite of what you might have seen and heard on various day time talk shows specializing in the dissecting of people's emotions for the enjoyment of their audiences, or that believe themselves capable of dispensing the wisdom to heal everybody of what ails them, there are no cut and dried happy endings to this type of thing. While time isn't going to be able to heal all wounds, it's only through time's passage that you're going to get relief from their pain. There's no magic formulae that will speed up the process of recovery, nor is there any one method that will solve all of your problems. Anyone who says that they have discovered a system that will "cure" you is deluded at best, or at worst a liar.

Sure there are all sorts of panaceas that can make you feel better about yourself for a moment or two, but there no better than any of the other things that people take to suppress their emotions so they don't feel any pain. There's no difference between what these hucksters are offering and the drugs and booze I used for years to mask my own pain. Reciting some silly mantra, calling upon a guardian angel, or reciting an affirmation about you being worthy of love won't stop flashbacks of the abuse from occurring or help you deal with any underlying behavioural problems caused by the abuse.

However there's something even more misguided and dangerous that occurs on some of these shows. How many times have you seen staged reunions and reconciliations between long estranged family members? Great weepy scenes where people fall into each other's arms forgiving each other for past misdeeds and vowing eternal love for each other. The implication being that if only you can forgive the person who caused you pain, if they would only apologize, everything would be better.

One of the hardest things for the child of abusive parents to deal with is the reality that the happy family society tells us is the norm, was so comprehensively denied them. Most of us spent years trying to figure out what was wrong with us that made our abuser break that promise, only later understanding that it was them, not us, who were the problem. After years of trying to figure out ways of making someone else happy so they would love us, or at least leave us alone; years of being told we were only getting what we deserved; or years of having the love between a parent and child perverted into something awful, the idea of family being a shelter and a haven from the world takes quite a beating.

It's probably difficult for you to imagine what seeing one of those scenes described above feels like to somebody who spent years forgiving their abuser in the hopes tomorrow would be better. Maybe, you would tell yourself, after they apologized for what seemed like the hundredth time, they really mean it this time. Maybe the tears they shed after forcing you to have sex with them are real and they really feel remorse for their actions? Even if as a child you weren't capable of comprehending what it was you were doing exactly, by trying to love them because they were your parent, you were practising a form of forgiveness.

Therefore, the idea that forgiving somebody years later for what they did to us as a child will make things better when they didn't respond to our gestures of forgiveness at the time can't help but seem unrealistic if not stupid. Sure it makes for great television and appeals to everybody's sentimental nature, but it fails to take into account that in order to forgive someone there needs to be some sort of reciprocity of feeling. How can you forgive someone who never showed any remorse for their actions or never took any steps to change their behaviour?

There have been things I've done in my life that I've had to apologize for and I know how hollow some of them were until I was able to change my behaviour sufficiently that my actions suited my words. While there is a school of thought that says unless we learn how to forgive those who have hurt us we will never fully recover from the damage inflicted upon us, it sounds far too much like the same behaviour we practised as children in the hopes of making things better. It still feels like we're not standing up for ourselves and giving the abuser power over us. People can say all they like that forgiveness doesn't mean you condone what somebody did, but quite frankly I'd rather just have the strength to tell them to fuck off out of my life and leave me alone.

As a child I didn't have the power to do that and was forced to do whatever necessary to survive. I no longer have to surrender anything of myself to my abuser and I no longer have to try and make them happy. Asking me, or anyone to forgive their abuser, no matter what shape that forgiveness comes in, would be like asking us to return to being a victim. That's not about to happen anytime soon.

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