I’ve ranted and written many times on the issue of forgiveness. Forgiveness was so rammed down my throat over the years by my abusers as well as by many who never knew my abusers but who, the moment I say I’d been abused respond “have you forgiven your abusers? You must forgive them.” When I’ve query that I’ve been labelled as rebellious and had it said to me “no one can help you unless you forgive”. Then “well, you need to forgive yourself then.” ???????? The abuse was done to me, I do not need to forgive myself for anything and do not buy into that at all.
I’ve written several times exploring the issue of forgiveness in relation to abuse, non repentant abusers and healing from the effects of abuse. I have really wrestled with this issue wanting to come to a workable solution and way through the maze presented when the people who abused me do not even acknowledge anything was wrong unless I accept that I am the one at fault.
It is very hard to forgive when there is no acknowledgement of wrong or of damage having been caused. I have over the last few months come to an understanding about forgiveness which is different to the concept that was presented to me by churches and by many Christians. The pseudo forgiveness concept that I was taught and had rammed down me in those contexts did not did into account or address the issues faced by abuse survivors who have to deal with their abusers denying anything ever happened. Real forgiveness is not possible in those situations.
With no acknowledgement of what happened, never mind an apology request for forgiveness there is very little that can be done. The survivor has to work through the issues that paradigm presents as well as deal with the effects of the abuse.
Real forgiveness is not possible when your abusers don’t even recognise or admit anything was wrong, or if anything was wrong the fault was with me not them. Where people do not recognise any wrong forgiveness is not possible. Where people do not recognise or acknowledge the damage done to you forgiveness is not possible. Where people do not seek forgiveness, it is not possible. Forgiveness is not always possible.
Forgiveness for me where I’m at, at the moment, is about letting go of the anger, rage, desire for revenge and so on that I have about what they did and getting my life back in some way. I believe you can forgive things done to you. But I also believe there are many things which are unforgivable, they are so awful and so horrific. As for forgiving a person I believe only God can truly do that.
As I’ve discussed this issue with other survivors it’s become clear that it is very rare for abusers to admit abuse ever happened, and even rarer for abusers to apologise or request forgiveness.
Networking with abusers and realising I’m not alone in my experiences has helped put a dent into my isolation and helped me process my thoughts and beliefs about forgiveness.
While forgiveness is an issue that all survivors have to face there are unique issues that an abuse survivor who is a Christian has to face. The biggest of all - “have you forgiven?” - “you must forgive your abusers” - “you must forgive yourself”. These all come from the mouths of Christians the moment you take the risk and disclose you are an abuse survivor.
Such statements cause enormous pain and confusion to all survivors who have to cope with hearing them. No-one tells you HOW to forgive, just that you must and you are at fault if you won’t, can’t or haven’t. Such banal and simplistic statements pile huge weight of expectation. Sometimes the statements are made to silence you because there is no further discussion of the subject beyond those bland words.
Such statements are trite in the extreme and expose how many Christians and churches (a) are ignorant of the dynamics of abuse and the damage it does to survivors (b) are brainwashed into the forgiveness paradigm without actually really thinking it through (c) use the forgiveness issue to judge and control others in the guise of religious advice (d) use the forgiveness word to shut you up.
It has caused me no end of hurt, pain and confusion. As a result I see forgiveness as an immensely personal thing. It has nothing to do with another human being whether you’ve forgiven someone or not.
I had come to the conclusion that when it comes to non-repentant abusers who deny anything ever happened forgiveness is not even a relevant topic for survivors.
At that point I came across a very helpful article entitled “On Apologies and Forgiveness”. It is written by Kelly Clark, A Child Sex Abuse Attorney based in Portland, Oregon, USA. It was really helpful to read this topic being explored from the angle of an experienced Child Sex Abuse lawyer.
In the end I decided it was so good that I would share it here. Below are short excerpts from the article.
“I get asked quite often by people what is the role of apology and forgiveness in the work that I do. Well, the short answer is: not much. As a child sex abuse attorney having represented over 300 men, women and children who suffered child sexual abuse, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have witnessed a genuine apology and a request for forgiveness. I just haven’t seen it, with but a few exceptions.
I have read and thought a lot about apologies and forgiveness. So, in this and forthcoming blogs,I plan to reflect with you on the nature of apology and forgiveness.
We have all seen the pseudo-apology: "I’m sorry this happened to you." "I regret that you feel something I did– or did not do–caused you pain." "We regret your experience." These are not apologies and requests for forgiveness.
Not only the Catholic Church, but also the Boy Scouts, the Mormon Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, governments and schools: I have seen all of them give short shrift to the apology and request for forgiveness that is so crucial to healing for survivors of child abuse.
A true apology and request for forgiveness starts with an unconditional acknowledgment– yes, even confession– of wrongdoing. "I was, we were, wrong. Our actions were selfish and wrong. There is no excuse. We are deeply sorry and offer our sincere and unconditional apology. We humbly ask your forgiveness." Anything less has some other purpose, and is not an apology.
Those who have harmed children, and those in whose names others have harmed children – churches, Scouts, youth organizations– have such an opportunity to foster healing for survivors of abuse. It is a shame – literally, a shame – that they do not more often practice the grace of genuine apology.”
The entire article can be read at