Remember that relationship that I said imploded in ’16?
I started seeing a therapist in January, and in April I was told I had been emotionally abused (I had figured this was the case earlier, which was one factor in prompting me to seek out help to begin with). It explained a lot about why I still hadn’t gotten over things, why I had to force myself to eat, and why 2016 and roughly half of 2017 have felt generally like a pall had set over me. It explains why, for the most part last year, I felt like I had to pretend to be happy when I really wasn’t. It explains why I was just so tired.
I’m still in the healing process; I can tell you that I am feeling much better than I was this time last year, and that as more time passes, I am feeling closer to myself again. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be the same level of happy or content that I was before all this fuckery happened, but I can enjoy things again, and thanks to therapy I know where I need to improve (boundaries) and enough to at least know, on an emotional level, that despite what others may say, the fault lies strictly with my abuser, not me.
That said, one thing that’s a real bee in my bonnet these days is the notion that in order to heal properly, I have to forgive my abuser. That it’s not for him, but for me. That if I don’t forgive him, I’m going to be forever stuck in the past. That I’m “not there yet” or I risk being forever bitter and God forbid, angry, and forgiveness is liberating, supposedly.
I also have seen that forgiveness isn’t letting the bad guy off the hook, or absolving him of his offenses, but letting go of the negative emotions toward him.
Well, too bad. I refuse to forgive my abuser.
I refuse the notion that anger in and of itself is a “bad” emotion to have. I’m not saying it’s good to be consumed by it. I don’t want to be a burning ash heap of rage and disappointment, as Sam says in GLOW. But at the same time, I think there’s always going to be some anger toward this asshole for what he’s done, even if it’s a small candle flame instead of a raging wildfire. It may even turn from a flame to a small icicle, but I don’t think it will ever be gone, and frankly, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That flame/icicle reminds me that I didn’t deserve this. It reminds me that I’m not the worthless non-human I was made out to be. It reminds me that common courtesy and respect from those who claim to love and/or care for me is the baseline, and that I can’t accept anything less.
And frankly, the thought of forgiving my abuser is not a liberating one. Forgiving him kept me in the cycle. Forgiving him was what ultimately led to being used as an emotional punching bag and a scapegoat. Forgiving him for this, ultimately, is keeping me in the misery prison, and a reminder that at the end of the day, my emotions don’t matter so much, that what happened wasn’t so bad, and oh, your feelings about this need to be extinguished because otherwise you’ll be miserable forever. This leads to way more emotional labor on my part, and I don’t owe him precious energy that I’d rather have for myself.
I also think that hey, maybe it’s normal, or at least quite understandable that when people treat you poorly, you’re angry, hurt, or disappointed about it. I don’t see how pressuring people to let go of those emotions before they’re ready, or to smooth things over, is supposed to help them.
I’ve gone without forgiving people before in the past, and contrary to what the forgiveness-pushers say, I’m not stuck in that point in time. I rarely think about them, even. Not forgiving them hasn’t interfered at all with my ability to enjoy things and be happy. In fact, I think the way I handle them is the same way as the ones who say “forgiving them you don’t have to talk to them again or let them back in your lives” except, well, I don’t do the forgiving part. I don’t feel at all bitter from omitting forgiveness. It’s mellowed to a matter-of-fact “this is how they are, and I will have none of it from now on.” Quite peaceful and accepting, if you ask me.
In any case, I owe my abuser nothing. Not even my forgiveness. Not that he’d know what to do with it anyway, or appreciate it for what it was–certainly the few times I forgave him and stuck around bore that out. (Also, spare me the lectures about how my abuser is also a human being and how I need to consider the shit he’s been through, and how I lack empathy if I don’t. I did. I have. It’s one of the reasons I stayed. Happy?)
Now, if you want to forgive your abuser, or feel that it would be instrumental to your healing, you have my full support. If it would truly make you feel as free and light as they say it does, then you should do it. Where I bristle is when forgiveness is touted as mandatory for every abuse victim/survivor, despite the fact that every healing journey is individual, and also in the face of mounting evidence that there are cases where the notion of forgiveness hurts more than helps. (Like mine.)
And for those who don’t want to forgive their abusers and feel ashamed of that refusal? I’m here for you. There is no shame in refusing to forgive those who harmed us, no need to exonerate their cruelty, no need to pretend your pain is gone. There is self-love in that, even, realizing that it was undeserved and that the abusers are the ones who should feel guilty. And self-love in deciding to prioritize your feelings over theirs.
You are not bitter, or healing the wrong way, just because you decide not to forgive those who hurt you. You are trying your best in a world that treats abuse victims terribly, and I am so proud of you for it. And if you’d like, maybe you could find some forgiveness, for yourself.
(Note: any comments that ask me to reconsider my stance on forgiveness or tell me that I’m using the wrong definition will not be let through. I have spent the summer up till now grappling with this, and I’m not going to let anybody sway me.)