Of all the healing concepts, forgiveness is one of the most complex and sometimes, most misunderstood.
On a basic level, to forgive is to allow that another is human, has made a mistake (sometimes a mistake even you could have made), and to decide to let it go. For when you let it go, it leaves your mind as if it never happened.
This is easy and straightforward for minor infractions, like when your good friend accidentally knocks over your favourite vase, and it’s pretty obvious she’s as upset about it as you are. Accidents happen.
With major incidents, acts of negligence, or abuse, forgiveness is not straightforward. In this case, it is necessary to separate forgiving the person, and condoning the action. Forgiving someone for their major acts of harm in no way shape or form means that you approve, condone or encourage that action, then, now or in the future.
The key here, is that forgiveness is not a tool for the perpetrator, but a tool for the ‘victim’ or the person on the receiving end of the harm. In fact, the other person may never need to know. And this brings me to the point of this article.
In no way does forgiving someone mean you must have a relationship with them, now that you’ve forgiven them.
During a healing course, I was in the throes of learning how to forgive someone in my family for acts of negligence that lead to abuse. I knew my relationship with this person was very toxic, and I had spent years purposely removing them from my life.
It was now time to move forward in my healing, and to find it in my heart to forgive them. But, there was one major problem: I didn’t really want to. I thought that if I forgave this person, I would then have to let them back into my life, which I definitely did NOT want to do.
I felt stuck.
During the healing course, I was partnered with a lovely young woman named “Mary.” She shared her journey of forgiveness that put my conundrum into perspective.
While attending junior high, Mary was bullied by a girl – a girl who was twice her size, and who studied martial arts. One day the bullying went way too far. The bully picked up Mary, and pile-drove her head first into the ground, breaking Mary’s spine, just above her pelvis.
Mary was in the hospital for months. She missed the remained of that year of school, plus the following year. After healing the spinal injury, Mary then spent months relearning how to walk. To this day – almost 15 years later – she still suffers from painful back pain, and other internal maladies because her spine is bent inwards at a most disturbing angle.
For whatever reason, the police were not called. Shockingly, neither the school nor her parents took any action against the bully. Basically, no one stood up for Mary and demanded justice on her behalf. As a child herself, she did not know she could demand justice.
When Mary returned to school, shockingly, the teachers were on the bully’s side. They said it was ‘mean’ of Mary to accuse the bully of breaking her spine, as it was just an accident. The kids, taking the cue from the teachers, shunned Mary. It was a horrible, physically painful, and emotionally isolating experience.
Years later, Mary was still suffering the effects of missing over a year of school, being a social outcast, and dealing with the physical pain. Filled with rage and frustration about the inherent unfairness of what happened to her, Mary decided to press charges. A quick visit to the police station told her she was about 6 months too late, as the statute of limitations had run out. There were no more avenues of recourse.
Except … to forgive her attacker. I give Mary full credit for being able to do this. I don’t know the journey she took to get there, but she made it.
Then came the punchline. She looked me at me and said, “Alisen, I forgave that woman, but it’s not like I’m going to phone her up and hang out with her.”
Wow. That was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. It was possible to forgive, yet still keep that person outside your social world. There was no requisite to befriend them, or even speak to them.
With that knowledge, I’ve spent that last two years slowing forgiving my family member for the various traumas that happened while I was under their care, all the while safe in the knowledge that I do not need to communicate this to them, or have them over to dinner. My family is safe, my heart is clear, and my mind is free.
If it is essential for you to keep your abuser physically separate from you, or if your attacker has passed away, know that it is still possible to forgive them, and in so doing, to free yourself.