Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
Forgiveness is a concept that keeps most of us tied up in a knot. It has me for sure. The struggle is, how do you have boundaries when we are taught to turn the other cheek? Is there a time when enough is enough? When you are allowed to sidestep the need for things to be copacetic? Is there responsibility on the others to make different choices that don’t need to be forgiven?
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have chased the elusive meaning of forgiveness around and around. Trying to lay down something concrete. To be able to say unequivocally, yes I have done that. Everyone is forgiven, move on. Mark that off the list. Not so… I walked away from each teacher, each minister, each priest, unsatisfied. Still feeling discord. They say… let it go.
What does that mean? Does it mean forgetting? Does it mean continually walking back into the same situation?
I read of a yogi saying that true forgiveness can not be achieved until both parties stand in full responsibility for their actions.
Child abuse is like ground hog day. Lots of words. Forgiveness granted. Tomorrow the same action… Played out again and again. As with the battered wife, how many times do you push the same action under the rug before you take action? I don’t think Jesus meant for us to be a door mat. He wasn’t… He found it appropriate, at times, to have his say and take action.
So how to forgive when in your physicality… in the reality of your daily life, nothing has changed? Actions the same. Lots of words are exchanged…lots of hopeful mornings… then comes the disappointment of sameness. How do you walk into a situation knowing that the pretend reality requires you to play that out of sync part yet again? Smiling… playing the game of normalcy. Acting like its perfectly normal. They are there of course… always there. That’s the problem. And these are the expectations… equality between survivor and pedophile… without judgement.
A little different from the indiscretions of normal life… cheating on a spouse. The repeated cheating. The world gives you a pass and says there are certain contracts that when broken, you don’t come back from. Your not expected to invite her to dinner and become her besty. Not even expected to stay with him, in fact most would consider it not wise, and yet… What do you do when the most sacred of boundaries are broken by members of your family? Do you walk away from all of it or do you continue to swallow your pride and keep the status quo?
You see in our families it falls from everyones consciousness that there is a presence among us that hurts children, that has hurt us. Would it be okay if the man were a stranger? Would the lines be drawn a little clearer? Then there is the worry of those who have come after… in our silence. Life goes on, them with the freedom to do more harm. Be quiet. Forget about it. Can’t you just forgive them. These are the words we hear. Lulled into silence the guilt burns. Not arrogant enough to feel you were the only. The only young girl to be touched.
I traveled and meditated with Deepak Chopra. I studied and took classes around the country always with the burning need to finally achieve true forgiveness. Real forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that leaves you feeling only the love for them. Being free of the tangle of emotions. The need to be chosen over them. The need for validation. Validation of my story… as if it mattered. On some level mattered. Respect.
Let it go…
I had many ceremonies. Writing letters to each, explaining the pain, the hurt. My need for respect. Around a fire I read them aloud to the stars… freeing the words from my body. Paper into flames… the written word rises up with the smoke.
The Course of Miracles talks about being tethered to those who have hurt us through the residual anger. I pictured being cuffed to each at the ankles, like in those old jail break movies, only to realize that we each had our own key. I could just take mine off if I wanted and walk away. They had the same choice. They could even walk away with me, side by side. That would be nice. But we were each responsible for our own freedom.
This tether is comprised of the guilt, the pain, and the hurt. I call in what’s mine and send back what is not. What’s not, returns to it rightful owner.
As I stand in the responsibility for my story I lay down my end of the rope and walk away from the eternal game of tug of war. Some think I’m still playing… they just have their rope tangled up somewhere. Others wish I’d join back in.
Relationships come with responsibilities. Those of parent to child the greatest responsibility of all.
Finally at one of my retreats one of the speakers makes the statement that you can love someone deeply and choose not to put yourself in situations where their actions, or lack there of, cause repeated pain. I realized forgiveness on this level is being ok with letting go of everything. Letting go of the picture too. Letting go of what I wished was, and accepting what is. Allowing them their choices. Allowing them to be who they are. Believe what they want to believe. Love who they want to love. Hang out with who they want to hang out with.
Freedom comes with the balance of giving yourself the love and respect that you want and need from others. No one is going to give us what we can’t give ourselves.
With the internal permission to bow out for awhile… With this separation comes the possibility for change. With this space, we have made room for different thought. Nothing can change as long as the scenery stays the same.
The process of true healing begins…