Sunday, May 5, 2013

Changed Perspective on Forgiveness

Giving and receiving true forgiveness is essential if you want to find positive relationships and stay away from harmful relationships. Abuse by its very nature, doesn't include a life-giving version of forgiveness. It is either missing entirely or is warped.

In the years of living in abusive situations, I knew forgiveness was important but I didn’t know what it looked like. I watched one parent hold onto bitterness and hatred. A person became bad in her eyes forever.  And the worst offense another could commit was to set a boundary or to be critical of the abuser that she had married. The abuser was “good” and everyone else, including herself, could easily be thrown into the “bad” column of her mind. “Bad” people deserved punishment and withdrawal of support and love.

I watched my other parent, the one who often became emotionally or sexually abusive, never apologize for anything—no matter how violating or outrageous his behavior had been. He came across as believing that he was always right and that everyone else had problems that he alone knew how to correct. He was the king who put up with all the little people who were weak, being less good, less knowledgeable, and less smart than himself. No one was excluded, everyone, except himself, qualified for being one of the lesser people.

In my first marriage, I lived with an abuser who rarely apologized and when he did it was convoluted. His apologies always turned out to be an apology that I misread his actions or words. He never admitted or apologized for his words and actions. When he "forgave" me, he put me in my place and controlled me. When I tried to extend forgiveness to him for the abuse, he interpretated as a green light to continue abusing in the future.

With each of these people, I believed that they expected more of me than I could ever deliver. I didn't feel understood or cherished. I didn't feel safe. I responded to my environment by trying harder and harder to be perfect. I desperately wanted to be good enough, but could never get there. An impossible goal, that ate away at any sense that I was worth being valued or respected or forgiven. When these people "forgave" me, I felt inferior, shamed, and alone. 

After, I left my abuser my understanding of forgiveness changed. I learned from the Bible that God forgave all my wrongs out of his love for me. He forgives and embraces us with his love and care. I learned that God wants me to forgive others when they harm me. I’m urged not to reserve forgiveness for only those whom I like, but to forgive my enemies as well. This forgiveness doesn’t come out of being a great person of superior character, it is a loving act that my God has modeled for me--and that He gives me the love and power to pass on to others. 

I have learned through experience that true forgiveness isn't about pretending that no harm was done. When I fully forgive, I have fully acknowledged and felt all the pain the other initiated with his/her harmful behavior. True forgiveness acknowledges the emotional pain, and yet chooses to let go of seeking any revenge or payback. When I am forgiving abuse, I also need to let go of my perceived right to resent the other person or to hold myself hostage to any self-abusive reasoning that tries to excuse or deny or take the blame for the other's behavior.

And, the best and hardest thing for an abused person to believe, true forgiveness doesn't require that we re-submit to more abuse. It doesn't embrace a victim mentality. We can forgive past abuse and keep ourselves safe from future abuse. If the abuser never shows that he/she has changed, we don't need to give him/her more opportunities to abuse us. It takes time and effort to believe that we really can say no to abuse because it is the opposite of the victim ideas that we adopt to survive under abuse. Our highly developed sense of guilt and shame work against us in our early attempts to forgive and to set healthy boundaries to step out of the abuser's reach.

I now give forgiveness in healthy relationships with people. When I  consciously forgiven others for hurting me, I experience humble awareness of my own lack of perfection and gratefulness for God’s love. The giving of forgiveness lifts away my judgemental attitude. I find myself loving the other more than I did before.

When I feel I have done wrong, I feel free to apologize to the other and to forgive myself. I receive God’s forgiveness every time. When the person I’ve hurt also extends grace-filled forgiveness, I feel humility and joy, empowering me to make any adjustments to my thoughts and behavior. I feel accepted and loved. I am grateful. I am inspired to keep forgiving others and inspired to understand myself and others better. I am inspired to freely give grace. I feel more connected to God and to the rest of the human race. It's radically different than how I was trained as a child--it's much more fruitful and life-giving.

How is your journey of learning about forgiveness coming along?


Anonymous said...

This is so very well written and obviously from the heart. I really appreciate you sharing it - and can totally relate to your experiences. It sounds like you've come a long way and experienced a lot of healing. Awesome! God Bless you.

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Thank you for your comments and encouragement, anonymous reader. You have blessed me today. Part of our healing from abuse comes from realizing that we aren't alone and that we can share our true feelings and thoughts.

With God's help, I have experienced amazing healing--it's been a long journey but extremely rewarding. May God continue to bless you on your own healing journey.

Recommended Books

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