Forgiveness. That noble condition of the human mind which allows us to reconcile our past pains with our survival instinct. Some believe forgiveness brings us closer to the divine by allowing us the opportunity to rise above those who have hurt us. Others think of it as a way to absolve ourselves from pain and trauma.
Me? I’m a grudge bearer. I’m not exactly proud of this. I believe that forgiveness is an admirable ability. But it’s pointless to try to pretend away a quality of mine which is so very obviously real. Betrayal embitters me. Even small slights, those I can eventually forgive, keep their teeth in me much longer than for most.
When I was in grad school, a roommate, driven by weird jealousy and social isolation, made a false accusation against me. Nothing came of it. It didn’t leave a mark on my record, and nobody believed her; what she did was petty and stupid and everyone knew it, but I was furious. I raged at her. I called her a “cunt” to her face even though I am a feminist. It was vengeance, pure and simple; even if only vengeance enacted as cruel language and glaring. My husband once told me that if I could forgive Betsy, the roommate, I could probably obtain enlightenment.
The Forgiveness Conundrum
Why I Can’t Forgive My Abuser Even Though I Know I Should
I don’t have any claims on enlightenment, but I suppose I have come to forgive Betsy. I don’t think that what she did was okay, mature, or reasonable in any sense. I still see red a little when I think back to how things could have gone, if people had believed her. There is no way I’ll ever trust her in this lifetime, but I no longer wish evil things for her. If I ran into her, I wouldn’t call her a cunt. I suppose that’s forgiveness.
It took me almost four years to forgive this woman for something that affected my life very little when it occurred, and ultimately not at all. Imagine, then, how hard it is for me to forgive someone whose actions still affect my life everyday.
I know I should forgive my abuser. I’ve read all the quotes and platitudes…”forgiveness is divine;” “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies;” “forgiveness is about relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim.” I know that my heart would be freer, my happiness more available, if I could forgive this man.
And not just The Ex, but also my father, who accused me of “scamming” him when I told him about the time I was almost raped; or my mother, who has been trying to unburden herself of my emotions since I was fourteen; or my aunts, who blamed me for staying. I know that all of my resentment is a fucking poison shutting down my life supports one by one. I know I’d be better forgiving.
I thought about not posting this today. It’s on my blog calendar; one of the many steps I’ve taken toward getting my life and mind more organized, but switching it with another post would be an easy adjustment. The reason I considered not posting it is because my ex and his new lawyer are trying to use my blog, and the fact that I discuss my difficulties and triumphs while healing from abuse, to paint me as an obsessive, conflict-prone woman. It’s a bully’s tactic, and I can’t let bullies take my healing outlet away. Not all posts are about my abuser, but due to the current circumstances, forgiveness is a heavy thought on my mind.
The heart is a stubborn beast and mine is more stubborn than most. Given everything I am currently facing, forgiveness would be a balm for my anxiety. I’m trying to teach myself to forgive. I’m trying to talk my heart into feeling differently. These are the arguments I’m using:
Determinism and the Case for Forgiveness
I was first introduced to determinism by my middle school boyfriend. When he told me about it, I laughed it off. I shot it to shreds. It was abhorrent to my freedom coveting, budding-teenage mind.
Determinism is the belief that everything is predetermined. There is theological determinism, which is based on the Abrahamic God and states that if God is Omniscient, then all things are known. If all things are known, there is no freedom of will. Hence: determinism. We all live our lives trapped by God’s foreknowledge of our actions.
I don’t believe in theological determinism because I don’t believe in that God, but now that I am older and less attached to the idea of my own freedom, I do believe in scientific determinism. Essentially, scientific determinism is the hypothesis that because everything has a traceable cause and effect, we are not actually free to determine our own actions. Everything we think, say, do, or even feel can be attributed to something (or, to be more accurate, an accumulation of somethings) which came before it, and that also can be attributed to a past causation, which can be attributed to a past causation and…you get the picture. We are, according to determinism, organic machines. Human robots. Frankly, studies of human development support the idea that we are biological robots. If you stop to think about it, so does common sense.
The case for forgiveness as according to determinism should be clear. If we are simply biological robots enacting effects in reaction to a series of causations that date back to before our own births, how can we be held accountable for our mistakes? And if a person can’t be held accountable for his mistakes, how can be not be forgiven them?
I am an Imperfect Being
Does it shock you? It’s true! I am flawed! I have gross, jealous desires. I feel lust, and not only for my husband (gasp). My motivations are sometimes selfish. I act in anger…often. My mind has been injured to the point that I have a mental illness. Because of my mental illness, the result of unfair trauma, I expect a measure of compassion, kindness, and leniency. Even forgiveness.
If I expect forgiveness, how can I not grant forgiveness? I mean, I haven’t beaten or raped numerous vulnerable people. I’ve never kicked a dog just for being in my way, or held a child hostage in a motel or garage. But theoretically, the logic works.
We are all just flawed people, acting in our animal ways and pretending, haughty and human as we are, that we are more than animals. In the end though, we all make mistakes, and we all rely on forgiveness to move forward in our lives.
My ex, The Ex, is a sociopath. I truly believe that. Not just believe it. I know it. He has evidenced it to me enough times, even now during these court proceedings. Psychopathy. Sociopath. Antisocial Personality Disorder. It’s a mental illness. It’s out of his control. If I expect empathy for my PTSD; if I expect forgiveness for the angry outbursts that result from my PTSD, does he not also deserve empathy and forgiveness for his total lack of caring about the feelings of any person besides himself? After all, that is a symptom of his mental illness.
We’re All Just a Bunch of Hurting People Hurting People
I really believe that. I believe that all people who hurt other people are hurt themselves. And all people hurt other people.
The junkie who stole my money is just an aching man acting on an impulse he can’t control. My three-year-old daughter’s bully at daycare is mirroring the behavior she experiences at home. The well dressed man at the store who rudely moans that I’m holding up the line with my WIC checks doesn’t know anything different than wealth and the belief that poor people are lazy leeches.
When we view humanity through this lens, through the lens of empathic compassion, it becomes hard not invite forgiveness into our hearts.
So Why Not?
Given all this, why am I still so stingy with forgiveness? Why, when I know better?
Truth is, I’m beginning to understand that there is a difference between forgiving someone and trusting them.
Maybe I can forgive my dad, without allowing him back into my life to hurt me again. He is just a bumbling old man, made foolish by selfishness and pride. Too blinded by his self-professed liberalism to see he’s a bigot. Just a human, after all. And a good grandfather to my son. Maybe he I can forgive.
My mom may not be the mom I need, but she is the caretaker my son needs, and that is huge. I will always live with a pebble lodged in my heart, a forever-bruise in the place where my mom pulled her love from me, but I watch her with my son, and I see the good life he has, and I see the strict schedule she keeps for his benefit, and these are good things. Maybe she I can forgive.
My aunts, I can forgive them too.
But not The Ex. Not him. Not the man who derailed my life. Who set out to use me and hurt me when I was only a child. Who is plotting to hurt and control me now. I can’t forgive the man who is endangering my son.
-Even though we are all robots, we also all function under the guise of free will. Whether it’s real or not, we play that game twenty four hours a day, every day. Choice and free-will are the rules by which we play. And in the world of that game, he made his choices. He deserves no absolution.
-Even though he is sociopath, who doesn’t have a moral compass or emotions which can guide him to behave well, other sociopaths make names for themselves, or become cunning businessmen, or just live quiet lives of pleasure or even of pain. Whatever. They don’t all do the things he did. Lacking compassion does not drive you to violence. His violence is his and his alone.
-Even if he was abused or traumatized in some way, so was I. My husband was traumatized. Many, many people I know and love have undergone severe traumas. They don’t rape. They don’t abuse. They don’t beat and kidnap and torture both physically and emotionally. Those acts were his choices; no amount of abuse forces an adult person to behave that way.
For a while, I stopped wishing harm on him. I had no plans to try to get him arrested again. No intentions to seek him out and meddle with his life. Even when I heard he was dating a woman with thirteen and sixteen year old daughters. I knew there was a good chance he was doing something terrible, but I had no evidence so I left him alone. It was the closest to forgiveness I got.
And look where it got me. Re-traumatized, near death twice, experiencing symptoms I had thought healed years ago, being forced to compromise my son’s safety because he wouldn’t leave me alone.
I know I should forgive my abuser. Not because he deserves it-he doesn’t. Not because it would be healthy for my son to see him-it wouldn’t; I have no evidence to believe he has changed or is safe. I should forgive him because I deserve it. I deserve to feel better. I deserve to heal and move on from the toxicity of spite and anger and grief over the life he robbed from me. But how??
How do I forgive this person? Even with everything I understand? Even given my much expanded capacity for compassion? Knowing that not forgiving him is more poisonous to myself than to him…still…I can’t bring myself to that feeling. Tell me, if you know, if you would forgive him in my shoes, how?
Teach me to forgive a man with no apologies in his soul.