The standard panacea unhelpfully offered to those who are struggling with abuse past and present is "forgiveness". It is always assumed that you must "forgive" and all will be healed in your torn up soul. Your emotional wounds will finally close and you'll even be able to invite your abuser over for Christmas dinner next December.
I'm going to make a categoric statement and then attempt to fill out some of my reasoning on the subject.
Emotional health and healing does not reside in your being able to forgive the perp. So just forget about "forgiveness" and follow what I have to say. Test it against your logic and experience and see if I have a point.
Yeah, I know, that seems to go against all conventional wisdom. Christian or secular sources seem to beat the same drum..."you have to forgive in order to be able to move on". Bull. Shit. Conventional wisdom is rarely wise, so let's think this one through without the societal consensus blurring the lines.
When someone abuses you, in some way they have taken something from you. It may be something material like money or property. It may be a physical injury, or emotional abuse that has robbed you of self-respect. When someone deprives you of what is yours they incur a debt to you. Think of the years of abuse by the narcissist in your life as an ongoing theft. If you were not related to the person who habitually stole things from you, you would probably be smart enough to get them out of your life. But things get stickier when it is a family member because society places expectations on us to always remain connected to our blood relations. We long ago succumbed to this expectation. So we "forgive" them which means the abuser/thief has continual access to you to keep re-offending. This kind of forgiveness is destructive to you and enables evil to flourish. There has to be something better.
Real forgiveness is never a one-way street; real forgiveness can only be given if reconciliation and restoration in the relationship are desired by both parties. Forgiveness isn't just about you or your feelings. It is about a relationship between at least two people.
Forgiveness is the transaction that allows for restoration. On the offender's side there must be confession (admit to their act against you), contrition (show sorrow for what they've done to you) restitution (pay back what they took plus a penalty) and repentance (show solid determination to not re-offend). The person being asked for forgiveness, you, can then offer a large measure of grace if you are convinced of the sincerity of the offender's efforts. When you see these above actions by the person who hurt you, your heart is touched and you will likely offer mercy and reconciliation which usually means you ask them to pay less than is owed you and call it even. True forgiveness is very much like a business transaction. It is a transaction on the material and/or emotional level. In a real way a debt was incurred against you by the misdeed of the other party. The transaction of forgiveness is what allows the books to be set to right again allowing a relationship to be mended. The word "transaction" means that forgiveness can not happen unilaterally. It takes two to dance this tango.
When you give away your forgiveness without the perpetrator going through all four stages (confession, contrition, restitution and repentance) you show that your forgiveness is a false form of it and not something to be desired. Say you approach someone whom you know has injured you, and they deny they ever did it. They adamantly refuse to acknowledge their debt to you. Now lets say you go ahead and tell them that you forgive them anyway. Here is what you have accomplished. You've clearly indicated that you think so little of yourself that you don't really expect that you deserve any restitution when someone takes from you. What you call forgiveness is a cheap imitation. Now you've insured that the perpetrator is actually rewarded for taking from you. He came out ahead!
For instance, if someone steals $50 from you and gets caught, if all he has to do is hand over the $50 of yours that he stole he has no disincentive to try it again because he lost nothing in the transaction. He has actually has more incentive to try again because next time he just might get away with it and he'll be ahead $50. That is why in the restitution phase the perp not only returns what he took, but he should give you another $50 in addition to what he took from you as a penalty. That penalty is a strong disincentive for him to do the same thing again. Stealing was a costly venture for him.
As mentioned before, you may see true contrition and genuine effort to restore what was taken from you on the part of the thief/abuser and decide to forgive part of the debt. That is the reconciliation aspect of forgiveness. Your acceptance of their efforts to make things right is clearly shown by your willingness to forgive part of the debt. In the emotional realm this is even more true because it is impossible for the offender to put everything back to the way it was.
This illustrates an important aspect of the forgiveness transaction: the person forgiven is a recipient of your mercy. This is very humbling. Even though you've forgiven part of the debt, you do so at cost to yourself and therefore you are by default in a position of moral superiority. Not that you feel that way, but the reality is the forgiven party realizes they still owe you in the moral realm even after you've forgiven them...their debt should now be one of gratitude. Can you see why a narcissist has such a problem with the transaction of forgiveness? He has to humble himself in order to receive a true gift of forgiveness. He has to receive your beneficence humbly and gratefully in order for things to be set right. I've already spent some lengthy posts dealing with the narcissistically driven person's inability to apologize. The dynamic of a true forgiveness transaction reveals the reasons why the narcissist will refuse to acknowledge their debt to you. They are not willing to pay the cost to set things right again. It would require they admit to a wrong, show genuine remorse for it, do all in their power to make things right, and determine not to wrong you again. They do not value the relationship enough to incur that cost to their pride. They will do nothing that will admit to your moral superiority. They can not abide by the idea of them needing something from you. They are god. You are beneath them. How dare you think they owe you anything. Narcissists make it impossible for them to receive true forgiveness from you.
Narcissists are notorious cheats in the forgiveness transaction. You may get them to admit that they wronged you, but do not let yourself think that means you now owe them your forgiveness. There are three more steps. They rarely may get to the second part...that of showing what appears to be sorrow for what they've done. But they will lie, cheat and wiggle to avoid the next two very important parts of the forgiveness transaction. Do not be snookered by a cheat. Your gift of forgiveness is valuable and you shouldn't mark down the price to fire sale prices. By the way, your forgiveness is never owed to anyone. True forgiveness is always a gift. A gift must be freely offered. Extortion is not a way to legitimately gain it. If you don't want to give it, that is your choice. You must be satisfied that the person who wronged you is serious in their efforts to rectify their wrong. If you are not satisfied, you do not owe them your forgiveness. As soon as someone says you owe them forgiveness you have absolute proof that person is not genuinely repentant. Or you have a nosy holier-than-thou persecuting you from the sidelines. Either way, don't cow to the pressure.
So here you are. All alone with your anger and distress with no hope of restoration of a relationship because the narcissist refuses to engage in the transaction of forgiveness. Where does that leave you? What next? If a gift of true forgiveness can't be given what are you left with? Where the hell do you find some peace of mind? I am sure that it varies from person to person, but I think there are some basic things that must happen for us to find that quiet place in our minds so the past abuses of the narcissist don't continue to ruin our lives.
We've all heard the phrase "coming to terms" with something. Have you thought about what that means? When we "come to terms" it means we have found a name for a thing. Naming things enables us to categorize, quantify, qualify and talk about that thing. When you don't have a name for something it usually means you are in a confused state. When you are able to properly and correctly name a thing it becomes possible to know what it is. You have discovered a name for the destruction and evil that has wreaked havoc in your life. It is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People who are dealing with this evil personality are incredibly relieved to find out there is a name for it! That is the process of "coming to terms". You finally have a name for what has been perplexing you and vexing you and sucking the life out of you. Do not minimize the importance of this process in coming to a place of peace in your life. It is an important first step.
Once you have "come to terms" it requires you to make a decision. If forgiveness is not an option because the other party will not participate in the transaction, you are left with two possible decisions. Either you decide that you, your life, and your well-being are of so little importance that you allow the perpetrator to have continual access to you where they can continue to hurt you over and over again at their whim, or you decide that you have the right to remove yourself from a destructive person and minimize the possibility that they can continue to commit crimes against your person because you are a person of value. You can not expect your anger and hurt to dissipate if you choose to remain where this person can continue to abuse you. Removing yourself from (or greatly minimizing) the malignant narcissist's contact is a major component to finding peace in your soul. "Forgiving" a crime in progress will only fuel your anger. How reasonable is it to expect that you can "get over" what has been done to you if you continue allow the same types of abuses to go on? Acknowledge your right and power and responsibility to remove yourself from a person who persists in hurting you, even if that person is family. If you don't value yourself, then who else will? Certainly not the narcissist.
Stop beating yourself up for feeling angry. Emotions and actions are two different things. You are not responsible for feeling angry. The narcissist is. Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Pretending you're not angry when you are is a lie and will not benefit you in the long run. How you choose to act is your responsibility. I recommend constructive uses for anger. Anger is just an emotion; you don't need to be afraid of it. You need to realize it is telling you that something is wrong. When something is wrong we need to bend our abilities and resources to fixing the problem. You can't fix the narcissist, so don't even go there. You can change your circumstances. Use your anger to motivate you to make the necessary changes to protect yourself. Use your anger as motivation to help others in whatever way your talent and experience enable you to. Helping others can go a very long way toward helping you find peace of mind, purpose and meaning for your life. Even volunteering to help orphaned or injured critters is a form of helping others.
It is important that good people not participate in encouraging and enabling evil to prosper by giving out cheap forgiveness. Forgiveness isn't about giving you peace of mind; it is about restoring a broken relationship. If that restoration is not actively sought by both parties then forgiveness isn't even on the table.
You can find peace of mind and equanimity all by yourself. You don't have to depend on the other person acting in a certain way before you can allow yourself to find that peace. This is good news.
If you feel like you can't find peace unless and until the perp straightens up and flies right then you've just made your happiness dependent on the crook! That isn't even rational. You can "come to terms" with what has happened to you and then take decided measures to make sure you don't continue to be a victim. When you remove yourself from being a perpetual victim you will feel stronger and will earn some self-respect. Self-respect is a major ingredient of happiness and peace.
Frankly, I hope you never lose all your rage at what has been done to you. By that, I'm not saying I want you to live day to day and moment by moment in your anger and rage. But I do want you to keep some of your outrage at the unconfessed crimes against you. Why? Because this is what enables you to 1) stay away from the evil that is so harmful to your body and soul 2) it gives you empathy for others and the desire to help other victims of this type of evil 3) prevents you from giving aid and comfort to evil people in the future. I do not live my life in a state of anger, but when I describe narcissism on this blog I do feel anger at what they do as I mentally review how it feels to be abused by these monsters. The anger motivates me to express myself on this blog so you too can understand what you've been dealing with. My residual anger is constructive to my life and others lives, not destructive. When I'm not writing on this blog I'm living a happy, productive and peace-filled existence. I am surrounded by emotionally healthy, productive and loving people. My life is very good. I have found a peace-filled existence with lots of happy moments because I have had the courage to face my abusers and then give them the boot. I have gained a lot of self-respect because I've had the strength to stand up to the evil that terrorized me for decades and then left evil to rot in its own hell. I don't give a flying crap what the narcissists or their sympathizers think of me. I am truly free. You can be too. When I'm not blogging I barely think about my family narcissists. It took time to get to this place, but it not eons. Only a few years. Once I was no longer in any communication with them I found that I didn't have to think about them hardly at all. They don't deserve any more of my life. But I've digressed...
So, the question isn't even about forgiveness. You can not forgive an ongoing crime. The narcissist has refused to stop what they do, therefore it is a crime in progress. It is senseless to think you can forgive such an individual. To pretend that you can forgive an unrepentant perp who has no intention of stopping their life of crime will only guarantee them continued access to abuse and use you. Which means you will never find relief from the anger they continually stir up in your heart, and you will actually encourage them to continue in their evil ways. Cheap forgiveness perpetuates evil. Some may pass out cheap forgiveness thinking it means they are a "good person". Well, to thinking individuals like me, you are not a good person when you do this. You are part of the problem.
The concept of forgiveness is an important one to clearly understand. I think this concept is so important that you shouldn't even tell yourself in the privacy of your own head that you "forgive" someone for their past abuse of you. It sets you up to try to pretend something is okay when it isn't. It makes it likely that you'll start lying to yourself about how you really feel. I know this doesn't sound right to many of you. We've all heard the preaching about the necessity to at least forgive someone "in our heart". I think that is well-intentioned advice, but is misidentifying what is really going on when we "forgive in our hearts". I will say it again, forgiveness isn't about you personally. It is about a relationship and it works like a transaction. What happens in your own head (if you want to find relief) when you can't give a true gift of forgiveness is acceptance. Don't strive for "forgiving in your heart"; that is not an honest way to get the peace you're looking for. Aim for what you can achieve...acceptance of the truth of what was done to you, acceptance for the fact that restoration of the relationship is impossible, acceptance of what someone else chose. The narcissist has chosen to not receive your gift of forgiveness. Accept that fact and move on. You are searching for peace through acceptance of truth...not through a false or loose definition of forgiveness.
Someone recently wrote to me and described me as "relentless and solid in your unforgiveness". This person was offering that as a compliment and I took it that way. I am glad to hear I come across like that because it is the reality of where my head and heart are at. I refuse to forgive the unrepentant narcissist. In the Bible the unforgiveable sin is the unrepented sin. So, for you Christians, consider the fact that God can not give a gift of forgiveness unless the sinner repents. Neither should you. True forgiveness comes at a cost to the giver...it shouldn't be given away willy nilly. When we do that we are actually making evil more evil because you reward them by letting them get off cheap. I don't think you want to be responsible for that.
You don't have to give out forgiveness like penny candy in order to prove that you are a good person. A truly good person, one who is acting like God does, waits until forgiveness can be received for the gift it is. In the meantime, you can willingly relinquish your right to vengeance. Leave the vengeance part to God who is capable of perfect justice. If you are not a Christian, this principle still applies. If you rule out vengeance as an option you will enable your mind to stop dwelling on the past abuses which fuels your anger. Letting go of the right to mete out justice will allow you to concentrate your mental and emotional energy on healthy pursuits. You will allow yourself to stop turning over those painful memories in your mind and use your mind in ways that will not corrupt your emotions and actions. What we focus our mind on day in and day out is what we eventually turn into. Letting go of vengeance keeps us from becoming like our abusers. It also allows peace an opportunity to grow in your life.
Forgiveness is not even the question when dealing with unrepentant abusers. So drop the word and move on to more constructive concepts. "Coming to terms" with what has happened to you, confronting evil when appropriate, getting yourself out of reach of the abuser, resolving to not plot revenge, helping others as time and ability allow, acceptance of reality...these are some ways you can deal with your anger and allow your mind to rest from the turmoil the narcissist has roiled you with for years. Give yourself time to heal. Replace the bad people in your life with good people. If you can't do that, then find healthy and good pursuits, hobbies, interests, some kind of pet to take care of. You can't evacuate the bad from your life and then neglect to fill it with good things. Bit by bit, peace and healing come...usually when you least expect it.