Saturday, February 09, 2008

Forgiveness, or the Lack Thereof

"Krl" kindly directed my attention to an article that came out of Psychology Today on whether we must forgive in order to be healthy and happy emotionally. I read the article in stunned amazement...happy amazement.

From Must You Forgive?
Adapted from "Forgiving & Not Forgiving: A New Approach to Resolving Intimate Betrayal" (Avon Books, August 1999) by Jeane Safer, Ph.D.

From the political to the personal, Americans are caught in an orgy of forgiveness. Failure to pardon, we're constantly admonished, will blight our lives. Now a psychotherapist counters that popular claim. You can refuse to absolve your lover, spouse, parent, sibling or friend, she declares, and still be emotionally healthy.

I am glad to report that this article resonates and, in some important respects, reiterates what I've written on the topic of forgiveness. I find relief in seeing some clear-eyed analysis of this subject coming from the psych community. Telling people who have been and continue to be abused in close relationships that they must forgive "or else" is very often counter-productive to gaining true peace and a healthy approach to life.

I hope the link to this article doesn't fizzle away any time soon as I would like future readers of this blog to have access to it.

Thanks for the "heads up" on the article krl!


Anonymous said...

I recently read a blog which was ostensibly about recovering from abuse. The author of this blog, a pastor's wife who had left her abusive church, decided, unaccountably, to suddenly confess a list of abuses of members of her congregation. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly be reading that the victim was actually one of the perpetrators.

In this confession, she listed her abuses in detail, and confessed to having done them purely for selfish gain. She spends some time speaking of how bad she feels about herself, and how disgusted she is with what she has done.

At the end of the post, she mitigates this whole confession by saying she is isn't completely bad, she is actually a good, loving, open and honest person who had a good marriage and loved people unconditionally. After that, she asks her victims to forgive her, and urges all her readers to forgive their abusers.

There must have been nearly two dozen comments on this confession, all congratulating the blog author on her courage, honesty and moral rectitude.

I am stunned that someone who has confessed to the sorts of heinous abuses she has admitted to is treated with praise and admiration. She herself has told us all how much of an abusive and immoral person she is, yet the whole thing is passed over in favour of the fact that she actually admitted her sins. Wow!

She urges others to just forgive their abusers, simply because she feels bad about her actions and expects that other abusers eventually will do the same. I found the post, and the blog to be incredibly naieve and dishonouring of all those who had suffered at her hands. She seemed to have no real understanding of her own nature and her blithe recommendation that we all just 'forgive' is pretty darned audacious.

What upsets me even more is that she seems to have been accepted by the general christian blogging community, and they are the ones who are congratulating her for her confession.

Sorry, I'm a bit wound up about this one.

I find it interesting that when I posted a message on forgiveness on my blog, I received a couple of very long comments from readers who found the whole idea of forgiving your abuser to be completely out of the question and they said so with a great deal of emotion. I understand their grief.

Abuse is not a simple issue, nor is it easily dealt with, regardless of how much the abuser would like it to all go away. Its great that an abuser can come to understand what they have done, but that is only the beginning of the story. YOu can't just say, sure, I did it, so you have to just forgive me now and get over it and be nice to me.

Anonymous said...

And thank you for that.

Trying to force people to forgive, or commanding that people who are still being abused forgive their abuser is abuse in itself. One size does not fit all! What happened to freedom of choice?

As I would say to my abuser, "What is it exactly that you want me to forgive? If you have done nothing wrong, there is no need for anyone to forgive you." Only the guilty seek forgiveness; some of them have their agents do it on their behalf (adding cowardice and more manipulation to their rap sheets).

Why is it so shocking that people who have put a great deal of thought and reflection into not forgiving would be expected to have wretched, tortured lives? People who make careful, thoughtful choices are able to reconcile their decisions within themselves.

Making an active choice about how to live is exactly what heals. It is the choice that is the key, not forgiving/unforgiving. Choice equals self-control. Choice equals power.

Cathy said...

Jordie's recounting of the pastor's wife makes me ill. Narcissistic people will use anything as a means to an end. Her seeming self-flagellation by confessing and asking for forgiveness is short lived as she quickly follows up by reinflating her ego. This shows that neither her confession nor asking of forgiveness are genuine.

It's as if she's saying: "See, I took the proper steps. I'm a good Christian. So you are now obligated to forgive me."

What's so sad is how many Christians buy into this. They think because she "followed the rules" and said some nice-sounding things that sound repentant that all is now well.

Notice how she lists all her bad deeds and talks about how it has affected HER and how bad she feels about HERself. And then is quick to follow up with what a good person she really is.

What about the most crucial missing element? This is the part that is always missing with the narcissist. I see no reference made as to how her actions have hurt those that she abused. No showing of any sort of understanding as to how she devastated the precious lives of those who trusted her to be a loving and decent representation of the church. Where's the empathy for those she's abused???

And to top it all off she has the audacity to insinuate that all her readers need to forgive their abusers. This seems to me a maneuver to ease her own conscience.

This sort of crap actually minimizes the suffering of those who have been abused by her.

People who are capable of these sorts of abuses are not capable of changing on a dime as they would have you believe. She's a scary person. I'd stay the hell away from her... not sing her praises.

Anonymous said...

What a great great find!

Stormchild said...

It's about cheap grace.

Abusers want to be rewarded for repentance without ever actually repenting or making any real effort to change.

Phony confessions, crocodile tears, and all of a sudden you're carrying - not only the burden of the injury they have done you - but now, also, a completely inappropriate expectation that you will forgive them for it - when they have done nothing real to attain any genuine forgiveness.

Thus, the demand for forgiveness becomes a further source of abuse.

It's diabolical.

Cathy said...

Well said, stormchild.

It is diabolical.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I forgave my Mother, but it was within me. She hasn't came to me and asked for forgiveness. Heck, she hasn't even admitted to or apologized lol. But my 'act' of forgiving her was going No Contact. I 'gave her to God', thus freeing myself in the process, which I think embodies the whole concept of forgiveness. I can't change her. I can't force her to come to me, and I don't want a fake apology. But I also don't want the pain eating away at me for years and years, sapping my life.

Diabolical is scratching the surface. It's just boggling to me how something so simple to fix, just gets blown out of proportion in every direction and turns out ten times bigger than what it was to begin with...every time lol.

Anonymous said...

Anna, this strikes a sore nerve for me too. For most of the nearly 20 yr marriage, the N spouse would do something wrong, then berate me for not accepting apology quickly enough, for wanting to discuss the problem (I kept saying I was trying to get to root of the problem, so we could understand each other). He even said the problem with our marriage was my inability to accept apologies. But those apologies never improved anything, never seemed to focus on him, just me (how fast I'd accept and praise him), never resolved or changed anthing, and certainly didn't make any amends beyond "sorry" in a demanding tone. I never felt healed or understood, and always ended up feeling bad about myself, and now I understand why. The "apology show" was a perfect free pass to more abuse. So very sad and infuriating, like the entire marriage. "jewel"

Anonymous said...

Leave it to Ns to twist it around to further abuse. It is very frustrating that others buy into this and will push a victim to forgive. It seems a bandaid approach that denies truth in favor of some pseudo happy ending.

When discussing abuse, people tend to look for pathology, history, and reasons. That is fine, but what is expected when it is determined that X had a bad childhood, or has a personality disorder, etc. is that you must forgive them. It turns the tables on the victim. Examining reasons for evil behavior is helpful in terms of knowledge and understanding but should never be used to manipulate the victim.

One of the things I feel bad about in my life is having forgiven someone I should not have, due to outside pressure to do so. It was false and it's too late to take it back. I agree with anonymous about the empowerment of making ones own choice about forgiveness.

K said...

Great article and it really hits me since just this past saturday my mother, who I've cut off contact with, sent a message through my father. Without his knowledge, she sent a bunch of "magazine articles I might like to read" with my dad. In there she included an article on the importance of FORGIVENESS!
The arrogance! She hasn't apologized and denies any wrong doing.
After seeing the article I told my dad and husband that I thought her message was really arrogant considering that she hasn't apologized or asked for forgiveness.
My husband nailed it when he said, "She wants excused for her behavior not forgiven. She's using the guise of forgiveness to guilt you into excusing her behavior."
Thank God for smart men!

Writer in Washington said...

Wow, Jordie's story of the "confessing ex-pastor's wife" sounds like my husband's ex. It is exactly the sort of thing she would do to gain acceptance and attention. I've said it before and I will say this again, many "church goers" today are either N's themselves or easy targets for the N's in their midst.

Here is the problem, because there is so much of what is called "seeker-friendly" religion out there, if you expect accountability and/or restitution from someone who has "repented", then you become "unchristian". Having been victimized by a N, you now are victimized by the Church. The misteaching regarding forgiveness has been put forward but people who have no real knowledge of the circumstances addressed in the scriptures. I also think its an example of the "I'm okay, you're okay" pop-psychology that is so rampant in our culture. No one is to blame for their actions, everyone is the victim of something.

I refer to the misteaching regarding the Prodigal Son. Most people do not understand the cultural setting for the story, but the literal truth was that the Prodigal had not only received ALL his inheritance under Jewish law and custom but had turned apostate. This meant his family would have literally had a funeral for him and considered him to be dead. If he returned he should expect to be shunned at the very least, and could have been stoned. So, he HAD to have repented to take the chance of even trying to come back to his father's house. In addition, please note that he came back with no expectation of being received as a son or of forgiveness, he came back to plead for mercy. That he received much more than he deserved from his father is an example of grace. (BTW, the elder son had good reason to resent his return, everything that remained of the Father's estate was his by law. The father was giving to the Prodigal what really belonged to the Eldest son.) The attitude of the Prodigal shows courage, humility and the willingness to accept whatever consequences were meted out to him because they were deserved. He made no demands, and did not use shallow forgiveness theology.

Pastors and other church leaders are woefully uneducated in the culture of Jesus' day, which has led to many misinterpretations of his parables, not just this one. The fact is repentance means to turn around and go the other way, and biblically is a step-by-step process of accepting accountability and making restutition before restoration. Hence, when a person repents and converts they 1) acknowledge they are a sinner, admit they cannot save themselves, 2) must rely upon the restitution made by Jesus upon the cross, and 3) they give up control of their life to God. Then, and only then, are they restored to a relationship with God. That is biblical repentance.

Since that is the pattern established for us, it makes no sense to preach "let bygones be bygones" religion on the basis of "not judging" others.

Writer in Washington said...

Quick comment, my husband's MN ex MIL is an addict. Apparently, she had a big "event" in the last couple of days and was found, passed out on the floor, by her brother. There was a big family bruhahah involving the son, an uncle of his and his aunt. Anyway, long story short he phoned the aunt to "apologize for his part of the argument and to ask for forgiveness." When he didn't get it right away his response: If you are a Christian you know that forgiveness is not an option, its an imperative and you HAVE to forgive me." How's that for humility?

Anonymous said...

Anna, the link no longer works. When I searched "Must you forgive?", I did find an interesting article by Deepak Chopra, an author I normally avoid.

The section I found most telling was:
"When we have successfully mourned our losses, we are not just pretending things are OK, we are OK. We have not excused the abuser, we have finally outgrown our participation in that relationship and moved into a more powerful, loving self in the present."

It's posted June 19,2007 and I don't know how long this link will last either.

I personally don't believe in forgiving anyone who doesn't recognize the need for being forgiven (my Nmother!). I do believe that we need to find peace within ourselves and must find a way to purge the pain and rage that cripples us. I used to think that I would have to wait until she was dead to find peace, but that turned out not to be true. Between therapy, your blog, and follow-up research combined with much reflection and prayer, I truly believe I have found the peace I desired.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't find the article at that link either, but I found it here:

Tundra Woman said...

Well, I'm not a "Christian," so I haven't had to deal with the issues it appears Christians grapple with around the concept of Forgiveness. I went to Catholic schools in the '50's and '60's and that pretty much cured me of any inclination towards religion.
I NC'd my "mother" decades ago, long before the internet, the Self-Help Industry (a lot of which seems to me to be a thinly veiled, "Lemme help myself to your $$") and knew no one who had a "mother" like mine never mind terminated the relationship. When the internet became available in this remote, impoverished area, I started reading about all this "Forgiveness" stuff and found it positively disconcerting: Forgiveness had never even crossed my radar prior to or throughout the ensuing decades post NC. So what does that say about me?! Hmmm...spent a good deal of time contemplating this.
From the article: "Her insistence on truth and justice which lead her to refuse to forgive, is the foundation of her sense of self...I've never had a moments regret." ("Sandy")
"I never felt the slightest need to do it." ("Annie")
There it is.
Yk, I'm an old widow broad. I'm sure as hell not "wise" but I've had a lot of life experiences and I know me well, warts and all. It's not a pretty picture but it's genuine and firmly entrenched in reality. If I'm somehow "Morally Bankrupt," "Bitter" or what ever other judgement other's want to confer on me because I've not "forgiven" my abuser? OK. That's their opinion.
I've loved well and been loved well. Still do and have: The rest is just details. I've experienced a kind of peace and contentment I know would never have been possible if I had allowed other's to define me, my reality or my Truth. (My "mother" pulled that relentlessly and you can see where that got her.) The skin-blistering comments and allegations I've been subject to because of my refusal to forgive from others who wouldn't know me if I walked up and introduced myself just leave me shaking my head and smiling.
I didn't get where I am today without a whole lot of struggle, pain and loss. None of us are exempt from reality and nothing is more powerful than your own Truth. If your own Truth doesn't include "Forgiving" your abuser(s)? Let the PC-ers and the Cult of Nice folks think they're being helpful or well-intended. (When in doubt, I'll give them the benefit of believing they mean well.)
Then carry on. Thus far, I haven't spontaneously combusted etc. and if I'm "going to hell?" Well, I've got a head-start on that too: I've donated my body to medical science which means I get a free roast-n-toast/cremation in the deal. ;) Perhaps my cremation will redeem me with the Ecology folks while it concurrently condemns me with the Funerary folks.<See what happens when you try to live in someone else's Truth?!