Forgiveness

Trigger warnings: This post is about abuse.

A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about the Amish, where an Amish woman spoke about what forgiveness meant to her. Her school-age daughter had just been murdered. This Amish mother described forgiveness as a state of mind where you give up your right to revenge and let nature (God, in her words) take its course. Forgiveness does not mean you believe the person did no wrong. It means not holding a grudge.

I find this definition of forgiveness very attractive, but I am not completely certain that it is compatible with my beliefs regarding abuse. I do not hold a grudge against an abusive partner I had several years ago, but I don’t want to say I forgive him. If I said I forgave him, people around me would interpret this as my saying he did no wrong. Additionally, if that person were to enter my life again, I would not trust him not to hurt me again, and I would avoid him for my own safety. It is common for people to interpret this behavior—avoiding a past abuser—as holding a grudge, even though it’s about safety.

I harbor no malice for my past abuser, but part of my healing process was to experience anger about everything he had done to hurt me. It was necessary for me to feel angry and to imagine revenge, in order to feel safe and secure. I emphasize imagine because I never set out to hurt my abuser. My imaginings of revenge were private. I was able to get to a point where those imaginings were no longer necessary, but I don’t think it’s my place to say that every survivor of abuse can. Nor do I think that it would make sense for me to say that every survivor of abuse should aspire to hold no grudge. Grudges can be a very powerful tool to use to feel safe.

So while I really like the idea of being able to get the release of not holding a grudge againt a person who has wronged me, I don’t live in a world where I can have faith that the person will become a better person. Because I live in a society that delegitimizes being non-cisgender, I can’t trust that the high-school classmates who harassed me ten years ago for being non-binary will ever come to realize that they were wrong to do so. I have to be afraid. For my own safety, I can’t forgive them.

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