Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wellness And Forgiveness And Injustice

The January issue of the Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource has an article entitled, Finding Forgiveness: A Path to Better Well-Being which highlights something that is often neglected when people talk about the power of forgiveness.

The first step in how to forgive is to fully acknowledge the pain and anger that came from someone's actions. This is something that many of those who advocate for forgiveness consistently work against. I would also add to that first step the need to acknowledge the full scope of the harm done beyond pain and anger and the full scope of what that harm has done to the person harmed.

We understand that forgiving the embezzler who stole a person's life savings doesn't make the stolen money magically reappear and the subsequent financial hardship isn't something that forgiveness will wipe out. We understand that forgiving a drunk driver who put a person in the hospital for a month doesn't magically make the physical injuries disappear and would not allievate the victim's chronic pain.

Those who advocate for forgiveness need to understand this basic truth when what was lost or damaged isn't as easily quantified as cash or the number of broken bones.

If your pain and anger and the real harms done to you are things you are told you should just get over via forgiveness those who say this are not advocates for true forgiveness. Instead of the person who wronged you being at fault for the harm done to you, that harm gets twisted into something self-inflicted because of your selfish refusal to forgive.

This is a convenient falsehood which contributes to those who offend, request forgiveness, repeat. Too often this pattern of harmful behavior escalates because the offender's denial of harm and denial of responsibility adds fuel to the harmful thought process which led to the initial harm.

There is no greater minimizer of a wrong than treating the harm that comes from that wrong -- be it criminal or not -- as if the harm were self-inflicted. If the harm were truly self-inflicted these people would not need to be forgiven for anything.

Many times when rapists and abusers ask their victim for forgiveness, their request comes from selfishness and not even a spark of genuine desire to help their victim heal from the wrong done to them. These requests ask the victim to remain in a dangerous situation or they ask victims to allow dangerous people to escape full accountability.

This turns a request for forgiveness into just another weapon.

Those who encourage offenders to ask for forgiveness are doing those offenders no favor if they don't require the offender to accept the full scope of the harm they have done with no minimizing, no distancing and no excuses.

Also instead of telling offenders to ask for forgiveness, they should be telling offenders to communicate their ownership and understanding of the harm they have done along with genuine remorse for causing that harm. They should take full responsibility with no expectation or request of anything from their victims.

All those who claim to take harm and crimes seriously need to acknowledge that the victims of these harms or crimes owe those who harmed them absolutely nothing. When victims are attacked for refusing to give the forgiveness seeker what that person wanted when they asked for forgiveness, the truth about the attacker's character is revealed. And it ain't a pretty truth.

A rapist who demands forgiveness or feels entitled to forgiveness is clearly unchanged at a core level and must be viewed as a dangerous person no matter how upstanding that person claims to be.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:24 AM   4 comments links to this post


At January 23, 2008 12:24 PM, OpenID rmott62 said...

Thank-you for this amazing site,
I get very angry at the attitude that women or girls that are sexually abused or raped should forgive the offender. It is used as one way the abuser can retain his power.
My abusive stepdad always "ask" me to forgive him for sexually and mentally abusing me for 13 years. For he decided to forgive me for "making" him abuse.
I refuse to forgive him, for I will no longer play his games with my mind.
He, like so many abusers and rapists, does not think that he did anything wrong. In my opinion I can only forgive someone who shows that they can fully acknowledge how they had devastated their "victim's" life.
This would mean to me for my stepdad to see that he is a criminal, and should be in prison.

At January 23, 2008 3:12 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

rmott62, you are welcome. I agree with you about how rapists and abusers use forgiveness as a game. Unfortunately, too many people provide support for this approach.

At January 24, 2008 4:05 PM, Blogger Breaking Porcelain said...

I also wanted to say thank you for this great site. I am very new to this blog thing, but have just recently created a blog of my own for much of the same purpose. I was searching for other blogs on the same issues & found yours. Again, thank you... for being a voice in the dark world of victims and survivors.

At February 08, 2008 1:36 AM, Blogger Patricia Singleton said...

Marcella, I too wish to say Thank You for the work that you do. I do believe that the only way to stop the abuse is to make it public knowledge. Without awareness, nothing changes. Even though I choose to write about other subjects on my blog, I use my blog to also tell my own story of incest and its affects upon my life.

I have been able to say that I forgive my abusers. I have even written several articles about it. I also believe that forgiveness is not something to be forced upon another person as something that they "should" do. It took years for me to reach a place of forgiveness. I know it isn't for everyone. I can understand why some don't forgive. I am grateful that I have finally reached that place for myself.

That doesn't mean that I don't feel angry or hurt or sad anymore. It means that I don't beat myself up for whatever feelings that I have. I also don't allow anyone else to do it to me either. It didn't mean that my dad was a part of my life again. He wasn't. He was still capable and willing to continue the abuse if I had allowed it. The tried to even after I was married. I said no. He was never a grandfather to my children. I couldn't trust him to not do harm to them. He died a few years ago, totally alone still carrying the shame that he would never acknowledge to me and I doubt to himself.


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