Do I have to forgive?
After someone has been hurt, at some point they come across the F-word. Forgiveness. After experiencing a trauma, it is very difficult to think of forgiving the person who harmed you – Especially if they never acknowledged what they did or if they never suffered consequences for their actions. Survivors tend to hold tight to their anger, as if in some way, they are punishing the perpetrator with it. The problem, of course, is that their anger harms the survivor much more than it will ever harm the abuser. Perhaps as we examine just what is meant by forgiveness, we should instead think of it more as letting go.
Holding onto anger will never hold that person accountable for their actions. Your anger will never make them sorry for what they did to you. Your anger will never make them pay for their wrongdoings. However, your anger can damage you. It can consume your life, causing you to spend all of your energy and time focusing on the person who hurt you rather than focusing on your recovery. You deserve more.
Most survivors feel that by forgiving their offender, they are just letting them “off the hook”. What we must realize is that our anger never holds anyone on a hook. Whether you are angry or not has nothing to do with their actions, how awful their abuse was or how evil they are. Releasing your anger toward an offender does not mean you will stop legal consequences either. It is possible to release your anger and still hold people accountable for what they have done. Being able to release your anger and start to move forward with your life will not diminish the enormity of the trauma you suffered or the wickedness of the abuse.
A lot of survivors feel that because their abuser never admitted their actions and has no remorse and has not even asked for forgiveness, they cannot forgive them. Forgiveness actually has nothing to do with the person who abused you. It has everything to do with healing yourself. You never have to cross paths with your abuser ever again. You do not have to confront them or try to make them apologize. Releasing your anger and hurt only means you are choosing to focus on you. You are choosing to spend your time, strength and mental energy on yourself. You are no longer allowing your abuser to hold your mind, emotions and life as hostage. You acknowledge that you are more important than they are and you deserve to heal and be happy again.
To forgive or not is highly personal and individual. There is no wrong way or right way. There is no one-size-fits-all. Not everyone wishes to walk down the forgiveness pathway and that is okay. Clients are fully supported in coming to terms with what makes sense in their lives. Making peace with yourself, finding a way to live with your trauma and creating the type of life you desire in the future is worth focusing on. Perhaps this is the most important thing to take away: focus on your healing first. You deserve more.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to help. You may contact us at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.