Sunday 17 May 2009

Is forgiveness when you stop blaming someone for being who they were and are?

Forgiveness is one of those "trigger" words. This is particularly so for Christian "survivors". We are told that we will find peace, if we forgive our abuser. This is the way to healing - as we were forgiven, so we should forgive. But the word brings up all sorts of issues; among them are the following

How do you forgive, if you don't remember what was done to you?
How do you forgive when the past can't be undone?
Why do you need to forgive when you no longer believe?
Is the ability to forgive something that happens after enough grieving has been done?
How does one grieve when one cannot remember what was lost?

And then there is the problem of all of the people that we have hurt along the way, however unintentionally. Our own conundrums!
How can you say you're sorry, if you don't know what you did?
Saying you're sorry won't do a damn bit of good if the person isn't ready to forgive.
Saying you're sorry means nothing if the person that you have harmed doesn't remember what you did.
Saying you're sorry won't change the past; sometimes explaining why you did what you did helps.

But what do you do when there is no way to explain that when you are in the middle of a flashback crisis, there is really no way to control what you don't really understand. The world is truly incomprehensible and any attempts to control it are futile.

So you get lots of therapy and you finally understand almost all of what was driving you. Why you did, what you did - both good and bad. All the pieces of the puzzle are finally in place. Then what do you do? It can be overwhelming to feel so bad about some of the things that happened because you were driven to find answers. And you needed to find answers in order to survive.

You pray that somehow, the damage that you might have inflicted won't be fatal and won't last forever. And you need to learn to forgive yourself.

At one point over the years, I used to think that if I could just forgive God for abandoning me, then I could forgive my husbands, my parents. When I finally got around to grieving the death of my god, I found out that forgiveness wasn't a necessary component of anything. Understanding what I had lost was the key and I had to move on from there. It freed me up to understand that I had choices about establishing relationships and re-establishing relationships with whomever I wanted. The other side of the equation was that they didn't have to say that they were sorry. Sometimes they could, sometimes they couldn't. All human relationships are complex. They are made up of give and take. Maybe it is just a case of the good outweighing the bad and when the bad outweighs the good, the relationship is null and void.

(Strangely enough, I have never felt any need to forgive the priest - it was as if he was dead to me - what I would say today, is that there was no desire to continue any kind of relationship, so it wasn't an issue. Besides the long term impact of the evil that that man had perpetrated was unforgivable. He didn't just harm me, he harmed every relationship that I ever had.)

This brings me to the most complex of my relationships - the relationship with my mother. I have done a lot of thinking since writing my post on Sunday, September 7, 2008, How will we change the past, if we don't know what it is?

I have wondered just what is my relationship with her. Now that I have begun to put her life into some kind of perspective, how do I understand it. Maybe the word "forgive" is the only one that we have to explain what happens when you stop blaming someone for being who they were and are. My mother was and is as much a product of her past as I am. She did the best that she could have, given what I know. She was as driven by emotions that she didn't always understand as I was. We now have tools and understanding of how humans react to trauma that didn't exist even 30 years ago. Her inability to say "I'm sorry" had more to do with her avoidance of emotional pain as it did with anything that we did. She never spoke to her own mother after she was 27 and that after 12 years of not speaking to her. How could she have ever begun to deal with our emotional pain when she had never dealt with her own? There are many stories that could be written to explain that question. Those have to wait for a while yet. In all likelihood, she did better by us, than her parents did by her. We are all still here with her. She did love us as much as she could. There are many things that will always be sad and will hurt from the past. I am no longer angry about them.

I can only believe that I did better by my children. I know that there are many things that I would have done differently if I could have. I try to understand that I did the best that I could. At this point, the only thing that I can do when things come up is to be honest about my failings, say that I am sorry things weren't different, apologize for the pain that I caused and hope that they accept me as I am and know that I love them more than life itself.


crippeto said...

Dear Shelia (or otherwise to the blog author),

Let me first say that I hope all is going well for you in health and spirit. Secondly, in reference to the blog on forgiveness, I'm responding only from a position of respect and probably ignorance as well. And so I hope you disregard any offences you might take on by my poor understanding of the English language, as I am being entirely sincere in what I say. As far as your thoughts on forgiveness, I am able to greatly empathize with many of your feelings through my own personal "shit-tides" at the hands of powerful and selfish people. I'm only alive because I was too scared to die. But I feel I've come out of the darkness to some degree and have been able to reflect back on those dark days and see that I was the one keeping myself in the gutter. And I'm afraid you are analyzing the "forgiveness & apology" conundrum in a way that is not realistic and likely unhealthy mentally. Anyway, before I keep going, I'll stop to make sure you even keep this blog anymore and if you'd want to chat about it. I'm just curious about your thoughts.

Take Care,

Sheila Redmond said...

Hi Chris

Yes I am still writing. I have just taken a hiatus to some extent since my mother's death. As well, I am teaching modern German history, which is very stressful - WW2 and the Holocaust do not make for easy reading or teaching.

Feel free to write anything you want about your feelings on my blog. We are all grappling with difficult issues. Have you read any of the other blogs? Perhaps you should put eulogy in the search engine when you have my blog up and read the blogs that are related to the "Eulogy for a Patriarchal god", which is on the right hand side of the blog. They will put some of my thoughts into context. Reading my dissertation would also give context to my writings to some extent (a link is on the blog).

I just reread the blog itself. The reflections came out a specific situation and were not explained in the blog (and probably won't ever be).

It could be clearer and I will write a blog when the term is over in a couple of weeks.

However,I would like to hear from you about why you think what I said is "not realistic and likely unhealthy mentally." It is generally speaking my position that the Christian structure of forgiveness is unhealthy and causes more harm than good with respect to the long term health of a victim of abuse. There is a section in my dissertation that actually deals with the issue. I have found nothing in the pastoral psychological literature or theological literature since that would change the argument in the dissertation (1993).

Anyway, I teach at 8:30 in the morning - Roman history and will log off. I'll blog a few of the biblical verses that are relevant to the discussion shortly and then a more lengthy blog later.

Hope to hear from you


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