Monday, March 03, 2008

Healing and Forgiveness

I have a question for anyone out there who can answer it. I would like to know why therapists - yes, therapists, not just preachers - think that a victimized person must forgive in order to heal.

To keep things from getting all fogged up, we must be clear on what we mean by forgiveness.

The word has a definite meaning: it is forgiving a portion of the debt incurred by the offender as your ante in a mutual act of reconciliation.

But the word is suffering a terrible bout of bastardization these days, having the guts torn out of it by being used as vague codeword for somehow managing to "stop hungering and thirsting for justice," for somehow "erasing your anger."

Woops, I forgot. Justice sounds too good in this context, I must call it revenge instead.

But, anyway, please be sure to identify which kind of forgiveness you mean if you explain why therapists instruct their patients to forgive.

A couple related questions, just to make sure we all heal good.

Let's say that a malignant narcissist tells me today that she is going to ruin my life tomorrow. Must I forgive her today? Or may I at least wait until tomorrow?

Now, hopefully, we can presume that the therapist would cut me a little slack and say that it would be understandable if I wait awhile, simply because it would be very hard to forgive the offense in advance. But I would sure like to know what the preacher's answer is.

Because you know what I'm going to ask next then, right? If I am morally obligated to forgive, I'm as morally obligated to forgive today as tomorrow.

Which could be problematic.

Like what about a crime in progress? I'm morally obligated to forgive it, right?

What does that mean? Like, I am under assault by someone committing assault-and-battery against me, and I must sign off on the debt he will owe me when he finishes damaging me? I must "give away my anger"? I must therefore put down that baseball bat and stop defending myself, right?

Well, let's say the malignant narcissist has already ruined my life. She destroyed a $50,000 professional career (the cost of a college education), calumniating me so badly that I can't get a job anywhere but at the checkout in a convenience store.

She did it 10 years ago. Which means that the malignant narcissist has by now racked up a debt of $500,000 ($50,000 a year). Plus interest. Plus punitive damages.

But I'm a bad person who fails to "heal" if I haven't forgiven her by now, right?

But let's say I do forgive her now. Am I not forgiving a crime in progress? The ruining of my life? Yes, the crime is in progress until she restores my good name, and she never will. So, am I not forgiving the $50,000 she will be stealing from me next year, and the next, and the next, until I die?

Am I not then forgiving her in advance? And I'm a bad person if I don't do so? We must forgive without restitution of stolen property?

I think I'm beginning to get it. This "forgiveness" business is just "letting her get away with it."

Now, it's one thing to be unable to do anything about it, and quite another thing to be required to do nothing about it.

I feel like Huck Finn. I say, "All right, I'll go to Hell." I am going to be a bad person and keep biding my time, hungering and thirsting for justice, reminding myself like Hamlet did that there is justice to be done, a wrong to set right, waiting for an opportunity to get my money and put her behind bars. It's bad enough to be unable to do so, but don't try to tell me that I have no right to want to do so.

And I just noticed that "healing" rhymes with "feeling," so it's easy to see why fogheads get the two confused. Healing is just not feeling that hunger and thirst and anger anymore, right?

Because the therapist says that my feelings are what's hurting me, my feelings are what make me feel bad - not the punches or the poverty.

Aye, laddies, THERE's the pathology! It's those pathological feelings of mine! I must numb them.

So, I get it now: forgiveness is like a drug, a pain-killer.

A mental one. It amounts to "acting like it didn't happen."

Yes, let's play Pretend.

All gone. I feel fine now.

That's all you have to do to make a $500,000 crime go away. Just make nothing of it.

Ruining my life was nothing.

But what if she has just taken a sledge-hammer to my car instead? Would the therapist and the preacher say doing that was nothing, too?

I don't think so. I think they'd say I should get an estimate of the damages for her to pay. Because a car is a thing of value. So, destroying it is not nothing.

You know what I am going to ask them now, don't you? I'm going to ask them why they are dehumanizing me, devaluing me all the way to absolute zero, by saying that destroying my car is destroying a thing of value but destroying me is nothing.

Though I must forgive her, she need not ask for my forgiveness. She need not give me back my good name or pay even a portion of the damages. She need not even say she's sorry. She need not even admit that it was wrong for her to do that. She need not even admit that she did it!

How come I am the only one who incurs a debt through her deed? I owe her forgiveness, and she owes me nothing.

Indeed, she need not even promise never to do it again.

Like that guy committing assault and battery against me. He does that about once a week. But I must forgive him 70 times 70 times without him ever even promising to stop doing it?

Well then, let's add this up. If it was nothing when she or he did it yesterday, it would be nothing if she or he does it tomorrow too. No penalty = no damages. Or, as we say in sports "No harm/no foul" = carte blanche = I am letting them do that to me.


The reason I yelled that is because someone with total contempt for logic, who thinks you negate a truth by simply flatly denying it, is sure to say that I am not letting them do that, as if that is a valid argument in answer. Which is exactly as valid as thinking that you prove the sky is purple simply by saying that it is.

(Psst, if your genetic instincts for survival are so anesthetized that they haven't informed you yet, I have news: some folks are amoral, like precisely the folks who attack you for no reason, so hitting back is the only way to make them stop attacking you. Yes, I'm afraid 'tis so. Sorry, their amorality doesn't take away my right to protect myself from them: it gives me the right to whack them.)

By serially forgiving the serial offender I am letting them offend me, because I am doing nothing to put a stop to it. I am doing nothing to discourage them from doing it more or again. I am not protecting myself. I am not defending myself. This conduct flies in the face of the instinct for self-preservation and therefore violates the Laws of Nature as a perversion of human nature.

That's of all things "healing"? I'd say it sounds more like self-masochism.

Yeah for forgiveness! A great idea invented and loved by all the bad guys in Hell.

By forgiving every offense – for no reason other than that it was committed and hurts me - I am letting them hurt me! Pardon my incredulity at such craziness. That allows me no more rights than his punching bag has. I mean, to be a good girl, I must thus serve myself up on a platter (the literal meaning of be-tray) and deliver myself up to continued victimization = I must bend over it.

Yes, that will make me like myself a lot. I'm being sarcastic, of course. I see that I must thus make me hate myself instead of my abuser. Because I will for sure hate myself for being such an abject worm who just lays down like a doormat to be trampled like that.

And any HUMAN being, any therapist or preacher with one drop of empathy/humanity in them, knows that. How callous of these "caring" people to tell us we're bad if we don't prostrate ourselves to abuse this way - something that makes any man, woman, or child feel so self-degraded that they hate themselves ever after.

How faithful of me to me. But what happens to your relationship with anyone who betrays you to harm or abuse? Then what happens to your relationship with yourself when you betray yourself?

I'd like to know how any therapist thinks that would be good for a person.

Now for some sanity.

The problem with feelings, like hunger and thirst for justice, anger, and sorrow is NOT that they hurt. They are emotional pain. If you repress them to the subconscious, they drive your behavior from there, without your awareness of what's driving your behavior. You have done nothing but slam the lid down tight on a pressure cooker.

That's when they can explode so you that do do something wrong.

If you accept, own, go through your feelings, like any pain they pass.

In fact, THAT'S the problem as Hamlet discovered. As time passes, so does the pain. THAT'S healing.

And when the pain of the emotion of anger passes, so does the motivation to right that wrong. So, like Hamlet, you must give yourself a pep talk every now and then to remind yourself that there is justice to be done, a better life to reclaim, and that you should never give up, never surrender, never resign yourself to defeat. Never, never, never. That you must never quit waiting for an opportunity to set the world right-side-up again.

Anyone who thinks that's bad should try thinking right-side-up.

Because forgiveness is for the repentant. To hand it out to the unrepentant is like going up to your neighbor on trash-collection day and saying, "Here, I'll trade you this 12-carrot diamond ring for that little baggie of doggie-do."

It makes a mockery of something sacred and precious.

Update: A related link

Individual and Civic Notions of Forgiveness by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D. author of The Trouble with Blame: Victims, Perpetrators and Responsibility

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At 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgiveness for an N.? No way. The only forgiveness I had was in the end for myself. For my own stupidity not listening to myself in favour of the N. Well that will never ever happen again in my life.

Besides if you live a long time with an N. you forgave so many times during the relationship, that in the end, there is nothing to forgive anymore.

Fighting for you're rights, finally being able to set strict bounderies and strike back and succeed, is what made me finally feel good about myself in the way that I no longer consider myself "victim" of an N.

And even if I would not have had succeeded, still would have had the feeling that at least I had done something to get things straight for myself, because I couldn't allow myself to let him get away with everything.

Set him back, allows me to finally go ahead with my life, which is beautifull when no N.s are in it.

No way, that the damage done over the years can be undone. So don't count on my forgiveness or any emotion left for an N. He became a 0 for me and that is how much feelings and emotions an N. is entitled to have from other human beings.

jt B

p.s. have a nice holiday kathy!

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Writer in Washington said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said that forgiveness is for the REPENTANT. That's also biblical, there is actually a process which proves repentance by 1) accountability 2) restitution 3) reconciliation. Unfortunately, again this is not properly taught either in church or society. Letting "bygones-be-bygones" is one of the N's favorite escape routes. If you don't do so, then YOU are the bad guy. Sick twisted thinking that is not confined to just the religious realm.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous jordie said...

The illustration that Jesus used in the bible to describe forgiveness was the servant who owed his master a great deal of money. I think its interesting that finances were used as an example because they are a finite, specific, identifiable thing. Not like somebody hurting your feelings etc which nobody else can identify or understand. Money is universal. A debt is a debt. Try telling your bank manager that the debt doesn't exist and he has to just forget it. Nope. The only person who can pretend the debt doesn't exist is the one to whom it is owed.

When the master got hold of the servant and the servant recognised that he was going to be thrown into prison if he didn't pay up, he BEGGED his master for forgiveness. The master then forgave him the debt, because he saw the servant was ready to still pay off the debt little by little if necessary.

THe servant then went out, found a fellow servant who owed him a very small amount and bullied him into paying. He couldn't pay so the guy was thrown into prison. When the master got to hear about it, he went to the first servant and said 'you're a wicked man. I fogave you because YOU BEGGED ME to and now you go out and do that to somebody else WHO BEGGED YOU to forgive them. And the first servant was thrown into jail.

Moral of the story. Only when somebody recognises their sin, realises what they have done, and in that realisation asks for your forgiveness, (and here's the clincher) desires to make restitution, (or desires to pay back the money) do you forgive them.

You don't have to forgive those who treat you like crap and laugh at you saying they haven't done anything wrong.

Its all there in black and white and most preachers have ignored it for centuries because its politically, and religiously correct to make everyone live by the 'nice is better than honest' mantra.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Amen. In scripture, it goes without saying that the offender must be repenting. Back then, no one would have dreamed of insisting that the unrepentent are to be forgiven. And the "God forgive them, for they unknow what they are doing" while they were nailing Jesus to the cross is NOT Jesus forgiving them himself! In fact, it contrasts with his usual remark "You are forgiven" when assuring people that God had forgiven them.

This doctrinal creep over time to such absurd expectations of the wronged party must be the sour fruit of holier-than-thous just looking for ways to (ab)use scripture to find fault with the victim. And too many thoughless parrots just swallow it whole.

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get this crammed down my throat too but I refuse to forgive.

The wingnuts have never acknowledged their crimes against me.
They would still be doing it if I
remained in contact with them.

What they did was done knowingly
with malice and forethought -
it was no accident.

Furthermore, it was not in response to any act of aggression
against them by me.

They did it because they could
because it benefited them in
some way to deliberately cause
me pain and suffering.

I will not forgive their
moral bankruptcy.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are things I can forgive. Damage done because of uncharacteristic thoughtlessness, for instance, provided it isn’t a regular occurrence. But why anyone would forgive an evil person for an evil act is beyond me. And the last thing this world needs is for the narcissists out there to have those “professional” candy-ass enablers going around telling people they need to forgive these Satans.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately so many get away with ruining another person's life because the court is so unwilling to prosecute slander, libel, false accusations, etc. (such as those who make repeated false accusations of child molestation/abuse during custody cases). It seems to me this is part of the "we must forgive them" attitude.

A sign I saw on a church marquee yesterday:


At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank goodness for sane thinking - i finally found it!

if i had a sign, it would say - "if i sit by the river long enough, my enemy will float by..."

so here i am, on the riverbank, sipping my strawberry pina colada waiting for that white, bloated body with its eyes plucked out to bobble by.... and i know, beyond a certainty, that it will...and i will dance in the sunlight....

you are absolutely right, forgiveness is for those who are sorry.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have forgiven the Malignant Narcissist that is poisoning my life repeatedly throughout the years. Every time, she comes back with another attack, a very sly and calculated one, each even more horrendous than the last. This person is unbelievably influencial and has now turned my best friend, of 30 years, against me with her cunning.

I am definitely a target and have NEVER DONE ANYTHING to provoke this treatment. It began when I married a man, 22 years ago, that she was infatuated with. I wish she had gotten him because we ended up divorced and he remarried someone else right away. She has tried to sabatage every relationship that I have had (& she has knowledge of) since then.

The only reason that she remains in my life at all is because we have a common circle of old friends. Eventually, I predict, she will come between me and a lot of them, in some way.

Her charasmatic personality fools almost everyone and has some people believing her as a "shaman" (when she is actually sucking her victims dry). She is an extreme example of what you describe on your website and more, pulling it off with such ease and making her victims look as if they are THEY are the evil ones.

The very idea of forgiveness, at this point, is far from my mind. When she couldn't steal the men in my life she decided to go after my best friend - the person I care most about (other than my child). I can no longer be around my friend because all she talks about is how wonderful this evil person is.

FORGIVE? I don't think so. It would only empower her.

At 3:05 AM, Anonymous LJA said...

Hmm... having grown up in a religious environment, this is an issue that has plagued me. The misquoting of a particular scripture (one you alluded to) is something I have seen as a big part of the problem. The verse is Luke 17:3-4 (NKJV) . . .

"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

So. . . 1) you rebuke, 2) they REPENT!!! 3) you forgive, 4) repeat as needed.

Steps 1 and 2 see to be chronically overlooked.

To demand a victim forgive something that hasn't even been rebuked yet, let alone repented of, gives the abuser a free pass to continue abusing.

As to counselors, the ones I have been seeing have not brought up my need to forgive except in piece of literature that I was given that said:

"Forgiveness may be a step in the healing process, but it is NOT THE FIRST STEP." (emphasis mine)

I would say that it is probably the last step and even then, cannot come as anything more that a willingness to extend forgiveness if repentance comes.

Forgiveness demanded without repentance is not forgiveness, it is an extension of the abuse.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone here ever had even ONE apology from a Narcissist? I mean a real apology, not one twisted to say something like, "I'm sorry you felt bad," instead of, "I'm sorry I wronged you."

Didn't think so.

Narcissists are incapable of genuine apologies. It would mean they aren't perfect. If you think you're getting a real apology, write it down and analyze it later. You'll find the candy dancing more obvious without the manipulative voice behind it.

Narcissists are well-versed in evil. If you forgive them, you're just showing them how weak you are and they attack even more vigorously and cruelly.

They're sick evil people. Get them out of your lives, whatever it takes. Life's too precious and short to deal with a blood sucker.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Writer in Washington said...

When my mother died, my husband and I were her primary caregivers (its a long story how we got stuck with it)and she was a woman who was never able to genuinely apologize. Anyway, we have both been present at the death or dying process of many people. My mother's astonished us because she was so terrified of death. The closer it came and the more drugged she was the worse her terror. I've thought about it a lot and I think she was so frightened because she knew she had not made things right with many people that she had damaged. And she wasn't able to do so anymore. Frankly, it is my firm belief that she was terrified because she was going to have to give an account to God for her life. That's been my take on it. But even dying she never was able to admit she'd wronged me or others.

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Barbara said...

Got another interesting link for you, Kathy. While Miller is mostly talking about child abuse - it's very easy to extrapolate this to the "forgiveness" b.s. ACONS and NVictims get:

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I haven't read her books, and the stuff she says on her website about forgiveness is outstanding. But I am ambivalent.

From the website, it sounds like she subscribes to an important idea promulgated by many believers in codependency as an integral part of the theory - namely that virtually everyone's parents have abused them. That trivializes real child abuse.

Even more in congruence with codepency theory, she seems to think that every angry feeling in an adult and every evil deed done by an adult tracks back to this childhood abuse. Another handy place to ditch the blame some place besides on the one to blame. The difference here is that you just blame the perp's parents instead of the victim.

Let's try blaming the perp.

And while I agree with her in the main about corporal punishment, the diction she uses is a red flag. "Beating"? "Violence"? A swat on a three-year-old's behind is a "beating" that child? Give me a break. There's no need to exaggerate like that. And I don't like purists. I was life-guarding one day at the end of a pier and saw a toddler notice the moment his mother looked away to attend to another child's scrape. Off he went, for the pier. I yelled through the bull horn at her and with me running from one end and her running from the other end, it was race we lost to reach that toddler before he jumped into water over his head.

He's too young to understand. He needn't be "beaten." Or even frigtened. But he may need a swat on the behind to keep him from ever doing that again. In that case, I won't second-guess his mother.

I also saw another kid, about 10, obviously a budding narcissist, so sure no one could touch him that he would scream and kick sand at the lifguards and even the manager, sometimes kicking them in the shins. Totally amoral and irrational. The cure? Push him down on his butt in the sand to remind him who's bigger = the only language he understands and respects. Boy did he understand it, for the manager only had to do that once.

Sure, situations like this are rare, but they do exist, and preachy purists should stop demonizing anyone who ever laid a hand a kid.

Nonetheless, what she says about feeling your feelings and not succumbing to the pressure to "forgive" the abuser is outstanding. I don't think anyone explains it better.

That much conventional wisdom she has rethought. So, I just think that she should should start questioning a little more of what her training teaches.

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgiveness and healing do not HAVE to be together. One is not always a path to another and it NEVER should be with this sort of abuse.

I keep trying to think of something that is forgivable in what he does and I can't. I mean he's still doing it. Yes, it requires not just acknowledging but, true REMORSE and amends. N's never ever do that because they simply do not understand the entire concept of it. After all they feel "attacked" instead of feeling accountable. It's the "I'm supposed to be allowed to abuse you in any way and if I say "sorry" that's the end of it or you are harming me!" type of crap you are up against.

There's no justice, no remorse, and no accountability think there would be true amends with an N makes me laugh out loud. lol. How would they do this since they MUST protect the image??

You HAVE to be in the wrong if you are one of their victims in their minds. The contortions of thinking they are practiced at to achieve demonizing their victims are astounding and shocking to behold. They are further abuse.

It's not necessary to forgive to heal in the case of an N. There is such a thing as righteous anger. Jesus had it against the money changers. Do you think he would have forgiven them had they come back the next day and set up shop while smearing Jesus's name over and over in the most shocking manner or would he have talked about the evil of their behavior even further?

I think at the very least he'd have warned others against them.

The brutal fact is that you do heal but, yes it leaves a mark being abused by one of these predators. And every time you have to struggle out of the debt they put you in, every time you can't pay a bill or every time you go yet again to a therapist or have anyone else imply that you are wrong for having been abused, you will experience that wound being picked at. I cannot forgive what I was left to face every day. I don't believe that forgiveness is required of me.

I am healing without it. I get stronger by acknowledging any feelings I have about this and moving through them, living within my own truth and my own skin....not by trying to attain sainthood and wasting energy to forgive the unforgivable. I put my focus on pursuits that work better for me.


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