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.
YES I AM!
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
narcissistic personality disorder narcissism