Reply To: I can never forgive some people
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I think the concept of forgiveness is over-rated for a number of reasons. The first is religious, specifically Christian. On the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive people who persecuted him. I don’t think Jesus actually said, “I forgive you”. (Apologies if this is biblically incorrect”¦. I haven’t kept up with my theology). People have filled in the blanks in this biblical account and sort of come to assume that this means Jesus Himself forgave the people, but the bible doesn’t actually say that He did forgive them. So we don’t actually have an example of the Son of God actually forgiving people for what they did to Him. My point is that the expectation of forgiveness sets a bar for us that there is no record that even Jesus met. This makes the expectation that forgiveness is humanly possible rather unrealistic.
The second reason “forgiveness” is over-rated IMHO is that it is so poorly defined. I have heard it variously described as a mindset, a choice, a decision, a feeling. These are very diverse concepts, so whether or not we can forgive depends on whether you see forgiveness as an action or series of actions, a lack of vengeful feelings, or merely a statement. Synergy, in your post you seem to have defined “forgiveness” as “making excuses” for the sociopath. That is as valid a definition as any other. However, you have already identified how that definition has not been helpful for you, and in fact enabled the abuse to continue.
In practical terms, I see no value in taking a position that enables abuse to continue. Therefore if “forgiveness” enables abuse, I would define it as a negative thing that should NEVER be done.
From a sociological perspective, “forgiveness” has been used as a means of social control. 500 years ago, women could not vote, and had very limited employment opportunities. They needed to get married and stay married as the only means to survive. Thus many, many women (and many children and some men) were trapped. They had no other choice but to stay in a dysfunctional family. The concept of “forgiveness” was a useful tool to keep the victims silent and cooperative. It also turned victimhood into a virtue, and enabled the victim to re-frame the reality of being trapped into something that gave them the illusion of control.
Societal expectations that victims needs to forgive abusers is a form of gas-lighting IMO.
I think we have maintained this old fashioned form of social control without really realising it. In the 21st century women can own property, support themselves and have control over their reproduction. Keeping victims silent and in place, packaged as “forgiveness”, doesn’t make sense any more in practical terms. Rather, it often adds more shame and guilt to the already overburdened and abused target. The victim of a sociopath does not deserve the added burden of thinking they “should” forgive their abuser, or that they are somehow deficient in not forgiving them. Now we have the option of No Contact, we don’t need to tie ourselves into knots trying to reframe being trapped by an abuser into the virtue of forgiveness.
I choose to define forgiveness as “not caring”. This makes it a cousin of “gray rock”. “Forgiveness” defined as “not caring” means the anger and shame and grief have stopped being the centre of your being. If you have feelings of revenge (and who doesn’t?), they are fleeting. Forgiveness for me is a state of not caring about the sociopath and his/her enablers any more. In fact, forgiveness expresses the same attitude as the definition of ”˜revenge’ as a life well lived.
I do believe that achieving a state of not caring about what the abuser did or is currently doing (the money they stole, the relationships they tainted), and also having fun once in a while, is the end point of healing from sociopathic abuse. I think this end point could easily be described as “forgiveness” (although I still don’t like the implied virtue/responsibility that this term implies).
So IMO, “forgiveness” is a social concept, that might have had some functional value in medieval times in helping serfs and slaves live with the awful reality of their powerless state. Nowadays, it seems to be more often be used to heap more guilt and obligations onto victims who have been fed the myth that “forgiveness” is necessary to healing. If some people feel it is important for them to forgive as part of the healing process, that is fine. However, if the need to “forgive” is keeping tormented people in abusive situations, or keeping them in the emotional torment of impossible self-expectations after they extricate themselves, then the concept of the need to “forgive” is just plain wrong.
Aim for a state of genuinely “not caring” about the sociopaths, and remove “forgiveness” from your vocabulary.