Something pushed on survivors by society, and sometimes the people close to them, is the idea that you need to forgive the person who hurt you. I’m not here to tell you not to forgive. I believe that’s up to you. What I am here to tell you is that it’s okay one way or the other whether you choose to forgive or not. While it may help some heal, it doesn’t help everyone.
This post is not meant to be anti-forgiveness. Whether you forgive or not is valid and up to you. This post is anti people telling you to forgive or not to forgive. Healing should be about you, and what you need and not what others need or think you need.
Everyone is unique and requires different things in their healing. A lot of people like to interject and push “forgiveness” on survivors. They’ll even try and sugarcoat it with “forgive them for yourself.” If forgiving them does give you some peace, then I’m all for it. However, there are a lot of survivors overwhelmed with guilt because they can’t forgive or don’t want to. They feel like they’ve failed or they’re not a good person. And both of these things are simply not true. Pushing survivors to forgive may make them feel invalid or frustrated with themselves because they aren’t in that place right now. Some may eventually get to a place where they can forgive, while other survivors may never get to that place. I believe it’s okay if you are in either of these places or any other place regarding the possibility of forgiveness.
For some survivors, forgiveness may be fundamental in their healing, but this is not true for everyone. Society often suggests that an individual must forgive the person who hurt them before they will be able to truly heal from their trauma. I believe ideas like this contribute to expectations that survivors will be “quiet” about what they have been through. Some people think if you forgive someone, you shouldn't talk about what they did to you. They may feel you shouldn’t try to get them punished by the criminal system or in any other way. This is not at all true. Forgiving someone does not mean that they do not deserve to face further consequences.
Many people push survivors to forgive because they think it will fix a lot of troubles for people with trauma. Some people say not forgiving means “holding onto anger” and is “poisoning yourself” or “letting them have power over you”, but this is the kind of thing that differs from person to person. One of the keys in this is that it is an important part of healing to reach a point where the person who hurt you isn’t constantly on your mind and thoughts of them are not in control of your life. For some, this may require forgiveness, but not for all.
Sometimes the reason others push for forgiveness isn’t about the health of the survivor at all, but because they want to be able to pretend everything is okay, especially if the survivor and the one who hurt them are both family. Forgiving someone does not obligate you to play “happy family” with them, nor should you feel you have to forgive in order to please others. It doesn’t matter if they are mentally ill, blood related, or were abused themselves. It doesn’t matter if they had good intentions. There is no reason you must forgive someone. If you are going to forgive someone who hurt you, please do so for yourself. You’re what matters in all this. Even if you forgive them, it is still valid to be low or no contact with them. Forgiving someone does not mean you need to forget what they did, or trust them.
A lot of survivors may feel pressured because the person who hurt them has apologized. You don’t owe them anything, even if this is the case. You do not owe them anything, even if they have genuinely changed for the better. Even if they are better, it doesn't erase what they have done in the past, and it certainly isn’t likely to have healed your trauma.
Some people put too much value on forgiveness. They may argue that you will feel better if you forgive the person who hurt you. They may claim you will be less angry, depressed or anxious after giving forgiveness. They may claim it will improve your mental health. While this may be true for some people, forgiveness is not a magical cure for such issues and is no substitute for working through your emotions. And this attitude can lead to people feeling like something is wrong with them if they forgive the one who traumatized them and it doesn’t stop their negative feelings or other issues. People also may say they forgive someone, when they actually don’t mean it. This can create its own problems, such as conflict with others when they figure out that you haven’t really forgiven the one who hurt you. For instance, they might call you a liar, when they were the ones who put pressure on you and made things more difficult. It can also cause an internal conflict because you may feel you invalidated your own feelings by saying you forgave, or you may feel shame for allowing others to pressure you into saying it.
Simply put, I’m not a fan of telling someone they have to forgive anyone. While some may find comfort or peace in doing so, others may feel not forgiving the one who hurt them is a way of standing up for themselves and helps them feel stronger. If it’s something an individual chooses to do, it should be on their own time and not something they’re pushed into. Forgiveness, for some, may mean letting go. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to do that. I’m also here to tell you that you don’t have to forgive anyone. The important part about it is that it should be your choice.
Some survivors feel that they are judged if they do forgive the person who hurt them. While some people are arguing how important forgiveness is, others will claim that forgiving them is saying what they did was okay. It is not saying that, at all.
Speaking personally, I have not forgiven my abuser. Forgiveness isn’t something I can see doing, at least not anytime soon. Maybe there will come a point in the future where I do forgive him. Perhaps I will never forgive him. Either way, it’s okay. I don’t owe him anything. Whatever I do, it’s going to be for me.
For some people, healing is realizing that they have nothing they need to forgive themselves for. For others, healing is forgiving themselves for the “mistakes” they made, or for not knowing better, etc. I don’t believe anyone should blame themselves, but the unfortunate reality is that many do. Whatever the circumstances, it wasn’t your fault. You deserve the peace that comes with that. You are not at fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve what happened to you. If you aren’t in that place yet, then that’s okay, but I hope one day you realize this.