The topic of forgiveness always surfaces whenever people talk about healing old wounds. I watched a video yesterday of a Hollywood producer who talked about his abusive childhood home and how he was able to forgive his father.
He described his last moments with his dying father as some of the most profound experiences of his life. Then he said something to the tune of “you know you’ve truly healed when you’ve truly forgiven”.
I appreciate his kindness and vulnerability to share something so deeply personal. And I’m really glad that forgiving his father worked well for him.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to forgive to heal or to move forward in life.
Adult love isn’t supposed to be unconditional. Unconditional love is something you reserve for a child who is dependent on you and is incapable of making their own choices in life.
It’s not a catch-all to apply to every type of love out there because you have free will. When you grow up, there are forks in the road where you’re forced to make choices.
Those choices define who you are as a person and what you stand for. They stem from the exercise of your free will, which is influenced by conditioning, biological makeup, and soul quality.
If an adult who was responsible for caring for you abused you, it’s because they chose to do that. And they must live with the consequences of those choices.
Forgive Yourself First
I felt compelled to write this post because forgiveness is such a faddish word that gets thrown around a lot on motivational posts. It often triggers the toxic shame of abuse victims who already blame themselves for their caretakers’ abuse of them.
Often, the person you need to forgive the most is yourself. You’ve always blamed yourself when loved ones abused you because as a child you couldn’t conceive that people who were supposed to love you have treated you so terribly.
This self-blame turned into toxic shame that ate away at your sense of self-love and compassion. It eroded your esteem and made you sabotage yourself over and over again in life until you surface the unconscious feelings you’ve repressed.
Martha Stout, a psychiatrist who taught at Harvard Medical School for twenty-five years, said in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” that the biggest red flag you need to watch for when dealing with low conscience people is the victim card.
When someone has repeatedly treated you badly and then tries to guilt-trip you when you confront them about it—that’s a huge sign of a person with low or no conscience who will not hesitate to ruin someone’s life to get what they want (or just because they envy the person).
It won’t matter to them if the other person is kind to them or not. If they feel that someone has something they don’t have and they hate that person, or if that person is in the way of their goals, they will do anything to destroy them.
Forgiving someone like this is at best soul suicide. At worst, it could ruin your whole life.
If someone wants your forgiveness, please ask yourself: “has this person taken action to remedy the situation?”
People with low or no conscience will say anything to get what they want from you. They will apologize profusely and put on a show—so that when you finally capitulate, they can continue to suck the life energy out of you and leave you as a shell of your former self.
What is important is to look at what they actually do.
If they say one thing and do another, that’s already enough reason to keep them away from you.
Self-Compassion and Gratitude
Instead of using forgiveness as a measure of your healing progress, use gratitude and self-compassion.
You literally cannot have a happy life unless you make choices that serve you. As a victim of abuse, sometimes this self-prioritization is very tough to do because you were never prioritized in childhood.
And yet, serving only the self without regard to others also doesn’t work in the long run because relationships require reciprocity.
Earlier in my recovery, it was super tough for me to get a good sense of balance in the give-and-take in a relationship because I never had good role models for that in my childhood.
The things that really changed that for me were 1) developing compassion for my younger and adult self, and 2) developing a sense of gratitude for the blessings around me.
These two topics deserve their own posts, which will be coming up soon.
In the meantime, please remember that you don’t need to forgive the unforgivable in order to heal.