Some of the phrases most likely to make me instantly hulk out are “you need to forgive”, “let it go”, and “move on.” All of those piss me off, but “forgive” is the absolute worst. “Forgiveness” seems like such a nice, happy concept, so you’re probably wondering why I have such a deep and passionate loathing for that stupid fucking word. Let’s start with the dictionary.com definition so we can then throw it out the window:
forgive — vb , -gives , -giving , -gave , -given 1. to cease to blame or hold resentment against (someone or something) 2. to grant pardon for (a mistake, wrongdoing, etc) 3. ( tr ) to free or pardon (someone) from penalty 4. ( tr ) to free from the obligation of (a debt, payment, etc)
Ceasing to blame or hold resentment against someone sure sounds like a nice idea. So does granting a pardon, or forgiving a debt. The problem is that when people say “you need to forgive” they don’t mean “I want you to be happy and being super pissed off about ___ is not making you happy.” What they always seem to mean is “I’m uncomfortable with your anger. How about you shove it down until you choke on it?” Shockingly enough, I don’t respond terribly well to being told that I don’t even get to have my own goddamn feelings about all the terrible shit that’s happened to me, or that my completely justified rage is less important than some random fuckface’s comfort.
People also seem to have this idea that once you’ve “forgiven” someone, whatever happened magically becomes okay and everyone acts like it never happened. Fuck that noise. Nothing is ever going to make what happened to me “okay.” No empty fucking platitude is going to give me a happy childhood or a mother who loved me (why yes, there is a post coming about kink and childhood abuse), and I’m not going to pretend otherwise for anyone else’s convenience.
To make things right, much more than one-sided “forgiveness” (read, swallowing my emotions so that no one else has to think about what happened) is necessary. Real forgiveness is earned with honest acknowledgement of wrongdoing and sincere, ongoing, and above all successful efforts to make amends. If you promise something will never happen again and it does, guess what? You don’t fucking deserve to be forgiven. Not that people have to be perfect to make amends, but they have to fucking try. Without any efforts from the people who hurt me to make things right, it is literally impossible for me to “forgive.”
In all the time I’ve spent thinking about forgiveness or letting go or moving on, I’ve read precisely one article that has anything remotely useful to say about forgiveness. To paraphrase fairly heavily, that article says there are three steps to take before you can forgive:
1. Acknowledge the harm done.
2. Feel your feelings about it.
3. Talk about it.
The standard “forgiveness” bullshit allows me to do precisely zero of those things. Instead, it tells me that I should just stop being angry, as if I can flip my emotions on and off like a fucking light switch, that I don’t have the right to feel inconvenient feelings about it, and that I shouldn’t talk about it. Funny how all those things do much more good for my abuser than they do for me.
I’ve tried not acknowledging the harm that’s been done to me, and it’s fucking exhausting to pretend things are okay when they are most certainly not. I’ve tried not feeling my feelings too. Trying to swallow my anger just made it worse, to get anywhere I had to decide I had the right to be angry and that I was damned well going to keep being angry until I was good and done. I still hate talking about it, but keeping it a secret is just one more way to pretend it never happened.
Fuck forgiveness, fuck the idea that I don’t have the right to be angry, and especially fuck the idea that other people’s convenience is more important than my well being.
If you want to actually help someone who had been hurt to move on, strike the word “forgive” from your vocabulary. Instead, say “What happened to you was terrible”, “You have a right to be angry”, “Do you want to talk about it?”, and “Is there anything I can do to help?”
If you can’t manage that, then at the very least be honest about what you really mean if you feel the need to spout some bullshit about how they need to let go. Admit that you don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about their happiness and that all you want is for them to shut up about how they were hurt so you can go back to pretending nothing is wrong. And then admit that you’re a worthless sack of shit.