Sunday, October 16, 2011

Forgiveness

I went to church tonight for the first time in a long time, like a really long time. My husband and I aren't very religious so it's not something we do every week. I'd say I enjoy church more than him, as I have to drag him kicking and screaming on days that I want to attend :)

I consider myself very spiritual though. I definitely believe in God and pray quite frequently, but it's just the whole organized religion thing that I don't always agree with. Still, with that being said, sometimes I really enjoy going to church, and tonight I just felt like going.

The message was on forgiveness. The minister touched on many types of forgiveness. Forgiveness of betrayal, forgiveness of personality flaws, forgiveness of roommate issues, etc. But of course, no mention of forgiveness of sexual assault. But it did get me thinking.

Is it necessary to forgive in cases of sexual assault?

There was a short period of time in college that I felt like I had to forgive A.T. in order for me to move on. It had almost been two years, and he was about to graduate (we were originally in the same year, but I now had to make up the semester I took off). I got in my head that I needed to hear myself say aloud to him (cringe), "You hurt me, but I forgive you," in order to free myself of the control I felt like he had over my life and mind.

I was really considering it until I told one of my best friends, a guy who I didn't realize had become friendly with A.T. playing club soccer. My friend responded that he thought it was a great idea, that it "would give [A.T.] the opportunity to apologize" because "you know, he's actually a really nice guy."

WTF - a really nice guy?! Give him the opportunity to apologize?! No, this interaction was meant for me. Although my friend's comment was upsetting and high lighted one of the problems with acquaintance rape - mutual friends often confuse pleasantries for someone being a genuinely good person, making it even more difficult for the victim to process their emotions - I was grateful that my friend unintentionally steered me away from verbally forgiving him.

You see, up until my friend's comment, I hadn't even considered the response of A.T. during this imagined interaction. Creating an opportunity for him to justify his behavior as an honest mistake, allowing him to feel better about himself, was not something that would have contributed to my healing. Besides, I wasn't even convinced that he felt any remorse for his actions. I decided that I would forgive him silently.

If you had asked me whether I'd forgiven him up until a few weeks ago when all my hurt resurfaced, I would have likely said yes. However, now that my pain is once again exposed, I realize that I have not forgiven him. I'm not even close to doing so.

In fact, I'm pretty angry and would love to use his face as a punching bag and shake him until the rest of his balding blond hair falls from his head. And to get rid of that superficial smile that keeps popping up in my facebook feed as mutual friends tag him in pictures from our recent high school reunion. The same reunion I couldn't attend because seeing his name on the planning committee emails caused such a strong emotional response in me. Perhaps the fear I felt was unwarranted, but it was enough to keep me from getting that plane ticket.

During my semester away from school, people talked. I came back for my junior year, and it seemed like everyone knew why I had left. Having so many other people know exacerbated my feelings of vulnerability, but I did receive some validation about his character.

An acquaintance who I didn't know very well approached me one night after a friend's birthday party. She hugged me with tears in her eyes, saying that A.T. had attempted the same thing with her. When he ignored her boundaries, she pushed him off of her, resulting in him getting angry and hitting her. She said that when she found out about me, she was planning to back my story if I decided to press charges.

Two other girls said he was a creep, that he had tried to verbally coerce them into having sex on their periods. And another girl, who had been interested in him, lost interest in him when she awoke drunk with him in her bed. Although she had been sexually active for years and had really been interested in dating him, she still felt like something was off in how he behaved that night and no longer felt comfortable around him.

How do you forgive someone when it is doubtful that they have changed their ways? Is it necessary to do so, in order to move on?

The minister gave many examples of praying, saying that instead of praying to get out of a marital slump, one should pray for our hearts to be opened to our spouses. Instead of praying for economic relief, one should pray for a less materialistic heart. I'm comfortable praying for the strength to move on from this, but I am not willing to change my view of him. Not unless I knew he was truly sorry. Not unless I knew he had stopped doing similar things to other girls.

According to dictionary.com, one definition of forgive is "to cease to feel resentment against." Perhaps when I am further along in the healing process, I will feel less resentment towards him. But another definition of forgive listed on dictionary.com reads to "absolve, acquit," and I don't really see myself ever freeing him from the blame of doing what he did to me. Maybe this two-fold definition is what people mean when they say "forgive, but not forget."







4 comments:

  1. (I will help if you need me too.
    "In fact, I'm pretty angry and would love to use his face as a punching bag and shake him until the rest of his balding blond hair falls from his head.")
    I can picture it.

    You asked two very pertinent question -
    "How do you forgive someone when it is doubtful that they have changed their ways? Is it necessary to do so, in order to move on?"
    Forgiveness is a much more complicated thing than most people realize and also people tend to view forgiveness to be about the person being forgiven rather than the person who was wronged. Forgiveness is a very personal decision. It can't be so simply defined in the way dictionary dot com defines it because of the extent of the personal nature involved. Forgiveness has very little to do with them and has more to do with vengeance and not personally holding someones actions or in-actions against them. No one can tell someone else that they should forgive. I certainly haven't forgiven my attacker and I'm not sure I ever will.

    "How do you forgive someone when it is doubtful that they have changed their ways?"
    The people you choose to forgive, you forgive them for what they did to you and not for what they might do to someone else. It is impossible to know with certainty the darkness of another's heart or their future actions. Thus forgiveness has to be a personal decision for your own purposes, and in terms of being a survivor you have to decide if forgiveness helps you in the healing process.

    I think forgiveness is is more about letting go of the pain associated with the person who wronged you/us. For example: I forgive you because I no longer need the pain you caused me to convince me that I was wronged and that I am in no way responsible for what happened to me.

    I have a group therapy friend who was severely sexually abused when she was a teen age girl by her own father. Although her father is dead she wrote him a letter and in the letter she forgave him. You can see the letter here on another website. It is the one at the top of the list entitled "A Letter to My Molester, My Torturer, My Rapist, My Dad"

    http://www.letterstomyabusers.com/survivorletters.html

    I have read her letter 3 times and each time I think to myself if she can forgive him then I can forgive my attacker. I know I'm not ready to let go of the pain yet.

    "Is it necessary to do so, in order to move on?"

    Is forgiveness a must? Well that's another question that has a very personal answer. For the woman who wrote the above letter it was necessary. She explained in therapy one day that a huge weight felt like it had been lifted off of her when she chose to forgive him. She described it as, "I have taken away his power to hurt me remotely."

    "absolve, acquit"
    I'm not sure that those words apply to those who are guilty. I think they only apply to those who was accused and proven to be innocent.

    "forgive, but not forget"
    I think it means more along the lines that I forgive you thus I am no longer angry with you for what you did to me, but I will never forget what you did because I KNOW what kind of a person you have shown yourself to be and I can't ignore that.

    I have rambled on long enough and you must be getting tired of my "book report comments" by now.

    One more thing. If or when you choose to forgive him, forgive him because you deserve to let go of the pain, let go of the memory, and prevent him from hurting you remotely. Never forgive because society expects it or because it is perceived as the right thing to do.

    (((HUGS-JAIME-MELANIE-HUGS)))

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  2. HI Jaime,
    First off, your comment –

    [I will help if you need me too.
    "In fact, I'm pretty angry and would love to use his face as a punching bag and shake him until the rest of his balding blond hair falls from his head.")
    I can picture it.]

    - just made me laugh out loud! I am at clinic right now (pretending to do work), but luckily no one was around :) I can picture it, too, and it's quite a hilarious image!

    I could never tire from your "book report comments." You have so many insightful things to say, and you are so thoughtful and caring to share them with me. Plus, you're really good at making sense of my rambling!

    I read the letter of the survivor in your therapy group - wow, there really are no words. That must have been so hard for her to write and do, but I am so happy that it helped free some of her emotional weight. What a testament her unconditional love for her father and her ability to forgive him are to the human spirit.

    I really found your comment below interesting and helpful:

    "I think forgiveness is more about letting go of the pain associated with the person who wronged you/us." That's so true, but I rarely think of it in this way. Your comment reminded me of a video I came across last night of a woman who was discussing moving on from stranger rape. She said that people always asked her if she had forgiven her rapist, and she replied "no." She explained that she "finally realized that [she] had to forgive [herself] in order to move on, it had nothing to do with him in the end."

    Your example of "I forgive you because I no longer need the pain you caused me to convince me that I was wronged and that I am in no way responsible for what happened to me" really resonated with me as well. This example really illustrates what's been one of my greatest challenges in healing. Being able to say this and actually believe it is going to be my goal.

    I had it all wrong for quite some time. I felt like I needed to take more responsibility for what happened in order to minimize the feelings of having been violated (so that I could function in my everyday life). I think what you spelled out in your example is what my therapist is currently trying to get me to do, now that I am willing to try - recognize the pain and release it. Like you said before, there are no shortcuts in healing.

    Anyway, I am not sure if this makes any sense. I’m not always the best at articulating my thoughts! Thanks again for your input. Glad you’ve got my back, haha ;-)

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  3. I'm glad I was able to make you laugh.

    Thanks for the compliments on my "book report" lol

    I regurgitate a lot of the stuff my therapist is trying to convey. To be especially honest I pretend I don't quite understand her at times so that she will explain things to me in different ways. I figure it won't only give me a better understanding of what she's trying to tell me but will help me be able to better articulate to others.

    Melanie, you always have made sense, and your writing is easy to understand. (((HUG)))

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  4. Thanks, Jaime - you're amazing. I hope you realize that ;-)

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