Monday, March 3, 2014

I Won't Forgive

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

When I started to read more about healing from abuse, I often came across the word forgiveness. I discovered that a lot of people feel that forgiving the person who hurt you will help you release your past. According to a lot of them forgiveness is letting go. Although I'm all for letting go, I don't think forgiving an abuser is something that's healthy for every survivor. And I most certainly think it's not healthy for me.

What does forgiveness mean?

Different dictionaries seem to have different explanations about the verb to forgive. But the most common ones are:
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)
     (source: The Free Dictionary)

The first two meanings can be related to forgiving an abuser. I know a lot of people feel resentment towards the person who hurt them. The advice they often get is to forgive this person, so that they can let go. But, in my opinion, forgiving someone is more than just letting go. According to a lot of dictionaries it can also be about not blaming someone anymore, or to grant someone pardon for their wrongdoing. For me this has a lot to do with empathising with the person who hurt you. For example, I was bullied in high school, but have forgiven the teenagers who bullied me. I've forgiven them, not only because I let it go, but also because I understand they were young and only tried to not get bullied themselves. Because I can empathise with them, I don't blame them for what they did and in a way I've granted them pardon for what they did.

My history with forgiveness

I'm someone who forgives people frighteningly easily. It comes naturally to me. And for me, forgiving people also involved not blaming them anymore and empathising with what they did. I also didn't punish them in any way for what they did. Because I did this so easily and after such a short time, it was very easy for them to hurt me again. This also happened with my abusive ex-boyfriend. Every time he had hurt me, I forgave him almost immediately. That's why he was able to abuse me over and over again. And not blaming him meant I blamed myself. Because someone had to be responsible for the hurt I was subjected to. It damaged my self-esteem, which made it difficult to leave.

Taking my forgiveness back

After I realised what he'd done to me and when I started healing, I decided to take my forgiveness back. It was time to not just give it to everyone anymore. This felt very empowering. I decided to hold on to blaming him and being angry. I needed to feel that this was his fault and that it was something awful. 
I don't feel angry anymore. I hardly acknowledge his existence, really. But I'm not going to forgive. You see, because I see forgiving as something more than just letting go, I don't think everyone deserves it. I can let go just fine without the additional blame-lifting and pardon-giving. I think forgiveness is something people should deserve to get. I need to empathise with why they did what they did and I need to understand to some extent. Empathising with my ex is something extremely dangerous for me to do. As I said before, I already did this during the relationship and it is something that prevented me from leaving. 

I know people like Oprah and Dr. Phil talk a lot about forgiving your abuser in order to move on. I can understand that may help people who feel a lot of resentment and need to find a way to let that go. So I'm certainly not saying nobody should forgive the people who abused them. I just want to let people know you don't have to. And it also doesn't have to be the best course of action for you. Especially when you're still in an abusive situation, or when forgiving someone makes it easy for you to blame yourself. In my healing journey I've had to learn to find my own path, even if everybody seems to do it differently. The element of choice is something very important to survivors, because our choice has already been taken away from us in the past. That's why you choose your healing journey, and you choose if forgiving an abuser will help you. Please don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

* What do you think about forgiving an abuser? Do you think it would be helpful or damaging to you? Or, if you have forgiven them, why did you choose to do so and how did it help you?*

Written by: Fenna Vlekke


  1. I guess it's not about forgiving him but more about forgiving yourself. In my case I have trouble letting go because I have trouble forgiving myself. It's not really about him, is it? It has been about him long enough now. Now it's time for you and the most important part is forgiving yourself. That also means, you have to stop hiding behind hating him. Which is not the same thing as forgiving him. I hope I'm making sense. Most important part of what I'm trying to say is: you shouldn't be hating him, forgiving him or loving him, he's not important but you are. Forgive yourself, love yourself and stop hating yourself for it.

    1. Thanks for your reply. I agree with you that it's very important to forgive yourself, before you even think about forgiving an abuser. And you're right, it's not about the abuser at all, it's all about a survivor and their healing journey.

  2. Great post and insights Fen! Really agree with your views! I think many people don´t have a clear understanding of the meaning of forgiveness... and perhaps it means something else in different cultures (oprah, dr. phill)... or perhaps it means something different to every individual... quite likely ;-)
    Forgiveness as something to be earned is a very interesting idea to me... with a bit of a double side... a side of the offender, but to some extent I suppose also a side of the forgiver... What about reaching the level of forgiving yourself before it is even possible about thinking of (and judging whether or not to) forgiving..
    Very inspiring post, thanks for sharing! Hugs! N

    1. Hey Nar :). Thanks for your reply! Yes, I think everyone has their own meaning of the word and it's a very personal matter whether or not someone wants to forgive. I agree with you that forgiving yourself should always be the first priority.

  3. Excellent insight. I agree with you. Forgiveness of the abuser is a choice for survivors and forgiveness is not the most important part of recovery for a survivor. Forgiving yourself is important and what I personally think what the letting go part is about. Not hanging on to the false shame and guilt that was planted there by our abusers. I have given the topic of forgiveness a lot of thought myself in my blog at: . Take care - Paulabrave

    1. Hi paulabrave,
      Thanks for your reply! I think you're right. Letting go has a lot to do with forgiving yourself. I like that you also dealt with this topic on your own blog! I'll take a look.