I'm Done Trying to Forgive My Abusers
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.
When I fully stepped into adulthood, I wasn’t prepared for the whirlwind of discomfort that my now-diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would give me. Despite being out of the violent situation, I was disturbed by night terrors, daily triggers from everyday events and with people who even slightly resembled my abusers. I’ve proactively gotten help too, from other victims of child abuse and also therapists. For some reason, advice always began with forgiveness.
And I cannot forgive my abusers.
I didn’t knock it all at once, though. In fact, I tried forgiveness for several years. I attempted to establish a relationship with my mother first, since she was the one that seemed remorseful for the experiences. I even allowed her to meet my newborn children and trusted that she could learn to love them, despite struggling to ever show me an ounce of love or mercy.
In the beginning, it was alright. She was adamant about never bringing up the past and she was always trying to “move forward.” And if I tried talking about the past, she would be unresponsive or annoyed.
After a few years of trying, I felt my PTSD was actually getting worse. I was repeating the cycle in my life of always trying to get my mother to help me and to earn her love. While my father and brother were the major players in my history of abuse, my mother was the one that turned the other cheek. I would beg for her help and she would leave. I would try to tell her what was happening and she would tell me I deserved it. I can vividly remember a time when she told me to pack my bags and leave. I was 6 years old, when she put my little backpack on my back and pushed me out the door.
This was a cycle I was starting to recognize.
I would want to talk about the past so I could understand the events, and she would protect her husband and her beloved son, pushing the blame back on me.
I would bring up a time where I know, deep down, that I didn’t do anything to warrant punishment of any sort and she would put her hands up to her ears and yell, “I don’t want to hear this!”
And if I ever dared bring up the moments when she took part in the abuse, she would become angry and leave the situation.
So no, I cannot forgive my abusers.
I cannot forgive the times my mother grabbed fistfuls of my hair to cut it all off and made me stand in front of the living room window, standing in degrading poses. She would point to the passing cars in the congested traffic and said, “I hope your classmates see you and your hair and they all point and laugh at you when you go to school tomorrow.”
I cannot forgive the times my father had beaten me to unconsciousness, told me that he was going to kill me that day and then made clean my blood off the walls.
I cannot forgive my brother for touching me in ways no brother should ever force on his sister, just like I cannot forgive my parents for ignoring the behavior when I begged for it to stop.
As an adult with my own children, I did think it would be best if I tried “to be a family.” My mother had urged me to let things go, that “the past is in the past and everyone’s changed except you. You need to learn how to let things go.”
And the various family therapists that have come and go have definitely agreed with her statement.
I can’t forgive them. And I won’t.
But I have learned to forgive myself.
And in forgiving myself, I learned to remove myself from situations and environments that don’t contribute to my healing. I’ve become demanding of optimism, positivity and change.
Through this realization, I’ve found my value as a human being — that I’m not just somebody’s victim or a survivor anymore, but I have permission to live.
I have permission to thrive. To feel joy. To accept the love of others who freely give it.
I consciously made the decision to no longer associate with my abusers or anyone who dares to relay messages from them. Anyone who does not respect my healing on my time, on my terms is not welcome in my space.
Setting this boundary seems small, but the second I did it, it upheaved my whole life for the better.
Those that took advantage of my constant state of victimization did not like the new, more confident me and they revealed themselves. And I kicked them out.
Those that were interested in gossip and stirring the pot by relaying messages from my abusers, were cut out of my life.
Those that did not respect my wishes or kept pushing the “forgive your abusers” Kool-Aid, were also removed from my space.
I cannot lie to myself anymore. I cannot pretend everything is OK and that every time I hear my mother’s voice, I’m not reminded of the times that she abandoned me or used her flavor of humiliation-as-punishment to strip me of any confidence.
After over a year of removing those who did not belong, I peeled back a more vulnerable layer of myself. I spoke my truths, and I saw who was left standing. To my surprise, none of them flinched — as if they already knew. They had already accepted me, unconditionally, no matter who had hurt me or what I had done in the past.
They reminded me of my humanity and that I can choose to not be a mirror of my upbringing.
That I can choose love, to be loved and also, who to love.
And I believe family has little to do with blood and genetics, but who is holding you up on days when you just want to be buried.
So if you’re reading this and people are telling you that your own healing begins with forgiving your abusers, you can try it.
I encourage you to at least try it.
But if you tried it and you feel like it’s absolute bullshit, then don’t do it. You only have to forgive yourself.
Forgive yourself for not fighting back (or for fighting back and making it worse).
Forgive yourself for not saying anything if anyone had ever asked if you were alright (or saying something and you were ridiculed).
Forgive yourself for not having “strength” or “courage” or leave (or leaving and going right back to that person).
Abuse is not as black and white as society might make it. We are constantly asked questions like, “If it was so bad, why did you go back?” “Why did you stay for so long?” “Why did you try to establish a relationship with that person after the fact?”
Our healing processes are not linear. We will try just about anything to “get better.” To forget. To get closure. Hell, most of us don’t even know what we want or what we’re looking for. Some of us turn to drugs, alcohol, sex or decide to turn off the lights (and please, if this is where you are, say something.)
You’ll have days where you are content and it feels like things are looking up.
You’ll have days where you’ll wonder where you went wrong and how things got so fucked up.
You will create a space where you can heal in your own way.
But you will never be responsible for what someone has done to you.
You did not contribute to your own abuses, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.
You didn’t “ask for it” or put yourself in the situation, even if you keep finding yourself in the same abusive cycles.
Take a step back and ask yourself where it all started.
How did it all begin?
And forgive yourself for being there. You cannot walk away from it now and it will forever leave a mark on your history, but you can decide to not let it control you anymore.
The only person you need to forgive is you.
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Unsplash photo via Kimson Doan