ForumTouchy Subjects ► Forgive and Forget?
There's been a really common thing that's been happening for a while in some social media platforms, mainly Tumblr and Instagram of "forgiving abusers". It's pretty self-explanatory but essentially means letting bygones be bygones, and instead just to ignore any abusers. It makes it seem like forgiveness is a crucial part of healing but from my own personal experience, it seems more like just a really smart method of manipulation. I was assaulted by my therapist and despite it have being a long time ago, I still can't fully forgive him. I understand that people who suffer from mental illness can cause harm accidentally but I'm honestly tired of "being the bigger person" when I was the one who has to deal with all of the fallout. Maybe I'm just selfish but I don't see the good in just allowing people to cause harm just because of a coincidental mental illness. Idk I just want to see other opinions and explanations.
There are circumstances where I would believe it morally right, and circumstances I believe it would be morally wrong.
I guess the distinction is, does it help? Being able to put it down and move on is great. You can't change the past, but having it not affect you any more is the closest thing you can get to it never having happened.
But if trying to forgive someone is going to throw you back into that emotional turmoil, or is going to put a burden of stress and guilt on you, then obviously it's not worth it.

I'm not saying that nobody deserves forgiveness. People can learn, and people can change. But a lot of times people seek forgiveness for something in a selfish act. They want to be forgiven, not because it's a sign that the person they've hurt is recovering, but to make themselves feel better.
Will forgiving someone who genuinely wants to do better and be better help them accomplish that? I'd say it's a morally just action. Will forgiving someone who just wants clemency so they don't have to feel bad help promote future bad behaviors? I'd say it's not a good thing to do. Having someone ask for forgiveness from you, despite knowing doing so will hurt you, pretty solidly puts them in the second category in my opinion.

The answer from me, I guess, is it's really complicated. People are complicated. There is no blanket rule, that forgiving people is good, or refusing to do so is bad. Don't listen to anyone trying to push that.
As the person who was wronged, it is neither your obligation or your duty to look after the feelings of the person who wronged you. You do whatever helps you cope. Past that, do whatever you think makes the world a better place.
I don't think that forgiveness is always necessary or even beneficial to healing from sexual abuse.

It's important to accept what happened and process those events, but it's okay to say that you can never forgive the person who did that to you. In processing, it's good to let go as many of the negative feelings associated with it as possible - which I think is sometimes conflated with "forgiving" the abuser. Forgiveness is one way to let go and move on, true, but you can still release those emotions while also accepting that their actions were unforgivable.

It helps me to think of my assaults in a more academic and clinical sense. These are events that happened. I focus on the actual events, accept the emotions that are connected with them, and then acknowledge that those emotions are in the past and aren't relevant to who I am now. I don't forgive the people who did it to me - how could I? But they are distant now and no longer matter in the same immediate, urgent way that they once did. I'm still angry, but more in an academic kind of way. The way I feel about atrocities happening in other countries. It's not here and now, but it is still a horrible thing that I am against and angry about on principal.

This sort of distancing helped me to no longer get stuck in intrusive thought cycles. Once you accept that you don't have to feel that way any longer and accept the emotions and facts of your assault, it becomes something that is more comprehensible and more within your control, if that makes sense.
Back to the original post M3ltingM00nlight, forgiveness is just one way to let go of negative feelings as Eriophora said. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or condoning wrongdoing. If you can reach a point where you can forgive, that's great but that isn't the same as this social media fad. Using 'forgiveness' as a way to get attention will wear off like any novelty.
Basically agree with what people have already said. Forgiveness is a moral imperative and a blessing to the one who does the forgiving. That doesn't mean you should pretend it never happened or allow (as far as your actions are concerned) someone to continue abusing you or anyone else.
From O Brother, Where Art Thou:
Pete: The Preacher said it absolved us.

Ulysses Everett McGill: For him, not for the law. I'm surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.

Delmar O'Donnell: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.

Ulysses Everett McGill: That's not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed.
Just don't despise the person and feel something like a hope that they go to prison solely because you want them to suffer. Try to understand why they did it so that if you do something like, I dunno, raise kids then you can help keep them from doing the same thing and don't pull the whole "MY kid would never do something like that." Just don't be a shitty person. That's nothing to do with some sort of naive idea that because you went through something traumatizing, you ought to be more humble or that you need to be "the bigger person"; it's just that being a shitty person is shitty.

Or don’t. You got assaulted by your freakin therapist of all people. Listening to people on the internet tell you how to feel about THAT can’t feel great. As long as you’re not still experiencing the acute effects of something traumatic and you’re functioning as well as reasonably possible and your life is going okay, that’s all I really care about. I wish that’s all anyone cared about. I can’t think of many things other than that to have an option about re: someone else’s getting raped. Please tell me “a while” hasn’t really been that long.
Thank you so much for the incredibly kind words, Antimony, it means a lot to me. This happened around 3 years ago and I've since moved from that town but it's still been stuck in my head ever since. I don't want to be the stereotypical spinster who's bitter about the past but while I acknowledge his humanity I still can't stop rethinking it to a really scary degree and it's exhausting both emotionally and physically. A lot of my feelings are mixed and I don't know which parts are my own thoughts and which parts are just what he told me. It's hard to move on while simultaneously hating him, and I feel like I'm losing my sympathy and empathy in the process.
Here's a replica of a badge design I came up with many years ago as a response to some holocaust denialists. I hope the distinction made there has some resonance here.

Bullshit. Forgiveness is neither necessary nor sufficient pursuant to "healing" following an inflicted trauma.
I'm not sure it's either of those, but it is helpful and good.
I only forgive them if they deserve to be forgiven. They gotta earn back what they once lost. I'll give them the chance to do so but it's on them to prove themself back. People would get nowhere if all they did was forget and forgive. They need to take responsibility for all they have done and take steps to fix it. Just imagine if we had the forget and forgive mindset for criminals, do you think after they would learn their lesson and not do crimes? This is one of the main reasons people get stuck in bad and toxic relationships. they give them all these 2nd chances and don't see what's going on.
I would never, ever want someone who raped or sexually abused me to try to "prove" themselves to me. I want them to never contact me again.

Regaining trust is applicable to some things, but not to this.
I do sort of want to forgive him, but more mainly just because I want to move on, not really for his sake. Does that make it invalid in some way or is forgiveness the same either way?
because I want to move on

Well, it’s been a long while since I started this thread up and I just want to send out a thank you to everyone for caring. At the time I asked this it was a painfully lonely time for me but I’ve been doing online therapy recently and I’m slowly but surely coming to terms with everything. It’s been hard but I’m trying my best and this is the happiest I have been in a long time. I’m lucky to have had people to vent to who cared. If any trauma survivors read this, I just want this to be proof that having people to talk to and a release can be cathartic and healing, and I’d be glad to be that person. Thanks for everything.
Necropost, but from a therapeutic standpoint it can be harmful to expect people to forgive transgressions. In my practice, I never told people they ought to forgive. In fact, I often told them they had every right to feel angry and hurt.

Whether or not it is the intention, being told to forgive often makes people feel like their experiences are downplayed or invalidated. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I have only partially come to forgive my mother for the way she was during my childhood and teen years - and I am 35. It is freeing, but it needed to happen in its own time. The idea that I should forgive her was very problematic for me for a number of years and I would have responded very negatively if someone had said I should.
Maybe that's true if someone feels they are being pushed to forgive, but a very quick lit review seems to indicate that forgiveness is healthier. Holding onto anger/resentment appears to be bad for one's health. I don't know how that translates to therapeutic practice.
You can let go of anger and resentment without forgiving someone. There are multiple ways to process trauma.
I think maybe we're operating under different definitions of "forgiveness"? Letting go of anger and resentment, being able to wish someone well despite what they've done, is the basis of forgiveness as I see it. What do you consider forgiveness to be?
Just because you've let go of anger and resentment does not mean you wish someone well. It's possible to think of them as horrible people without having the emotions attached any more - or at least, without having them be intrusive any longer.

It's a matter of processing your emotions, accepting them, understanding why you had the reactions you did, and moving on. You can still recognize that the person who hurt you is despicable after doing so. You don't have to forgive them.

To me, forgiveness means that you don't blame them any more. It means that you say "it's okay now." However, the way I see it, some things can't be made "okay." Their actions were awful, and you're well within your rights to consider them awful and tell them to fuck right off if you ever see them again. It's fine to still hold a more... Intellectual, I guess, anger towards them. I don't forgive the people who hurt me, but I also am no longer hurting the way I used to.

You forgive a friend who made a mistake and feels bad for their actions. The relationship can reset and you both rebuild and move on.

You don't necessarily forgive someone who abused you. Their actions are inexcusable, and it will never be okay - though, with time, you yourself can process it and become okay again.
As someone who recently wrote a play on the subject of forgiveness, I find that the best thing to do is think about what happened. Do you hate/not forgive them simply for the sake of not forgiving them or do you still hold them accountable for what they did? In other words, are you holding the grudge simply for the sake of holding a grudge?

Nobody's entitled to forgiveness, that's basically fact. And ultimately, you're the judge of whether or not they deserve to be forgiven. But, in my opinion, the best way to determine if someone is worthy or deserving of forgiveness is introspection. Specifically, whether or not their actions still affect you and still hold power over you. If you still find yourself upset or deeply affected by what they did or said, you are totally justified in not forgiving them, and I'd certainly encourage you not to if you feel it's wrong or in any way "forced". But if you're getting upset by forcing yourself to, or if you have to stretch over something they said ten years ago in a single conversation in a different climate, you might be holding a grudge just for the sake of holding a grudge. Or if they're making efforts to change their ways and seem to be making progress towards it, partial forgiveness may be a interpersonal reward that could encourage them on their way to 'reform'.

Ultimately, these are extremes of "day to day effect" and "a couple bad conversations years ago", and there's definitely a spectrum in between. My general opinion when it comes to forgiveness is to think about both the effect it still holds over you nowadays and how the person may have changed or acted in order to either repair things, hold themselves accountable, or self-improve. Are they a different person, and should that person be held accountable for what an earlier version of them did?

Forgiveness isn't a right or an entitlement, it's a choice made by those who have been wronged. Only you can make that decision, and don't feel bad if it isn't a "popular" choice or it doesn't seem "moral", as it's based on personal experience. Only you can stop forest fires forgive

I should add to the fact that I've never had anyone abuse/take advantage of/wrong me in any major way so my point is based on personal views and may be rendered moot in the context of this conversation. But that's just my two cents.
I think there's a difference between holding a grudge and withholding forgiveness. Holding a grudge is active - you have to make a conscious choice to continue being angry. Witholding forgiveness is passive. It is the default state, even if you rarely think about what they did to you any more.

Forgiving someone is an active, specific choice. It's not just some default thing that happens when you're not longer upset about what someone did to you.

Just because I'm no longer angry and upset at someone doesn't mean I've forgiven them.
I see forgiveness differently, so I'm just going to state more specifically what I'm talking about. I am not advocating any of the following:
  • Pardoning the wrongdoer from appropriate negative consequences for their actions
  • Continuing to associate with them
  • Saying that what they did was okay
  • Forgetting what they did / putting oneself in a position where it could easily happen again
I am advocating the following:
  • Letting go of hatred for the wrongdoer and the desire to exact revenge
  • Hoping for their repentance and reformation, to the extent possible
  • Loving them as a human being
Forgiveness in this sense is very difficult, especially for extreme harm. But it's also very liberating and in my opinion always the right thing to do.

Botham Jean's brother hugs ex-officer Amber Guyger after sentencing. I think he goes just one step too far by suggesting she shouldn't bear the legal repercussions of her actions and go to prison, but this is one of the most powerful demonstrations of forgiveness I've ever seen. This is the kind of forgiveness to which we should all aspire.
I see forgiveness the way you do Hydrogen. Even though I've long since given up on faith, the Christian view of forgiveness is more or less the most powerful value I've maintained. One thing I notice though is people often expect forgiveness in the sense that you accept their actions, and get indignant that that isn't the case.

It's easy to be serially mistreated by someone who feels that your anger at their continuing lack of reform sounds like an inability to get over some past grievance.
A'ight. I'm just going to get super blunt and personal here. I was sexually abused for several years as a child by my "step brother." If you'd like to read about it in detail, I've got a big ol' blog post that I actually just recently wrote about exactly what happened there. It's been on my mind lately, and I wanted to share in a bid to potentially help others who have gone through similar.


  • Letting go of hatred for the wrongdoer and the desire to exact revenge.
I have zero desire to enact revenge. I don't really feel "hatred" any more, per se - it's more just an abstract sort of anger that I was put into that situation when I had no ability to handle it. I'm angry that this sort of thing happens to people, including me, but also including everyone else it has happened to. I hated him when I was younger, but I don't have that feeling there any more. I'm just sad that little kid me had to deal with that.

  • Hoping for their repentance and reformation, to the extent possible
I mean, yeah, I hope that he isn't out there abusing anyone else now? But I've always hoped that? I don't really care what he does with his life beyond that, though. I honestly would not want to hear any sort of apology and I would never wish to interact with him again. His repentance is irrelevant to me. As long as he isn't hurting anyone now, that is the only thing that matters to me.

  • Loving them as a human being
I don't think this is possible or even particularly desirable in my case. I don't want to love someone who abused me and performed such a complete and utter betrayal of trust.

I would never be able to look him in the eye and tell him that I forgive him for what he did. I don't. I don't know how I'd feel if I saw him in person again, but I rather suspect it wouldn't have any sort of loving them as a human being involved. Nor do I think it is particularly desirable that I do so.

Forgiveness seems like a very loaded, personal thing that you issue to someone who wronged you. It involves the person who hurt you. I've accepted and come to terms with what happened, but that doesn't mean that I forgive him. That just means that I, myself, have processed the negative emotions involved. That's something internal to me. It... it doesn't involve him, really. His existence is completely irrelevant to this process, almost.

Telling an abuse victim that they should love their abuser, even just "as a human being," is frankly pretty offensive.... which is effectively what you have done here. What's liberating is going on to live a good life despite it, and using your experience to be empathetic and help others who have also been hurt. It's liberating to turn your trauma into a tool to better understand and love your fellow humans who aren't abusers.

Everyone processes trauma differently, and it is not helpful to say that it will be "liberating" to love the person who hurt you - perhaps that is fine to say if you're speaking to someone who did find that particular path useful, but it is not the sort of thing to put on a public forum in my opinion where there will be many people with many varied pasts. It can help some people. It will not help all people.
Forum > Touchy Subjects > Forgive and Forget?