He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to loveMartin Luther King Jr.
We’ve all seen those short, inspirational quotes encouraging us to lead better lives. However well meaning they may be, the ones promoting forgiveness make me feel angry, hurt and belittled.
You see, I’m unable to forgive my grandfather for deciding to use my body for his own sexual gratification when I was a child. And neither do I wish to.
To do so feels like betraying that little girl, who, because of his enjoyment of harming her, felt isolated and worthless whilst playing with her friends and struggled to carry the weight of guilt and shame on her small shoulders.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strongMahatma Gandhi
I no longer have contact with my family because I can’t bear hearing comments like ‘it was a long time ago’ or ‘you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.’
And I was furious to be told that my grandfather should apologise to me, as if his repeated and deliberate acts of sexual violence against small children were somehow ‘an accident’ or ‘just a mistake’ that could be absolved with a ‘sorry.’
Similarly, it’s really painful when people say that I should forgive the man who abused me. To me it feels so minimising, as if the abuse wasn’t that bad. It was that bad.
And I worry how the narrative that sexually abusing a child is forgivable, can be used by those looking for excuses to offend. Why not, if the victim will forgive them? And if they don’t, then something is wrong with the victim; they are weak, stupid or unable to love.
True forgiveness is when you can say ‘thank you for that experience’Oprah Winfrey
In any case, the victim is not responsible for the perpetrator’s feelings should they choose not to forgive. Not that the man who violated me ever apologised or showed any contrition for the pain he caused me. Instead, he added to it.
Because shortly after reporting his crimes to the police, malicious cancer cells attempted another coup on my body, this time a surprise attack from another position. My hairless body poisoned by months of nauseating drugs was unrecognisable when I received the punch in the stomach delivered by telephone to say that my grandfather had pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the crimes he committed against me.
So I, his victim, his own granddaughter, had to fight a drawn out and traumatising court case concurrently with fighting for my life, whilst he lied and feigned dementia and disability so he could avoid being held accountable. Why should I forgive him?
Many of the quotes say that forgiveness is for my benefit, that I will never feel free of bitterness or resentment if I don’t forgive. Yet I have managed to enjoy many happy years without forgiving the man who abused me. And neither do I believe that forgiveness is the only path to peace.
When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgiveNelson Mandela
Those malignant cancer cells stole my pregnancy and my fertility. The scan that should have announced a new life, revealed instead, my own death.
My health and youth were cast aside as I was ushered onto the cancer treatment conveyor belt of operations and chemotherapy that deposited my shattered, shell-shocked body at the other end as if I’d been shipwrecked on a beach. Gone were all night parties and walking holidays, to be replaced with aching joints and debilitating fatigue that often sends me to bed before the six o’clock news.
Yet despite the loss of motherhood, a premature and unprepared entry into middle age, and distress of witnessing others’ deaths from this horrendous disease, I have accepted and live in peace with the cancer bomb inside me that may explode at any moment, remain dormant or simply decay away.
Likewise, despite the loss of my childhood and estrangement from my family, I live in relative peace with the long-term consequences of my grandfather’s crimes, not because I have forgiven him, but because I have accepted the fact of what he did.
And I feel angry with these quotes suggesting that I am weak, stupid or unable to love because I have chosen a different path to healing other than forgiveness.
If we really want to love, then we must learn to forgiveMother Teresa
I’m not unable to love! I still love some members of my family although I am unable to forgive them. And neither am I weak or stupid.
Because when I was told that my grandfather had pleaded not guilty, cancer dominated my life with fear and my surgically scarred body was broken from gruelling treatment. Yet when asked if I wanted to continue with my prosecution, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes.’
And I didn’t give up.
Each time the case teetered on the verge of collapsing, I didn’t give up. My family failed to give me support, but I didn’t give up. However lonely and despairing I felt, I didn’t give up. I’m not weak.
Weak people revenge, strong people forgive, intelligent people ignoreAlbert Einstein
My hair regrew with thick, brown curls that I’ve always wanted, my body set to work repairing itself and one unforgettable day, I stood in the courtroom to hear the judge’s sentencing remarks following my grandfather’s conviction.
No, it wasn’t forgiving him that set me free. It was standing up to him, taking back control and in return handing him the blame, shame and guilt which properly belonged to him.
I’m happy that some people find forgiving their abuser helpful to them. But I don’t believe that forgiveness is the only way to ‘let go’.
And I’m offended by quotations implying that I am weak, stupid or unable to love because I choose not to forgive the paedophile that abused me. That was me he tortured; my body, my pain and only I can judge whether what I suffered was forgivable or not. It was not.
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forgetThomas Szasz