I've been thinking a lot about what Denise Marshall spoke about yesterday at FemiFest.
She gave a very moving account of her own experience of childhood sexual abuse. She then spoke about how she would never forgive her abuser, and she would never forget. She also said that she didn't agree with therapy. I wish I could give a more nuanced account of her argument, but my memory is terrible. I should have been taking notes!
Anyway, it really struck a chord with me. I was in an abusive relationship for three years with a sadist who did terrible things to me. I was beaten and raped regularly. I lost count of the times I thought I would be killed by him. I finally left him about 10 years ago, and it took a long time for me to heal. But I have always maintained that I would never, ever forgive him for what he did. I will always be angry. But I have an outlet - radical feminism. I am outraged that this, and far far worse, is the daily reality for women across the world.
When I got home from the conference yesterday I spoke frankly about all this with my partner for the first time. He was quite shocked, and insisted that it was unhealthy for me to refuse to let go of what happened. I asked him to respect my decision, which he has, but I feel frustrated that he doesn't understand where I'm coming from.
I would love to hear what other people think about these issues. Should we forgive and forget? Is anger unproductive?
i'm very conscious that i am responding as someone who has not been abused in this way, so apologies if anything i say is out of line. i'm so sorry you've had such appalling experiences
i am sure that what people who have survived abuse "need" will vary from person to person
but i think that the idea of "forgive and forget" or at the very least "forgive", "find peace" etc can sometimes be about the comfort of the people around the abused person. in a similar way to how people behave with a bereaved person (apologies for any offence in this analogy), it is easier for those around them if their feelings aren't raw and evident.
this feeling doesn't have to be coming from an unpleasant place (though it can - "i don't want to have to deal with your feelings or make allowances for you") - it could be from a place of love as it sounds like it might with your partner (not to put words into his mouth) - "i hate the idea of you continuing to feel such pain and i think this will help it stop"
either way, it is easier for people surrounding the survivor of abuse if they are seen to have "moved on"
OMG, I have a very similar view OP! I absolutely do not believe that anger is "unhealthy" or "toxic," and I think that whole school of thought is rooted in disapproval of angry people and has absolutely nothing to do with convern for their health or happiness.
I HATE the trite shit that people say about anger ("staying angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die" - oh fucking do one, you pious arsehole) and refusing to forget people's atrocious behaviour ("anger is such a waste of your energy" - if it's taking up your energy then you're doing it wrong, pal).
I read something really good on this topic once, I'll google and see if I can find it for you.
I was abused as a child and I can't say I've forgiven or forgotten because I don't think those things actually apply in this circumstance. Forgiving and forgetting is relevant in a situation where someone makes a genuine mistake, apologises and makes up for it in some way. When a person deliberately sets out to hurt you, enjoys it, considers they have done nothing wrong and shows no remorse for it forgiving them really doesn't make any sense IMO - why would you forgive them? For me forgiveness is about repairing a relationship and developing an understanding of the wrongs other people do you. I would never want to be within 100 feet of my abusers never mind have a relationship with them and I certainly can't understand what they did, and I don't want to. I honestly feel that by forgiving them I am making a fool of myself - I'm sure if they heard I'd forgiven them they would laugh in my face as my forgiveness would mean nothing to them. They consider me to be nothing.
What I have tried to do, and succeeded to a certain extent, is to let it go. To reconcile myself to the fact that those men are evil arsewipes of satan and I had the bad luck to cross their paths while under the "care" of parents who couldn't really give a shit. It wasn't my fault and I have nothing to be ashamed of.
But I will never ever forgive. If I had the opportunity to kill those men without repercussions I would.
Anger is healthy. Trying to forgive and forget what an abuser has done is unhealthy. That is my experience.
Ok, I found it (after page after page of links saying that forgiveness is "crucial for your heart and health" - I'll take the cardiac arrest, thanks).
It's a lot more spirited than I remember but I've skimmed the first paragraph and it's still and interesting read.
Also, what Petula says about others not wanting to see your anger is very perceptive. Abuse strips you raw - it is very very hard for people to see you suffering such horror. They want to soothe you and make it better, which isn't a bad thing, but actually for me feeling the anger and embracing it has been massively healing. It was the lack of anger on the part of my mother that damaged me the most out of everything as it made me feel worthless. I would say it was when I told a friend and he burst into tears that I really started to heal - that raw reaction, of shock and anger that signalled to me that in fact what happened was wrong and that it was appropriate to be livid about it (as he was). He said he wanted to kill my abusers, and genuinely a light went on for me. Because that is a valid and sensible reaction IMO. And allowing me to feel that way helped me to start climbing out of that mire of feeling worthless and hopeless and helpless.
I'm sure if they heard I'd forgiven them they would laugh in my face as my forgiveness would mean nothing to them. They consider me to be nothing.
Completely agree with this. I am 100% certain that my rapist feels no remorse. He knew what he was doing and he enjoyed it, and he knows that I am and always will be powerless to retaliate, so what's to regret?
I think the other thing that's relevant when talking about forgiveness is the likelihood of the perpetrator doing it again. I have zero doubt that my rapist had done it before and I have zero doubt that he's still doing it now. He doesn't care about my forgiveness, he loves what he does, he's proud of it.
I should add because I realise that I didn't make it clear in my post before that I think this is wrong - it is placing yet another burden on the survivor of abuse and can be viewed as a continuation of that abuse as they continue to suppress their own feelings for the sake of those around them
Anger felt by someone who has been abused can never be wrong
I agree OP. In the past I have forgiven abuse and found myself abused again by the same person. That person doesn't deserve my forgiveness and I certainly won't forget it either. It is part of me and helps me recognise patterns of behaviour in others. He would be mortified if he knew I hadn't forgiven him because he didn't believe himself to be abusive. Meh! I don't care.
I have forgiven myself though for not leaving. For not standing up to him. For allowing myself to be in that situation. I know it's easy to say it wasn't our fault from the outside or once we are through the other side. But whilst going through it understanding you aren't to blame, that your behaviour was not what prompted hisis really important. The anger is still there but it is much more positive.
He was quite shocked, and insisted that it was unhealthy for me to refuse to let go of what happened.
I loved her speech as well and I completely agreed with (I think everything) actually. But without getting all LTB on you, I think it is a real problem that your partner has decided how you should feel about something and what is "healthy" or "normal" in your situation.
Being sexually attacked is not healthy, nothing healthy can come out of it. But being fucking furious seems a perfectly appropriate response. A natural response, we get upset when someone hurts for a reason. It teaches us to avoid it if we can in the future, it helps us defend ourselves.
I really don't get the whole concept of forced forgiveness anyway, it doesn't do anything it doesn't meant anything, I agree it is there to make others feel better.
Ask your partner to spend the evening imagining he had been abused inn such a way and how likely he was to "get over it" anytime soon.
If you look at it from a purely biblical perspective () then you cannot forgive someone until they repent their actions.
I assume - and know a little from experience - that abusers rarely repent their actions.
Being sexually attacked is not healthy, nothing healthy can come out of it. But being fucking furious seems a perfectly appropriate response
I think this is a very good way of putting it.
I agree with Petula that advice for others may be more about their comfort than yours.
In no way comparable to the abuse you survived, but I was subjected to a couple of years of very emotionally abusive bullying recently. I am still very angry about it.
I also agree with people who've said that to forgive someone, they have to be sorry. My bully isn't, he blames me.
I think your reaction is utterly reasonable, you feel how you feel and don't let anyone make you feel guilt about that.
Now I just need to take my own advice
advice *from others, not for.
"I HATE the trite shit that people say about anger ("staying angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die" - oh fucking do one, you pious arsehole)" LOL, that made me larf.
It was reading Susan Forward's Toxic Parents that gave me permission not to forgive. She briskly dismisses the arguments that you HAVE to forgive to move on, find peace, find closure and says you can have a perfectly good life without doing so and you don't need to do so at all and in fact it's meaningless if someone isn't sorry and even if they are, you STILL don't need to forgive because it's not for anyone else to tell you how to live and how to deal with the wrong that people did you.
It's become an article of faith that you have to forgive to find peace and that if you haven't forgiven, then that must mean that you haven't moved on and you're still broken. You have to prove you're fixed by declaring that you've forgiven, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief then.
It's a very complex issue and I find it hard to articulate how I feel about it but for me it comes down to it's healthier to live with the truth of things, even if the truth isn't that pleasant. Sometimes this 'forgive and forget' business is part of what perpetuates ongoing abusive relationships, or just women being stuck with someone who is an absolute duffer.
I was in an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship and one of the things that confused me about the man was most of his ex-partners maintained a civil and friendly relationship with him. I later discovered this was part of his modus operandi and he kept his claws in his ex-girlfriends as friends by appealing to their more noble instincts and their desire not to seem bitter and petty. After we broke up I fell for this for about three months and then thought 'Why the fuck am I devoting any goodwill towards someone with no redeeming qualities?' and cut all ties. If some of his ex-girlfriends had gone round speaking the truth about him and breaking his windows it may have allowed future victims to see him for what he was before they fell for him. It's not about being angry, it's about being truthful.
I should add that the whole 'You are a bigger and better person if you remain friends with your ex' insidious bullshit should be consigned to the dustbin.
I should add that the whole 'You are a bigger and better person if you remain friends with your ex' insidious bullshit should be consigned to the dustbin.
Some brilliant posts here, thanks.
I agree about the importance of forgiving yourself. For a very long time I was more angry with myself than with him - why did I stay? Did I deserve it? What was wrong with me? I thought these things for years. But I finally realised that none of it was my fault. That's what stopped it consuming my life.
CK - that sounds eerily like my ex. I stayed friends with him too - until he showed up at my door in the middle of the night wanting to come in because the police were after him - he'd broken his girlfriend's arm.
It is heartbreaking watching women buying into that shite though isn't it? I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child then had a violent husband and has awful parents who scapegoated her and are still abusing her by refusing to acknowledge that she was abused and that they abused her physically, emotionally and psychologically and she is tying herself in knots declaring that she forgives them because it's "not healthy" to "hold on to" the anger.
The language that is used around this is so seductive - the idea that you're expending energy physically "holding on" to anger, that it's healthy to embrace denial and to ignore the fact that your parents are still fucking abusing you, is so berserk and puzzling, but that language really makes it difficult for people to withstand the message that " letting go" of your anger sets you free.
And it's definitely gendered, that expectation that you must forgive is nearly always placed on women. The promotion of forgiveness for women, really is based in men's fear of female rage, the rage we have every right to feel because of the abuse they are still fucking inflicting on us by denying that they're doing it. And of course on our own fear of our rage. The Angry Woman taboo is very strong.
It's become an article of faith that you have to forgive to find peace and that if you haven't forgiven, then that must mean that you haven't moved on and you're still broken
TBH I think I have a little bit of an issue with the idea of "closure" itself. I don't think I even really understand what it means. To me it evokes images of things being consigned permanently to the past and never revisited, or at least never revisited with any emotion. I don't believe I'll ever reach that point and I'm not sure I want or need to.
I feel like the whole culture of closure, forgiveness etc, including the disapproval of anger, "bitterness" and "pettiness," is potentially very damaging for people who have been abused/traumatised. It puts so much pressure on them to do the work, to put in the effort, to attain a goal. It makes recovery seem like a linear process and in my experience it just isn't. My experience was very much more chaotic than that, with false starts, regressions, stalling, premature celebration of full recovery, resignation, despair, etc etc. It's probably not over, and it's been 14 years. And (at the moment) I'm ok with that.
Yes it's very gendered.
And yes I agree so much, about forgiving yourself.
This thread reminds me of how a friend of mine was told that she should forgive her rapist and send loving thoughts to him (to avoid bitterness/bad juju)...not long after the attack.
Apparantly I was the only one who she told who reacted with anger at the rapist - it was someone we all knew.
I finally realised that none of it was my fault. That's what stopped it consuming my life
Same for me OP. Discovering feminism was the (very slow) lightbulb moment for me. Up until I started looking at it from a feminist perspective I was very focussed on "Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyy??!" I drove myself mad with it! It was a puzzle that I went over and over and over in my mind, rearranging the pieces endlessly, reliving it, analysing it, SO DETERMINED TO CRACK IT! And yet I could never get it to make sense. THAT'S what was "consuming my energy": the endless, futile, frantic work of trying to make sense of an inexplicable act without the one crucial piece of information that I needed to understand it. It happened because I am female. It's not our fault.
The Angry Woman taboo is very strong
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