“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim – letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” – C.R. Strahan
I’ve quickly realized forgiveness is not a hot topic when talking to survivors of abuse. Forgiveness can seem impossible in the midst of pain, and in the aftermath. How do you forgive people that have torn you down to nothing? How do you forgive people that ignored your pleas of help? How do you forgive yourself? In the middle of reliving my past I was filled with raging hate. Hate towards myself, towards every person that hurt me, and towards people that didn’t believe me nor did anything to protect me. I didn’t care about someone understanding; I wanted revenge. I wanted the people that hurt me to hurt the way I had been hurt, I wanted them to suffer like I had, like I still was. I wanted them to lose the time in life I had and to feel the feelings that gripped me by the throat. I wanted them to feel empty, used, and broken.
Contradicting the hate I had inside of me, I was fearful of the consequences of my unforgiveness. I grasped for answers; listening to anyone that could give me an explanation, anyone that could pull me out of the pit I was in. I’d sneak in questions about forgiveness in conversations trying to form my own opinion, but also trying to get down to the truth – what is forgiveness? The idea of forgiveness yelled out giving up and I saw it as screaming to the world and everyone in it that I was ok with what happened.
Battling with my contradicting thoughts and feelings, I heard both sides; my anger wanting to accept those that reasoned forgiveness is not necessary to heal. As bitter and hurt as I felt, the twisting of my stomach and core beliefs told me differently. I felt stuck and immobile with the negativity that flowed through me. Anger was running my life, following me around like my shadow. The more I tried to push it away, the stronger it came back; voices whispering in my ears “They did this to you, it’s their fault you’re here. You’re miserable and their life is great!”
Continuing to question forgiveness, I wondered if I was even capable. I fought with being angry, hurt, and betrayed by everyone around me. Being let down by school administrators, family, the police, and doctors – the signs were all there. How could I possibly forgive? As I worked through counseling, my walls continued to come down, but it took more than just counseling for my self-hate and shame to begin to diminish. The combination of counseling and my counselor’s effortless way of not seeing me as I saw myself took me by surprise. I couldn’t understand how someone could know the truth and not shun me, not want to throw me to the side like trash. While I struggled to accept the person other people saw me as, my heart and rough exterior began to change. God’s grace began to flood my heart, and the more I fought it, the more I pushed it away, the stronger the waves came.
“[You] are loved.” John 3:16
“[You] are fearfully and wonderfully made, all of His works are wonderful and [you] are one of them.” Psalm 139:14
“[You] are His masterpiece, created to be new in Christ so that [you] can do good things He planned long ago.” Ephesians 2:10
I fought with these words, words that surely couldn’t be true for me. I was the exception. But the more I could see these words working in my life, the more I began to think, “Maybe I’m not that bad.” The walls around my heart started to tumble down to the point where I was either going to be an open target for the enemy to use, or an open vessel for God to heal.
As I started to hate myself less and less, I started to let go of the self-blame and shame. I pleaded with God to take the heaviness and anger I had towards myself. I wanted to forgive myself for the things I did wrong, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let go of the anger or disgust I felt towards myself. I couldn’t, but God could. And so another boulder I was carrying around began to be lifted. Although the feelings of self-blame and shame didn’t disappear forever, I learned how to combat them when they did come up. I refused to let negative feelings and thoughts about myself run my life. Those “you’re filthy and can never be made whole” lies were replaced; replaced with wisdom and a forgiveness that only God can give.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 (NIV)