What if I told you I believe I have the key to true happiness and freedom from resentments and anger towards the person who abused you? Then, what if I told you that you hold the key to that freedom and happiness within yourself? Would you be willing to do what it takes to feel that happiness and freedom?
Good. Now that you have said yes, what if I told you I found gaining that freedom and happiness was as simple as forgiving the person who abused me?
Now wait a minute, Randy. That’s asking a lot. Yes I know, and it was my biggest roadblock to true happiness and freedom as well.
Today, I can honestly say, that for me, forgiveness has been the key to enabling me to find true freedom and happiness. And as difficult as it may be to consider, I believe it can be especially true for survivors of abuse or anyone who has resentments and contempt for people who have harmed them.
Eleven years ago, I would have laughed at that statement.
It seemed that all anyone would say to me whenever I talked about how much I despised my abusers was, “You just need to forgive, forget, and move on, Randy.” These are what I considered to be three of the most damaging words you could tell a survivor. My reply was always the same; you have no idea what they did to me. If what happened to me happened to you, you’d feel this way yourself.
Today, I will say that in fact, one way to achieve true freedom and happiness actually is to forgive and move on. However, that is a process that will take time. How much time is up to you, this is your journey. Forgiveness can be quite short happening in a matter of minutes or it can take years, it very much depends on the nature of the hurt and the unique story of the situation and emotion. No one has the right to tell how quickly you should forgive. For myself, it was about three years into my recovery, when I reached the place where I was finally able to fully forgive my abusers. Just know that the journey awaits you whenever you are ready.
One of my biggest fears was that I believed forgiving meant condoning the abuse, or letting my abusers off the hook. I knew that my hatred and rage were poisoning me—while, ironically, having no effect whatsoever on my abusers. But I was terrified to let those feelings go, for they had come to define me. Without them, I didn’t know who I would be. So how could I forgive them and give up the feelings which had kept me safe for thirty-plus years?
What I learned along my journey was, first and foremost, that forgiveness was solely for myself and not for the person who had harmed me. In forgiving, the chains which bound me to that abusive person were severed. I was unshackled from the chains that kept me bound in my resentment, anger and hate. I was finally free.
Even more important is understanding what forgiveness is not. Josh Howerton, a pastor in Spring Hill, Tennessee, has stated my thoughts succinctly (with my comments following in parentheses) about what forgiveness is not:
1. Forgiveness is not approving or diminishing the abuse or sin. (The sinfulness of the abuse never changes.)
2. Forgiveness is not denying a wrong-doing. (It can never be denied that you were abused and hurt.)
3. Forgiveness is not waiting for an apology. (You forgive the abusive person, whether or not he or she ever apologizes.)
4. Forgiveness is not forgetting. (You will never forget.)
5. Forgiveness is not ceasing to feel the pain. (It’s okay for it to hurt, but just don’t stay stuck in the pain.)
6. Forgiveness is not trusting. (You need to be exceedingly careful about whom you trust.)
7. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice. (You can forgive and still pursue justice.)
8. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. (You are not required to allow your abuser back in your life, or to have a relationship with him or her.)
Hopefully this interpretation of forgiveness will help give you a broader view about what forgiveness might look like, and will enable you to think about beginning to move forward towards the freedom and happiness you deserve to have. For further reading, there is a whole chapter in my book Healing the Man Within (see page 27) dedicated to forgiveness.
Randy Boyd is the Founder/CEO of Courageous Healers Foundation, an author and public speaker. Visit: www.courageoushealers.org