The myth that forgiveness is required for ‘healing’.

There is so much pressure on survivors and abused victims to forgive their abusers and perpetrators and this is made even more fiercer if the person is a relative.

This is gaslighting survivors, it is putting them in greater danger and harm’s way, it is placing the burden of responsibility on them when the sole responsibility is on the person doing harm and to not do harm. Then victims are victim blamed for not seeing red flags when society and people are gas lightening them, dismissing the severity of things, normalising abuse within family.

You do not need to forgive the person who has harmed you to heal and recover, what you need to heal, and recover is trauma informed therapy. Family is not just DNA, family isn’t a free licence to harm, traumatise, abuse or kill psychologically, emotionally or physically.

Many abusers rely on their victims to forgive them and shame them in the same way the world does and expect them to forgive especially as we have stated if family member doing the harm. Abusers use this as a tool to keep causing harm and hurting not as an opportunity to change their behaviours and show genuine remorse but to gain a sense of control and power over their victims. It is not always healthy to forgive, we are not talking about every human being who will intentionally and unintentionally at some point cause another hurt or small transgressions.

Expecting victims to forgive and shaming them into doing so, is denying them of natural feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, distrust and suggesting they are wrong for it and that these feelings are wrong rather than natural, valid, justifiable, understandable and even healthy.

Anger used in healthy ways can lead to boundaries, justice, self-respect and self-love, positive and healthy action and change. Much needed change against injustice and wrongs have been fuelled by advocates whose anger as led to action and justice. Anger signals to us that we have been hurt, wronged and can help in us not feeling stuck or being stuck in detrimental places or with the wrong people. Sadness needs to be felt, seen and hurt not abandoned or ignored, it is part of healing not an enemy, our feelings and emotions are road maps directing us to what needs addressing, where we are hurting, and pain is made to be felt and acknowledged.

Some say that forgiveness doesn’t mean reconnection, and this is true, but again there is the expectation that forgiveness must still take place or else someone cannot thieve but getting out of toxic and dangerous situations and away from harmful people and doing trauma informed work is healthy and does allow individuals to thieve, they cannot heal in the same place that caused the injury and continues to do so. They are not going to heal when we gaslight them and shame them into forgiveness, this will only cause greater damage and further harm.

Nobody as the right to tell an abused victim that they should forgive or that family is family. No! Toxic is toxic, abuse is abuse, harmful is harmful and family is defined by who shows up as family not genes. Nobody as the right to harm another without impunity and to tell them how to heal or expect forgiveness. Telling others how they should feel, what they should do, normalising abuse, showing entitlement is all toxic beliefs and actions taken by abusers and by forcing forgiveness we are just perpetrating the same kind of abuse and triggering those elements of abuse.

Even telling survivors they need to forgive themselves is sometimes suggesting that they are to blame for how they tried to cope or survive.

Forgiveness is a personal choice, the individual knows what is right for them, what is best for them and it is up to them if they want to forgive and feel this is the best choice for them without coercion and if they don’t ever wish to forgive the offender. Forgiveness doesn’t lead to personal growth, setting boundaries does and gaining own autonomy which is another thing very often stripped from victims along with their voice, so healing is part of giving them their rights and allowing them to be authentic and their authentic selves not denying them this through toxic forgiveness.

Like toxic positivity, where we are told to ignore, dismiss, invalidate our feelings and a need to turn everything into a positive without allowing real emotions such as sadness or anger needed for healing to be felt and allowed; toxic forgiveness is just as damaging and requires us to dismiss and repress our authentic feelings and hurts by pretending to be unharmed by the offense, to forget it in order to keep the peace or avoid being shamed and negatively seen or judged. This is how we live in a toxic culture/society that does more harm than good. These things need to change, it is not enough to tell hurt people to talk. There needs to be more in place than being able to talk and safe people and spaces to do this.

Even if the perpetrator changes in time or after, even if they become good, their victims are under no obligation to have to forgive them. It is a natural response not too when so much suffering as been inflicted, and lifetime scars are to be had as reminders.

A culture of gaslightening people into staying with toxic family members

We live in a culture that places family before anything and whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is wrong when other realities are not considered and denied and when this is valued above an individual’s well-being and their right to cut off or distance themselves from a family member(s) that is toxic.

In my work, I have come across many children that have grown into adults injured by a parent, both or another family member and who already carry guilt and shame that isn’t theirs to bare. I have witnessed the injuries first hand and listened to the challenges and struggles it brings.

Before we begin to explore this further, we need to first understand, what is gas lightening? We need to understand this, because when we silence victims, with, but it’s family! You can’t walk away from family! How can you do that to your family? You must forgiven them…(fill in the blank), what we are doing is gas lightening.

Wikipedia describes it as:  “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem”.

Cognitive dissonance is a term to describe, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. An example of this is knowing something is bad for us but still wanting it. Example, knowing smoking is bad for us (cognitive) and then still taking the action to do so (dissonance). Due to the fact certain truths can lead to a feeling of mental discomfort we alternate our thoughts, behaviours, attitudes or beliefs in order to reduce this discomfort and restore balance. Therefore, it is when inconsistency can be found within us and a mental conflict is occurring.

Gaslightening not only as victims question their own judgement and reality but then also has people stuck in the cycle of cognitive dissonance and serve to keep others in their mental prison. To have pain invalidated is a form of violence.

So let’s go on to see what we mean by family, because words such match their meanings and family is more than just the word itself. Words need to be used accurately to have meaning.

What is family?

Family is more than just DNA, blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family. Family doesn’t mean others owe us, we are not bad if we walk away or cut contact with toxic family members even if this is a parent/caregiver or parents/caregivers. We are nobodies possessions and we are not objects.

One needs to earn trust and respect it is not given because someone is simply a parent to us. Relationships are not one sided and love is not being ‘loved’ by what we do rather than who we are. Love isn’t control, family shouldn’t be about being controlled. People don’t get a right to mistreat us and a free pass to do this and get out of jail card because they are ‘family’. Titles need to be earned and people need to represent the meaning of such titles or else it means nothing, blood isn’t always thicker than water. It doesn’t automatically give them a licence to kill. Emotional abuse can and does kill, not being seen, heard kills, isolation which is what this leads too kills, being silenced kills and we need to stop silencing and shaming people.

It takes immense courage and intelligence to break generational patterns and unhealthy cycles. Individuals should be empowered and encouraged to have these rights, they are modelling boundaries and healthy behaviours and self care and taking action to put these in place and have these in place and that’s never wrong. It’s not an easy choice to separate form what is meant to be the people that are our first love object(s). It is excruciatingly painful to accept that we were never loved, protected, wanted, respected by those closest to us, by who was meant to be our everything and who where the blueprint to how we would then see the world, others and ourselves.

Whilst family is important and whilst a  parent and child bond especially with mothers are seen as being unbreakable and strong, the truth is, this is not always the case. Mothers can be toxic and cause harm and destruction to their child/ren with their behaviours. It doesn’t automatically mean a person is good or great because they have given birth. I am not talking about mothers who love their child/ren but suffer from post-natal depression and find it hard to bond with their child and connect, I am not talking about women who have the right not to want a child/ren or like children much but that respect and cause no harm. I am talking about individuals who purposely manipulate and have caused suffering to their child/ren.

Where victims of this, have to grieve a loss of childhood, a loss of a parent(s) they will never have, a loss of their choices, loss of self esteem, loss of self worth, loss of their authentic selves and identity, loss of security and safety.

Where family sees them as the black sheep when they assert their rights for respect, boundaries, to be treated with dignity and where constantly they are forced into conforming and living in fear of judgement or punishment. Where society and people keeps them stuck because they are seen as the bad one for family is everything. Family isn’t disrespect, abuse, manipulation, betrayal, or abandonment (abandonment meaning emotionally not just physically).

I hate how society shames children into staying, loving, forgiving parents that have failed them in ways that were in their control and how this allows that parent(s) to feel like they have done no wrong and never be held accountable and how other family members may support the toxic parent. When said parent(s) fail their own children, and don’t care about the damage they inflict or have. Aspects such as disrespect, lack of support, attention, and protection are silent killers that often accompany victims in their adult lives as wounds and scars. Even with a sad and pathetic sorry, when sorry is said and actions never change, those wounds don’t heal easily and go deep.

Just because you may have had loving parent’s who have died and this is valid pain and heartbreaking no doubts about it, but don’t emotionally blackmail those of us who need to break away from toxic parents by guilting us to forgive or say how lucky we are to still have a parent(s), we never did, and old or not, we don’t owe to protect them because of their age when they didn’t protect us when we were of a vulnerable age or even adults that were not taught to protect ourselves and never were offered protection.

This only fuels self-gaslightening for survivors and only serves to keep them stuck and feeling helpless trapped into this labyrinth of dysfunctional patterns. Survivors should not be expected to tolerate this, to go along with this and enable this, society should not make it so this is being enabled and people who care about us should not ask us to betrayal and sacrifice ourselves and well-being in the name of so called “family”.

The only people we need to love, protect and rescue is ourselves not our toxic parent(s).

This is not to say that everyone must break all ties, this decision is an individual one and each person and situation will be different. Only that person knows what is best for them and can make that decision and they have a right to decide whatever suits them best.

But it does mean that boundaries need to be put in place and if someone’s behaviour isn’t changing or has, then partial or complete separation needs to be placed. If patterns don’t change and are repeated, it is no longer a mistake but part of someone’s chosen behaviour. Nobody can love someone into changing abusive behaviour, because the problem isn’t you. This may mean seeing someone less, having contact in ways that feel safer and total separation if this is needed.

Your psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical well-being is imperative and remember that emotional abuse is just as destructive on it’s own and causes physical damage because there is a direct link with emotions and our bodies and stress and trauma all happen there in our nervous system that is then interlinked to all other systems in our body.

Love doesn’t require us to set ourselves on fire in order to keep who is hurting us warm. Attachment doesn’t equal connection, trauma bonds don’t equal love.

We need to prioritise victims, not shame them, not enable family to continue to be dysfunctional and destructive and not allow them the means to do this and the privilege all because of DNA and the relationship this creates. Nobody chooses their family, but they can chose who is family and who deserves to be in their life or not. Abuse cannot be justified.