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.