I was inspired to write about this by a friend’s Facebook update which talked about how great forgiveness can feel when you are finally in the place to do so. I agree with this sentiment because it recognizes a very crucial part of forgiveness, that the person giving the forgiveness does so freely. The forgiver isn’t being coerced or pressured in any way. I think those of us who have been emotionally abused by family members are particularly likely to subjected to the pressure to forgive. Either by those who have wronged us or the bystanders. This “forced” forgiveness (can’t take credit for it, if you Google it you will see other mentions of it), isn’t really forgiveness IMO. Forgiveness can’t be pressured nor coerced. It is merely more emotional abuse to expect the person who was wronged to forgive upon demand.
I think in the pop cultural sense, forgiveness is viewed sort of as a monolith without the acknowledgment of all its different facets. Forgiveness can include reconciliation, but it doesn’t have to. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience forgiveness with reconciliation as both a forgiver and forgivee. I think this actually brings people closer together as the wrong is acknowledged, amends are made and an authentic effort to change the behavior is made. When my father made his amends years ago when he got sober, he told both my brother and I his biggest regret was the way his addictions influenced his parenting of us. He acknowledged, he made amends and made changes which really helped reconciliation.
But sometimes we don’t get the acknowledgment or the amends or the changed behavior. I’ve used and others have used Charlie Brown & Lucy as examples in the past of how NPDs aren’t likely to change their behavior. Charlie can forgive Lucy for pulling the football away and landing him flat on his back, but it would be unwise to trust her to try the kick again because previous experience has shown he can’t trust her. If he’s ready to, he can forgive her and it can be healing for him. But it has to be on his terms and protect his safety.
Dr. Karyl McBride makes that point in her book Will I Ever be Good Enough: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. She points out that our first responsibility to ourselves is to keep ourselves safe.
In my experience, this type of forgiveness was a little bit more difficult to attain, as I didn’t have the acknowledgment and the amends. But as I’ve learned more about personality disorders, it’s become easier to forgive. First, I know it’s not me that caused the scapegoating, etc. For the longest time, I thought there was something I”d done to cause it or it was something about my personality which triggered it. Reading about personality disorders and seeing on several different boards how similar the behavior is has been hugely liberating and empowering. I realize it was the disorder.
Sadly, I know from my attempts to talk to my mother, using “I” language about how certain behaviors hurt me that she’s not going to change. I don’t think I”ll ever be able to resume contact with her again. I tried limited contact and that wasn’t good enough, she had to have her smear campaign and scorch the earth as far as the sibling relationship with me and brother was concerned.
The second part that helped me towards forgiveness includes the skills I’m learning in therapy & through self help work, such as setting boundaries. One thing that used to make me angry was when my scapegoat role was re-activated in a couple of workplaces. Now that I’m learning how to set boundaries, this isn’t happening and it’s opening a whole new world for me. So while I still feel flashes of anger here and there about the past, I’ve been able to forgive and look at all of the positive developments in my life.
I’ve been blessed in that I have people around to support me while I do this work and that I have the capability to make these changes. Not everyone has that and I’m very grateful. I may not verbalize it at the table during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, but it will definitely be in my thoughts.