May 15, 2021

F*ck Forgiveness: it takes Boundaries & Badassery to Truly Heal.

Hearted by and 47 other readers

We get to be bloody, messy, and furious. 

We get to wail and shriek for justice because that is part of healing too. 

Sometimes “love and light” don’t cut it. 

Sometimes we need: no. No, thank you. And abso-fucking-lutely not. 

We need boundaries and badassery to reclaim our vitality as much or more than we need mantras and meditation.  

I love tackling tough, tender, and important topics. Sometimes I use rough language to do it because healing isn’t always pretty. It can be raw and gritty.

There have been countless times that I have sat with a client who was in tears over how they were trying—desperately and unsuccessfully—to forgive someone who had abused them.

These people are deeply distressed and often overcome with a sense of personal and moral failure. They tell me how they are trying to have compassion for their abuser—for their toxic spouse, boss, parent, or sibling—and how they are trying to forgive them for the damage experienced, either willfully or negligently, at these people’s hands. 

I feel great compassion for them, my clients, I mean, and the state of pain and confusion they are carrying. I listen. I make empathetic sounds. I tell them, “I hear you. I see you. That must be awful.” Then I will take a deep breath, wait for the right moment, and state clearly and without malice: fuck forgiveness.

Inevitably, they gasp! “What?”

This goes against pretty much everything that most of us have heard about spirituality, forgiveness, and healing. But there you have it—I’m a heretic. And I’d rather see people under my care actually heal than stick to dogmatic notions of propriety. 

Forced forgiveness is like trying to pry a bud open when it is out of season. We may damage or even kill that tender growth. Never force forgiveness. Forgiveness occurs, organically, when our power and vitality returns—when it is equal to the one who hurt us.

These spiritual bypasses—that is what premature forgiveness is—keep us recycling our pain. So once again, for the folk in the back: fuck forgiving your perpetrators one moment before you, yourself, feel solid, sovereign, and intact—in mind, body, and spirit. 

And the same goes for forcing compassion, as well. Inappropriately directed, it may do more harm than good. 

Real compassion begins with boundaries. Boundaries are exactly what are violated when we are abused. So until we have claimed the space needed to assure our physical safety and applied the psycho-emotional practices necessary to repair our energetic structure, we have no business extending compassion or forgiveness to the person (or people) who hurt us.

Often after I make this statement, fuck forgiveness, the person I am sitting with is almost instantly flooded with rage, grief, and often a sense of shame over their own feelings that, apparently, they are not supposed to have. There may be an arousal of their more primal, instinctive, and protective responses as well. This is the exact moment that true healing begins. 

We cannot think our way through this; we have to feel it. The need to intellectualize pain comes from our brain’s attempts to keep us safe—to avoid discomfort. Often, well-meaning people, even healers, will attempt to whitelight our pain away: just focus on the positive. Count your blessings. Let go.

These diversions aren’t about healing the abused. It is about maintaining the status quo on comfort. It is about not being skillful when it comes to tending pain. And we will admonish ourselves as well—don’t get too messy.

We don’t heal by trying to maintain our polite facades, by doing what is socially and spiritually expected. We heal when we learn to do right by our souls. We heal when we allow ourselves to feel. We heal when our precious flesh can relinquish the burdens of shame and should. We heal when we can simply be the wild creatures that dwell beneath our social skins.

This is the appropriate place to feel compassion: for the hurt, mangled, violated, angry and grieving parts of us. Compassion needs to be cultivated for ourselves first. That is how we rebuild our boundaries—our psychic structure, sense of identity, and self-worth. 

When grief and rage rear their ugly heads if instead of running, numbing, shrinking in shame and false spiritual propriety, we plant our feet, lift our head, and release the roar that has been stagnating in our belly for too long—then, we heal. 

Don’t get me wrong; forgiveness is powerful and deeply cathartic…when it is organic—when we feel whole, strong, and stable once again. And it is entirely possible for a person to heal from abuse without ever extending compassion and forgiveness to their abusers.

Here’s the thing, most people who have been abused are already overly sensitive to others’ conditions. More than likely, they have analyzed the situation and have empathized with the others’ wounds and toxicity even more so than they have with their own. 

Feeling forgiveness for abusers before we have fully felt and processed our own anguish, anger, and grief will not help them. It may, however, keep the wounded part of our self separate where it can continue to act out the unresolved pain that has not been acknowledged. This can become self-destructive.

The very act of violence or abuse is dehumanizing for both the victim and the perpetrator. 

The abuser has to thrust aside, or bury, his or her humanity in order to hurt or violate another. It is entirely possible, even likely, that the reason that they are doing it is because they, themselves, have been violated at some point in their life, and they are playing out the internalization of that abuse.

No matter what the story is, we are not responsible for what abusive people do with their pain, confusion, and anger.

What truly needs forgiveness is the part of us that couldn’t protect ourselves. What really needs our compassion is the ache, distress, and trauma that is still carried in our bodies. Once that has been honored and released, it is possible that a natural feeling of peace may develop for those who have hurt us, or we will simply not give a shit. And, hey, maybe that’s the same thing.

It’s entirely possible and even healthy to move forward in our life, whole, healed, healing without giving a single fuck about a person who hurt us, ever again.

So shake until you can shake no more, and then, in the stillness that follows, breathe deeply into every single space that’s been violated, abused, ignored, and wounded. Let your body be filled with care, power, and your own goodness. 

Incinerate anyone’s opinion that is hurled at you without empathy.

Walk through that fire, head held high, scarred, and oh. So. Fucking. Beautiful.

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