HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on July 29, 2013.
Over the course of my life I have been instructed to forgive so many times. Ironically, the people who were telling me to forgive were also the people who spent a good deal of time telling me that in reality there was nothing to forgive, or that no wrong doing had occurred. Technically I think this means I am off the hook anyways. But in reality, there was wrong doing from people in my life who were supposed to protect me.
I now believe that forgiveness is a religious concept. I believe it was created to control people who have been wronged, by investing them with an equal amount of responsibility for the relationship, so that if they do not choose to forgive and rebuild, they have at least half the blame. After all, if you are a person in power, you can do anything. All you need to do is make sure the recipient of wrong doing feels guilt if they do not choose to trust you again.
I think this can come in so handy for rogue religious leaders and fathers in isolated families. A fear can be fostered over decades that the recipient needs to be open to the idea of allowing similar offences over and over again in the name of forgiveness. The recipient can be handled as many times as needed to allow the cycle to continue.
There is definitely something to gain if you are already in a position of power. The person in power is already in a position to justify their own actions based on whatever act of god or man put them in power in the first place. I am speaking of power in the small scale, but when a person is in this type of power position, it is easy for them to lose sight of their own place in the world. They can become the king of their own little castle, as it were. They need the concept of forgiveness to exist, so that when they violate the rights of those they control, they can keep that control by inflicting guilt on the recipient.
I do think that there is some freedom in moving forward, which is often confused with forgiveness. It is a totally different concept in my opinion. In my opinion, moving forward is more about recognizing that those who violate your rights are choosing to do so, and have no reason to change in a vacuum. A recipient of wrong doing does not incur responsibility, but if they are going to take any kind of action, ending the ability of the person in power to retain the cycle of control is not a bad idea.
Sometimes the only way to break the cycle is to end the relationship. People often seem so horrified by this idea, but why should someone stick around and allow their rights to be violated over and over again in the name of a religious concept that only benefits the wrong-doer? If someone has been traumatized by their own parents, the options are not simply to stick around and try to maintain the relationship or else live in a cess-pool of bitterness and hurt. There is a whole other option out there. You can walk away. You can choose to surround yourself with people who are not interested in violating your rights. When you walk away, you can leave the hurt there too, because you are leaving the source. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, but everyone has a right to live their own lives, regardless of wrong doing in the past. This takes time but no one has to submit themselves to a proven risk.