No, you don’t need to forgive those who’ve hurt you and made you feel like shit
TW/CW: the ableist ‘r’ slur (censored for the well-being and safety of others), mentions of sexual assault, abuse, religion/spirituality mention, trauma, overall forms of hatred (or ‘-misias’), bigotry in general, ableism, words of ‘healthy/unhealthy’, ‘self-love’ mention, etc.
Imagine being told that forgiveness has to mean ‘healing’ from bigotries and from ableism and that it’s ‘your’ responsibility to heal from it… Now ask yourself this… Is this actually true or is this something that is a form of victim-blaming often used by some folks of spiritual and/or wellness communities?
Imagine being called a ‘r*tard’ by a stranger for a bullshit ‘reason’ (if that was ever called as one), other than them expecting you to behave by neurotypical standards and making themself look more ‘holier’ or ‘healthier’-than-thou in front of their partner, family member(s), friend, or someone who shares the same ableist and bigoted mindset. Also imagine the amount of mental or emotional agony you’re even put through because of that stranger calling you a ‘r*tard’ at the expense of your own well-being while only benefitting themself, and the hypocritical expectation of you to let go of internalised anger since they think that said ‘internalised anger’ is not ‘healthy’ at all.
This hypothetical situation can be one situation where the question of forgiveness opens, and it can feel like a painful, but rather draining dilemma in which you’re either expected to please others at the expense of your own sense of self and/or mental health, or, if you would do the exact opposite of what others expect you to do, to go against what others expect you to do and to be villainised for it.
This kind of hypothetical situation can be an instance where forgiveness (as a complex concept) is more of a morally difficult thing to try and put it into practice for trauma survivors, abuse survivors, including both victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape (online and in real life as well). It’s more difficult because there is pressure on them to return to a past state of who they ‘once were’ before the trauma happened (Oluo, 2015).
Factors and consequences
There are factors and pressures that come with being forced to ‘forgive’ an abuser, a rapist, a bigot, a perpetrator, and/or a genuinely poisonous douchebag including the consequences that come with those factors and pressures. In a religious and/or spiritual setting, a person would be cut off from a familial unit, by relatives, by a spiritual and/or religious circle if they refuse to be forced to ‘forgive’ an abuser, and if said person is unable to ‘forgive’ them because of the trauma an abuser put the person through. In another religious/spiritual setting, they would be told that they’re ‘going to Hell’, or that it’s their own ‘fault’ for being harmed and that they don’t /love/ themself enough while ‘attracting’ ‘toxic energy’ or for ‘generating bad Karma’, which is a fucked statement to tell a survivor/victim, especially if their current mental and/or emotional state is fragile.
There are also other consequences that may apply in those settings, such as excommunication*, getting kicked out onto the streets, having support severed from them (regardless if the support is financial, mental, emotional and/or so on), and any form of cruelty a person can endure.
(*A/N: ‘excommunication’ refers to an act performed to shun or exclude someone from participating in religious services, specifically pertaining to Xtian/Christian settings, but this word may also apply to spiritual, secular or wellness settings and other religious settings as well. It happens when someone is excluded from participating in community events/activities on the basis of an event that happened, or based on the discrimination of someone because they do not ‘fit’ into the narrow-minded mold of what religious and/or spiritual and wellness institutions expect a person to be.)
Sometimes, when someone experiences an offense that happened, it’s not always known who’s responsible for the offense since it’s hard to figure out if someone was directly or indirectly responsible or not, because the factors connected to the offense are crucial to take into consideration when thinking about whether or not a person wants to consider opening the question of forgiveness. However, this isn’t what forgiveness is actually about.
In addition to life, there’s also the internet, which is a place where forgiveness is difficult, but it’s also as morally complex as it is in life. To make an example from real life, there are plenty of internet groups in which their happiness consists of discovering another person’s fuck ups, playing moral police against them (while also using purity culture rhetoric as seen in fandoms and also as seen in social commentary and many miscellaneous things you see in real life and on the internet), and clobbering them for it while everyone else on the internet can see it.
An Autistic perspective on the concept of ‘forgiveness’
For an Autistic person, how someone perceives the morally grey and/or often complex existence of the ‘forgiveness’ concept can vary from individual perspective to perspective, as there are no points of the view that are the same (if they were though, it would feel like a boring world and it would feel like a world that doesn’t feel as lively, but more lonely), nor there are similar perspectives on how forgiveness is perceived. In the hypothetical scenario at the beginning, it can be more difficult to socially refuse forgiveness because of the consequences a person might face for even refusing to ‘forgive’ an ableist jackass and/or for standing up for themself and their boundaries. For another person, they are coerced to ‘forgive’ a prissy ableist because they are expected to be compliant with mistreatment and/or interpersonal victimisation Autistic people often experience. It also can be generally battery-draining to refuse to forgive an ableist abuser because of many consequences surrounding factors and also including the pressures placed onto both Autistic and non-Autistic people of all intersectionalities to return to a previous ‘self’, and also because predominantly neurotypical people can use linguistic syntax to shift blame from an ableist perpetrator towards the Autistic and non-Autistic survivors and victims as a way of absolving ableist perpetrators from accountability for any existing responsibilities towards causing harm to Autistic and non-Autistic persons of all intersectional aspects.
Forgiveness can also be difficult for traumatised Autistic folks of many intersectionalities to be able to start a healing journey that is lifelong. Autistic folks are blamed for shit that was done to them by ableist jerks that have caused pain to them, and they’re told by the same ableists that they’re ‘overreacting’, that they need to ‘get over’ themselves, and learn to ‘love’ themselves with the (oftentimes) black-and-white form of emotional abuse known as ‘you can’t love others until you love yourself first’. Statements like this are more than just condescending because calling a statement like this condescending is more than just a statement when it comes to gaslighting, emotionally abusive and ableist rhetoric like this. For Autistic people of all intersectionalities, forgiveness can sound like another double standard expectation placed onto them by an abusive neurotypical society
Why forgiveness can be a difficult thing to do? How can it be confusing?
People often find themselves feeling trapped because they are fixated on the concept of forgiveness, but they also judge themselves as ‘stuck’, as ‘weak’, and/or as ‘failures’/’cowards’ (Oluo, 2015), because accepting traumatic events that happened or even for a person to allow themself the healing process from trauma is more difficult to do and is more easier said than done, because denying both the pain and agony from the trauma and denying the fact that the trauma happened is also just as painful and difficult to move past from… since a person cannot ‘go back’ to a supposed ‘previous’ state of being.
In society’s self-development/personal development industry, we have the tendency to be extremely judgmental, moralistic (holier or ‘healthier’-than-thou), and condescending to an extent when it comes to the embodiment of perfectionism in the form of ‘self-love’ and the fluidity of one’s own self-esteem (Casiano, 2014). ‘Forgiveness’ is also preached to vulnerable people struggling with their own self-identity and self-autonomy/determination (NEVER the fault of vulnerable people and communities struggling with their own self-identity and self-autonomy/determination, but the majority of the blame lies entirely with abusive societies that expect to be forgiven by those they harm and kill) when it comes to the severities of offenses done to them.
‘Self-love’ and its perfectionist, neoliberal bullshit
Before I go ahead and talk about this… I just want to say what I need to say about self-love… It benefits people that are benefitted by it out of perfection striving to be a so-called perfect self that doesn’t exist (because no self is ever perfect, nor is a self ‘incomplete’ or ‘complete’ anyway).
Society likes to send messages that go like this: you can be ‘whole’ like everyone else, and that you only feel down, empty, and/or ‘worthless’ because you haven’t ‘loved’ yourself enough or you’ve ‘forgiven’ yourself enough. Messages like this can reinforce another message that a person ‘should’ practice personal maintenance (or as most folks like to refer to as ‘self-care’) to repair the human feeling of being inadequate. Self-love is already disingenuine because it’s painted by society, by media and/or by health professionals as a foolproof solution in a world that continues to overglorify, praise and normalise people for being wilfully ignorant and harmful towards vulnerable people, and for being assholes towards them.
This other message is then sold as an end-all, be-all solution to shitty things that still exist, such as eugenics, racism, humanitarian crises, xenomisia (defined as a genuine hatred of countries and/or cultures and religions that are perceived as ‘strange’ or as ‘foreign’), hatred (is referred to with the ‘-misia’ suffix in describing forms of genuine hatred, not just prejudice and discrimination), and greed and to all issues and problems placed on you (Ricketts, 2018). This message is also put on you by an ableist, European-centric or Eurocentric and abusive society that claims to care about mental health and its peoples, but always fucking fail to do so because it never cared about the existences of others, of you and I, especially anyone else, because under capitalism and neoliberalism, society sees us as numbers to discard and throw away once our time on Earth is done and also because the amount of labor people perform is still unfortunately tied to a person’s worth. Society that preaches poisonous messages pretends to be progressive and to ‘care’ about being progressive, but society itself is the exact opposite of progressive in real life. Society has and will continue to lie about ‘self-love’, because you’re actually engaging in self-kindness (it can look like anything that helps you make sense of this fuckery called ‘life’, and it can also look like anything that keeps you afloat), self-liberation, self-neutrality, and self-acceptance longer than ‘self-love’ has been around.
Let me give some examples… You wake up to the day ahead, you do any personal hygiene that helps you (i.e., showering, doing oral hygiene, and/or doing skincare because skin is the largest organ), you eat food that provides you battery/fuel to help you get through the day, you drink an energy drink, tea, coffee, water, bubble tea, or anything that gives you an extra boost, you go to work/volunteering/school, doing your thing, talking to trusted people about something you need to vent about, looking at social media and scrolling through anything that doesn’t set off any triggers you have (mental health is something lifelong and that is okay, because sometimes you have shit days and a hard time with it, but sometimes you have good days and a manageable time with it), doing a job that allows you to help others in need, getting home from work/school/volunteering, doing some nourishing personal maintenance such as talking to a mental health professional (if affordable and possible because therapy is expensive), doing anything that provides you a sense of relief (anything that can personally help you, such as journaling, reading, doing visual, written and/or oral arts, singing, etc.), putting yourself to bed, listening to music that keeps you anchored and safe, and doing loads of shit keeping you afloat and alive.
You’re already doing most of those things in a corrupt dystopian society constantly giving you shit based on the false assumption that something is ‘wrong’ with you, because all the things you’re already doing for yourself can be and already is, a radical act of resistance and genuine self-acceptance/liberation, self-kindness and personal maintenance (Ricketts, 2018). There’s no need to be force-fed ‘self-love’ bullshit by society and its dusty ass because you’re already doing the concept itself, including self-kindness and personal maintenance while you’re leaning on a community of supportive, trusted people who keep you alive and safe.
‘Self-love’ bullshit doesn’t help anyone acknowledge any internalised issues, self-hatred and trauma one has, but rather, it does nothing to acknowledge the human feeling of inadequacy. The feeling of inadequacy is a strong, but boulder-like kind of feeling that’s just as invisible as systemic bigotry (i.e., racism, ableism, xenomisia, LGBTQ+/MOGAI-misia, misogyny and misandry, etc.) in general.
There’s a difference between talking about the invisibility of being inadequate as a lifelong feeling versus talking about the invisibility and visibility of bigotry in society.
For the feeling of inadequacy, it’s like living on the idea that you’ve got difficulty in acknowledging its existence in your life until its too late and your own back is turned against an invisible wall… with said invisible wall waiting for you to crumble down from the vulnerability you feel and the way so many people take advantage of you, take you for granted, and shit on you just for existing and for being alive. It’s also damn difficult to talk about how truly inadequate you feel because, at some point, the entire world went on self-help, self-improvement, self-empowerment and self-love cults and wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it while also making you feel like you’ll never be ‘good’ enough (even though you already ARE and will ALWAYS be enough). Those cults always make you feel like shit for not conforming to their idea of a “perfect self” (comes back to the continuous and cyclical rehashing of perfectionism), for not being a ‘confident’ persona society expects every single human being to be now, even though the confident persona isn’t and shouldn’t have to be for every single human being (I wonder what the actual shit happened to being allowed to actually be yourself and being your own unique…), and for not being ‘self-assured’ enough.
For the ‘self-assured’ enough part, let’s face it, no one ever has to be 100% self-assured because of the feeling of inadequacy, and the fact that us humans are literal social mammals who need relationships to survive and we need connections to be able to move on from the shit that’s harming us and the pain and agony we feel. We also (get this), need reassurance from others so that we can feel more appreciated, supported, wanted, loved, and more accepted for who we are, not for the cookie-cutter fuckery of puppets society expects us to be.
On the other hand, talking about the invisibility and visibility of bigotry is similar to that feeling of inadequacy, but it also focuses more on how bigotry increases feelings of inadequacy, feelings of pain, insecurity, and agony, and also how bigotry decreases the livelihood of marginalised communities being put through bigotry. Those feelings of bigotry enable are more based on the day-to-day discrimination people face on a daily basis and how both feeling inadequate and dealing with discrimination can interconnect with each other.
If the perfectionist ‘self-love’ is bringing you more pain and detriment, there will always be better alternatives that may click with you and that don’t bring you any pain, which is self-neutrality. Self-neutrality (known as self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-acceptance/liberation) is the concept of perceiving yourself as a decent person who understands that you’re flawed like any other human, but your own flaws don’t negate the good traits you have, nor do they negate who you are as a person at all. It also allows you to be okay with the fact that life won’t always go your way [something I, myself, have yet to fully accept] or go with what’s wanted whenever it’s wanted. It’s vital to make the efforts to manage as best as you can, and if you’re still struggling, I’d like to remind you that you’re NOT at fault for still struggling with making efforts, and you didn’t do anything bad to struggle at all because struggle is a predetermined part of life that’s inevitable.
Resistance towards forgiveness itself
There is plenty of resistance towards the concept of forgiveness, because it comes from its recommendation as a self-help technique from self-help circles since they recommend their version of it being healing, which is far from true and far from material, physical and/or perceptive reality.
To put this into perspective, it’s more of like a moral obligation that a constantly abusive society places onto its people while normalising a detrimental and hazardous expectation to ‘forgive’ those who’ve harmed a person. To further build on this explanation, there’s often a false belief that it’s seen as some way of ‘healing’ by forgiving the wrongdoings or the people who’ve caused a person trauma because of their actions towards a person.
Most of the time, forgiveness can also get confused with plenty of bad things, such as the beliefs that we need to pretend that a recent offense wasn’t as “bad” and that the offender “didn’t know any better”, depending on the severity of the offense, if the offender can reconcile with those they’ve caused harm to, and/or retain any connection between the person they were before and after the misdeed was done.
In this indifferent dystopia and hellhole known as ‘life’, forgiveness can also be difficult emotionally, mentally and psychologically because it can be a moral hard thing to do for some people (as people have their own limits with forgiving others) when it comes to putting forgiveness into practice (Illing, 2021). Sometimes, the factors connected to an offense aren’t an excuse to undo what happened, in regards to whether it’s severe or not. The question of forgiveness doesn’t open up in a possible or hypothetical situation where someone’s not responsible for an offense that happened.
If there is anyone out there struggling with self-acceptance/liberation, self-neutrality and self-kindness, let me remind you that any painful and traumatic shit that happened is NOT your fault at all, nor is it ever your fault, because you’re both a survivor and victim of the pain, agony, and the hurt that resulted from your trauma(s).
I am saying this from my existence, my soul, and from my heart residing in my flesh vessel because I don’t give any fucks what any ableist and neurotypical ‘self-love’ bastards say otherwise to make you feel like you’re “at fault” for still struggling to process trauma and for doing what you can, even if you’re surviving under dystopian circumstances. However, what matters is that you’re trying the best you can to rest, so that you have enough strength and/or conserved effort to give your best effort to heal (as in making shit easier for yourself) and to process trauma in the ways that make you feel more safe and supported in many ways than one.
To finish off, you don’t EVER have to forgive anyone if forgiveness means being expected to let your abuser(s) and/or the people who’ve wronged you and harmed you exist into your life, and/or if forgiveness means disregarding your own emotions and/or your own self by people who only care about themselves, their public image or positive face (in which it refers to the individual desire of a person that their personality is appreciated and well-liked by others, while negative face describes the basic rights of an individual including their own personal freedoms as well) and the well-being of the people who’ve harmed you.
Casiano, S. (2014, May 24). “I’m a Dating Coach, and I’ve Realized ‘Self-Love’ is Bullshit.” Thought Catalog, from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shamia-casiano/2014/05/in-a-dating-coach-and-ive-realized-self-love-is-bullshit/.
Illing, S. (2021, July 12). “Why Is It so Hard to Forgive?” Vox, from https://www.vox.com/vox-conversations-podcast/2021/7/21/22379647/vox-conversations-elizabeth-bruenig-forgiveness-social-media.
Oluo, I. “When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue.” (2017, June 22). Medium, The Establishment, from https://medium.com/the-establishment/when-forgiveness-isnt-a-virtue-d63bcce22c91.
Ricketts, A. (2018, March 1). “Self-Love Is a Bullshit Product You Fell for and Here’s How I Know.” Andrew Ricketts, from https://www.andrewcharlesricketts.com/blog/2018/3/1/self-love-is-a-bullshit-product-you-fell-for-and-heres-how-i-know.