Why Forgiving Others Makes Life Better For You

Marc Oromaner believes that the strongest men are those who have the strength to forgive someone who did them wrong.

The first time I was given advice about the importance of forgiveness was at the most unlikely of places: an advertising school I was attending in Atlanta. The school had brought in speaker Joey Reiman—a very successful advertising executive who ran his own agency. Almost immediately, I could tell this man had a lot of wisdom, but it was towards the end of his presentation when something he said really resonated with me.

He asked how many of us had someone in our life—from our past or present—that still made us angry sometimes. Nearly everyone had a hand raised. Joey then shouted, “Evict them! They are living in your mind rent free!” It gave me chills. I’d thought about all the people, some from years and years before, that still made me bitter. Joey was right! Why was I still holding onto these negative emotions? Surely, they weren’t thinking about me!

Years later, I saw T. Harv Ecker, author of Secrets of The Millionaire Mind speak in New York. He said something similar to Reiman’s quote, which resonated just as deeply: “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” Wow, such a simple message and yet, so true and impactful! Taking both messages to heart, combined with what I had learned from various spiritual teachings and the myths in the media, I decided then and there to forgive anyone who I ever felt had done me wrong. At that moment, it all clicked: You can’t control the actions of others, but you can decide whether you suffer for them. I chose to no longer suffer.

Since then, I’ve become even more conscious of the power of forgiveness. One thing that makes it easier for me is my belief that we are all connected. When I workout, do my muscles get angry at my brain for making them stress and strain? Similarly, perhaps a reason others cause us pain or sorrow to begin with is to give us an opportunity to grow. Maybe all the seemingly negative experiences we go through in life, no matter how horrendous, allow us to step up and make some good come out of them.

Whenever I experience something or someone which causes me pain or anger, I do my best to stop and think about the bigger picture: “What is the possible opportunity or lesson here?” Even when I hear devastating stories that have happened to others or in the news, I still think about the possible blessings. I don’t mean to belittle the anguish and devastation that may come out of these situations, and I think everyone has a right to feel angry or depressed about whatever travesty they may have undergone. The issue, however, is when you hold onto the pain and let it control your thoughts, decisions, and actions. Such a situation doesn’t do anyone any good, especially you.

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I believe that one of the greatest, yet underappreciated, healing forces in our world is the power of stories. Consciously and subconsciously we learn so much wisdom from the myths in the media and the forgiveness motif shows up frequently, particularly in the Star Wars saga.

During its sixth episode, Return of the Jedi*, Luke Skywalker is battling his own father, Darth Vader, to the death. In a powerful scene, Luke’s hatred fuels his strength to the point where he knocks Vader to the ground, slices off his robotic hand, and is ready to finish him off. But then, Luke looks at his own robotic hand—a hand he’d lost to his father in an earlier battle. If he were to finish him off, he would start to become everything he had hated about him.

Luke tosses away his light saber and refuses to fight. That decision nearly costs him his life as Darth Vader’s master, Emperor Palpatine, shoots bolts of electricity into Luke. Just as it seems as though Luke is finished, his father rises up and tosses his electrically charged master to his doom. The electric shock destroys Vader’s life-supporting robotic body, which he cannot live without. Luke tries to help his dying father and promises, “I must save you.” His father shakes his head and says, “You already have.”

I always get teary-eyed watching that scene, as I do with the forgiveness scenes in movies such as Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character must forgive his dad for never being there for him. On TV, there has probably been no better example of a show focusing on the forgiveness theme than Lost, where nearly every character had to forgive a parent, a friend, or themselves for atrocities that they’d carried around with them like burdens that weighed down their souls.

Regardless of your perspective as to why life presents us with people and events that we can chose to forgive, the benefits of doing so definitely outweigh the benefits of not forgiving—of which, there really aren’t any. Holding onto anger gives us an excuse for being miserable instead of the power we need to do something about it. It affects our decisions, such as deciding not to have kids so there’s no chance of you becoming the kind of parent your father or mother was to you. In fact, holding in anger creates a filter through which we see all of life, and act accordingly. The forgiveness filter however, makes everything so much brighter.

Besides allowing us to psychologically lighten our burden, studies show that forgiving brings about physical health benefits as well such as lowering our levels of stress and blood pressure. Forgiving may even benefit those who we feel are responsible for our pain, even if we only forgive them in our mind (David Wilcock’s book The Source Field Investigations explores evidence that showering love and forgiveness in our minds to our perceived enemies may actually help them to reduce any guilt they may be holding on to.)

Even knowing and believing these benefits, forgiving can be quite a challenge, especially when it comes to something someone did that has devastated our life. Gary Weinstein is someone who has known such a travesty. His entire family—wife and two young boys—were killed when struck by a drunk driver. Even the biggest proponents of forgiveness could understand Gary not forgiving the man who committed such an atrocity. Yet after much anger, grieving, and soul-searching, Gary did.

His story inspired a friend of his, filmmaker Shawne Duperon who herself had found the strength to forgive the perpetrator of sexual abuse she’d undergone as a child. As fate would have it, Shawne was also a family friend of the driver who had killed Gary’s family, and knew firsthand how completely devastated and guilty he was for the pain he’d caused. Touched by both stories, Shawne has been working on a film about forgiveness that she hopes will help heal the world.

As an explanation for the pain and suffering that occurs in this world, some believe that there is no explanation for it while others feel we bring it upon ourselves in a karmic fashion or as a punishment from a vengeful God. Personally, I feel that the deeper the challenge, the more good that has the potential to come out of it. What possible reason could there be for a young girl to be sexually abused or a caring, good man to lose his entire family in a senseless, avoidable act? While Shawne and Gary have made tremendous sacrifices, the strength they developed from those experiences has enabled them to help many, many others. It is the Messiah myth: the strong soul who sacrifices itself in order to save us all.

In my heart, I believe that the concept of the Messiah isn’t actually a person, but an energy that comes when we tip the scale in favor of love, harmony, and acceptance. Taking the first step in that direction begins with forgiveness.

Before you click away from this article and push its message to the nether regions of your mind, take a moment to do a mental check of the people from your past that still evoke a reaction of pain or anger. Do you think that these people acted as they did to purposely anger you? Did they get joy out of the hurt they caused? Or, were they acting from their own pain and suffering and could be forgiven because they knew not what they were doing?

Even if they did enjoy causing you pain, can you find it in your heart to forgive them anyway? Can you let it go? Could you send them a letter of forgiveness? Even if you don’t send it, could you at least write it? Perhaps the person you need to forgive the most is yourself. Write that letter and mail it to yourself. Know that whatever you’re angry about, you, or the people who’ve angered you, were most likely doing the best they could, with the tools they had at the time. Yes, the tools were likely faulty, but maybe thinking about it that way makes forgiveness a little bit easier.

So purge yourself of your inner poison! Evict the pain that is living in your mind rent-free! More likely than not, you’ll find that the tenant that moves in to take its place is much more cheerful and inspiring. And by hearing that voice in your head, instead of the angry, bitter one, chances are, you’ll find yourself feeling more cheerful and inspiring too. I know I do.

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* The original name for this film was Revenge of the Jedi. Lucus decided to change it since the concept of revenge doesn’t fit into the enlightened code of the Jedi. The message for us is to not hold onto anger or fear since it leads to the Dark Side.

Photo by JD Hancock/Flickr

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About Marc Oromaner

Marc Oromaner is a spiritual author and speaker who teaches how we can discover our destiny using clues found in the media and in our lives. His book, The Myth of Lost deciphers the hidden wisdom of the hit TV show and explains how we can use this wisdom to overcome our own challenges. His blog, "The Layman's Answers To Everything" points out the patterns that run through all great stories including our own. These patterns are clues that are meant to guide us towards a life full of love, light, and fulfillment.

Comments

  1. Eagle34 says:

    I just have a question, Marc.

    What about people that have done you harm yet refuse to take responsibility for it? Even years later, you are humble but they just dodge the issue, blaming everything but themselves, even going so far as to still make you the culprit for their actions?

    Yes, forgiveness is necessary towards healing. But, in my opinion, people who continue to not own up to the actions that caused you real harm are just a waste of your charity and kindness. In fact, appeasing these people isn’t healthy at all for the healing process.

    There has to be balance between pure forgiveness and understanding while making sure the person has earned it through the examination of their own issues. If so, forgiveness is warranted. If not, they aren’t worth the bother and no amount of empathy will make the difference.

  2. Should Sandusky’s rape victims send him letters of forgiveness? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but that’s nonsense.

  3. Forgiveness can be useful, however it is dramatically overstated in our culture.

    Anger gives the energy and power to change things. This is why it is so dangerous and disruptive.

    Putting Sandusky in prison for 500 years is not an act of forgiveness, it is a statement that what he did was completely unacceptable. Marching for civil rights is far more powerful than forgiving the oppressors. Demanding equal pay for equal work, standing up to a bullying boss, all of these require anger. This is anger that we should support.

    Carefully channelled anger is a force for good and change in our world, and premature forgiveness stifles it.

  4. I agree with the observation that being able to “let go” and not dwell on the wrongs suffered at the hands of others is a good idea. After all, we do have to get on with the rest of our lives. But the idea of writing letters of forgiveness to evil persons does not impress me. Sorry, but I think it’s a dumb idea. If I were to write letters of forgiveness to bullies who had tried for years in school to make my life miserable, they would think I’d lost my mind. In fact, they might even view such letters as a provocation.

  5. They would also be delighted to know that I still thought of them. Best to keep them ignorant.

  6. I agree with Bill and Mike. This essay tells just one aspect of my many abusers, a “man of God”, who raped me almost every Saturday for years starting when I was five. He paid my father for the chance to rape me, like several other men: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-now-i-lay-me-down/2/ 

    Then there is this, proof to me that forgiveness of abusers can greatly harm the abused: http://m.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/must-you-forgive

    If somebody stole your boyfriend, fine, forgive them if you feel you want to. For those people you cite, who chose to forgive her child rapist and the murderer of his family? If that is their choice, so be it. There choice does not negate or refute mine. 

    You do not cite extreme horrors of your past; you give movie examples. With respect, I will only listen to forgiveness lectures when the lecturer has experienced personal horror themselves and chosen to forgive. Even then, they have no place to tell another person they should forgive. The last person who told me I “have to” forgive, sent me into a suicidal spiral I barely lived through. 

    My father and his clients believed they had the right to rape children. They enjoyed it. They made films of child rape to sell. They joked about the pedophiles who were too afraid of prison to rape a child. They called them weak. To them, the children were objects, inhumane. The things that were done to us would make most people wretch. These are not men who “didn’t mean it” or didn’t know it was wrong. These are not men anybody should ever forgive. 

    I often say that I will forgive when somebody asks me to only if that person can take away the damage of bipolar and cerebellar ataxia, PTSD, agoraphobia, anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares. Or, can that person give me back what the abusers took from me: the sight of my left eye, the scars deep inside my body, and covering my skin, missing fingers, wholeness of mind, a nearly severed and badly healed tongue and impaired speech, self worth, a face that is smooth and not twisted by hideous scars. Can that person give me back my childhood, before lies, rapes, and torture ruined my world view and left me bereft of the ability to easily trust? Can they erase eighteen years of daily fear and pain? Can they give me back my choice? My innocence? 

    When the wrongs are made right, perhaps I could forgive. Yet even then, only if the abusers were sorry and admit that they did wrong. Only if they went to prison for their crimes. 

    The person who can do all that, can lecture me on forgiveness. Child rape isn’t a crime that is over after the pedophile leaves the wounded child. The damage, for many of us, will never be over. With respect, no banal plea of “forgiveness is best” will change that. 

  7. Great essay! I have to read this every day to remind myself to let go….so hard!

  8. To me, the “strongest men” are Sandusky’s accusers, who faced the monster that brought ruin to their lives and brought him to justice. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

  9. In addition, I would never tell somebody else they shouldn’t forgive if they choose to. It’s nobody’s place to make those decisions for another person. However, you can read in the link below that there are benefits to choosing not to forgive. When arguing for your position or opinion, a good debate writer should at least acknowledge that other views and different evidence exist.

    That PsychologyToday link didn’t post right, trying again:

    http://m.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/must-you-forgive

  10. Thanks to everyone for sharing your comments and critiques. Obviously, this is a touchy subject, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to write about it. As a blog post, it is not meant as a thorough examination of the pros and cons of forgiving, but a general overview taken from the perspective that most people do not want, nor feel a need to forgive. I understand that stance and can see why many people feel there is a benefit for holding onto anger. As I wrote, I think everyone has a right to feel angry or depressed over whatever travesty they’ve undergone. I just also think that when we cling to it, it becomes detrimental to our mental and physical health.

    The purpose of this article is to help those who have been holding onto anger to release it in order to benefit themselves. Forgiving doesn’t make a behavior acceptable, it doesn’t make the forgiven right, or make the forgiver wrong. It doesn’t come with judgments. It is about letting go of the pain the person caused. Coming to terms that we cannot control the actions of others but that we can choose not to suffer for those actions. From my experience, holding onto the anger is more likely to invite more of the same conditions that caused the anger since the issue is continuing to be focused on, attracting similar situations.

    What I did not mean to imply here is that you should approach someone and simply tell them that you forgive them. I would agree that such an action could seem egotistical, especially if that person doesn’t feel that they did anything wrong or that you are not in a position to forgive. Perhaps I should’ve clarified that initial dialogues were understood to have already occurred and for the most part, the forgiveness is something that happens when there is a clear wrong (as the case with the drunk driver who would probably want forgiveness) or just happens for yourself without needing to be accepted by another.

    Obviously, there are all kinds of levels of forgiveness. When I discussed writing the letter and mailing it, that might be more appropriate for someone who hasn’t spoken to a relative for years over, say, a money argument. For more serious transgressions, the other suggestion of writing the letter and mailing it to yourself would be more appropriate. Each of us reading this piece is envisioning our own personal demons, but all of these suggestions aren’t meant to be right for every person.

    For those of you who have gone through deeply traumatic events and saw my suggestions as superficial, please know that was not my intention. But to me it would seem as though there is still a lot of pain there and I would simply offer the chance to ask yourselves if that pain is serving you. If you have sublimated that pain to help others or if it drives you to take action or create art, then it seems as though it is. But all of those drives can still happen with forgiveness as well, and probably, more effectively. To say that someone’s suggestion caused you to nearly take your own life is giving your own power away. Nobody can make you feel badly about yourself unless you give them permission to. Forgiving puts you in a place of power, because you are no longer allowing someone else to affect your life.

    I would say that those who use anger to make change in the world aren’t holding it in at all. They are releasing it in a way that can make a difference. Forgiveness doesn’t mean sucking up your anger and pretending that problems don’t exist. It is making yourself bigger than the problem. It is refusing to be a victim. I would absolutely agree that anger is important for making change. As Howard Beale screamed in “Network,” “sometimes you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say you’re as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” That’s a release. That’s how you begin to forgive. Forgiving the system because it’s not perfect, but realizing it can be better. With a clear head you can do so much more good then holding onto the anger for the sake of anger.

    What I don’t think we should do is get into competitions to see whose had it the worst. And that those who have had the hardest challenges are the most entitled to give their opinions. I believe that we are challenged just a bit more than we can handle, so that we can grow. Some challenges may seem small, and others large. But to the person that they are happening to, they may be equally devastating. Holding onto this pain is like our story. A story we tell ourselves as to why our life is the way it is. It is a filter through which we see the world. In most cases, I don’t think that story serves us. But it is entrenched in who we are, and the thought of letting it go is so devastating that it can bring up a lot of fear. It’s so much easier just to say that those who suggest letting it go must be wrong. That way we can hold onto the story and keep on living the way we are living.

    Just today I read a story about how one of the victims of the Aurora shooting has already forgiven James Holmes despite having been shot three times (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/colorado-shooting-victim-forgives-holmes-142413141.html). Would it have been as easy to forgive if he had lost an eye, or a loved one? Probably not. I also don’t think it would be healthy in such cases if the forgiveness would happen that quickly because it almost seems as a reaction, and not a heartfelt release. Forgiveness takes time.

    I do not expect to change any of the minds who disagree with this piece, but I do hope that I clarified it a bit. I am grateful that you have given me an opportunity to do so.

    • As a blog post, it is not meant as a thorough examination of the pros and cons of forgiving, but a general overview taken from the perspective that most people do not want, nor feel a need to forgive. I understand that stance and can see why many people feel there is a benefit for holding onto anger. As I wrote, I think everyone has a right to feel angry or depressed over whatever travesty they’ve undergone. I just also think that when we cling to it, it becomes detrimental to our mental and physical health.

      It’s definitely not a thorough examination … and as for what most people want to hear, that just places it all in the pop psychology sphere! It’s so nice that people are being allowed to feel anger and or depression – but that just assumes that these are chosen and not physiological and psychological experiences that the person has no control over.

      Oh the abuses of science – yes there are many studies that show how change in mental state can affect the person physically, and how negative emotions can have negative psychological, physical and social impacts …. and then some have taken a limited aspect of knowledge and tuned it into a universal panacea for all entities across space and time! It’s highly irresponsible.

      There is such a fundamental lack of awareness concerning Trauma and varying levels of PTSD, it’s disturbing. Beyond disturbing in fact!

      The Pop Psychology idea of forgive and be better physically, mentally socially and even financially may make for best sellers for the uninitiated and even make good TV viewing on Oprah …. but it’s so far off the mark it’s like snake oil. This wishy washy, namby pamby lack of reality is used to abuse people so often it really should come with a health warning. Some have caught onto to the Technical Manual market and think of people as appliances to be fixed with a little tinkering. If they read and fail it’s becasue they have chosen to fail and are happy being failures and love misery!

      If it was so easy there would not have been Billions spent of research – findings that show how trauma does not just provide experiences, it actually changes brain structure and operation. That research and findings wouldn’t be driving a massive change in the management of all forms of trauma and even showing dividends and hard cash results. People employed in high risk areas or work – Law enforcement, Fire and paramedics are now monitored because of large cash payouts when employers were negligent. Unfortunately, the same cost risk averse business models simply do not apply to so many other causes of Trauma such as childhood sexual abuse – and many other forms of abuse such as Domestic Violence.

      I’ve seen so many volunteers and workers fired and removed from Domestic Violence refuges for peddling the “You have to forgive them” snake oil. It all too often becomes a real issue of victim blaming, and that is not to be taken lightly in any way. People who have been subjected to high levels of mental and physical control do tend to internalise matters – and so the “You have to forgive” turns into failure and makes the victim see themselves in a worse light “I’m bad because I can’t forgive – my abuser was right I’m a bad/worthless/terrible person”…. and has even been known to encourage the abused to return to the abusers.

      I was talking recently to a group of men who have come forward and revealed they were all sexually abused by the same person. They all believed they were alone – but found each other when they turned up to the abusers funeral to make sure they were dead. Some people see that as a cliché, but it’s more common that people can believe. I’ve even seen a most disturbing occurrence where over 60 ex-pupils of a school turned up to the ex-headmistresses funeral, and the local papers reported how much she was loved by all the pupils who she had over seen for so many years – they used the presence of so many ex-pupils as their evidence. A number wrote to the newspaper afterwards to correct that error. The newspaper refused to believe the reports they received.

      That group of men have been carrying their abuse and that abuser for 40 years, and not one can let it go. They have all been recognised as suffering PTSD and their brains simply do not stop. They can’t. They have talked about forgiveness and getting on with life, but that is of little to no use when all day every day the world you encounter just keeps on reminding you of what was done to them. One described it as having a bizzare magnet stuck between his eyes, and then suddenly he would be made to look at and see things he just did not want to see – and the harder he resisted the more powerful that magnet got. He had just come to accept that the best way to live to was to look quickly and turn away. He’s been told more times than he could count that he should just forget about the past – he was weak for not stopping himself thinking about things or allowing them to come at him unbidden – he was just weak willed and stupid – he wanted to be that Victim! Talk about Secondary Abuse and victim blaming!

      One had fallen into the trap of using high risk behaviour as a way to over come the reality he could not forget. He talked of a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for 3 weeks and with both legs and arms smashed, quite a few ribs and a jaw broken in two places. He candidly said that it was nothing compared to realising that his mind and brain were broken in ways that others could not see and which there was no apparent way to fix. Months of lying in bed recovering had nearly driven him insane! He had no escape from his own mind. He was told he did not need Trauma Counselling as he had no recollection of events – but was nearly driven insane by having no way to run and escape the memories of trauma from childhood. He spent nearly a year on doses of pain killers that should have killed him. It was the only defence he had – and now fights daily with iatrogenic addiction …. and his doctors just keep on prescribing! He has been traumatised by the trauma of fighting to stay sane in the full sight of trauma he could not escape. It was quite a relief for him when I told him he was doing fine , given the circumstances.

      One had sought help for over 15 years with what he saw as a strange and even deranged habit. He would think of things Unbidden and immediately say “I don’t want to be here!”. The professional therapist and even psychiatrists he had dealt with all missed the bleeding obvious. It was a coping mechanism to pole volt over the memories and get past them. He had developed a brilliant coping mechanism to get through and past the worst recollections and be able to function. He was a little shocked when I praised him for having developed this coping mechanism – all he had heard for years was that his coping mechainsm was evidence of how there was something profoundly wrong with him. He’s been diagnosed with all sort of conditions on the autistic spectrum and even been told he evidently had brain damage, which no one attempted to verify. So many had attempted to make him fit their world and world view, and never bothered to find out what had actually happened to him and the view of the world forced upon him daily by a brain that has been rewired by trauma and which has him living ready to fight or flee 24/7 365.

      He even talked of one supposed professional counsellor who started by telling him that he was of a Type, he had made it clear he was only interested in failure, but he had to remember that his counsellor would be there waiting for him after he had failed – suffered long enough – and then decided he wanted to be cured. Talk about manipulation! It’s a known pattern – and as soon as possible, I reported the whole matter to the professional bodies concerned with a sharp note making it clear that this supposed professional should be de-registered and un-licensed ASAP …. and I would hand over my files to any other people affected and seeking legal action. It was gratifying to see how promptly some will act when the right voltage is used with a cattle prod!

      One of the guys summed it for me perfectly. As he put it “Forgiving that Bastard would be like inviting Hannibal Lector on a picnic. Some people and situations just have to be managed.”.

      If it was just as easy as evicting them from your lives and minds – purging the poison!

      Forgiveness is a very cultural matter and so Judeo Christian. I prefer the Buddhist conception of compassion – that is compassion for the self and for others. If someone needs to be managed the compassionate thing is to manage them and that is the big issue that the pop psychology forgiveness merchants just seem to miss. Compassion does not mean being nice, It means taking the correct action. That can be removing yourself from the influence of another, and even controlling the influence that person has over others.

      I know of one guy who most compassionately controlled his abuser for 30 years so he could not abuse another person. The cost mentally and physically of doing that was immense, and they have never and will never forgive that person for the abuse. However, they are able to live with themselves and know what they did was the right thing.

      I was involved in a seminar last year on the issue of mental health and well being. One of the speakers was out spoken on telling patients that they were at fault when they were not able to over come psychological hurdles which they linked to poor physical health. During a discussion I asked if they enquired of the actions and even self help people had sought before they criticised. I was not surprised to find out the answer was no.

      I did point out that if the Pop Psychology worked, then when the person had purchased the 50th tome from Amazon it would have worked, wouldn’t it? I then explained how in working with people with PTSD I kept finding people who had not been helped by the DIY self help market – and boy had they tried. It was such a relief to so many to be told that they had been given bad advice and it was sad they had taken so long to find that out. I also recommended that they write to such authors and ask for a refund. I have found it fascinating that so many blame the patient when their panacea just fails to do the job!

      It’s odd – but the speaker has never forgiven me! P^)

      It’s been interesting that a number of the health professionals present now routinely screen patients for the effects and failures of the DIY Self Help marketing, and it has proved ever so useful in aiding them in uncovering a number of people with complex and long term PTSD. Those same medical professionals have forgiven themselves for their past failures, and have learned a great deal. One even recognised how they had been using the same flawed self help strategies for years, never recognising in themselves a person still fighting with the effects of abuse and resulting PTSD. He’s doing a lot better now – and so are his patients!

      There are those out there who carry grudges and slights and bad breakups years after it’s all over. It can be easy for such people to put down the weight they carry and skip happily off into the sunset – but it’s both foolish and damaging to others to peddle it as a panacea for all people. Some science has been used in the wrong ways and whilst it makes big bucks for some, the cost to others is Intolerable!

      One of the guys really did get to the root of the matter … he was tired and even a little weepy and then he got just a bit angry at all the people who had decided they knew better than him about his life – his abuse – his trauma – his false backs – his re-experiencing – his inability to escape – to put it aside and leave it alone. He started to make a remarkable recovery and summed it all up when he said “I demand the right to a fucked up life”!

      Right On Brother! Right On! 8^)

  11. Marc, with all due respect, your answer had nothing to do with the question I posed to you.

    I will post it again: “What about people that have done you harm yet refuse to take responsibility for it? Even years later, you are humble but they just dodge the issue, blaming everything but themselves, even going so far as to still make you the culprit for their actions?”

    This is very important as you keep going on about forgiveness.

    Let me put it more plainly: There are people out there who are just plain scum. Pure and simple. Even if you dig in and find there is a reasoning behind what made them that way, if they refuse to examine their issues and dance around constantly, they don’t deserve forgiveness. Even when you offer them help, if they’d rather dismiss it then it’s a waste of time.

    Take the example people pointed out: Jerry Sandusky. You think this man didn’t have many chances to examine his issues? Yup, but he constantly used his power to harm others who couldn’t fight back at the time. This is an example of pure scum.

    Since Jerry made it clear he’d rather hide behind status and power, I don’t think his victims are going to buy into forgiveness. Nor see it as productive since he hasn’t EARNED the right to forgiveness. Hell, he even gave up his right to be treated like a human being even.

    Sorry, this response was longer than intended. But hopefully you’ll see my point.

    • Hi Eagle34,

      I did not mean to give the impression that I was ignoring your question, but rather hoped that a more general reply would give the basic gist of my answer. My statement that we cannot control the actions of others is what I’d hoped would cover your question.

      The forgiveness is about you. If that person refuses to take responsibility for his or her actions, that is not something you can change. Perhaps it is part of our own path to be able to forgive someone who does not accept wrongdoing and does not wish to change. We should do our best to remove these people from our lives, and if the issues surrounding their behavior still affect or bother us, to counteract them with our own positive actions in the world to prevent such actions in that person or others. Many times we find that abusers were abused themselves. What if they had forgiven THEIR abusers? Perhaps it could’ve helped them to release the pain that they act out upon. I realize this is a very complicated subject and these replies can come off as simplistic. My words alone will probably not supply an answer to your question. But their deeper meaning and how they could relate to your personal experience might.

      I believe that forgiveness is enough of a benefit to the self to be reason alone to do it. But there is also recent research showing that, our forgiveness may actually help the forgiven to change. Obviously, further study is needed on this because its implications could change the entire way we view the world. It would give provable credence to the concept that we are actually all connected in some way.

      So, my shorter answer is that we should even forgive the worst scum who don’t deserve it, because first of all, who are we to know what a person deserves? Perhaps these people have chemical imbalances or mental conditions and they know not what they do. But even if they do. Even in those cases where someone is so selfish and evil that they derive pleasure from hurting others, I still say that forgiving them is good for US. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished or that what they did was right. It means that they no longer have the power to affect our own lives, at least not to the extent that they would if we blame our own pain and suffering on them.

  12. I predicted a response like this, Marc. I can respect that you have a right to your opinions and beliefs, but only if you truly respect the opinion and beliefs of others, even those who don’t agree with you. To suggest that you think those of us who disagree are in “competition to see who has had it the worst” or to make assumptions that we are holding on to pain and anger for their own sake is not offering us respect. I offered my own personal experience in the attempt to help you and others to see that some trauma is not so easily dismissed, and while you say you do not suggest you are dismissing it, to those of us still in the early stages of healing and recovery, it comes across as very dismissive. This is mostly due to the fact that you offer only movies, TV shows, and the experiences of others, coupled with an intellectual understanding based on your values, to make your points. You offer no personal examples of extreme trauma you have experienced that could make your opposing side in this discussion agree that you are on an even playing field and know through personal experience that your points are proven to help a survivor of extreme trauma, if a person heals and recovers to the point that they feel they can agree with you and want to try your suggestions.

    If this is a discussion, then others are allowed to bring opposing views and stand by them according to their own experiences, opinions, and beliefs. I will thank you for attempting to clarify that some of your points and suggestions are aimed at far less traumatic transgressions. However, you still push to include survivors of extreme trauma in this discussion; therefore we have a right to respond with opposing views if we still don’t agree with you. For me, and for many survivors of child sexual abuse, those of us who speak out and share our stories do so to help the silent survivors; to let them see that it is possible to heal and recover. Some advocate forgiveness, some do not. The wiser people include the concept that it isn’t the fault of the abused child and this forgiveness does not mean absolving the abuser (a point you also made). Unfortunately, some people like to insist that forgiveness is an imperative, or even suggest that the survivor can’t be healed or even deserve to be healed unless they do forgive their abuser. Most of those people are not survivors at all, and my main point is that those who have not experienced extreme trauma personally can certainly suggest helpful beliefs they choose to champion, but they should not insist others agree and conform, or state, incorrectly, that there is no evidence to refute your beliefs.

    Most often, when a stance like this is insisted upon, it seems to come from a person with a firm belief in a concept that they have only an intellectual understanding of. Personality comes into play in the sense that some who have not experienced extreme trauma are simply very optimistic people who see the good or potential for good in all people, regardless of the egregious crimes they may have committed against others. Some people can see this potential for good even if they have experienced trauma. In my opinion, those people are rare indeed, but nobody borrowing their story to make a point can ever really know the painful process those rare people endured to reach a place where they chose to forgive their abuser, or the murderer of their family. Talking to them doesn’t count, if you haven’t been through it yourself.

    I cannot stress enough that there are stages along the path of healing and recovery, and if some can forgive abusers, my guess is they are either near the goal of their path, or they are jumping over it prematurely in the desire to make their recovery conform to their previously held values and inborn forgiving natures. The problem, as you mentioned yourself, in rushing to recover without doing the hard work of recovery, is that it can heal over wounds that will only fester and cause more damage later.

    Since you chose to bring up “To say that someone’s suggestion caused you to nearly take your own life is giving your power away”, I would again ask if there is any personal traumatic experience in your life that led you to consider suicide? If not, then I offer the opinion that you do not have a basis on which to speak on that topic, other than your own values and beliefs, nor do you have the full spectrum of understanding of my trauma, or the situation and cruelty of the words that brought me to that state.

    Please do not include survivors of extreme child sexual crime trauma in a basic “maybe they didn’t mean to hurt you” article about forgiving those who hurt us. The family member who never paid back the money they borrowed has no scope in common with a pedophile ring that raped and murdered children like cattle, and enjoyed doing it. Would you enter a marathon without training for it first? Probably not. If you wish to include survivors of their crimes in a discussion on the merits of forgiving abusers, please train for it first, via research about those crimes; especially if you have no personal experience to draw from. Offering examples from movies or other people’s pain does feel like a banal dismissing of the extreme trauma and devastation of others’ lives, intended or not.

    I urge you to research the terms “abuse triggers” and “flashbacks”, as well as the effects of child sexual abuse, rape, sex trafficking, and torture. I do not say that your values and beliefs are wrong; I merely affirm that they are yours, and that they are not in agreement with mine. Going by most of the other comments here, I’m not the only person who feels the way I do. If any person does not understand the basic concepts of abuse triggers and stages of the healing process, they will run the risk of triggering a survivor.

    For those who are not survivors of child sexual abuse, but have researched the topic and come to understand my points, I deeply and sincerely thank you. I use my past experience and present handicaps to speak to other survivors, to help them know they can survive and fight to heal and recover. I also speak out to help non-survivors understand what we face, in the hope that they will help us to heal and to change the archaic laws that allow us and others to be abused; rather than perpetuating the harmful myths and stigmas that cause so many to despair and end up choosing addictions or suicide to escape our horror. The pedophiles of the Catholic clergy have largely been sheltered or the issue forgotten by the media and public. Now we have Penn State and the horror of Sandusky to make the media and public look again. Survivors hope to reach out to people, to have help in the necessary work to ensure that the next Sandusky is reported before he (or she) can devastate the lives of more innocent children. That goal is far more important than debating whether or not survivors “ought to” forgive abusers. Let’s end child sexual abuse, pedophile rings, torture, and rape before we quibble about who deserves forgiveness or the merits of forgiving. If a child who is being raped by a pedophile now was to read this article? They would probably not feel the need to forgive their rapist either. We need to focus on eradicating the problem.

    My anger and pain is channeled into that goal while I work on the long path of healing and recovery that lies before me. Sometimes, that goal is what helps me keep working to recover. What can set those efforts back is the cruel and ignorant person who told me, “That was ages ago, get over it; if you don’t forgive them, God won’t ever forgive you” left me in despair, due to the fact that the only example of “God” I had as a child was from men who raped me, and a child who is raped is never “at fault”. It is my belief that plumbing those depths and having the will to crawl back up and survive in spite of such cruelty is the real test of strength for any human. Just as the two people you cited in your article have shown a true test of strength, though their choice to forgive does not mean the rest of us “have to”. As for Luke Skywalker, he doesn’t exist.

    The survivors who testified against Sandusky in a public courtroom? They are the strongest of men. If they ever reach a place of saying they can forgive, I will listen to what they have to say, because they understand, with a hideous personal intimacy, what they are talking about. Yet it will still be the choice and the right of each individual person to forgive, or not to. No person has the right to push this idea on another, even in the guise of “trying to help”. The implication that others just “haven’t seen the light” because a person wants others to agree with their values and beliefs, appears to me to be a person who is missing the basic elements of debate.

    I do thank you Marc, for writing this however; it gives survivors an important point to debate on. For now, I’m going to go read a book with my daughter. My life now is not being consumed and destroyed by my past trauma and resulting handicaps; but that doesn’t mean that being a survivor is easy, or that my trauma can be healed just by deciding I want it to be. It takes a terribly daunting amount of work to heal and recover. I’m living proof it’s possible simply because I’m still alive to keep on working on it. Also, one of the most vital things for survivors to regain is the sense that they can make their own choices. The choice to forgive or not is just that – a choice, but with a lot work, anger, and pain behind it, no matter which choice is made.

    For those of you still reading, I wish I could offer you some ice tea or something. Sorry for the endless comment, but thank you for listening.

    • Hello W.R.R.,

      This topic is obviously (and with good reason) very deeply personal to you and the fact that you can even read something about forgiveness and comment on it is a credit to how strong you are. I do not mean to give impressions that anyone “should” do anything. I am not a fan of “shoulds.” I also did my best both in the essay and my comment above to show that I do in fact respect the opinions of those who disagree with me. Again, I cannot control the behavior of others, only my own. The best I can do is share my experience. If it resonates, great, if not, I hope another solution can be found for those still in pain.

      My remark that ” I don’t think we should get into competitions to see who’s had it the worst” and that “those who have had the hardest challenges are the most entitled to give their opinions.” was in reply to how I understood a comment you wrote: “You do not cite extreme horrors of your past; you give movie examples. With respect, I will only listen to forgiveness lectures when the lecturer has experienced personal horror themselves and chosen to forgive. Even then, they have no place to tell another person they should forgive. The last person who told me I “have to” forgive, sent me into a suicidal spiral I barely lived through. ” Perhaps I misunderstood, but it sounded as though you were saying that those who haven’t experienced a trauma as deeply as yours have no right to offer advice about solutions. If this were true there would be no value to the entire psychology profession. I do not mean to sound dismissive. It is exactly because your pain is so deep that I feel compelled to show the benefits of letting it go that I, and others with deeper pain, have experienced. It definitely takes courage to share a story as devastating as yours. But not sharing a story does not make that person a coward. I share many deeply personal stories on my blog. I also always use movies as a way to reach more people since so many are touched or inspired by these stories. This is what I do. It’s my angle. I do my best not to dwell on the challenges of the past I have let go. I do my best to use the wisdom I’ve gained from them to inspire. I also do my best not to belittle someone’s experience for not seeming to be as challenging as my own. I do not always succeed in these goals, but I hope to do better next time.

      Perhaps someone like Shawne Duperon would be a better person for you to talk with since her experience is closer to yours than mine is. It’s for that reason that I referenced her in the essay about this topic as opposed to speaking about it from my own experience. I’d be happy to provide her contact info and I’m sure she would be open to sharing her story with you, especially since it more directly relates. Or, perhaps you are in a good place now and do not wish to open old wounds. I just believe that there is always a reason for the information that comes into our lives, whether we agree or not—that it is perhaps meant for us to examine so we can make a stronger statement about who we are.

      Because of your experience, you seem to have viewed this essay as my attempt at talking to mainly those with deep traumatic life issues. But forgiveness can apply on levels both large and small. I do think that forgiveness is the best response for both ends of the spectrum, and would definitely agree that the deeper the effect the more time and work it takes to forgive. I’m not saying that forgiveness needs to be immediate. Simply beginning the process is very helpful.

      Everyone is allowed to bring their opinions up and I do not mean to dismiss any of them. I too thank you for sharing your views. I am walking a fine line of doing my best to be sensitive to wounds and recommending that we let those wounds heal, even though mine was never nearly as deep as many of those posting here.

      I’m very happy to hear that you’ve moved on and hope that if you don’t find my experience to warrant advice, you will seek those like Ms. Duperon who can do a better job of personally relating to your experience.

  13. Eagle34 says:

    Marc: “The forgiveness is about you. If that person refuses to take responsibility for his or her actions, that is not something you can change.”

    Then why bother with forgiving these people then? Forgiveness is a two way street. If a person still has issues they refuse to even acknowledge about themselves which lead to their abusing others in the first place, why give these people the time of day? This is another example of letting people have power over you: Giving every inch and getting screwed. Letting them walk all over you in the name of forgiveness and compassion.

    It’s not just about the person forgiving, Marc.

    Marc: “We should do our best to remove these people from our lives, and if the issues surrounding their behavior still affect or bother us, to counteract them with our own positive actions in the world to prevent such actions in that person or others.”

    Exactly my point. They don’t want to reciprocate, dump their rear ends. Focus on the people who are empathetic and supportive towards your recovery.

    Marc: “Many times we find that abusers were abused themselves. What if they had forgiven THEIR abusers?”

    Then that’s an example of earning forgiveness from the person they abused. At least it’s a step in the right direction. However, I’m talking about people who were abused themselves but hide behind it as an excuse to dodge responsibility for their actions towards the person they’ve hurt. There’s a distinction.

    Marc: “I believe that forgiveness is enough of a benefit to the self to be reason alone to do it. But there is also recent research showing that, our forgiveness may actually help the forgiven to change. ”

    You really believe this? That simple forgiveness will change the person who caused grievous harm? Sorry, in my opinion, that’s naive. As I’ve mentioned before, there are people who are scum. Forgiveness won’t do a damn thing. It is up to the individual to WANT to change, to WORK to change. If they don’t, then let them rot.

    Marc: “So, my shorter answer is that we should even forgive the worst scum who don’t deserve it, because first of all, who are we to know what a person deserves?”

    Simple: They hide behind their “Mental Condition”, “Upbringing”, or whatever without looking in the mirror and realizing “Oh my god, I hurt this individual. I screwed up.” then they don’t deserve compassion or forgiveness. My opinion of course.

    Marc: “Even in those cases where someone is so selfish and evil that they derive pleasure from hurting others, I still say that forgiving them is good for US.”

    And I think it’s a complete waste of ones compassion and empathy if these selfish and evil people were okay with deriving pleasure from hurting others for a long time and still are blind to their harm they heaped out.

    Anyway, if I sound fired up it’s because I’m just sick and tired of people throwing around the word “forgiveness” so much it rings hollow. No offense.

  14. Eagle34: It sounds like you are talking about forgiveness as a mutual exchange. I am not. If the word “forgiveness” is the problem, what if this was all about just letting go of anger resulting from a particular person or event? This essay is about why releasing the anger you are holding onto can benefit you. It has been very beneficial for many people, myself included. I don’t expect it to work for everyone. My envisioned target was more for people who hadn’t considered it or thought about the possible detriments to holding onto anger. Obviously, you have explored this issue in detail already and have decided what works for you. I hope you will consider watching the documentary when it comes out, as it will hopefully be able to provide more detailed, personal, and varied examples from the people who found forgiveness to work for them.

  15. Perhaps I should just say I agree with what Eagle34 has said above (which I do) as I have expended quite a lot of effort and energy here, too much to be left feeling that have not been heard. Marc, if you only reply with the same platitudes, which you merely repeat, then you aren’t giving what I’ve said an honest listen at all. You say you don’t believe in “should”, and spend the rest of your reply implying “should” all the way through. 

    Marc, I didn’t say the word “coward”, you did. I have never thought of nor called any abuse survivor a coward, for any reason, least of all because they have not or cannot speak out about their abuse. Please do not put words in my mouth. I said I speak out to let the silent survivors know that healing and recovery are possible and attainable (without the forgiveness of unrepentant and gleefully evil people). 

    Frankly, the idea that forgiving abusers who enjoy raping, maiming, and killing children and see it as their right to do so, will somehow “help” those abusers is, in my opinion, both naïve and ridiculous. Plus, we need to help the children, not the rapists of children. Prison is what they need, so they can’t harm more children. Statistics show that only 3% of rapists of children or adults will ever be sent to prison. That means 97% of them are still out there, harming others. We don’t have to forgive them; what we have to do is put them in prison. 

    You say you have given personal examples of your own trauma? You have given movie examples, which I find dismissive of my past, and you cited the experiences of others. This is not the same as giving your own experiences to support your points. If you choose not to do so, that is your right, but I do not feel any need to listen to repeated platitudes I don’t agree with from somebody who is not a survivor of child sexual abuse. In addition, all due respect to fellow survivor Ms. Duperon, I do not feel the need to discuss this “forgive the abusers” topic any further. I don’t agree with it, and I am not required to agree, or to do it. I see no value in it, only harm. 

    For me, as Eagle34 said, forgiveness is a two way street. Without my abusers going to prison, and sincerely seeking my forgiveness because they were sorry and know what they did was wrong, there is no beginning for forgiveness. It certainly won’t be started by me; I was a child and their innocent victim. In addition, they are not sorry. People in pedophile sex rings enjoy what they do. They don’t think they are doing wrong, because they believe the children are owned objects to be used. My father rented me to men for rape with no more thought involved than a man who rents a car to another man. He was never sorry and never saw it as wrong. That will never be a man who deserves to be forgiven. He would have laughed at the suggestion that he’d done anything wrong in the first place. 

    Also, very few pedophiles were abused as children. That is called the Vampire Myth, one of many we need to dispense with in the mind of the public. Even sick or mentally ill, a pedophile still makes a free will choice to rape a child. There are far more people who were raped as children, who have never grown up to abuse anybody.  Most pedophiles were not abused; and they rape children because they want to. This is not a person who deserves forgiveness.

    Sometimes people in debates have to concede merely to agree to disagree. You seem so sure that you are right that you’ve left me feeling unheard. This is unfortunate, but it seems, to me, to be the case. Whether I’m mistaken in that or not, I simply see no value in this idea of forgiving evil people who have done nothing to earn or deserve it. I agree with Eagle34; it’s a waste of empathy and energy. I’d rather spend my efforts helping those who do deserve it: the innocent survivors of evil criminal acts. 

  16. I think there has been a definite benefit to the energy you’ve put into these replies because you wanted to write them. Who knows who may come along and read them and find value in them? Perhaps it has been something that has been bothering you that you felt a need to get out. If what I’ve written is not resonating with you, let it go if you wish. If your approach has been working for you, keep doing it. Perhaps both of us are continually writing the same things because we feel so strongly about our experiences but for whatever reason, they are not connecting with each other. Though, maybe we’ve both been opened just a tiny bit to the side of someone whose opinion is different than our own. And I see that as growth. More growth than we might have gotten simply from someone who completely agrees with us.

  17. I am totally with Marc on this. I deal with kids that struggle with events that have potential of life long negative affects. Many of them turned to drugs so as to better deal with these events.

    Forgiveness absolutely isn’t for the other person. Forgiveness doesn’t make the wring write, it doesn’t erase the wrong but what it does do is it allows some to start to close the door on that event so that they can move on.

    I know of no one who doesn’t want the perp to take responsibility for their actions. But their inability to take accountability is on them. So what about you? I see forgiveness as a step to let the past go. The way your mind (subconscious) works is that every time you have what appears to be a momentary thought of an event, your subconscious plays that event through its entirety. Ever go to bed being dead tired, lay down and think of something and before you know it, you’re wide awake? Even thought it was a momentary thought, your mind played it all the way through and bingo, you’re wide awake.

    Forgiveness is simply a way you can start to let go of those events. Again, it’s not for the one that hurt you, it’s for you so that event can no longer drag you down in life.

  18. Anger is a valid emotion, and there are things worth being and staying angry about. Anger is just as valid and positive an emotion as any other, when properly directed as an agent for change, whether in one’s personal life or in society at large.

    On the flip side, letting anger run unchecked in one’s life is certainly not a good idea, it’s harmful to both emotional and physical health. But trying to purge anger from one’s system before it is fully processed is also damaging to emotional and physical health. Until a person has fully grieved their injury and concomitant losses, genuine forgiveness will remain elusive. And that is all right. Coming to terms with injury and abuse has no timetable and anyone pushing someone to forgive before they are ready is, quite simply, perpetrating another form of abuse.

    My experience is that very few people abused as a child really comprehend the extent of the injuries inflicted by childhood abuse, and the toll it has taken in their lives, until they have reached “a certain age” (which I would suggest is late middle age or older for many people). I would further suggest that forgiveness is not a verb (something a person DOES) but rather a place (a state of mind) that a person gradually arrives at, as a natural outcome of doing one’s internal work. All too often, people writing about forgiveness are not writing out of the depth required to understand this distinction, and that’s why their opinions are often perceived as strikingly arrogant and preachy.

    • Thanks so much for making that distinction Drew. And I would agree that genuine forgiveness will be elusive until someone has fully grieved. I would just add that beginning the process of forgiveness, as a state of mind like you mentioned, by doing internal work, helps with the grieving process.

  19. Media Hound and Tom B, thanks for sharing your views.

    Tom B: I appreciate you bringing up the point of the events running through your head. We do that a lot. We rehearse those traumas again and again and that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to let them go. Because it just gets us in a vicious cycle from which there is no resolution. We cannot erase the past. But we can take charge of our future.

    Media Hound: It sounds like much of your experience is from those who bully or insist that people must forgive and then blame them for not being able to. I would agree that this is definitely detrimental to one’s health and I would agree that compassion is the correct route. You also mentioned that on at least one occasion, those who required forgiveness equated it with forgetting. I disagree with that. I don’t even know how it would be possible to make someone forget a traumatic incident, but even if it were, I don’t think it would be healthy. Using the poison metaphor, I would want to purge myself of poison if I’d accidentally drank it, but I would definitely want to remember the event so I can prevent myself and others from doing the same.

    I am not denying the long-term damaging effects that trauma has. Nor am I saying that forgiving is an easy process. I see it as a decision to take your power back from whoever or whatever has wounded you. I would also agree that on some occasions, it is necessary to cut ties with someone who has hurt us. I would just add that I don’t think that means that this person can’t be forgiven.

    As for the man who demanded the right to the messed up life, I would say, good for him. He has begun to take back his power, see that his life may never be perfect but he can control it with faults and all, and that means he has begun the most important forgiveness of all–himself.

  20. I don’t believe that anyone has to forgive. I don’t see anyone saying that the “only way” to heal is to forgive the perp. It’s simply through various experiences that some people have found that forgiveness helped them move on and heal.

    There are some great comments made in this string but what bothers me is that it appears that some people feel the some commenters who have no connection to some trauma with their view have had no trauma in their life. I can somewhat understand this view in that it’s annoying to hear someone say “I know how you feel” when in fact no one can “know” how I feel because they aren’t me.

    Nonetheless, I hope people don’t presume about anyone’s life. Many men haven’t disclosed trauma in their lives and sadly, they may never do so and are dealing with the pain alone. Perhaps a man reading this string will gain some insight?

  21. Drew, I agree with you.

    Tom B, you do a better job of making clear that you don’t believe forgiveness of abusers is a requirement of healing than others have managed. The dogged repetition of a mantra ad nauseum on this thread left me feeling that no opposing view was valid here. However, my statements of being unwilling to hear forgiveness preached at me without evidence of a similar traumatic past does not assume anybody else is free of trauma. It is more in line with your “I know how you feel” example. If somebody who has been betrayed by a friend chooses to forgive and feels better for it, great. But that person is wrong to assume the effects of child sexual abuse could be dismissed as simply. As MediaHound mentioned, there are psychological and physiological aspects that are not just me “deciding” to still feel angry or depressed about past abuse. If I could wave a magic religious wand and make all trauma effects disappear, I’d be all for that. The fact is, wishing it away does not work. To me, this “forgive abusers” concept is no more scientifically valid for treatment of trauma than clapping our hands to save Tinkerbell would be. But thank you for at least stating that to forgive is a personal choice. That has not been made convincingly clear prior here.

    MediaHound, your post is going to be printed out and reread often. Thank you. I agree with you completely. Your snake oil assessment of this pop psychology idea, to me, is spot on.

    • How many PTSD sufferers does it take to change a light bulb? NONE! They have flashbacks to light the way … some call it mood lighting!

      W.R.R. – to what I have said before you can add Victim Blaming and Secondary Abuse – Re-victimisation.

      Get your body blown to pieces and people are happy to push you around in a Wheelchair. Get your mind blown to pieces and they are still happy to push you around! No Wheelchair required! They just see it as acceptable, even when told it’s not – asked to stop – and even told to stop!

      So many simply do not get just how triggering it can be to a person with PTSD – especially abuse related PTSD – to be told they have to let it go, ignore it, forgive and forget. Why not just throw then out of the back of a plane at 48,000 feet and tell them to stop being negative – develop and Positive Mental Attitude and flap a bit and learn how to fly!

      Some can write very nice books about forgiveness and it’s power, and for some it’s very useful. BUT applying such pop psychology to people who find it triggering to even have to think about the abuser who has to be forgiven …. well they just miss the point. The very act of thinking about forgiveness places the PTSD sufferer back in the abuse – being abused – smelling, tasting, feeling the abuse – re-experiencing the abuse ….. It’s one hell of a trick getting past that level of damage… and it’s even damaging to tell people they should.

      Some believe they grasp the meaning of words – and as such the mix up two in-particular – Empathy and Sympathy. Empathy comes from empatheia and itl;s modern usage actually comes from the German “Einfühlung” or “feeling into”. It’s an attempt to intellectualise the experience of another when there is no common experience. Sympathy has it’s roots in sympatheia which means “having a fellow feeling.” and relates to common experience.

      It’s funny how so many claim to be sympathetic about PTSD when they in fact have no Common Experience, and in reality are simply groping and attempting to feel their way into a state of empathy. The difference is as great as a person claiming they know how someone else feels and all about their experience because their cat died – and they are expressing this to someone like Zvi Ernst Spiegel – who was held at Auschwitz and survived whilst watching so many other die …. by being the assistant to Josef Mengele – and still managed to save many. (And don’t dare to quote Godwin).

      If you tell people that their attitudes, conduct, language and behaviours cause bodily or mental suffering or pain, they are correctly called a Tormentor. If they keep it up and don’t alter “their” conduct they transform into another word – Torturer. It’s a strong word and has so many connotations – but when you are dealing with a person with PTSD and you keep pushing buttons even when told to stop, you are a Torturer and have normalised such behaviour in your own life and existence.

      The number of times I have come across people told they need to do internal work – face their fear – Blah Blah Blah …. and the pedallers of such mythology exempt themselves from any responsibility for their own ignorance and the damage that they induce. Normalising such attitudes and conduct is what happened in Abu Ghraib – Shock Horror. But doing the exact same thing without the dog collars and leashes … and the photos is seen as acceptable and not questioned. It’s even seen as rude to draw the comparison to people’s attention.

      “Sure, this robe of mine doth change my disposition.” — Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

      It would be like giving a battered woman a marriage guidance manual and telling them to follow the supposed expertise it contains! If that was done there would be up roar! … but then again. It has taken some 40 years to get some to even accept that Domestic Abuse and Violence is even an issue! Ignorance may be bliss for some – it just makes the rest have to deal with both living hell and the burden of others ignorance and a distinct lack of bliss!

      On the other hand – if it’s guys pointing out that when it comes to PTSD – especially abuse related PTSD – that what is being said is wrong, potentially damaging and at best misguided …. well the response is to dance about, serve fudge and ignore the experience and expertise of the people dealing with PTSD either as suffers or people who advocate for and support people battling with PTSD.

      I love book titles – they can be so evocative. Take this as an example “Forgive And Make a Million $”. You can see it flying off the bookshelves.

      It is hard to get other titles to compete, such as “Amygdala response in patients with acute PTSD to masked and unmasked emotional facial expressions” or that absolute ripper “Noradrenergic signaling in the amygdala contributes to the reconsolidation of fear memory: treatment implications for PTSD.”

      My personal favourite is of course “Dysregulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is observed in survivors of sexual assault” … it’s such a snappy title, best seller and must read …… for experts!

      It’s just fascinating how such Great Titles keep on confirming how PTSD alters Brain Structure, How Brains Work, How people think – and even how they produce facial expressions – how re-experiencing becomes hard wired and simply can’t be avoided … and it’s triggered with a physiological response that has had all safeties taken off and given a hair trigger ….. but The Pulp Fiction wins out due to the snappier titles and easy read format!

      “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder For Dummies” – believe it or not it has been written (Slaps Forehead … wondering if it’s possible to get one way ticket to a place called “Rational Sanity” – population unknown) …. if you go to Amazon there are so many others – and so few of value.

      “You won’t know the facts until you’ve seen the fiction.”. – Pulp Fiction.

      It’s easy and cheep to write Pulp – It takes time and one hell of a lot of money, coupled with scientific methodology and rigour to probe, in a none invasive and none damaging fashion, into a brain, or rather brains, so that the true nature of PTSD – it’s manifestations and effects can be revealed.

      It’s possible to have a quarter million copies of a book printed and sold for less than the price of running a well designed, scientifically valid study probing just one aspect of PTSD. One can net you over a million bucks in profit on the first edition – the other only profits those who have an interest and even commitment to the subject!

      If only functional MRI scanners were as cheep to buy and run as various printing presses. The Price differential is generally in excess 25000 to 1 …. and the turn around time is even worse! Printing Presses run on hot metal – Functional MRIs on Supper Cooled Magnets as near to Absolute Zero as is possible.

      Write Pulp under a snappy title and get it on the bookshelves in as little as two weeks. It takes the same time period to write a funding proposal for a well designed and valid investigation – and then you can end up waiting years to get the rejection slip. It’s such an un-level playing field.

      In the mean time, I’m happy to call people who dismiss the reality of PTSD and the effects upon people with PTSD as victim blamers and abusers. If it was female rape victims being dissed – told to forgive and get over it, there would be so much uproar and cries of victim blaming .. and yet if it’s male abuse survivors or men dealing with the complexity of PTSD it’s fine to dis – disregard, dismiss and dissemble.

      If they abused a person who had a leg amputated it would be called Disability Abuse and even Hate Crime. Just because the damage is not immediately visible is no excuse!

      As a consideration – if a person was blind, would it be acceptable for them to make racially abusive comments and claim an exemption because they could not see that a N##### was present?

      Of course not – but peddle Snake Oil as a Universal Panacea and Dis people battling with PTSD and it’s open season. I often have to wonder why I bite my tongue so hard?

      I found this interesting;

      “As for the man who demanded the right to the messed up life, I would say, good for him. He has begun to take back his power, see that his life may never be perfect but he can control it with faults and all, and that means he has begun the most important forgiveness of all–himself.”

      That is beyond patronising – to just assume that someone had only started to take back their power! Worse still – they had taken the steps to forgiving themselves.

      The guy had spent years standing his own ground with great power and authority, refusing to comply with other people’s faulty views of his reality and experience – he was weepy due to the relief of finally being recognised for the super human he was. His cry of “I demand a Fucked Up Life” was a valediction!

      Of course – if people see others as broken they will miss the valediction – an act of bidding farewell or taking leave – departing from the abuse and dissing and saying goodbye to all the idiocy and post abuse abuse that had gone before.

      As for him forgiving himself? What for? For being a super man, super human, refusing to be made to collude with his own abuse by people who did not get his reality, people who had re-traumatised due to their supposed certainty that they understood reality and how he experienced it … and he was wrong wrong wrong – for surviving and dealing with the isolation of people moving away because they failed to grasp matters and then blamed him for their failures, always shifting blame onto him for their ignorance, inadequacies and inhumanity?

      It’s interesting that people with PTSD actually have altered perception of facial expressions and reactions – they are subtle but enough for people to grasp even subliminally and treat people differently …. and even isolate them because the subtle signals of human interaction are not working. Odd that the part of the brain that is most substantially altered by PTSD is the Amygdala – and it also is the part of the brain most involved in the recognition and processing of facial expressions. A Double Whammy – The Amygdala is where the hair trigger is ……. PTSD affects both input and output!

      It has a few odd intersections – how people with PTSD can often be more tolerant than others, and possibly because input form others is perceived as lower in strength and force. Then of course that input reaches a critical point and the trigger goes ….. and it all explodes. The volume control has no mid range – it’s from Pianissimo to BLAST. It’s so odd that when the blast comes, the pianissimo is over looked. It’s interesting too how many abuse survivors show that altered volume control early on …. but it’s always the blasts that get looked at and not the loss of other human abilities that are even more significant. Abusers love the Pianissimo … and always make sure they are out of the blast radius and not seen to be connected to it.

      There you are – dealing with 40 years of trauma and re-traumatisation caused by sexual abuse, and you have been told by the abuser that no-one will believe you – you have had reality denied by the abuser and the people who colluded in dissing so much for so long and long after the abuse had stopped – and the attitudes of so many have simply proved the claims by the abuser that you would not be believed or supported were correct …. and you have kept on going against all those Re Traumartisation events …. and you need to forgive yourself?

      Does Not Compute!

      I was not joking when I wrote a few weeks ago and said the following:

      I like my survivors whole – they are the most amazing, fascinating and inspiring people I have ever met. The biggest problem is that so many people are both blind to abuse and blind to survival. They keep missing the Giants who walk in their midst – quietly screaming the truth that so many just can’t bear to hear and treading so softly out of compassion for others who just couldn’t handle the Earthquakes.

      Sometimes a Train-Wreck is Just a Train-Wreck

      Some could do with writing less and reading more – another ripper from the archives “Social Acknowledgment as a Victim or Survivor: A Scale to Measure a Recovery Factor of PTSD”.

      Odd how it had to be scientifically researched to prove that Dissing people has a negative impact – especially when people Have PTSD! Odd how those findings form 1992 have still to catch on! Maybe in another 20 years …….?

      ….. but I aint holding me breath or taking bets – 40 years on from the PTSD Disaster that was the homecoming from Vietnam, and the 40 years of experience from that mess has still to be fully acknowledged or addressed.

      If the heroes get treated like that – god help the victims who have been fighting very different wars on the home front!

      • MediaHound, thank you. This actually helps me so much. I especially like the quote about earthquakes. PTSD from my abuse and phobias and triggers coupled with physical handicaps from abuse have joined hands with my rapid cycle bipolar to make life almost unbearable at times. Yet I want to fight and live, and help other victims and survivors to know that surviving is possible. Then the “forgive gurus” sidle up and make me so angry and upset that I have to calm myself to respond civilly at all. To me, “forgive abusers” is revictimizing and victim-blaming. Especially when a survivor was abused in a pedophile sex ring that made pornography. Boys are made to do things that they feel crushing shame and guilt for, but that boy, as young as twelve, is a child, forced, and not to blame for what he is made to do and threatened with death or torture if he doesn’t do it. The fight to grasp the child we were wasn’t to blame is horrific; so many choose suicide because they can’t get past the guilt. But that boy was just a child, abused and terrorized. To survive to adulthood and escape and then be told to “forgive yourself” can devastate him. Far better to help him grasp that none of it was his fault, to let go of guilt because he was a victim too, no forgiveness necessary. As for “forgive your abusers”, that is just sickening. Nobody who delights to do evil and sees no evil in what they do, can ever deserve forgiveness. Even if they beg and cry and say sorry – all I see are crocodile tears. They are only sorry their predations were stopped. If they can dissemble and pretend to reform to get out of prison sooner, their goal is only to harm more children. How can such creatures be “forgiven” while more abuse is heaped on their victims by those who claim they intend to help? It’s utter madness. And even when utterly rejected, these people try to twist the situation so that they can tell themselves they helped you. I reject that. I’m doing as well as I can with the damage and challenges I face, and I don’t accept victim-blaming in the guise of “help”. Your words made coming to this article worthwhile.

        • To survive to adulthood and escape and then be told to “forgive yourself” can devastate him. Far better to help him grasp that none of it was his fault, to let go of guilt because he was a victim too, no forgiveness necessary. As for “forgive your abusers”, that is just sickening.

          Hmmmm – would it be seen as socially acceptable to have people telling someone blown up in an accident and damaged being told they had to forgive themselves for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

          It’s odd – but when it comes to humans being the agents of equal levels of destruction, it’s seen as socially acceptable for the “You Have To Forgive Them” and even the “You Have To Forgive Yourself” tropes to be trotted out and spread about willy nilly.

          Why is it that accident is seen as fatalistic – and yet abuse at the hands of another is seen as somehow the responsibility of the victim and invited in some way?

          It’s the same as Rape – and telling the victim they should have been dressed differently! I know it’s taking some time to get that Idiocy addressed and have some people’s brains reprogrammed, behaviour altered and not just in the individual but across whole swathes of society!

          For some there seems to be a requirement for The Numinous – and yet they always hold the individual to a higher standard than the Numen. It’s bizzare, and just shows how out of balance the thought processes of some are – and they are not even the one’s with PTSD! Go figure!

  22. doppelganger says:

    You either get what this article is about or you don’t. In fact, Oprah has done a Life Class on the very subject. I think what he’s trying to convey here is that forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened to you was ok or you’re condoning it. It doesn’t mean you have to have any contact at all with the abuser. Forgiveness is about not continuing to be victimized by the past. I LOVE what Tyler Perry said. He said that the same strength it took to endure the abuse, is the same amount of strength it takes to forgive. He said anger is good, bitterness is not. That happened to me, it is not me.
    That really impacted me, because bitterness eats away at me. It’s an internal thing.
    Some people have endured horrors. Trauma creates neural pathways in the brain. But guess what? So does proper treatment. To imply that someone can’t get better, to me, is re-victimizing them.

    • Some people have endured horrors. Trauma creates neural pathways in the brain. But guess what? So does proper treatment. To imply that someone can’t get better, to me, is re-victimizing them.

      It’s an interesting comment which on the face of it is 100% correct. However, research keeps pointing out that when it comes to neuro-plasticity trauma causes rewiring and restructuring of certain parts of the brain, and, as it were, proper treatment causes changes in other parts of the brain.

      So yes it’s a correct statement, but actually highly misleading, as the brain structures and functions altered by Trauma are far more deep seated and primal – and once the damage has occurred it is being found that reversal is quite hard – if not impossible. The higher the levels and frequency of Trauma the gigger the issue.

      Also – when it comes to dealing with Multifactorial/Complex PTSD (where that have been repeated, distinct and different trauma over extended periods of time) the multiple traumas leave changes which may not lead to PTSD, until a certain level of Trauma is reached – and then it’s no holds barred and the person is left dealing with not one trauma but all traumas simultaneously. At that point you can think all the nice thoughts you like – engage in all the proper treatment you like – but it is the same as telling a double amputee that it will make their legs grow back.

      The idea that proper treatment causes one set of brain structures to develop is valid – but if you take that as a full concept concerning PTSD it’s the same as saying that learning to Juggling with you hands replaces two missing legs and will allow you to not be in a wheel chair. Juggling may improve hand eye co-ordination – but It won’t make you a ballerina.

      I was having an interesting chat with one guy about the Olympics, and in particular the Para Olympics. He wants to take the International Olympic Commission to Court for Discrimination.

      As he has pointed out, the para Olympics is based upon the concept of physical loss and disability, and misses out all those disabilities such as PTSD which are not readily seen. For him the Para Olympics promotes the ongoing negative views of certain forms of disability. If you are disabled the right way you get to take part and are even treated as heroic – have the wrong disability and you are judged against these other disabled athletes and treated negatively.

      It’s fascinating to sit down and speak to someone who is both physically and mentally disabled due to PTSD. I have yet to find anyone who does not say that the PTSD is worse than loosing limbs, having a body that is smashed or ripped to pieces. Of course – why would that matter ….. such experience and understanding is so readily dismissed because people are told to just think other things and supposed experts who have no real world experience say they are right.

      It’s like the emperors new clothes – the only person who saw matters clearly was a child, because all the supposed adults were afraid to change their thinking and the social programming they had bought into!

      • MediaHound, do you have a book or blog dealing with your studies on PTSD and brains required by trauma? I’d love to read more about this. Thanks for all of these comments.

        • That was “rewired” by trauma… Sigh. I need coffee.

        • W,R.R. – when it comes to basic texts on PTSD – and all of it’s implications, there are two which often prove useful to those who wish to skip the easy read and jump in the deep end – but it’s a Very Deep End!

          1) PTSD: Brain Mechanisms and Clinical Implications – edited by N. Kato, M. Kawata, R.K. Pitman – 2006
          Link to google books

          2) Handbook of PTSD: Science and Practice – edited by Matthew J. Friedman, Terence M. Keane, Patricia A. Resick – 2007 Link to google books

          There is no “Easy Read” which covers the subject in depth – which it is why so many find it so easy to dismiss matters. Some do have a real issue with reality.

          Also there is literally daily advancement in the understanding of the subject on multiple fronts – so as soon as a quality resource is written it’s out of date before it’s left the printing presses. Again – that makes it very easy for matters to be dismissed by those who judge easy read and basic as a Power Point Presentation – and see a book at over 300 pages, cross references and drawing together thousands of other pages of published research and even millions of hours or work with tens of thousands of subjects as too much to read and of no value!

          As one associate says “It’s easy to create a church and hard to deal with reality!”.

          It’s worth keeping an eye on PTSD Research via Google Scholar as most research is published on line – even if it is ultimately hidden behind pay walls – which again allows matters to be dismissed because so many won’t pay to find material that contradicts their views!

          On top of that, keeping up with the research and it’s implications is in many ways a full time job – and that is not joke!

          On glimmer of hope for people in the USA is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair who have linked Veterans PTSD to other people with PTSD – including abuse survivors. In fact they have a whole section aimed at educating the public on PTSD and Abuse where the person is NOT a Veteran.

          They have whole sections of their website which cover Veterans – Terrorism – Abuse – Disaster – you can read more here.

          On the other hand – they are wedded to the view that gender is significant, so they have a whole section which indicates that females have specific responses to Trauma and even different forms of PTSD, whilst males are simply lumped into a the generic pool of people with PTSD. Oddly the research that is used to back up such views (2002) does fail to address one significant area – Child Birth – a bit of a distinct gender issue! It’s even odder, given that the seminal works on the issues of PTSD and child birth were done over a decade earlier – and who said that PTSD wasn’t being treated as a political football?

          There is a massive learning curve – and some are still at the bottom …. of the Shallow End! P^)

          OH! – and “Clinical Manual for Management of PTSD – David M. Benedek, Gary H. Wynn – 2010 (Link To Google Books) is also of value.

          It does point out that research is ongoing – that the full extent of the “””Professional””” understanding of the subject is also growing, but also limited by the time that it takes to undertake valid scientific research – and how known treatment regimes are limited in many cases, especially in complex and multi-factorial PTSD – and some 25 years of research back that up. But again, I fear that the 468 pages are a disincentive to many who prefer their own reality, and find it hard to deal with scientific literature, rather than their own easy read concepts which require minimal validity or peer review. P^)

          Some still wish to see PTSD as similar to Appendicitis! I prefer to call it Soul and Mind Cancer – and when you look at Cancer Research and treatment they have been at if since Nixon declared War On Cancer back in 1971 – and it’s so odd how long that war was been raging and how long it has taken to get social attitudes changes around the Big C.

          Maybe Obama should declare war on PTSD – and there many be an improvement in attitudes sometime around 2050+?

          In the mean time – I’m sorry but the daily earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes and tsunamis is what you are left with. Those daily avalanches you deal with, snow shovel in hand! If you need an industrial snow blower any time, let me know! I always look on the bright side, and some defiantly benefit from the blasts that come from formation industrial snow blowing….. and it is funny to see them ask what the “F” do I do with the snow shovel? P^)

      • doppelganger says:

        The idea that proper treatment causes one set of brain structures to develop is valid – but if you take that as a full concept concerning PTSD it’s the same as saying that learning to Juggling with you hands replaces two missing legs and will allow you to not be in a wheel chair. Juggling may improve hand eye co-ordination – but It won’t make you a ballerina.

        I wasn’t implying that a person with deep trauma can be completely restored. Of course not, because their brain has been altered. I was just saying that to think they can’t get better is like treating them as damaged goods. It’s not saying that proper treatment will make your legs grow back. It’s saying your legs are gone and we can’t fix that BUT here are some prosthetic devices that can perhaps improve your quality of life.

        Thanks for sharing all of that information.

  23. Thank you, MediaHound, for this response and for all the excellent information and links. This can be a real help to myself and others. It is very good of you to give so much of your time to help others in this discussion and elsewhere. My PTSD issues are a serious challenge in my life, and I deeply appreciate this information and your perspective. My snow shovel is ready. If I may, I’d like to borrow your snake oil analogy. That helps me a lot.

  24. The link that brought me here on Twitter had the question, “Are the strongest men those who have the strength to forgive someone who did them wrong?” made me pause a bit.

    I think there might be a bit of a problem with the implication that forgiving someone that did them wrong is some sort of strength. To do so seems to say that a person that does not forgive the one that did them wrong is weak and wrong.

    • Thanks for sharing your concern Danny. There has actually been quite a lot of comments discussing this post that you might find of interest. (They start on the previous page.) The message of this article is to say that holding onto anger often harms us in more ways than we may recognize. I have offered people the chance to consider forgiveness as an option for letting go of that pain, which I feel is empowering to the forgiver. Some have disagreed. The comments may offer more insight if you are open to more details and clarification.

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