Back in the 1990's when I was first starting to deal with the several sexual assaults I had survived, I was bitter, angry and full of hate towards anybody who had hurt me. As far as I was concerned, I wanted the same thing to happen to them. I wanted them to hurt just as much as they had made me hurt, not just once, but for the life they took from me over the years.
I was fortunate enough to find a psychiatrist who understood my anger, emotions, and everything that went into being a survivor. That was the first thing he taught me. If the abuse is no longer occuring, I am not a victim but a survivor. I had survived the worst possible thing in my life to that point. I was alive and breathing and able to talk about it. I had never seen it that way before.
As we worked through my anger and bitterness, he brought up the controversial issue of Forgiveness. I asked him rather loudly why I should have to forgive them for what they did to me. Why should I be the one to let them off the hook and go free while I walked around in a prison of pain from my past? He gave me an answer then, but I wouldn't understand it for a few weeks yet.
At that point in my life, I had been sexually assaulted by 20 people. In one of our sessions he told me that extreme hate like I had been harboring had toward the people who had hurt me had the same effect that great love had that kept me bound to the people I love and cherish the most.
I couldn't grasp it. I sat with a dazed look on my face so he went on further to explain. He said where love sets us free and makes us feel light, bitterness, anger, resentment all weigh us down and make our lives miserablel and the lives of those around us.
He told me to imagine that each sexual assault I have endured weighed 20 pounds. Okay. Now he said, multiply the number of times you have been assaulted by 20 pounds. It is fair to say that 20 X 20 = 400. So he told me I was carrying around an EXTRA 400 pounds of weight that I didn't have to drag around with me.
It did not settle in me that very day. I went home and thought about what he said. First of all, to forgive somebody does not mean you are saying that what they did was right. You are not saying what they did was okay. What forgiveness is meant to be is to set you free from being bonded to the person or people who hurt you. It is a choice you make. Every day you wake up, you have to choose to forgive the person who caused you harm. If there are multiple perpetrators you have to choose to forgive each one on a moment by moment basis throughout each day. You forgive the person so you can be free from dragging them and the hurt around with you. Even the wonderful, witty and wise Dr. Phil has said that forgiveness is what you do for yourself not for other people.
A lot of self-help organizations will tell you that you do not have to forgive, and they are right. You DON'T HAVE TO, but you NEED to if you want to move on with your life. Can you imagine carrying around 400 pounds of extra baggage each day? I don't think I can carry that much, let alone have it with me 24/7. You see, even when you go to bed, the weight is still there. It may haunt you in your sleep and keep you awake or cause nightmares.
By holding on to anger, bitterness, resentment and all the other negative emotions, you are preventing yourself from going forward in life. I think everybody has heard the old saying, “Anger is one letter short of Danger.”
Bitterness and resentment can kill you – emotionally and physically. The more angry a person is and the more bitter and resentful they are, the more unhealthy they can become. Medical issues such as hypertention, stress, mental health issues, physical pain, etc., can all arise from holding on to anger and its counterparts.
When we decide to forgive, we can be free to enjoy life. We give ourselves permission to laugh, love, and live again. Up until now we have been surviving. Once we forgive, we can THRIVE in life. No longer captive to the people who caused us pain, we can enjoy the little things in life, like watching a child run and play, walking underneath newly blossoming trees, enjoying a quiet moment at home, etc.
It is not easy to forgive, especially if there is more than one person we need to let go of. Imagine yourself handcuffed to every person who ever hurt you. Do you REALLY want to be THAT close to that person? I know I DON'T!!! Just the thought of being that close to some of them makes me want to run the other way. But I can't, because I am still handcuffed to them. By releasing them to forgiveness, you unlock the handcuffs so you can walk away from that person and the bondage they have held over you for so long.
I didn't believe what my doctor had said, but I went home and, being a Christian, I prayed about it. Roughly one week later I was thinking about what my doctor had said and thought, “Okay Lord, I don't understand it, I don't agree with it and I don't believe it is going to make any difference, but I am asking You to help me forgive all the people who hurt me over the past.” I left it there. It was not an instant change, but over the next couple of days I said the same prayer. Then one day it hit me. I was no longer angry toward these people. I felt lighter than I had felt ever in my life. It was if an anvil had been lifted off my back. I literally felt lighter, almost as though I would float.
I sat down to think about this. Was my anger and negative attitude toward those people so hard on my body? I felt as though had I been a kite, I'd be flying out the window. “So this is freedom,” I thought. I immediately wrote down the experience in my daily journal and my therapy journal.
When I went back to see my psychiatrist, I told him about the experience. He just sat there and smiled at how excited I was to experience this freedom. I asked him why I had not been able to forgive before now. He told me that of all things to do, forgiveness is one of the hardest to not only understand, but to follow through on. He said that the people in my life who hurt me don't deserve my forgiveness, but that I deserve to be released from the power they had over me and the only way to do that was to forgive them and commit them to God. If you don't believe in God, commit them to whatever powers may be out there.
By forgiving, you are not giving your power away to those who hurt you, you are actually taking the power back from them. They can have no hold on you once you release them from their grasp on you. It seems a little strange that they have a grasp on us, but it is us who must let go of them for us to be free. But life is strange that way. Love is the cement that binds us together; Hate is the force that destroys all. Love builds up, hate tears down. Love strenghtens, hate weakens. On and on I could go with such statements.
Forgiveness is not easy to do but it is well worth the effort. And as a final note I will say that forgiveness can be a daily thing. Some days are better than others. The bad days I have to choose to forgive all over again so I don't get caught in the trap of negative feelings, thoughts and emotions.
I don't know about you, but I would rather choose to forgive and be loosed from the people who hurt me than to picture myself handcuffed to each individual. As an artistic person, I can see that in the real sense, and it is a frightening scene. Then I picture forgiveness and sitting without anybody around me, the sun being able to shine on me simply because all the people who held me captive are gone and not in the way of the sunshine, blue skies and happiness that is out there for me.
Believe me, forgiveness is well worth the effort and it does heal. I may still have 35 medical health conditions, but I have not been hospitalized for over 4 years. That is a record for me, because typically I am hospitalized at least twice/year.
It all comes down to whether you want to move on with your life, enjoying the pleasures it has to offer you or if you are unwilling to do the work to set yourself free. You cannot wait on the people who hurt you because if you do, closure will never come. But if you rely on your will and energy to want to enjoy life, you will release the people who hurt you and allow yourself to be free from them. I can testify that it is well worth it and what positive changes have come since I prayed to God to help me forgive. I am happier, experience less pain, do not have to go to the hospital as much, do not get as sick as often as I used to, enjoy every little part of life, waste no time because I cannot get it back and so on. The list of positives that come from forgiving goes on and on for me, just as I am sure they will for you, if you are willing to try.