The idea that forgiveness is essential to healing is repeated again and again in the self-development spiritual world, however, it is an incredibly problematic, misguided and harmful notion.
Believe it or not, this idea that forgiveness will heal us is a Christian concept, but rather than being borne out of compassion, it is directly and intentionally oppressive. This concept exists to maintain the oppression of the most vulnerable, the most oppressed, the least privileged.
The actions of the Church against female mystics, women who claimed to receive messages from God, demonstrates how the Church uses its messaging to sustain oppression.
We see this in modern day life as soundbites and infographics on social media that advise us to forgive because that is the route to healing.
When encouraged by anyone to forgive our abusers or to forgive our parents or to forgive anyone at all other than ourselves, our definition and understanding of forgiveness is key.
There is a definite difference between forgiveness of others (abusers) and self-forgiveness. And that one is a forgiveness of abuse, whereas the other is a forgiveness of betrayal.
We are told that forgiving others will help us heal from the trauma inflicted upon us by them. People who are from vulnerable or oppressed minority groups and often majority groups are encouraged to engage in this kind of forgiveness, without necessarily considering in whose best interest it is to forgive.
Who benefits the most if Black people in America forgive white people?
Is it the oppressors who then have no accountability or responsibility for their actions or the survivors and the victims of oppression?
In other words, we are encouraged to forgive because it lets our oppressors off the hook.
There is a significant and important history here in terms of the correlation between social and capitalist economic oppression and the sustaining oppression of Black people in America who are connected to the Church.
The narrative that we must forgive our abusers and our oppressors is taken directly from Christianity, more specifically through the major primary oppressor of most people in the world, the Catholic Church. An institution that has throughout history, intentionally manipulated and controlled people to maintain power.
In terms of the history of Christianity this idea of forgiveness is central to the Christian story because we are taught that Christ forgave humanity for crucifying him and tells God the father to forgive humankind because they are unaware of the gravity of their actions, ‘for they do not know what they’ve done.
This story of forgiveness becomes the core part of the Christian message, but it is always the poorest, the most oppressed the most abused, the most vulnerable and the survivors of oppression who are encouraged to forgive, thus enabling ongoing oppression without accountability.
The Catholic Church maintains control and power for profit and has done so through the creation of a belief system that, enables it to be constantly exonerated via forgiveness.
Its narrative that all will be well in the next world further acts to push down the rights of their followers in their lives now, without question.
Our own well-being and healing have got nothing to do with anyone else and wholly to do with our feelings towards ourselves, our decisions and choices that affect our views about the past and permissions for the future.
We should not be expected to base our well-being and healing on the forgiveness of our abusers.
It is entirely possible to heal without forgiving those who harmed us in the first place.
You are not wrong or bad if you choose not to forgive your oppressor. And your lack of forgiveness is not the reason you have not completely healed.
Healing is an ongoing process with more to it than forgiveness, more that can enable us to gain power.
The difference between forgiving another and forgiving the self is important here and self-forgiveness should always be encouraged.
We are constantly told to trust ourselves, but if you have been raised as a woman you will have been consistently trained to not trust yourself. If you find yourself in a situation of oppression or abuse, how do you know if you are making the right decisions within that situation? Self-trust comes from examining and experiencing what it is to be yourself in the present moment. To acknowledge this and to act.
When it comes to forgiving the self, we need to remember that despite the circumstances or our behaviour, we have never abused ourselves, we have only ever betrayed ourselves. Self-forgiveness is therefore forgiveness of betrayal and enables us to maintain power by allowing full connection with ourselves.
So, what can we do about this? Firstly, whenever you see these sorts of glossy Instagram quotes about forgiveness, question what the concept they are promoting is, where does it come from and what is it connected to?