Before I begin this review, I need to apologize. Nancy Richards had sent me a copy of her book months ago, with the promise that I would read and review it here. At that time, I knew it might be some time before I had the chance to read it, and expressed that, however I really have no excuse for it taking this long. Simply put, I allowed other things to get in the way. Nonetheless, I made a promise and I am keeping it.
When Nancy first contacted me about her book, and said it was a completely different way of looking at forgiveness, I was excited to read it. As I read it, much of it seemed very similar to my own experiences, constantly being told the only true way to heal was to forgive the people who hurt me. I hated that advice, in fact, I’m convinced that advice simply did more damage to me.
When she writes about divorcing her mother, not forgiving her, but simply saying “enough is enough”, leaving for her own well being, I wanted to applaud. You rarely see anyone give survivors permission to be selfish. The bottom line is that your first priority is taking care of yourself. You’re a survivor because someone failed to take care of you as a child. Perhaps even many people failed you. As an adult, it is your job to take care of yourself. The people who tell you that you haven’t “truly” healed until you can confront your abuser, and tell them you forgive them, are more than likely setting you up to be hurt all over again.
That was why, for the majority of this book, I completely agreed with what Nancy was writing. I could see a lot of my own story in it. I recalled the conversations I had with my therapist about how I needed to decide what sort of allegiance I owed my parents, and what sort of relationship, if any, I wanted to have with my family. I remembered my own feeling of freedom when she told me I didn’t have to do anything in regards to my relationships with the person who molested me, or the parents who failed to protect me, I only had to decide what was right, safe, and healthy for me.
Once past this point in the book, however, Nancy’s story and my own deviated quite a bit. She goes on to discuss the fact that only now, after doing some immense healing, is she ready to start the process of forgiving. While I appreciated that, I’m just not sure I agree with the word, or the concept of forgiveness. If you’ll allow me to get theological for a minute here, biblically speaking forgiveness is only meted out by God when a sinner asks for it, and repents. To me, forgiveness is about reconciling our relationship with God the only way that we can, by admitting we are sinful and need His forgiveness. The call for survivors to forgive is backwards, to me. I can’t forgive and enter into a relationship with someone who will not even acknowledge the pain they caused me, in fact, who continues to cause that pain. I can only decide what boundaries need to be in place within that relationship to prevent them from hurting me. I need to take care of myself.
Now, Nancy, however, obviously defines forgiveness differently. She, and many others, regard forgiveness as “letting go” of the anger and rage directed at those people. While I can certainly understand and agree that is an important part of truly healing, I don’t call that forgiveness. In my own history, I refer to that more as the point where I quit caring about those people who hurt me. I did what I needed to do in those relationships to be safe, and quit caring about the consequences of those actions. I quit mourning the things I didn’t have, and simply accepted that this is the way things are, the way those people are. I took the steps necessary in my life to find what I was lacking previously, in a healthy way that works for me. You might call that forgiveness, and we may just be arguing semantics here, but I would love to get survivors focused off the idea of forgiving their abusers, and onto the idea of taking care of themselves first, and letting their anger and rage be replaced by the simple contentment that comes from that.
So, if you’re sick and tired of being told you need to forgive your abusers, before you’ve managed to heal yourself at all, I highly recommend taking a look at this book. It will serve as a great reminder that there are others out there struggling with the idea of forgiveness and give you the freedom to not forgive when you need it.