It’s not a one size fits all.

I could tell she was frustrated with me. I’d been hitting different parts of my body for nigh on half an hour and my answer still wasn’t shifting below eight.

It was me who should be frustrated. She was the one who’d promised to rid me of the pain, neutralise the negative emotions and to help me forgive and forget.

To forgive and forget the sexual abuse and emotional abuse that plagued my childhood. To forgive those responsible for stealing my childhood innocence and carefree days.

I’d heard the mantra, ‘forgive and forget’ for as long as I could remember. It was the secret to moving forward and truly healing and I was desperate to achieve it.

Tap Away

A friend had recommended ‘Tapping Therapy’. She’d said it was life-changing. ‘Tapping’, otherwise known as Thought Field Therapy, is based on a belief that by using your fingers to tap certain energy points on your body, such as your face, chest and hands, whilst thinking about a negative emotion, will result in an unlocking of that emotion, thus freeing you of its burden. I had high hopes.

You initially rate the strength of your emotion around a certain event using a scale of 1–10. As you tap, in a specific order, the emotion is meant to be ‘tapped’ away. The aim is to reduce the number to zero, whereby you feel no emotion towards the event in question.

The therapist had been gushing as she explained the technique and how all my emotions related to my childhood trauma would be simply ‘tapped’ away. She assured me I would finally be able to forgive and forget.

Forgiveness Belongs to the Strong

The movies often played in my head. I was always the star. I’d curl into a tight ball, but no matter how tight the ball, I couldn’t shut out the shame. Couldn’t shield the vulnerability and the filth as its tendrils tightened around me. An intangible abhorrence hovered and, if I wasn’t curled tight enough, it would slither inside me. Unclean. Worthless. Used. It’s not only the mind that remembers you see. The body remembers things that your mind wants to forget.

I was pretty certain I would not be forgetting, but if I could manage the forgive part, then I’d surely be on the way to a happy life, be able to believe in myself and I’d have been strong.

It’s always the strongest who apologise first, even if they have done nothing wrong.

These are the words my mum, whispered it to me in the kitchen every time my stepdad had been abusive or on an alcohol-fuelled rant the night before.

Gandhi himself said,

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Throughout society, ‘forgive and forget’ is dished out like canapés at a dinner party. It’s the repetitive small talk everyone has heard.

Leaders in the psychological field of ‘Forgiveness Therapy’, Enright and Fitzgibbons, state that it is ‘a pivotal process to restore peace of mind.’ They suggest that one has to let go of resentment and give the offender the gift of ‘mercy, generosity and love.

Woodpecker antics

So, here I was tapping away like a frantic woodpecker trying to get at the bugs inside the tree. Trying to be one of those ‘strong’ people who could forgive and forget.

By my third session, the therapist wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. Her frustration was tangible when my emotional number refused to reduce. She had me doing extra tapping to stop what she called my ‘self-sabotaging’.

In the end, I reduced the number just to keep her happy and, needless to say, I didn’t go back. Look, this therapy may help some people, but my trigger points were obviously not having a bar of it. In fact, they thought it was a load of bollocks to be quite honest… but each to their own.

Not a One Size Fits All

What I’ve learnt however,  is that the whole ‘forgive and forget’ mantra is not necessarily a fit for everyone — it’s not a one size fits all, as one would assume from the tenacity with which it is touted about. In fact, in some cases, I believe, it can do more harm than good.

For me, the pressure of trying to reconcile my childhood experiences with this mantra, only gave rise to continuing pain and struggles. No matter how hard I tried, the idea of forgiving someone who had defiled my small body just wasn’t coming naturally.

But that was ok, they said.

It isn’t easy, they said.

You have to be strong to do it, they said.

So, I felt weak. The more I failed, the more I replayed the movie to find that moment of forgiveness. The more I replayed the movie, the more despicable I felt and the more of the victim I became.

There’s More on the Menu

Luckily, I started paying more attention to a couple of other mantras being served up.

‘Don’t play the victim’,

and

‘You get what you focus on.’

These are not spoken as loudly or thrown around as loosely as ‘forgive and forget’ but they serendipitously came into my awareness.

Putting the two together, meant, quite simply, I needed to leave it behind. Stop shining the torch on it. Stop letting it define me. Focus on what was great in my life and not focus on the past.

Leave it behind? Was I allowed to do that? What about forgiveness?

Forgiveness

In the steps towards forgiveness, we are encouraged to give up our anger and resentment because they are emotions which can unhealthily linger. Yes. I agree. The strong hatred needs to be tempered for our own sake. Acceptance plays its part here. We do need to let go of bitterness and any thoughts of retribution. None of these help us to heal and move on.

The idea of forgiveness is also ‘not about condoning, excusing, or seeking justice.’ Which is good to know because that would just be crazy.

Call me callous, but I just can’t get my head around giving my abusers the gift of ‘mercy, generosity and love’. I definitely don’t feel the need to do that and I wish I hadn’t spent years trying to do so.

I believe I would have been much happier had I not been dredging it all up, time and time again, in an effort to forgive them. It wasn’t helping me move on. It wasn’t helping me leave it in the past and it definitely wasn’t helping me feel good about myself.

With consistent messages of only the strong being able to forgive, my self- esteem wasn’t being boosted. My self- assurance wasn’t being nurtured and my ‘I am enough’ belief was definitely not blooming.

It’s Ok to Break the Rules

As someone who now views herself as ‘strong’, as a survivor and thriver, as courageous and worthy and, who is absolutely enough, I want to tell you that;

You do not have to forgive.

You do not have to feel ‘mercy’, or ‘generosity’, or ‘love’, for your abusers, offenders, or whoever has wronged you. And you are not weak if you don’t. You are no less because of this. Perhaps you are even stronger because you have found your own way.

I’m not even going to start on ‘forget’, because no one can possibly forget abuse or trauma. You forget where you put your house keys. You certainly do not forget those visceral moments that left you bruised and broken for a while.

I can only recount and share my own story, my own vulnerabilities, but I am sure I am not the only one who feels like I do. We do not, as strong, courageous survivors have to follow the mantra of ‘forgive and forget’. It is not the all-knowing saviour of our happiness or our future.

For me, the very idea of forgiveness of my abusers felt like I was letting them into my soul and saying ‘welcome’. To give them the generosity of my love was like melding a part of me to them. I need, and my body needs that separation in my mind.

Forgive and forget does not work for me and it may not work for you. And that’s ok. 

Strength Comes From an Indomitable Will

We need to stop using it as a one size fits all. The righteous need to stop preaching that, ‘Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong’ — no offence Gandhi, but I need to call you out on this one.

What I do agree upon is; 

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

-Mahatma Gandi

It is our will to move on, our will to accept and let go. Our will to survive, thrive and live our lives. Our will to move forward and to have gratitude in our lives.

We do not have to forgive in order to accept, to heal, to let go, to be strong, to move on, and to be happy.

We do what is right for us.

Thank you for reading. Please let me know your thoughts on the subject. Have you forgiven or have you struggled to forgive? It’s an interesting topic and I’m sure we are all divided on the matter, depending on our experiences and perceptions. I’d love to hear from you. 

Shelley x