Sacrilige of the Goddess wrote an insightful piece commenting on one rapist’s story and the forgiveness she feels for him. She writes that she feels this forgiveness because this man is able to see his wrongs and change his life, but that she feels unable to forgive her own abusers, who never even admitted they abused her.
I can understand this. Even though forgiveness is something you do for yourself, it is a lot easier to forgive those who admit their wrongdoing than those who deny it. After all, you develop a sense of sympathy for them, which is a lot harder to develop for someone who not only did something evil, but refuses to have any remorse.
It is also the case that forgiving requires accepting that the wrongdoing happened, and this is hard for survivors and even harder when the people around them won’t acknowledge their hurting. These may include abusers, but also friends and family who are otherwise non-abusive. If you are not being acknowledged, the step to accepting that someone wronged you and that there is no changing the fact, is extremely hard, and even harder is it to get past your anger towards those who abused you.
However, it is possible maybe not always to forgive people their wrongdoing if they don’t admit it in the first place, but to let go of your feelings of resentmetn about it. This does not mean you feel any sense of sympathy for the abuser, but indeed, that you have better things to do than to hold onto a grudge towards them. Maybe it also means acepting that they will likely never admit their wrongdoing, and it is up to you, as a survivor, to decide what you are going to do with the fact that the abuse happened anyway. This is hard work, and not all survivors will get there, but it is possible for many.
“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” – Ellen Glasgow
This on the surface seems obvious: not all changes that we make or experience in our lives, are good ones. For example, we may change living situations for the worse, lose our jobs, or separate from or divorce our partners. These are usually not seen as good changes. Neither is a setback in mental health.
However, to say that not all change is growth, is another thing. In my opinion, we can derive growth from any change in our lives, and therefore, in a way, all change is growth. It may not always be apparent right away, but the growth we derive from a negative change, may unfold itself later on.
For example, when I had my mental crisis in 2007, I lost my home (not immediately, but it was a direct consequence), dropped out of college, and had to be hospitalized. These are all negative changes. However, I can say that I have grown from these changes, in the sense that I have gained self-knowledge, gotten in touch with my husband (which would not likely have happend if I had not been hospitalized) and probably some other things that I can’t think of right now. So, in a way, my mental crisis may not in itself have been a good event, but it did lead to growth.
So, can we conclude that, while not all change is direct growth, even negative change will have growth as a conseuqence? I don’t know if I can go so far as to say all change will lead to growth, but most will, if you take the right actions from it and thereby use the change to your advantage.
Patricia Singleton of Spritiual Journey of a Lightworker has a very validating brief post on memories, self-doubt and disbelief among survivors of abuse. In this post, she highlights that memories will come to your conscious when you are ready to deal with them, and that the self-doubt many survivors have does not indicate that the memories are not real, but that the survivor is not ready to face their feelings.
Joke Lijnse, a Dutch psychologist specializing in dissociative disorders, writes that traumatic memories, unlike other memories, remain intact until they are recovered. Regular memories are distorted by our reconstructive capacity when recalling them, but traumatic memories, she says, come to your conscious unchanged. This does not mean they come to mind in full at once: many people experience flashbacks and memories that only have a certain component of the actual event to them, such as a smell, the perpetrator’s appearance, or an emotion experienced during the abuse. Now I am not certain what Lijnse’s opinion is based on, and have not looked for research that validates it, so I am not sure she is right.
However, in essence, it is not important whether your memories are 100% true, unless you are going to pursue legal action based on them. The things that are important, are the emotions you experience as you recover and process a traumatic memory and the way you cope with these feelings. Therefore, constant self-doubt and invalidation are not going to be productive. Rather, we need to be validated in our experiences and validate our own feelings. Memories may or may not be distorted, but you have to deal with them as they come to you in the present, not as you experienced them in the past.