Reblog: Alice Miller: Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth

I have often been frustrated at the idea of not feeling anger, rage, or the occasional hate, even when my abusers continue to insist they’ve done nothing wrong.  Doesn’t that anger stem from the denial of justice?  Doesn’t it keep me from running to them and begging them for forgiveness, only to be abused again?

Alice Miller writes that if we are allowed to feel what we feel instead of pushing our emotions into repression, those emotions can lessen over time and we can be healed.

While if we force ourselves to repress our rage, our bodies will express it through illness.

She writes that abuse victims are pushed into forgiveness, even when their abusers are unrepentant, when what they really need in order to heal, is to face and proclaim the truth of what they’ve been through:

Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth

An effective therapy cannot be achieved if the mechanisms of pedagogy continue to operate. It requires recognition of the damage caused by our upbringing, whose consequences it should resolve.

It must make patients’ feelings available to them-and accessible for the entirety of their lives. This can help them to orientate and be at one with themselves. Moralizing appeals can result in barring access to this self-knowledge.

A child can excuse its parents, if they in their turn are prepared to recognize and admit to their failures. But the demand for forgiveness that I often encounter can pose a danger for therapy, even though it is an expression of our culture.

Mistreatment of children is the order of the day, and those errors are therefore trivialized by the majority of adults.

Forgiving can have negative consequences, not only for the individual, but for society at large, because it can mean disguising erroneous opinions and attitudes, and involves drawing a curtain across reality so that we cannot see what is taking place behind it.

The possibility of change depends on whether there is a sufficient number of enlightened witnesses to create a safety net for the growing consciousness of those who have been mistreated as children, so that they do not fall into the darkness of forgetfulness, from which they will later emerge as criminals or the mentally ill.

Cradled in the “net” provided by such enlightened witnesses, these children can grow to be conscious adults, adults who live with and not against their past and who will therefore be able to do everything they can to create a more humane future for us all.

Also, from What is Hatred:

The almost universal, but in fact highly destructive, injunction to forgive our “trespassers” encourages such self-betrayal. Religion and traditional morality constantly prize forgiveness as a virtue, and in numerous forms of therapy it is erroneously recommended as a path to “healing.”

But it is easy to demonstrate that neither prayer nor auto-suggestive exercises in “positive thinking” are able to counteract the body’s justified and vital responses to humiliations and other injuries to our integrity inflicted on us in early childhood.

The martyrs’ crippling ailments are a clear indication of the price they had to pay for the denial of their feelings. So would it not be simpler to ask whom this hatred is directed at, and to recognize why it is in fact justified?

Then we have a chance of living responsibly with our feelings, without denying them and paying for this “virtue” with illnesses.

I would be suspicious if a therapist promised me that after treatment (and possibly thanks to forgiveness) I would be free of undesirable feelings like rage, anger, or hatred.

What kind of person would I be if I could not react, temporarily at least, to injustice, presumption, evil, or arrogant idiocy with feelings of anger or rage? Would that not be an amputation of my emotional life?

If therapy really has helped me, then I should have access to ALL my feelings for the rest of my life, as well as conscious access to my own history as an explanation for the intensity of my responses.

This would quickly temper that intensity without having serious physical consequences of the kind caused by the suppression of emotions that have remained unconscious.

Also see: Individual and Civic Notions of Forgiveness by Sharon Lamb