Reflections on Emily Yoffe’s article: Why I keep perseverating on the abuse, and why forgiving the abusers may be unneeded
Emily Yoffe recently wrote in The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them?:
Bruce Springsteen’s frustrated, depressive father took out much of his rage on his son.
In a New Yorker profile, David Remnick writes that long after Springsteen’s family had left his unhappy childhood home, he would obsessively drive by the old house.
A therapist said to him, “Something went wrong, and you keep going back to see if you can fix it or somehow make it right.”
Springsteen finally came to accept he couldn’t. When he became successful he did give his parents the money to buy their dream house.
But Springsteen says of this seeming reconciliation, “Of course, all the deeper things go unsaid, that it all could have been a little different.”
I get this. This explains everything. He kept driving past the old house because he wanted to fix it somehow.
This explains why my mind has had so much trouble closing the door on Richard and Tracy: Not only did their constant presence on my blog keep me mired in the past and their hard-heartedness, seeing all the proof I put up that they were abusive, but refusing to apologize and make it right–
–but I kept going back to the situation because I wanted to fix it somehow, make it right.
Figure out what happened.
Figure out if I had it pegged correctly or was way off.
Figure out if I could post just the right thing which would get Tracy to realize how badly she had treated and misjudged me.
More importantly, figure out if I could post just the right thing to get Richard to realize how badly he had treated a loyal and devoted friend who would have done anything for him.
Yoffe also writes:
In a 2008 essay in the journal In Character, history professor Wilfred McClay writes that as a society we have twisted the meaning of forgiveness into a therapeutic act for the victim:
“[F]orgiveness is in danger of being debased into a kind of cheap grace, a waiving of standards of justice without which such transactions have no meaning.”
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, writes that,
“There is a watered-down but widespread form of ‘forgiveness’ best tagged preemptory or exculpatory forgiveness. That is, without any indication of regret or remorse from perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes, we are enjoined by many not to harden our hearts but rather to ‘forgive.’ ”
I agree with these more bracing views about what forgiveness should entail. Choosing not to forgive does not doom someone to being mired in the past forever. Accepting what happened and moving on is a good general principle.
But it can be comforting for those being browbeaten to absolve their parents to recognize that forgiveness works best as a mutual endeavor.
After all, many adult children of abusers have never heard a word of regret from their parent or parents. People who have the capacity to ruthlessly maltreat their children tend toward self-justification, not shame…..
It’s wonderful when there can be true reconciliation and healing, when all parties can feel the past has been somehow redeemed. But I don’t think Rochelle, Beatrice, and others like them should be hammered with lectures about the benefits of—here comes that dread word—closure.
Sometimes the best thing to do is just close the door.
How can I forgive someone who refuses to repent? who would continue to violate my boundaries of being left alone, if I hadn’t switched to self-hosted WordPress and blocked them at the server level?
Even though my old blog is no longer maintained, and even though they are blocked from the new one, my abusers/stalkers continue to check my old blog at least every other day. They know about the new blog, so I am quite certain they have tried to come here, but can’t get in.
The biblical passages on forgiveness seem to refer to, forgiving someone who has repented. If my abuser refuses to admit to abusing me, how can I absolve her of it, treat her as if she never abused me?
Even a simple “hello” if I see her at church, would feel like soul murder. How can I possibly do that?
I can, however, accept that she abused me, accept that she refuses to admit to it, and treat her as I would a rattlesnake.
You don’t need to forgive the rattlesnake if it bites you; it’s doing what comes naturally, and would not be sorry for it. You don’t say hello to a rattlesnake; you give it a wide berth and then run the heck away from it.