Part of a series on Sexual Abuse & Autistic Life... Audio Podcast here.
I don’t forgive my family. Or seek their forgiveness…
Even as I reflect a great deal on how hard having an undiagnosed autistic son… or brother… in the Dark Ages before autism was known… HAD to be for them.
Even as I consider the very occasional conscious actions I took… knowing they could cause pain.
I can’t think of a single way that forgiving family would improve my life… Or theirs.
I’m still me. They’re still them. Life’s short. And getting shorter.
The sheer effort it would require? To even find a common vocabulary? Free of defensiveness? Judgment?
My non-autistic wife and I have good communication. Getting better every day. But we put in 10 years of hard work to make it so. Because we respect and admire each other… that much.
My family? I tried for years. Battling misconceptions. Rivalries. Condescension. Ultimately… lies.
I have a happy life to live. I hope they do too.
But I neither forget… nor forgive. A damn thing.
Forgiving abusers… like SOME therapists, pop psychologists, and self-help gurus insist on?
NOT a Cosmic Rule.
I’ve blogged about how I revealed to my first therapist that my father molested me…
Speaking haltingly… in tears… struggling to stay present and not dissociate from pain and shame… this time…
And how she skillfully brought home to me the impact of those life-changing events.
We shared. We cried. She passed the Kleenex box.
But I left out one part in my post.
Moments later? I’m still reeling… vulnerable… “processing” this shattering admission…
She purses her lips. Looks tenderly thoughtful.
Then cheerfully says, “You’ve spoken your truth. Now you must forgive him.”
Then she added the nuclear-powered kicker… “Or you’ll never be whole.”
What. A. Tool.
First off… I needed to get angry. Really angry. At “him.” And all the folks who didn’t protect me. From “him.”
Because I’d never allowed myself to admit what happened. Much less be consciously angry. As much as I may have acted out in destructive ways. You know… what abuse victims do…
Then, I needed time. In my case, acres of time… to find out what I was going to do with my life. Free of the burden of my extraordinarily confused feelings toward “him”… and everyone who simply watched.
I needed support. Because being doubly disabled… with autism and incestual abuse trauma… I couldn’t function. Emotionally. Socially. Financially…
AND I needed to live. Or rather, find a reason to finally make a life… over choosing the easier alternative… the knife.
With all that imaginary healing behind me…
Maybe then… maybe… we could talk about forgiving “him.”
Took years to recover from that fresh layer of trauma she dumped on me… in moments.
Because I couldn’t feel a shred of forgiveness… for the horror of my childhood.
So I got more guilt. More disappointment. More failure. And a bill for psychotherapy.
It took seven years… and hospitalization for suicidality… before I trusted another therapist. After that one session.
Listen… I’m not wasting your time with just one autist’s experience.
There are great parents out there supporting their autistic kids. AND there are great parents out there trying everything they know how to support them.. even if they’re being told the wrong ways.
But there are boatloads of autistic adults who are nowhere near forgiveness. Still just recognizing… and dealing with… their justified anger.
“Forgiving” someone who has hurt you…? A human social nicety. Largely based on religious dogma. Which ultimately serves the needs of the abuser… and the smooth functioning of social commerce for everyone else.
There is no proof it benefits a victim. In any way. But the guilt the victim feels… from the social demand to do the impossible… forget the pain and move on?
There… THAT can be irreparable harm.
Even if you examine the supposed “research” that indicates forgiveness is good for your health or whatev…
- You’ll see the supposed benefits vary wildly by the extent and duration of abuse. And averaged “results” merrily mix extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse with more common forms of abuse. So they get a lower average…
- The research validity sucks. Bonehead errors like meaninglessly lumping “forgiving oneself” with “forgiving abusers.” As if they aren’t totally different issues.
As far as I can see, this sloppy “research” serves to make everyone feel better… except the victims.
To forgive… or not? A decision EVERY individual makes for themselves.
And don’t waste time Googling symptom lists. Trying to prove to yourself that you were abused…
Sez the guy… who did just that. For years.
You don’t need a professional’s blessing. Only you know if you experienced pain. Only you know if you still experience pain… and confusion. Years later.
Not forgiving your abusers does NOT mean you are not a good person. Nor is it yet another human social expectation you fail to meet. You are not a “bad autist.”
You are a survivor.
The pressure to forgive is not a burden you must create the strength… or time… to pick up. To please ANYbody.
You get one life. This is it.
How are you gonna spend the rest of it?
I divorced my family 10 years ago.
Best decision of my life.
After six decades trying to gain their approval… And avoid their pathological, narcissistic disappointment…
AND surviving physical, verbal, mental, and sexual abuse at their hands.
Never looked back.
Never missed a one of them.
AND, afterward? Never had so much love and #AutisticJoy come INTO my life in my nearly 7 decades…
Once I simply realized I was not capable of meeting their expectations. Which was largely not MY problem to deal with.
I stopped living for their approval. And began living my own… autistic… life.
I’ve known lots of people who found great peace in forgiving their families. I applaud them! And am capable of understanding they made a great choice…
FIRST, spending a good number of years learning to forgive myself…
For the harm I did out of ignorance, or was never taught to handle…
And for simply not being the son or brother or nephew, grandson, friend or spouse… they hoped for.
While admitting to myself the harm that I understand I WAS responsible for. And when possible, seeking forgiveness from others for MY actions… as I’ve been able. Without ending up on suicide watch.
I do not foresee a time when contact or reconciliation will EVER be possible with my family… and some others… based on our history.
Let them forgive themselves… if they see any responsibility.
Your choice may be different. I will always applaud you.
Good article on what forgiveness does not mean…