There are a few reasons forgiveness has been on my mind lately, mainly in terms of forgiving my mother for her abuse of me and my brother growing up. My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder aka BPD, and also some other mental disorders/issues.
The main reason “forgiveness” has been on my mind is that my uncle recently committed suicide while on a family outing – it was immediately prior to Thanksgiving, he had just arrived with his wife and son from out of town to share the holiday weekend with us – and when I told some of my friends about the tragic way events played out and how our holiday was kind of ruined because of our grief over a dear loved one, some of my friends reacted by saying they were “mad” at my uncle for “doing this to” me. Another friend of mine who had experience going to suicide grief forums said children often are really upset with their parents for killing themselves, like it was a personal offense against the child – like it was a statement saying “I don’t care about how this’ll make you feel/change your life” and it was harsh and mean to do that to their own child. I don’t understand that point of view, though, because not once did I feel angry with my uncle for taking his life. I felt sad and shocked but no anger. I know he loved his son (my now 16-year-old cousin) more than anyone in the world and would never do anything to hurt him.
For example, only two years ago I had finally started telling my cousin about the abuse I suffered at the hands of my BPD mother, and when my previously mentioned uncle had found out, he got upset, wanting to shield his son from such horror stories. That’s how protective he was. So it makes no sense, to me, to feel anger toward my uncle for taking his own life. What I blame is his mental illness – his disease, depression – and because I’m at that point, my uncle himself is excused. I am able to do that because who he was when his anti-depressants were working was who I consider to be my uncle, and who is was under the state of depression was a person suffering at the hands of something out of his control.
I could see someone blaming a person for their suicide, then forgiving them over time because they have learned to shift the blame to the mental illness the suicidal person suffered from.So for all of us with family members who suffer from undiagnosed or at least non-treated or unsuccessfully treated Personality Disorders, this is probably the heart of our problem. We can’t separate them from their Personality Disorder because that is all we know. Personality disorders have “personality” in the name for a reason – their brains work wrong, but it’s so “Who they are”, and ALL of their actions are influenced by it. We can’t blame just the disorder and not the person, because we don’t see any person behind the disorder, not really. We don’t feel sympathy or empathy for the PD person, because to us they kind of aren’t a person – who they are IS their disorder.It is comforting, I think, for most of us to learn/understand that on some level that the abuse they inflicted upon us isn’t their choice. They wouldn’t have caused us this pain if their brains weren’t wired this way due to the Personality Disorder. To some degree, I think that is a form of forgiveness – just acknowledging that they have a personality disorder. It’s a way of moving blame at least slightly away from them, and I think forgiveness is inextricably tied to blame. If you blame a person for their actions, you haven’t forgiven them yet. If you blame something else, or lots of different factors and only them a little, you have gotten to the point of at least mainly forgiving them.
And blaming a suicide victim’s depression rather than the person for the act of suicide doesn’t mean killing yourself is ever the answer – it means we need to fight hard to find better cures for depression, to do everything in our power to fight suicide which is still “wrong” (never the best course of action). The same thing goes for PD abuse, I believe. We can forgive the person by blaming the PD instead, but that doesn’t mean allowing the person who is still controlled completely by the PD to continue to abuse us. It means if they are aware of their PD and working hard on bettering themselves and becoming more like a non-PD, then we can be there for them during this time and commend their effort. It means we can fight to get the PD person to acknowledge their PD. Or fight for awareness or better treatment options for people with PDs. It means we can get to the point in our lives where we don’t want to hurt the person in retaliation, but we want to hurt the mental disorder in some way, and that is I think a reasonable and healthy place to be.
Don’t you agree?
My uncle’s suicide has lead to me thinking about my mother for a variety of reasons.I think when I cut off all contact with my mother about 7 years ago, it was my first real experience with a type of grief. I lived with my mother and saw her every day and then suddenly she just wasn’t in my life. And I wasn’t sad, but little things would remind me of her. And for the first time my emotional reaction to “my mom liked this song” or “my mom hated this TV show” or whatever was somehow… heightened. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Amused at her insanity? Upset at the memory of her? Happy to be free of her? Wishing she was a mother I could love? I think I always felt all of the above and more. But then when my uncle died… it was my first real experience losing someone I was close to, and little things started to remind me of him. I also was with his wife and son when it happened and for the whole first week afterward, and I saw them feel that way too. “He thought this”, “he would’ve enjoyed this”, “I remember experiencing this with him” type thoughts that all of a sudden had the ability to bring all of us to the brink of tears. I realized for the first time, because of the death of my uncle, that I had grieved my mother, in a way, when she stopped being a part of my life. I realized the similarities.I remember talking to my uncle a few years ago and he I think is the only person in my entire life to ever ask me “Do you think you’ll ever forgive your mother?”. I’m pretty sure that my uncle never forgave his parents for being pretty awful to him (and his parents didn’t even seem sad at his funeral, by the way… he’s an uncle by marriage in our family, my dad’s sister’s husband so not at all related to my mom and idk what his parents’ issues are but they’re… really odd people lol).
When my uncle had asked me if I’d ever forgive my BPD mother, I said something along the lines of: “I don’t know. I guess I’d like to say ‘yes, it’s possible,’ but she’d have to at the very least admit she’d done even one of the million horrible things she did to me and my brother. She’d have to say ‘I’m sorry’ first and really mean it, which wouldn’t be possible until she actually thought she had done something to be sorry for. And at the current state she’s in, she’s acting delusional and as if she’s never done anything remotely hurtful to me or my brother. The idea of her accepting that she did anything at all wrong is so foreign and seems so unlikely to me at this point, so therefore forgiveness also does. I can’t forgive her if she doesn’t even think she’s done anything wrong.”
The Free Dictionary defines “forgive” as:
1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).Then clarifies:
Synonyms: forgive, pardon, excuse, condone
These verbs mean to refrain from imposing punishment on an offender or demanding satisfaction for an offense. The first three can be used as conventional ways of offering apology. More strictly, to forgive is to grant pardon without harboring resentment: “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them” (Oscar Wilde).
Pardon more strongly implies release from the liability for or penalty entailed by an offense: After the revolution all political prisoners were pardoned.
To excuse is to pass over a mistake or fault without demanding punishment or redress: “There are some acts of injustice which no national interest can excuse” (J.A. Froude).
To condone is to overlook an offense, usually a serious one, and often suggests tacit forgiveness: Failure to protest the policy may imply a willingness to condone it.~~~
Forgiveness… is a confusing word for me, even still. When someone apologizes to you sincerely, truly regretful of whatever they did to hurt you, and swearing not to do it again, you should consider forgiving them. I think forgiving is seeing the other person’s point of view as fair enough, as being able to move past some offense. Sometimes, it’s understanding that something isn’t 100% their fault – for instance, if you blame someone for a car accident because that driver should’ve been more careful, vs. if you forgive them and realize accidents sometimes happen and this was probably one of those times and holding a grudge against a person isn’t reasonable. If a person intentionally murders your loved one, forgiving the murderer doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, you still need to live the rest of your life without actively feeling hatred too strongly, but getting to the point where you’ve “moved past” it or feel that “indifference” does not mean forgiveness. It means you’ve gotten to a mentally healthy state but the person will still never be forgiven.
I am not 100% what to think of the concept of forgiveness, really. I think I blame Borderline Personality Disorder and her other mental disorders/personality disorders/whatever she has more than my mother for all of her actions. And in that sense I forgive her, I do. I blame the personality disorder instead. And I will never fully forgive the actions. But I have moved to a state of understanding and detachedness and in that sense, I find myself in a calm and emotionally healthy state, personally.