You Don’t Need to Forgive Anyone to Live Your Best Life
American culture loves the idea of forgiveness. Adores it. If I’ve learned one thing about being Black in this culture, it’s that you need to be suspect of anything white amerikkka loves because if white amerikkka loves it, it’s probably exploiting and killing Black people.
I keep revisiting this idea of forgiveness because people keep pulling out this word and beating people down with it. If you have ever felt manipulated into forgiving someone, you are not alone. If you have ever felt pressured to forgive someone, it is a common practice. Amerikkkan society is exploitative at its core and will use every weapon, physical and psychological, to convince you that your exploitation is okay. Those with power will indoctrinate and manipulate you into not just accepting your oppression but enacting it on others. You get to be more than merely complicit; you get to be the agents of your own oppression. You get to be agents of white supremacy. And the concept of forgiveness is a part of that narrative.
I decided a couple of years ago that forgiveness wasn’t about me and I have yet to encounter any information that would make me change that belief. I’m not religious, so the idea that I need to forgive to be closer to god has no impact on me. I’ve been told repeatedly that I carry baggage when I don’t forgive people. I carry baggage because I’m alive and I am the sum of my experiences, good and bad. Forgiving people for harming me doesn’t lessen that burden for me; I still carry those experiences and they still influence my perceptions and judgement. I’ve been told that the ability to forgive releases the anger in me. I disagree. Anger is a feeling over which I have no control about feeling. I control how I respond to anger, not the fact that I feel it. Anger tells you that something isn’t right and needs to be addressed one way or another. Forgiving someone doesn’t end that anger. It just helps you punish yourself for feeling something you’ve convinced yourself you shouldn’t feel anymore.
While I would love to say that forgiving is a good thing, experience has shown me that it is an abusive tool wielded too often by too many people. Every year I realize more and more that I don’t need to forgive anyone for me to move on and live my best life. Yet, I have a list of people who I will not forgive, and while it still hurts to think about them, I can live with that pain because that’s part of life. I even still love them, but I have learned that I can love you and never fuck with you again because you are bad for me. Life has taught me that I can and will feel many things, even contradictory things, about the same person and that is just part of being alive. I can care about you and never want to talk to you again. Life has taught me that I will be just fine, regardless.
We live. We learn. We grow. Our priorities change. Our interests change. And our feelings for and about others change, too. Too often, I have forced myself to fight my feelings about something to preserve a relationship, when really, that relationship needed to die. Nobody needed to be forgiven: not them and not me. It was just time for things to end. And sometimes relationships end because that other person harmed you, disregarded your boundaries, disrespected your humanity, and refused to accept you and instead tried to mold you into who they wanted you to be. In those instances, anger is natural, forgiveness is not. Why would you ever need to forgive someone who abused you? What do you gain from that? If you say it gives you peace, then your peace is a lie because your forgiveness isn’t for you in that scenario. You are undermining your feelings…and for what?
If your forgiveness is a personal decision, then nobody needs to know whether you’ve forgiven anyone, ever.
But that is not how we talk about forgiveness, is it? Instead we talk about the act of forgiving someone. We talk about making an active choice, a choice that causes us to brush aside the harm we’ve endured. And for what? It can’t be for yourself because you are denying yourself the opportunity to heal from trauma. You are limiting the space you need to feel and mourn and heal as needed. You are actively suppressing your humanity, and the question remains…for what?
Because forgiveness isn’t about you. Forgiveness is about loosening the reins of accountability. It’s about making your needs inconsequential in favor of the comfort of someone else. Forgiveness is a tool wielded to make you not just accepting of abuse, but complicit in it. It is a toxic form of self-harm that we need to start rejecting.
Forgiveness is the wolf in sheep’s clothing; a manipulative tool used to help you to cosign on harm perpetrated against you.
Forgiveness is a toxic aspect of our culture that demands the oppressed accept their oppression with grace. It is a silencing tactic enacted by shitty people to ease their ability to be shitty. Forgiveness is a weapon that has been incorporated into our culture so completely that it is enforced without question. We live in a time where you become the villain for refusing to forgive, rather than the person who abused and fucked you over. It is the height of fucktastic nonsense, which, as usual, sounds about white.
How many Black people have been pressured to forgive white people while actively mourning people they’ve lost to white supremacy and racist abuse? How often have we seen the forgiveness narrative pushed onto Black people in pain? Too often. Asking for forgiveness is coercive. Demanding forgiveness is intimidation. Refusing to forgive is punished. All these things are forms of emotional abuse. They are done to emotionally manipulate you into ignoring your feelings and they are oppression and deny you the right of your humanity. They are ugly and wrong.
If you need someone to say that you don’t have to forgive anybody, then I’m here to tell you exactly that. You don’t have to forgive shit. And you don’t have to worry about what it’s going to do to your health if you don’t because that is a line of horseshit. We live in a society that thrives on denying you the space to emote because emotion leads to awareness and awareness leads to change. You have the human right to feel however you feel. You may not be able to act on it immediately, but you are allowed to feel and anyone that tells you otherwise is denying your humanity.
Oppression thrives in our lack of awareness, self-reflection, empathy, and self-actualization. It thrives when we compartmentalize ourselves and our lives to keep shit peaceful. Peace at the expense of humanity is a peace I do not want, and forgiveness enables the lies that give oppressors peace.
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