Written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
Forgiveness is a term regularly used in human life, but it seems everyone has their own understanding of what this is. In my journey of life – especially when emerging from an abusive relationship, I came to develop my own unique understanding of forgiveness in three particular ways.
Fore-giving is a decision you make to ‘forgive’ before you have been wronged. It becomes a predisposition. Often when living with a perpetrator, you will know that abuse and violence are inevitable.
When you use fore-giving, it means that before the perpetrator offends you, you have already made the decision to forgive him. It is more like thinking, “He does not have to say sorry, I know his tendencies, I have forgiven him for what he will do”.
Fore-giving becomes proof (protection) from the emotional accumulation of hurt from all the offences that occur daily, though you would still call to mind the suffering you have endured.
Forgiving happens after you have been wronged. It is your response to an offence after being abused. This kind of forgiveness is often used to justify reconciliation between a survivor and her perpetrator; or to replace the accountability of the perpetrator for his abusive behaviours.
Forgiveness does not imply reconciliation – one can choose to forgive, but not reconcile with her abusive partner, so that she gives herself an opportunity to have a renewed life. This kind of forgiveness helps the survivor to live free from bitterness and anger towards her perpetrator, which will in turn accelerate her journey to achieving a fulfilling life free from abuse and fear.
Forgiveness must not at all be used to replace the perpetrator’s accountability for his abusive behaviours – especially in faith communities. The fact is that harm has occurred, and in many cases with physical injury, and emotional and psychological trauma. A perpetrator is responsible for that harm.
The impact of DVA on both adult and child survivors has long lasting effects. And to impose that survivors must just rub off the perpetrator’s offences from their lives is using forgiveness amiss. Often perpetrators are welcomed back into a faith community under the pretext of forgiveness, while survivors who are deemed unforgiving are condemned and ostracised.
Survivors are the most vulnerable. They need genuine compassion and the permission to take time to forgive, as they heal from their wounds and hurts. Perpetrators remain accountable for their wrong, even when forgiven by survivors. They are the ones who cause domestic violence & abuse (DVA).
Forgiveness can also be a process – like a grieving process. The survivor attains this kind of forgiveness in stages, beginning by accepting the ordeal that she found herself in, and the impact of this ordeal on her life and the lives of her children and her extended family.
This is then followed by her progressive reflection on the multi-dimensional impact of DVA on her life, a consequence at a time, and then make intentional decisions to forgive the perpetrator for each of those consequences.
The final stage is when the survivor finally decides to objectively and consciously let go of the hold of the impact DVA had from her. This stage is the most liberating, because it is the point when the survivor recognises that her past experience of DVA, and its impact, does not determine her future life of liberty and success.
She discovers that she has an option to renew her identity (victor instead of victim), redefine her purpose, re-focus her perceptions about life (that it can be good though DVA had made it bitter), re-engage with her aspirations, reset her place in society, recover all that she had lost, and finds ultimate restoration from DVA.
In closing, the true reality of forgiveness is that it is not squarely about pardoning the perpetrators, but it gives liberty to the one who forgives. It is transformative, healing and restorative. As a forgiver, you can leap and soar, without the foothold of unforgiveness!
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2015. All Rights Reserved.