Sometimes, it’s the old hurts that seem deepest and deadliest. Those are the ones we hang on to. They come to define us. They seem inescapable.
For example, the national leader of a religious community with which I have a small connection was charged with sexual impropriety. The anger, betrayal and sadness I felt seemed totally out of whack for my level of involvement. “My emotional response is heightened,” I told a local leader, “because I am a victim of clergy sexual abuse.” [It’s not quite as straightforward as that sounds, but the emotional resonance was large.] It took me another 24 hours to remind myself that I am a survivor, rather than a victim. I had to sift through memories and process it all again in light of the new situation. I had extra work to do because of that old injury.
To forgive means understanding that everybody – even the perpetrator – was doing the best they could, under the circumstances. Circumstances including cultural, societal, psychological, and biological situations. I make allowances, even for evildoers.
It seems unfair that to transform from victim to survivor requires so much effort, while perpetrators often go blithely forward without difficulty, but so it goes. Many religions try to help us cope with these inequalities. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord, karma, etc. The idea is to forgo revenge, since it widens and multiplies the wounds.
What does it take to move from victim to survivor? Insistence that I – the wounded one – am whole. How that journey looks is different for each individual. It involves learning or creating and practicing skills that reclaim wholeness. Letting go and making a fresh start over and over. Having time pass. There is no end to the healing, in my experience. It is a lifelong effort, but there can be joy in it.
By mending ourselves we mend the world.