I just listened to a radio programme about a woman who was raped as a teen by someone she trusted when she was drunk. Many years down the track the perpetrator has owned up to his actions and together they have written a book. What struck me was that the theme of self judgement and forgiveness was central to the interview. The woman spoke of how she blamed herself as a victim of abuse, how a large part of her healing involved forgiveness for herself. I thought of my own struggles with self judgement when I have got into difficult situations particularly with men, especially in my earlier years. I also thought of how sad and challenging it is that survivors have to struggle so with self judgement in situations in which they were powerless. The woman eventually forgave herself and the abuser.
It would be so good if we could learn to show ourselves self compassion, if we could admit our powerlessness in situations in which we truly were powerless, as opposed to situations in which we can use that as an excuse. Feeling helpless and powerless does tend to develop in people who were not empowered when they were young, who had justified flight and fight responses disabled by parental shame, abuse or criticism.
Feeling trapped, or powerless has been a big part of the legacy of my own trauma which involved being trapped in a car following my MVA and in a hospital bed for many months afterward. I recognise a deep part of me that can feel powerless in situations where I really have the power to leave, but leaving my requires of me courage or the ability to speak for myself and my own needs and face my fears. I fear disappointing others at times when really I should not disappoint myself. I fear moving forward at times when the way ahead seems unclear.
In the end the woman in the interview found love, forgiveness and compassion for herself. What a different approach we would take to life and others if we could forgive while at the same time recognising abuse as abuse, something we didn’t deserve or play any part in causing. Something painful and deeply tragic that was a very difficult learning experience.