Confronting the Abuse of Forgiveness
by Umm Zakiyyah
A story about healing after trauma.
“You need to forgive them,” my counselor friend said simply as we chatted over lunch. I’d just shared with her the emotional triggers and anxiety I was continuously battling in the presence of those whose speech and mannerisms reminded me of my abusers. Her response confounded me because I didn’t see the connection between forgiving my abusers and overcoming the shortness of breath, sudden headaches, and body weakness I repeatedly experienced in the presence of familiar cruelty and dismissiveness.
“Forgive them?” I repeated, slight humor in my tone as I felt anxiety slowly closing in on me. But I maintained a pleasant expression as I regarded her, glancing down at my food periodically and playing with the fork. I mindlessly took a bite or two from what was still on my plate though I could no longer taste my food.
“Yes,” she said cheerfully then proceeded to speak about the necessity of forgiveness in emotional healing.
Her chipper voice faded into the background of my thoughts, and I found myself counting the minutes until it would be polite to leave.
I wanted to die. I needed to die…
These words flooded my consciousness just minutes after I returned home from the lunch, and I felt the painful anxiety closing in on me. In these words was the vivid memory of the day that I’d nearly taken my own life over a year before. Shame washed over me as I tried to push the memory from my mind.
No one knew about my near brush with death by suicide, and I wanted to keep it like that. But the memory of that fateful day only became more vivid in my mind (or was it my heart?) until it formed into a cacophony of words that I couldn’t silence or resist. My chest tightened in a deep sadness so overwhelming that I knew it was useless to battle the emotional pain any longer. I needed to get to my journal or laptop and pen these words somehow. It was how I healed and made sense of things, penning my thoughts I mean.
For a few seconds I considered writing my feelings in my journal then decided against it, as the words were coming in full force now and I knew that whatever was forming from my pain, it wasn’t a mere journal entry. It was a blog—or so I thought.
I sat down in front of my laptop and felt the frustration, confusion, and sadness rising to the surface as my friend’s words played over and over in my mind. You should forgive them.
A surge of anger passed through me as the title of my blog came to me: The Abuse of Forgiveness. This title hit my heart and summarized in four words all the emotional pain I suffered over the years in trying to disappear myself from existence for the sake of someone else.
I started typing my “blog” and my thoughts poured onto the page. It seemed the more I typed, the more I needed to say:
Being the recipient of forced forgiveness is like someone having their most precious belongings stolen from them such that their entire life is turned upside down. They have no bed to sleep on, no clothes to wear, no food to eat, and only the crumbling walls of a home that doesn’t even protect them from the heat or cold. When they ask what they can do to start over, they’re told to use whatever resources they have to give gifts to the thieves. And each time they ask a practical question about restocking what they lost, they’re told to find the thieves and give them whatever they have. If they refuse, they’re told, “You’re still living like this because you’re stingy and greedy in refusing to share with the thieves!”
…Tragically, the underlying message of forced forgiveness is that mercy and forgiveness are automatic and unconditional for abusers, but they are delayed and conditional for the sufferers of abuse and wrongdoing. Moreover, it teaches us that an extra level of punishment from God is inflicted on the sufferers of abuse if they should place any delays or conditions on showing mercy and forgiveness to wrongdoers. In other words, from both the healing and religious perspective, forced forgiveness teaches us that sufferers of abuse don’t matter; only the abusers do.
Each time I finished one section of my post, another followed. I ended up staying up all night and still there was more pouring from my heart. It was then I realized that this was not a blog I was writing. It was to be my next book.
Within a week I’d completed a 100+ book that would be later published. The title I finally chose was The Abuse of Forgiveness: Manipulation and Harm in the Name of Emotional Healing.
Writing the this was an overwhelming experience for me emotionally, but it was also healing. When I realized that I needed this book be published and shared with others still making their way through their own healing journey, I knew I had to do something I never had before: I sat down with my husband and my then nineteen-year-old daughter and told them the heartbreaking story of the day I nearly took my own life. I showed them the opening lines of my book The Abuse of Forgiveness and allowed myself to be vulnerable in a way I never had before: “I wanted to die. I needed to die,” I wrote. “These thoughts swam around in my mind until they gripped my consciousness and became me.”
They ended up reading the entire book itself and supported me fully on both my journey of healing and confronting our culture’s abuse of forgiveness.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including novels, short stories, and self-help. Her books are used in high schools and universities in the United States and worldwide, and her work has been translated into multiple languages. In 2018 she founded UZ University to support aspiring and struggling writers in finding their writing voice and sharing inspirational stories with the world.