A woman recently posted on r/AmItheAsshole on Reddit and shared how her family was criticizing her for not attending her sister’s wedding.
Her sister was marrying the poster’s ex-boyfriend. Who had cheated on her with the sister. And gotten her pregnant.
Most people would avoid the emotional torment of attending such an event. And yet the woman said that her family was encouraging her to “let the past go” and support her treacherous sister.
This story reminded me of similar events in my life, when I was asked to “let go” of painful memories or continue to support toxic people. It would be the “higher road,” the “mature thing to do,” apparently. It fell upon me to make up for others’ bad behavior, and my own efforts at self-protection were cast as “selfish” and “stuck in the past.”
The woman who posted on Reddit had been gaslit by her family into believing that her feelings didn’t matter. And that’s the common denominator among all these cases of insisting that a traumatized person simply “let it go.”
After all, if they let it go, the person who did wrong doesn’t have to feel guilty any more.
Memories make us who we are
It’s silly to assume that painful experiences are simply things to overcome rather than powerful components of our identity. It’s not that people who’ve experienced trauma are “playing the victim.” When our world’s been shaken, we adapt and move on, but with an aversion to the thing that did the shaking.
Memories serve an important purpose: They provide us with guidance for our future. There is no shame in letting our memories shape our experience — that’s what they’re there for. Often, people who have hurt us would prefer if we forgot what they did. In fact, that’s how we keep getting sucked in.
There’s no shame in “holding on” to memories
When I escaped my abusive relationship, I had to deal with friends who for months were convinced that I was simply being immature. They wanted me to continue to talk to and hang out with my ex-abuser, and some of them even tried to trick me into being near him. “If you can’t handle yourself around G, you need to grow up,” one of them scolded me.
It’s not immature to refuse to be around someone who hurts you. There’s a world of difference between “holding a grudge” and taking the steps necessary to your health.
Forgiving abusers is not necessary
Positivity culture is the set of beliefs and behaviors that encourages people to “think positive” in order to have a happy life. The problem with this attitude is that it praises people for sweeping things under the rug and punishes them for normal emotional reactions if they’re not “positive.” Those who embrace positivity culture believe that being forgiving and loving is the only path to compassion and well-being. That means you’re expected to make excuses for toxic behavior, rather than excuse yourself from the situation.
It’s pretty harmful to tell people that they must forgive their abusers to achieve happiness and health. Forgiveness is something that you do when your husband forgets your anniversary or the cashier forgets to give you a bag. It’s not a panacea for deep-seated trauma or lasting betrayal.
The woman who posted on Reddit was severely mistreated by her sister, who she says has never apologized for stealing her boyfriend. Yet their family placed the emotional burden on her, demanding that she be the one to forgive, rather than on her sister to apologize.
Forgiving yourself is important
Ultimately, you have to live with yourself, and that means you need to respect your needs and trauma. Don’t let others dictate to you whom you should forgive and what you need to “let go.” Only you can make those decisions for yourself. If you feel like you’re struggling to “be positive” and “put it behind you,” ask yourself why. Are you trying to do this in order to please someone else?
It takes time to overcome trauma, but you don’t need to perform positivity to do it. You are in charge of your feelings, and you are always within your rights to refuse to see someone who causes you pain. Despite what gaslighters say, that is the mature thing to do.
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