Volume 17 Number 1 March 2006
FORGIVING THE ABUSER: OUR ONLY HOPE
A number of years ago I was asked by Dr. Lois Einhorn, Professor of Communication at the State University of New York, Binghamton, to contribute to her book: Forgiveness and Child Abuse: Would YOU Forgive? In form, the book is patterned after Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, which presents the famed concentration-camp survivor and Nazi-hunter's experiences of being unable to forgive a young German soldier. The core of the book, however, consists of responses from various world figures as to how they would have responded if they were in that situation. Lois' book deals with her own child abuse, which by far exceeds in cruelty and viciousness any other account I have read or heard. The book has just been published and I am reprinting my response, which is one of fifty-three. Those interested in purchasing Forgiveness and Child Abuse: Would YOU Forgive? can do so by going to Lois' Web site: loiseinhorn.com.
For this newsletter, I have included an Afterword that presents some additional observations on this extremely important subject.
Forgiving the Abuser
Living in this world it is difficult to ignore the brutal facts of what Robert Burns referred to as man's inhumanity to man. The signs have always been with us, from the brutality of ancient Rome to the modern-day holocausts of Nazi Germany, Southeast Asia, Rwanda, and Bosnia1; from the tortures committed in the name of political or religious ideals to the all-too-common tales of child abuse and torture, such as we have in Lois Einhorn's graphic portrayal of life in her psychological death camp. How to make sense of this is one of the greatest challenges to any observer of the human condition. And it does appear to be a particularly human condition. Animals kill, but almost always out of physical need, not the psychological need of a cruel sadist, intending to bring harm, often brutally, to another. It is a biological fact that all living things must feed off external sources to meet their survival needs, including food, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, light, etc. It is also a psychological fact that human beings have a strong need to project the unconscious darkness of their self-hatred onto others. This crucial dynamic results in a condition where they believe and then experience that they are able magically to escape the pain of this guilt or hatred by attacking others—verbally, behaviorally, in their thoughts, or a combination thereof.
These dark forces of hate, buried within all of us, can be reduced to our need to survive—physically and psychologically—a guilt-laden need which ultimately is the expression of the principle that "someone must lose if I am to gain." It is this all- too-human tendency to find pleasure, satisfaction, and gain at the expense of others that runs like a blood-drenched thread throughout our history, both as societies and as individuals. The clear fact that a vicious minority blatantly lives this out does not obviate the presence of those same tendencies in all of us. Freud's systematic study of the dynamic of projection—wherein we see outside what we find unacceptable inside—helps us to understand how this phenomenon of projected hate operates in everyone's unconscious. A Course in Miracles, a contemporary spiritual thought system that builds upon Freud's psychodynamic insights, offers us a spiritual perspective that does full justice to our physical/psychological experience in the world, at the same time affirming our Identity as spirit, the true Self that transcends this material world entirely, as does, of course, our Creator, transcending the dualistic and illusory world of good and evil, victim and victimizer, life and death.
A Course in Miracles teaches that "projection makes perception," that the world is "the outside picture of an inward condition" (T-21.in.1:1,5). Therefore, our perceptions of an external situation reveal the thoughts in our minds that we wish to deny. It goes without saying that, for example, accusing someone of being a sinner because of rape does not mean that I am accusing myself of the specific form of rape. However, the meaning of such an aggressive act is surely in me as well—the need at times to dominate another through sheer force of will or physical strength in order to have my desires fulfilled; not caring about the other person, but only myself. Again, that tendency may not be nearly as extreme or as violent in expression as sexual rape, but it exists in all of us nonetheless. And it is our guilt over such a wish that finds its projected scapegoat in actual rapists. Their blatant "sin" nicely serves this need of finding a suitable object for projection, obscuring the fact of our common unity both as children of the flesh and of the spirit. In the words of Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of the School of Interpersonal Psychiatry: "We are all much more simply human than otherwise.…" Unfortunately, being "simply human" carries with it not only the capacity for fulfilling our highest aspirations of love and unity, but also our lowest. As Sullivan's statement continues: "…be we happy and successful…miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever." The challenge to us is that our common humanity—for good and evil—is not always so readily apparent.
While in her middle teens, Anna Freud took a walk with her famous father, and as they passed by some beautiful Viennese homes Freud said to his daughter: "You see those lovely houses with their lovely facades? Things are not necessarily so lovely behind the facades. And so it is with human beings too." One might well add "all human beings" to Freud's reference, an addition of which the father of psychoanalysis would almost certainly have approved, being so aware of the dark forces lurking within all members of our species.
If we are to fully realize our inherent wholeness as a spiritual creation of God, we must be willing to forgive, in the sense of looking first at the outer hatred—the projection of the hatred within ourselves—and then beyond it to the love that truly unites us all as one Self. Without this final step, we are condemned to what Freud called the repetition compulsion; in this case, being compelled as a species to repeat endlessly the cycle of guilt and hate, self-loathing and abuse, fear and attack: the cruelty that has so characterized our history, both on the collective and personal levels. All clinicians are more than familiar with the cyclical pattern of many abused children growing up to become abusing adults. And the vicious victim- victimizer cycle that is lived out by individuals sadly recapitulates itself in the lives of groups, large and small.
I would not be much of a psychologist if I were not aware of the destructive consequences of denial, and I am certainly not advocating pushing down memories and thoughts, feelings of hurt, humiliation, and rage, or attempting to overlook them in the so-called spirit of forgiveness. Indeed, in so many instances some form of therapy is necessary as a means whereby people can first come to accept the pain of what has been denied for so long. This is an essential step in the process of forgiveness, if one is going to eventually move beyond the painful, scar-filled memories of the past to an integrated sense of self that alone can bring fulfillment and happiness. Once again, we must not deny what has been done to us, but we all have the capability to grow beyond a victimized self-concept to realize our true potential as whole beings. Thus we demonstrate to our abusers that regardless of their actions, they ultimately were not damaging to us, for we were able to use the experience as a means for personal growth. Importantly, this does not mean allowing others, unchecked, to abuse us or others; the point here being our attitude towards the attacker. One can certainly act in a firm, strong manner to prevent attack and abuse without concomitant feelings of hate or revenge.
A Course in Miracles emphasizes that our perceptions are inherently interpretative. In other words, while our sensory organs report back to us scenes of hate, abuse, and suffering, these need not be instruments with the power to deprive us of our ability to grow, mature, and finally to attain inner peace, not only psychologically but spiritually as well. If these forms of darkness are accorded such power, then the responsibility lies not with the events themselves, but with our having made the event more powerful than the love of God our Source, our constant guide for growth and inspiration for change. This recognition becomes the basis of true forgiveness: Nothing in the world—however reprehensible, repulsive, and vicious—has the power to take from us our inner peace and sense of wholeness. Indeed, the only power that can accomplish this rests within our own minds, which alone can choose peace or war, forgiveness or attack, love or hate. Such a principle presents an overriding challenge to us all, but it is a challenge that we know can be met, as in the inspiring examples of the Dutch Ten Boom sisters and the Viennese Victor Frankl during the Nazi Holocaust. Thus, we need not give the events of our individual lives the power to deprive us of attaining the highest spiritual goal to which we can aspire: knowing, truly knowing, our Identity as spirit, part of the living and loving oneness of God. Extreme examples of brutality can afford us the opportunity of overcoming the easy temptation to hate, calling instead on the Love within to teach us how to forgive—others and thus ourselves.
A medieval legend provides us with a beautiful example of this vision of true forgiveness, an ideal that we all should hope to achieve one day: Jesus and his disciples had gathered together to re-enact the Last Supper. They waited around the table while one place remained vacant. Then Judas walked in. Jesus went over to him and greeted him warmly: "Welcome, my brother. We have been waiting for you." In the same vein, the third-century Christian philosopher Origen taught, in words that did not endear him to the Church authorities, that even the devil would in the end be saved. In other words, every seemingly separated fragment of the spiritual creation of God would and will return Home, as God's love can only embrace totality. Thus our forgiveness here in the world reflects the totality and oneness we all share as spirit.
In summary, then, Lois Einhorn's disturbing example of an extreme form of brutal victimization affords us all still another opportunity to project our interpretation of events, giving them the power to destroy our vision of a common humanity. However, another way of looking at the situation is that we all are calling out for help, especially the sadistic victimizers, which reflects our common Identity as spirit. If God is truly love, then the wholeness of that love can have no exceptions. Thus it is that even the most heinous act demonstrates, if looked at kindly, the desperate call for help and love that lies just beneath its vicious form. It is the same call that cries out in all of us. Learning to give that call a voice is alone what gives this world meaning. Leaving that call unheard carries the terrible risk of perpetuating a life of justified hate that continually seeks to punish others rather than mercifully acknowledge our own need for mercy and forgiveness. In these days of world crisis we are all witnessing the horrific implications of not heeding that call. Our only hope—personally and collectively—lies in looking within at the hatred that joins us all in madness, which is at the same time the defense against the love that joins us all in sanity. In such hope is found the true Kingdom of God: a God of all-inclusive love, a God of perfect oneness, a God whose wholeness embraces totality, without exception.
In our March 2004 newsletter, I amended musicologist H.C. Robbins-Landon's statement about Mozart to read:
A Course in Miracles is as good an excuse for mankind's existence as we shall ever encounter and is perhaps, after all, a still, small hope for our ultimate survival.
The hope—in Mozart and A Course in Miracles—is that despite the chaos of the world at large, not to mention our personal worlds, a light still shines in the darkness of our minds (T-15.XI.2:1-2). For whatever other reasons people have been attracted to A Course in Miracles, and people can well be attracted for the wrong reasons, there is nonetheless something that breathes through its words to which everyone resonates, whether they understand the Course fully or not, or whether they even understand it at all. Jesus' words offer hope because they come from, and point to a reality beyond this world. His message of forgiveness is all the more relevant now that stories like Lois' continue to emerge almost daily—stories that speak of unimaginable cruelty and abuse perpetrated on individuals, not to mention racial, religious, and political groups.
Any abuse—individual or collective—is horrific, not only because of the cruelty inherent in the act itself, but because it reminds us of the abuse we all harbor within our separated minds, of which we are mostly unaware. While people in their right minds would never welcome abuse of any nature, once it has occurred it can nonetheless serve a holy purpose. As the Course says of specialness, which is always abusive, regardless of its seemingly benign forms:
Such is the Holy Spirit's kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made to heal, instead of harm (T-25.VI.4:1).
In this regard, an extreme lesson is always helpful (T-6.in.2:1). Being almost impossible to ignore, it can point to the ego thought system heretofore unknown to us, for the ego is kept virtually inaccessible, hidden and protected by the double shield of oblivion (W-pI.136.5:2): the mind's decision for guilt, and its projection of guilt into the material world of separate bodies. Moving beyond these two seemingly impenetrable shields and gaining access to the memory of our true Self—buried in the mind's shrouded vaults of fear—is a daunting task, to say the least:
For the reality of guilt is the illusion that seems to make it heavy and opaque, impenetrable, and a real foundation for the ego's thought system (T-18.IX.5:2).
Nonetheless, its "impenetrable appearance is wholly an illusion" (T-18.IX.6:2), and there is a way of moving beyond its walls of "solid granite." However, it takes a radical shift in perception to move beyond the form to the content. This is the shift that reason—the Holy Spirit's right-minded thought of forgiveness - - brings about:
Sin [or guilt] is a block, set like a heavy gate, locked and without a key, across the road to peace.… The body's eyes behold it as solid granite, so thick it would be madness to attempt to pass it. Yet reason sees through it easily, because it is an error.… Reason will tell you that the form of error is not what makes it a mistake.… The body's eyes see only form. They cannot see beyond what they were made to see.… unable to look beyond the granite block of sin, and stopping at the outside form of nothing.… Yet how can sight that stops at nothingness, as if it were a solid wall, see truly? It is held back by form, having been made to guarantee that nothing else but form will be perceived (T-22.III.3:2,4-5; 5:1,3,4,6,8-9).
Throughout A Course in Miracles we are not only taught that the body and its world are illusions, but that they serve a strategic purpose in the ego's thought system of separation, diverting our attention from the mind's decision for guilt, thereby preventing us from ever changing our minds. The more compelling the form of the error—extreme pain or pleasure, sin or holiness—the more attractive its role as a defense. On the other hand, when the form is looked at through Jesus' gentle eyes of love, it has no power to conceal the mind's content: the original and only mistake of choosing the ego's abusive thought system of separation (kill or be killed—M-17.7:11) over the Holy Spirit's healing thought system of Atonement (together, or not at all—T-19.IV-D.12:8).
The fact remains, however, that given the nature of the body and our experiences within its shield, we cannot gain access to that ancient mistake, as we read in the manual:
Time really, then, goes backward to an instant so ancient that it is beyond all memory, and past even the possibility of remembering (M-2.4:1).
Yet we can remember it indirectly by recognizing that we continually repeat our one error of choosing the ego over God, fear over love:
Each day, and every minute in each day, and every instant that each minute holds, you but relive the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love (T-26.V.13:1).
Since we are all learning disabled, having consistently learned from the wrong teacher, it often takes a drastic situation to dislodge our rootedness in the ego's thought system of victimization and blame. Abuse, while never the Will of the Holy Spirit , can nonetheless be used by Him for a different purpose. In other words, once the decision-making mind has chosen its script, our gentle Teacher uses it to lead us beyond the pain to the peace of God:
The Holy Spirit takes you gently by the hand, and retraces with you your mad journey outside yourself, leading you gently back to the truth and safety within. He brings all your insane projections and the wild substitutions that you have placed outside you to the truth. Thus He reverses the course of insanity and restores you to reason (T-18.I.8:3-5).
The ladder that the separation led us down (T-28.III.1:2)—"the course of insanity"—passes through the wrong-minded thought system of abuse and ends in the physical world of abuse, and so our journey with the Holy Spirit reverses the process as He leads us up the ladder's rungs: the world, the wrong mind, the right mind, to the One Mind of Heaven that is beyond the ladder entirely. He begins His teaching where we believe we are—in the abusive world of pain and suffering—and helps us realize that our perceptual world was made to harbor a secret wish (T-24.VII.8:8-10): the desire to exist as a separate entity with innocence as its justified face. In other words: We exist, but someone else is responsible for our miserable lot in life, for which our suffering is the guilt-inducing witness. It is the need to reinforce this self-concept of the face of innocence(T-31.V.1-2) that leads us to cherish our abuse, as painful as it may be. This aspect of the ego's plan calls for us to suffer at the hands of others, yet we can see through the ego's motives by the tenacity with which we cling to our bitter memories, cherishing the scars from what has been done to us. This is how one passage in the Course describes this vicious insanity:
But every pain you suffer do you see as proof that he [your abusing brother] is guilty of attack. Thus would you make yourself to be the sign that he has lost his innocence, and need but look on you to realize that he has been condemned.… Whenever you consent to suffer pain, to be deprived, unfairly treated or in need of anything, you but accuse your brother of attack upon God's Son. You hold a picture of your crucifixion before his eyes, that he may see his sins are writ in Heaven in your blood and death, and go before him, closing off the gate and damning him to hell (T-27.I.2:2-3; 3:1-2).
Thus do we all walk this earth with our memories of past hurt and abuse, clinging to them as proof that we are innocent, and others guilty of our suffering to the point that they would be condemned to hell, while we return to Heaven as God's innocent Son. And yet, even this secondary gain of demonstrating our unfair treatment becomes too much to bear:
Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way (T-2.III.3:5-6).
This better way is forgiveness, which calls upon us to change the purpose of our lives from proving the reality of the separation to reflecting the oneness of our creation. Jesus teaches us that all people involved in our lives—the good and the bad, the abused and the abusers—are part of the same Sonship to which we belong; indeed, to which we allbelong. The strong temptation to exclude our abusers is the perfect opportunity to learn we but exclude ourselves.
I have from time to time quoted from Helen Schucman's first poem, "The Gifts of Christmas." The opening lines are directly relevant to this issue:
Christ passes no one by. By this you know
He is God's Son. You recognize His touch
In universal gentleness. His Love
Extends to everyone. His eyes behold
The Love of God in everything He sees.
(The Gifts of God, p. 95; italics mine)
If only the abused are to be pitied, if only the victims are the object of our sympathy, then we maintain the reality of the fragmented Sonship, to the delight of everyone's ego. Yet, if Jesus' truth be accepted, the abuser and victimizer are as much in need of our pity and sympathy, for who but the uncertain, lonely and fearful (T-31.VIII,7:1) would ever seek to harm another, and who but the uncertain, lonely and fearful would ever wander here, so far from home? Indeed, who is here but the uncertain, lonely and fearful? And so no one—victim or victimizer—is exempt from the vision of Christ, Who sees all God's seemingly separated Sons as one—one wrong-minded ego; one right-minded Holy Spirit; one decision maker.
Therefore, if we are sincere about our desire to be forgiven and
awaken from this nightmare dream of separation, pain, and death, we
must also be sincere about our willingness to practice the lessons
that are the means of attaining this goal. It is the all- inclusive
nature of forgiveness, which embraces all people without
exception, that makes the practice of A Course in
Miracles so difficult, and at the same time vitally important
for our age. Jesus has called us to forgive as he does. Will we
answer? Nothing less than the fate of an abusive and abused world
depends on it.
1. This was written before the recent atrocities in the Middle East.