If you were raised as a child in the IFB world, you were probably taught that when someone hurts you, you are to “turn the other cheek”. What if that someone was your mother or father who physical abused you? What if that someone is your pastor who you told you were being sexually abused and they decided not to go to authorities but “handle it in the fold”?
Then there is the classic, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Sadly, it seems that in the IFB, the one who is hurting you never seems to get any punishment. Point that out and you’ll get the old “you have to have faith that God will punish as He sees fit, if not in this life then in the next”.
Or maybe the question should be…SHOULD you forgive your parents for raising you in the IFB? Will it make you feel freer and be able to let anger and resentment go? Will it help you to set healthy boundaries moving forward?
But first, let’s define what “forgiveness” means.
Forgiveness in the IFB is a tricky one. You grow up seeing a man who stands up in church and admits to beating his wife and kids, and he is met with grace and prayed over. His wife is told not to leave him. She should pray and let her husband take it up with God. Then as a child, you’re at home and forget to fold the laundry and you get a spanking. You aren’t permitted before the physical abuse to ask for forgiveness. It will be demanded after the spanking is over.
In addition, children aren’t really allowed to feel slighted, upset, or angry. These are emotions that “let the Devil in”. If you have a problem, you are told to pray about it. So, no one is really asking for forgiveness. You turn the issue inward and learn to just push it down which we know as adults is terribly unhealthy.
According to Greater Good Magazine published by University of California, Berkley, “psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness”.
Let’s go with the doctors' definition!
Below are some thoughts about forgiveness that we hope helps you decide whether to forgive and the best way to do it.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Be Asked For
Most adults know that if they waited around for their parents who are in the IFB or other adults to ask for forgiveness, they would be waiting a lifetime. Bring it up and you are being emotional, or you need to pray about it so God can help you let it go. Fortunately, you can forgive someone even if they never ask. That’s one of the beauties of forgiveness. You have the power.
Forgiveness Isn’t a Contact Sport
Meeting to offer your forgiveness is not meant to be an anger-fueled, knock down drag out occasion. If you come at them with animosity, of course they will feel that you are simply venting. They will walk away and start a prayer chain for you. It is important to only meet when you are in a good and healthy mindset, and you’ve done the work to get to that place.
Keep in mind that they will probably trigger you whether they mean to or not. They might begin quoting Scripture at you or asking if you want to pray about it. They might even come right out and say they have done nothing to forgive. Prepare yourself by thinking ahead of what to say in response. If meeting up with them and forgiving them turns into you losing your cool and screaming at them, you’ll not get the catharsis that you truly need and deserve. Only forgive when you are truly ready so that they can respect the gesture if nothing else.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Saying What They Did Was Okay
Just as important as understanding what forgiveness is, is understanding what it is not. It is not saying what they did was right or justified or in any way okay. It is not putting your stamp of approval on it.
Quoting from the same article listed above, “Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.”
Forgiveness Isn’t About Them, It’s About You
This is hard for people to grasp. You aren’t’ forgiving them so they will feel absolved or better about what they did. You are saying that you no longer want to hold onto the sadness and anger. You want the power back. They can no longer hold power over your emotional and mental state. You want to heal that inner child inside of you and protect them moving forward. It’s about you, you, you. Which means no matter if they accept it or not, agree with it or not, or reject it, it won’t matter. It’s not about them.
Forgive Only When You are Ready
It is important to forgive only when you have made peace about what happened in your childhood. It is really the last step towards healing. All the hurt, anger, fear and anxiety are all emotions you’ve dealt with and have mechanisms in place to handle when they pop up.
Not sure you’re ready? Role play. Have a friend or partner be your parents and go through the whole scenario. Give them a list of possible responses from your parents. Know ahead of time what your answers will be.
If you try and forgive before you are truly ready, it could lead to disaster. Screaming matches. Hurtling insults. Even physical assault. After all, you were raised to not have negative emotions by the very people who taught you that. You are looking at people who hit you repeatedly. Made you feel guilty all the time. They never gave you a voice. The top could blow off and you explode with all that emotion that you’ve kept bottled up.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Need to Lead to an Open Door or Heart
You can forgive someone and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are back in your life. People who have deeply wronged you need to earn a place in your heart and life. Normally, with IFB, we are talking years of abuse. The aftermath doesn’t disappear in a day.
You can explain to them that you forgive them but don’t want to have them in your life. Ask them to respect that. Or if you want to try and start a new relationship with them, set boundaries and a timeline. Maybe start with a dinner at your house. Or maybe a phone call a week. Whatever makes you comfortable and leaves you in charge.
Be Specific About What You are Forgiving
They need to know. Many have no clue what being raised in an IFB environment does to a child. After all, they are just doing God’s work and what their pastor told them to do. Forgive them for what? They had the best intentions!
When you start out on your forgiveness journey, understand this. You are offering them someone they neither want nor need. So, again, it needs to be about you.
What specifically did they do and how did that make you feel? When you got a spanking because you admitted to skipping devotions that day, what did that teach you? What did God look like to you because of what they taught you? How are relationships hard for you as an adult? Explain how sad and anxiety-ridden your childhood was.
You Don’t Have to Forgive
Yep. It’s true. You don’t have to forgive. No one can make you. You can go your whole life without forgiving them and the world will not end. Or you can forgive them in your heart, and you don’t have to tell them. Or you could write them an email or a handwritten letter. But there is something truly healing when you can look the person who hurt you in the eyes and tell them how they made you feel. And then say, “I’m letting this all go for me, not for you…me”.
If you do choose not to forgive, make sure it is for the healthiest reasons. Anger, rage, resentment, and revenge are like cancer that eats at your soul, your body, and your mind. It can be all present or chronic.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean They’ll Get It
Prepare yourself for their response. You might hear, “if this is what you need to do to feel better then that’s fine”. Or “we just did what God asked of us”. What if they truly believe that they did do everything because they truly loved you and wanted the best for you? To protect your eternal soul and bring you closer to Jesus.
It doesn’t matter.
They don’t need to “get it”. They just need to listen. If you are doing this in hopes that they will break down, throw their arms around you, and beg forgiveness and cry with happiness that they have it…. then don’t do it. You’re not ready. Remember, this is about you and not them.
In conclusion, forgiveness is tricky. It can range from being offered for something as simple as accidentally bumping into someone to someone beating you with a leather belt as a defenseless child. The emotions can range from slight irritation to full blown rage. Do it when you are ready. It’s a gift you give yourself to have the happiest life outside the cage of anger and resentment.
IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!