Forget Forgiveness, Activate Your Fight Response To Heal Forgiveness is a fawn response, we do whatever it takes for social connection

The word ‘forgiveness’ triggers me. I spent a lot of time hating myself for stupidly believing the Christian dogma of forgiveness. My mental health and life were seriously impacted trying to live up to this indoctrinated belief of ‘forgive and forget.

Forget Forgiveness, Activate Your Fight Response To Heal
Our instinctual healthy response to any danger is Fight-flight

Gosh, believing that I had to forgive not just 7 times but 70 x 7 times. It sent me down the rabbit hole of madness.

Forgiveness and The Freeze-Fawn Response

Looking back I now realize that forgiveness was more of a ‘freeze-fawn response.‘  I couldn’t escape from the nasty people in my life and I definitely could not fight them.  Furthermore, in a toxic family, in order to survive,  just freezing/blocking one’s emotional reactivity is usually not enough.

An abuser is usually an energy-deficient parasite. Their ego requires recognition. If you ignore them they will attack further. Survival means making these personality-disordered people feel they are great, wonderful, righteous, etc.  You have to lick their boots, polish their mirrors and be at their beck and call.  You have to fawn over and please them.

Many survivors adopt fawn forgiveness as a survival response. It becomes an “involuntary submission behavior’ to gain acceptance.  Going against the prevalent social expectation of forgiving and forgetting, particularly one’s abusive parents is deemed selfish.

Fawning comes about especially when the victim must retain a relationship with the abuser in order to meet basic needs, including the need for love.

Fawn or people-pleasing makes us magnets for further abuse.

Fight-Flight Healthy Survival Response

Our instinctual healthy response to any danger is fighting the threat or fleeing from it.

However, what if the threatening bear as Dr. Nadine Burke Harris elaborates is none but ‘Daddy Drunk or Grandma Cold-fish or Aunt Narcissist?

We shut the fuck up, pretend and, go along with their agenda. Unfortunately, that becomes our default mode of behavior in our adult life. We were groomed to tolerate abuse. Because we never learned how to stand up for ourselves or enforce boundaries.

We delude ourselves into thinking that we are good people. Very often people who are afraid to fight back cover up their weakness by forgiving. More often, it is just cowardice and self-preservation than a noble virtue.

Forgiveness does not make a perpetrator change his /her behavior, it only reinforces their belief in their righteousness of treating you like shit.

Questioning Forgiveness — A Former Therapist Explores

Overcoming The Fawn Response Of Forgiveness

It is utter foolishness to keep forgiving small and big misdemeanors. Moreover, perpetrators take this as weakness and stupidity. I regret not fighting back, standing up, ignoring, and passing off all the covert and overt abuse I was subjected to.

Furthermore, had I known that forgiveness does not stop an evil person, I’d have fought off and stood up for myself. Unfortunately, my psyche was encoded to forgive. I feel it so wrong for any religion to push forgiveness.

Showing The Dog The Stick

Recently, while on my walk back from the beach, I encountered a barking dog. My son recoiled, an involuntary reaction to his past experience of being bitten. Immediately, I picked up a stick and made the motion of going to hit it. The dog quickly slunk away. Moreover, the next time I passed, the dog benignly looked at us with no hint of aggression.

What an enlightening lesson that was. When your safety and well-being are threatened, go into attack mode. A person will think twice about ever abusing you.  Most perpetrators pick on soft targets. The ones who will not fight or tell.

A people-pleasing person needs to work very hard to try to edge over more into a healthy ‘FIGHT’ mode. They need to do whatever it takes to protect themselves and to set healthy boundaries with other people.

Learning The Art Of War

Getting unstuck from this fawn response takes effort. You have to consciously and cognitively learn the art of war.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Try to gauge the people you are dealing with, learn to say ‘No’, and protect your boundaries.

Stop giving people second and third chances. At the first sign of toxic dissonance, cut them out. Tolerance of bullshit does not make you a noble person. It gives people permission to behave obnoxiously.

Changing Our Survival Response

Arbitrary forgiveness is not healing. Analyze your responses to people. Are you using forgiveness as a survival strategy?  Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, states that healing also requires we address and change the defensive habits that helped us survive.

What matters is how you feel, Being honest and truthful to yourself will set you free. Practice assertiveness in small doses. Don’t blindly accept behavior 0r dogmas out of fear or laziness. Healing entails getting unstuck from the PNS-mediated passive coping mechanisms into a more healthy proactive SNS response to fight.

Becoming assertive is the best healing medicine for the mind. Start one step at a time, a ‘No‘ or ‘get out of my way‘ or ‘hey asshole, just behave.’

Forgiveness is a choice and only you can decide whether to ‘forgive and re-connect, forgive and let them go’, or just tell them to ‘fuck off’.

Premature resolution and forced forgiveness actually derail real healing.


Featured photo credit: Pixabay

Further Reading:

The Art Of War – Sun Tzu

Free from Lies: Discovering Your True Needs – Alice Miller

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma – Pete Walker

Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect  – Jonice Webb

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