Is Compassion the Key to Forgiveness?

I’ve long ago forgiven almost everyone who sexually assaulted me. Two of them learned from their mistakes. I believe learning from a mistake so it doesn’t happen again is one of the highest forms of justice. Three other people who sexually assaulted me were kids at the time (as was I). It was a strange and uncomfortable experience, but forgiving them was fairly easy because what they did never affected me much.

And then there’s N. I’ve been trying and failing to forgive him for years, but I have no idea how to pull off that feat. How could I forgive someone who so clearly used me? How could I forgive someone who didn’t care about me at all? How could I forgive someone who scarred me more than the other five people who sexually assaulted me combined? He doesn’t deserve it, and he sure as heck wasn’t a good person when I knew him. I have little faith that anything has changed for the better.

However, I’ve known for a while now that once I forgive N (if that’s even possible) that’ll be a big step in my recovery. I know I don’t have to forgive him. I have every right to be furious with him and wish that he burns in hell. But… hate is exhausting. I want to put my experiences with sexual assault in the past if I can.

Yesterday I was speaking with a dear friend of mine who was telling me the story of her first love. I don’t even have words for how evil he was to her. And yet she forgave him. She said she didn’t have the time or energy to hate him. Part of her still cares about his wellbeing despite what he did to her. She wants the best for him, and wants him to be okay.

Immediately it clicked. It had never once occurred to me to have compassion for N. And why would I after what he did? But now I see that compassion, however hard it might be, could very well be the key to forgiving him and unlocking a future with way less stress caused by what happened.

I think I have an idea of how to pull this off, too. I’m already haunted by the idea that N could hurt other women the way he hurt me. I could have compassion for him, wish the best for him, for their sake. I could hope that he learns from his mistakes with me so that no one else has to go through what I did. Maybe later on I can hope he changes his ways so he can be in a happy, respectful relationship.

So here’s my plan: Every time I catch myself being angry toward him, I’m going to stop myself and remind myself of what I said in the previous paragraph. Forgiving him won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but with this new perspective, it seems possible.

Thank you for reading this article. You can find my backstory here.

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