“Neither forgiveness nor gratefulness can spring from denial of hurts, frustrations, or wrongs.”
—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah
If there’s anything I learned during my own healing journey, it’s that no good comes from denying natural hurt and anger. Some things are just hurtful and emotionally damaging, and they need to be acknowledged as such.
Anger is a natural part of the healing process. And forgiving those who harmed you does not equal healing. Yes, forgiveness can be part of the healing process, but forgiveness is not the healing process itself. And yes, you can still heal fully and choose not to forgive those who wronged or abused you. God would never punish you for someone else’s sins. Remember that. He is Compassionate and Merciful. So if you decide to turn over to Him the affair of the abuser or wrongdoer, He will still heal your heart, and He will still be there for you every step of the way.
If you need to cry, cry. If you need to vent, vent. If you need to express anger, express anger. But don’t let anyone make you feel like a bad person for hating what happened to you. And don’t let anyone silence you for saying—in no uncertainty of terms—that what happened was wrong, reprehensible, and hurtful.
Smiling and saying everything is okay doesn’t make you genuinely happy, and it certainly doesn’t make everything okay.
So many “good people” live with suppressed anger because they believe expressing any frustration or anger makes them bitter and resentful. I did this for many years—denying my right to anger—and it almost cost me my life.
Good Anger vs. Bad Anger
In my book Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, I discuss the difference between healthy and sinful anger:
When professionals suggest the healthy release of anger, they are not speaking of what many religions consider sinful anger. There is a difference between healthy anger in response to an upsetting situation and unhealthy anger that leads one to harm the self and others. One Christian author offers this advice as a final note on dealing with anger:
A note to the Christian: While the Bible briefly mentions that it is okay to have “righteous anger,” many misquote the Bible to justify that anger is okay, when it is not. Very few people have the kind of self-control to allow themselves to have a righteous anger. In fact, if you feed this beast, you will most likely be giving in to your flesh, rather than to the Spirit of God.
To the non-Christian: Please know that unchecked anger is sinful and is just as dangerous as any other sin, they will all keep you from a right-standing with God. If you are dealing with anger, seriously consider seeking God’s help to give you a perfect peace, that surpasses all understanding. God will help you overcome any sin if you seek out His help (Zach, 2011).
In Islamic tradition, when a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) asking for advice, he told the man three times, “Do not get angry” (Bukhari and Muslim). However, in other narrations, the Prophet himself is being described as becoming angry. For example, when a Muslim argued with a Jew and claimed the Prophet Muhammad was better than Prophet Moses (peace be upon them), the Prophet is described as becoming angry until anger was apparent on his face. He then said, “Do not give superiority to any prophet [over another] amongst God’s prophets…” (Bukhari).
Naturally, these varying advices and circumstances point to the necessity of differentiating between healthy expressions of anger and unhealthy expressions of anger. In mental health, one of the healthiest expressions of anger is when a survivor of abuse turns a breaking point, such as an emotional implosion, into a breakthrough. A breakthrough occurs when the survivor begins the journey of conscious healing of the spirit through self-care, which is manifested in self-honesty and self-protection (Umm Zakiyyah, 2017).
God Encourages Forgiveness, People Force Forgiveness
When it comes to forgiving others, God gives incentives; people give ultimatums. Forgiveness culture today teaches us that all pain and hurt you experience after a wound has been inflicted is due to a sickness in your heart rooted in a deliberate choice to hold on to anger and bitterness. Even triggers and flashbacks have been attributed to not forgiving. In other words, if you are bleeding and the wound hurts, it’s because you’re an unforgiving, angry, bitter person.
During my emotional healing, I’ve often searched for answers on how to heal the wounds I’ve sustained, and so much more was written about forgiveness than healing. And when healing was mentioned, forgiveness was mentioned as a condition of it. Ironically, for some of my deepest wounding, I’d already forgiven the ones who’d wronged me (though I understood I didn’t have to), but I was suffering from symptoms of complex PTSD and needed guidance on self-care.
But instead of giving me guidelines on how to tend to my own emotional wounds, everyone kept discussing forgiveness—and implying (or stating outright) that I was suffering because I was angry and bitter. This caused re-triggering and stress, as I was consistently blamed for the natural hurt I felt after being wronged and abused. It was as a result of finding healing despite this toxic forced forgiveness culture that I was able to write my latest book The Abuse of Forgiveness.
Self-Abuse: The Result of Suppressed Anger
In my book The Abuse of Forgiveness, I discuss what I personally experienced as a result of forcing myself to remain positive and “forgiving” while not allowing myself any expression of anger:
I lived for years in a form of suffering that I now think of as an abusive relationship with myself. Like so many other abusive relationships, continuously subjecting myself to harm each day nearly cost me my life. When I reached the point where I genuinely believed I needed to take my own life, I realized that there was a level of emotional wounding that I had yet to fathom…
Personally, what I ultimately uncovered beneath my suicidal urge was emotional wounding that originated from living a life of self-abuse since childhood. However, before that suicidal moment, I understood my self-abuse as embracing a life of optimism, forgiveness, and striving to be a good Muslim. In other words, I was experiencing firsthand the destructive outcome of extreme positivity…
In the culture of forced forgiveness, we see one of the many dysfunctional branches of extreme positivity. In forced forgiveness, sufferers are taught that their pain is effectively a punishment from God for not being “positive” (i.e. forgiving the abuser or wrongdoer). Thus, they are cursed to live out life with angry, bitter hearts until they submit to extreme positivity by always absolving any abuser or wrongdoer for accountability for his or her actions…
Whenever we resist, deny, or run away from the inevitable negativity in life, that negativity does not disappear. It simply points in a direction that we refuse to see, admit, or take responsibility for. Sometimes that hidden (or denied) negativity harms ourselves; other times it harms others…
In my case, my self-abuse meant that I continuously harmed myself in the name of honoring and respecting others…
As I sought to be a loving, forgiving person and a “good Muslim,” I pointed all of my positive energy, assumptions, and love toward others—even in obvious cases of abuse and wrongdoing—and thus inadvertently pointed all negativity toward myself. Thus, it only makes sense that my “extreme positivity” ultimately resulted in emotional wounding that led to the next logical step of “positive” self-sacrifice: remove my negative, harm-filled existence from the world (Umm Zakiyyah, 2017).
Embrace Healthy Anger
No matter what anyone says otherwise, forgiving the ones who wronged you will not magically heal you. Healing is one thing. Forgiveness is another. You might choose forgiveness to aid your healing, and this is fine. But we need to understand that they are not one and the same. I reflect on this point in my journal:
That we discuss forgiving those who’ve wronged us in the same context that we discuss healing our emotional wounds suggests that we understand neither forgiveness nor healing. Forgiveness is not required before healing can take place, and though healing certainly makes forgiveness easier, healing is not required before forgiveness can take place. They are two separate things. Forgiveness simply means you seek no retribution for the wrongdoer—in this world or in the Hereafter—on account of your suffering. But healing means you are taking the necessary steps for yourself to tend to your wounds. This, so that you can move forward as a whole person and protect yourself from further harm.
But some wrongs cut so deep that full healing is simply not possible. Nevertheless, seeking healing is a must, while granting forgiveness is a choice. And for some people, not forgiving fosters healing most because it puts their heart at ease knowing that God will punish the wrongdoer for what they’ve done. Nevertheless, forgiveness remains most praiseworthy—so long as it comes from the depths of someone’s heart and not because they’ve been guilted into believing that they must absolve the wrongdoer before God will help them heal from something they suffered through no fault of their own.
Don’t turn into a shell of a person trying to fit into someone else’s definition of piety and emotional healing.
You have the right to hurt, and you have the right to heal. There is no emotional freedom until you release yourself from the shackles of false happiness and false forgiveness. Both create false piety—and merely worsen unhealed wounds.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Read HIS OTHER WIFE novel now: CLICK HERE. Subscribe to Umm Zakiyyah’s YouTube channel, follow her on Instagram or Twitter, and join her Facebook page.
Copyright © 2017 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
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