I’m taking a Psychology of Happiness class this semester, an elective toward my psychology degree, which with each passing semester, I’m realizing truly, deeply does not see me, as an autistic individual, a disabled individual harmed by the medical community, as anything other than a lab experiment or something to be “fixed”. Like the ableism is baked into the system. As we say in the technology world, “it’s a feature, not a bug.” And, to take this a step further, since this phrase has come up quite a bit in discussing certain politics, “the cruelty is the point”.
Now, I’m sure most of the psychology world would disagree with me, that is unless they look at the history of psychology and the ways in which “disordered thinking” are punished. Most neurodivergent people say that unless they’ve experienced a therapist who is neurodivergent as well, they simply aren’t seen as human. To begin healing, to improve our happiness, to make any improvements in our mental health–we first must be seen as human. That is a basic requirement.
So this blog post is in part taken from a homework assignment in which we discuss the generally accepted practice that forgiving leads to happiness. In the world of regulations something that’s GRAS is generally regarded as safe, and I’d think most psychologists would think that forgiveness is generally regarded as safe. But tell me, is it safe to forgive when you’re not even seen as human?
According to the article we were provided on PositivePsychology.com, “Forgiveness is often defined as an individual, voluntary internal process of letting go of feelings and thoughts of resentment, bitterness, anger, and the need for vengeance and retribution toward someone who we believe has wronged us, including ourselves.” Like the definition provided by Robert Enright, where he says, “Forgiveness is about goodness, about extending mercy to those who’ve harmed us, even if they don’t “deserve” it.”, focuses on the other person, the one who wronged you. The traditional focus of forgiveness is usually on someone else, someone outside of us.
And yet, forgiveness is sold to us as something that’s good for the individual offering the forgiveness. Generally, the harmed person wants to be seen, wants validation, and wants their pain to be acknowledged. In some ways this comes from forgiveness, saying “I’ve been hurt, and I forgive you for doing it”, but then that also lends itself to the classic response from most internet trolls when they’re forced to apologize “I’m sorry if you were offended.” They don’t acknowledge the direct action, the words spoken, the specific deeds which cause harm. Notice that they take themselves, and their actions out of it, by the use of the passive voice. “Were offended”, “were hurt”, both of these are proceeded by “you” not “I”, and anyone even quasi-versed in conflict resolution knows that one of the first steps to do so is to make an I-statement.
Because of this, the only person we should need to forgive is ourselves, because we are the only ones for whom we know the motives behind the actions.
I feel very much like the person in the Psychology Today article when I think about the trauma I’ve endured, “Sometimes I’m angry; sometimes I’m at peace.” I’m afraid when it comes to the questions posed in the journal prompt, I am neither here, nor there. I cannot actively forgive my abusers (and there are many), because in the end, I cannot forgive those who do not, and continue to not, see me as human. I cannot forgive those who will not acknowledge their actions as harmful. Who will not take responsibility and do the most minimalist thing–make an I-statement.
I wake up every day in a world which would like to see me exterminated—because I’m trans, because I’m autistic, because I’m disabled. Asking me to forgive asks me to shove my righteous anger under a rug, to fit in, to not make a fuss, and this, as the Psychology Today article mentioned, is harmful to my mental health. I’ve spent far too many years feeling like I deserved my poor mental health, that there was something wrong with me, and it was all my fault, to further imperil my healing now. Let me process my anger and understand my rage. I’ve spent far too many decades shoving it aside to make other people comfortable.
It’s time for me to be comfortable. It’s time that I, and others like me, are seen as human.