Articles in English, Blog

Abuse, forgiveness, shadow work

Disclaimer: All this is not supposed to be made into a means of excusing the abuser, which is just another form of bypassing (see one of my other articles, Spiritualizing abuse). Nor do I want to suggest, not even for a moment, that the abused one is to blame, that they should just forgive and move on, or anything along these lines (hell, I would rather advocate for dancing on dead bodies than for this), all the more so since I’m speaking from my own experiences too. It is just a matter of clarity, of putting things into the just perspective (this is one of the ways in which I interpret the Bible verse “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God”.) Spirituality comes with discernment, always. Everything needs to be understood in the right, corresponding context and plane of reference. In other places it might seem that I say just the opposite of what I’m saying here, but it is not really so.

I will also mention that even though I am talking here about cases where one is abused by someone else, this applies to self-abuse as well. 


One of the reasons why, in most cases, the abused one wants an apology from the abuser, a real awareness on their part of the damage they’ve caused, is to relieve them of a huge, debilitating burden of guilt. Where does this guilt come from? It comes from the fact that, when one experiences severe trauma from abuse, the pain is so intense that they might start thinking twisted thought like: „Maybe I have a part in it. Maybe I attracted this. Maybe I deserved it. Maybe it’s my fault [because the mind tries to find a reason, to explain, so it’s got to be someone’s fault.]” (1) If the abuser were to come forward and actually realize the trauma they’ve caused and admit to their mistakes, the abused one could finally see that they never had any reason to feel guilty and that they didn’t deserve the abuse. It’s some sort of codependent relationship with the abuser, wherein the abused one depends on the abuser in order to find closure and heal. But what do you do when the apology doesn’t come? (Because in most cases it never comes, which can actually be a blessing in disguise, even if not for obvious reasons – to put it very briefly, it pushes you to go even deeper in your healing and to realize your true nature, and to depend on nothing and no one in this respect.)

The thing about closure is that, in a sense, there is no closure with anything. This is yet another construct of the mind which tries to solve and rationalize everything. But, as I was saying, in a way there is no closure. What happened, happened – that’s it. One is under the impression that by getting closure and maybe talking things out once more, they could change the past, but this, of course, is a projection. I am not denying the psychological significance of closure in the healing process, and there would be much more to say about this, but I want to keep it brief (might write about closure another time). 

For most of us it’s unimaginable that people who went through horrible abuse get to the point where they actually wouldn’t want to change a thing of what happened to them. Because they are completely aware that all that took place led to where they are now, that it shaped them into who they are now, with all the immense wisdom, the utter clarity and the almost superhuman compassion they have now (2). In a sense, it’s as if there’s nothing to forgive – it is what it is, and, from one point of view, everything’s been a gift. If anything, they might even be grateful for the experience, as crazy as that might sound. And sure, from yet another point of view it’s quite the contrary and of course they wish they had it easier and they should have never gone through what they went through. But when I say “quite the contrary” I say it in a way that, in fact, sees no real contradiction between these two perspectives.

This cannot be grasped theoretically, but only experientially. One cannot reach this realization without going through the whole process of healing, and spiritual bypassing is never a solution.

For instance, I’ve never been one to condemn the desire for revenge. I never supported the revenge itself, but I think every person who’s been hurt or abused in one way or the other has every right to feel hate, desire for revenge, anger, and so on. Yes, these things must eventually be transcended in order for healing to fully take place, but prior to that they need to be completely felt, as painful as that may be. At one point, the only thing that kept me from putting a curse on someone was the fear of consequences, because I know everything comes back around sooner or later. But this was the only thing that held me back, not love, not compassion. At another point, for a split second, I even had the thought of murder – a true, real thought or murder. It was hypnotic, utterly cold and utterly intense. Most people feel shattered only to think that something like that could go through their mind, but these things are potentially in every one of us. It’s our shadow and it needs to be acknowledged and integrated.

People who are born in a moral class (…) think compassion and fierceness cannot go together. They would think love and vengefulness cannot go together, but that’s how it always goes in life. That’s how nature is. The most beautiful is always the most dangerous. Have you seen a cobra? Close up, have you seen a cobra? It’s the most beautiful thing. One extra step, you’ll be dead. That’s how it is. One moment of unawareness, you’ll be dead. But it’s the most beautiful creature you can see. (Sadhguru)

I could probably write dozens of pages solely on shadow work, but this is not what I intended to do here. In any case, there is no authentic self-knowledge without knowing your shadow, and a spiritual process that denies the shadow or doesn’t deal with it is not a spiritual process. It’s just airy-fairy-bullshit and bypassing. I’ve said many times that for me, in many regards, spirituality is a matter of intensity. One time, to really make this point, I put it in rather extreme terms, intentionally so, and said that “love which is not total and eternal is not love, and hate which is not total and eternal is not hate” (of course I’m quoting myself).

I’ve also said that, from one point of view, I prefer total hate to lukewarm love – because lukewarm love isn’t love anyway. I was saying that not only aren’t many people capable of sustaining intense, total love, but most of them can’t sustain intense hate either. And if they could, they would be one step closer to what, in lack of a better term, some call “enlightenment.” Because if you really sit in the intensity of that hate or anger (which doesn’t mean you go looking for it), if you really sit in it without trying to dissipate it (acting on it can be one way of dissipating it), at some point it will transmute, it will turn into something else, you will have some realizations, you will understand certain things.

No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell. (C.G. Jung)

The desire for justice to be made – I totally get that too. And one of the hardest things to swallow is that our (ego based) idea of justice may not be what justice actually is. And when I say “ego based” this is not to bash the ego, it’s just to point out a distinction between two paradigms: that of the ego and that of what some call “Higher Self” (I will note, in passing, that the concept of ego is shrouded in all sort of misconceptions, but this a different topic.)

The healing process works in layers and, in many ways, is not linear. It’s more of a spiral-like process where you keep revisiting things from yet another perspective. It takes a tremendous amount of inner work to reach this place but it is also true that this realization can happen instantaneously and it’s often just our limited perspective that prevents it. But then again, most of the time, one needs to go through perceived limitation (because limitation is, in a sense, always a matter of erroneous perception) in order to see that there is in fact no limitation. One needn’t always go through a huge, deeply painful detour to reach this place, but it’s true that this is how it often happens. In reality, one never left this place, the departure happened only by means of perception.

The ravaging pain comes from a faulty identification with what one is not – the body, the mind. It comes from a sense of being irremediably damaged, but what one realizes is that the damage has never been done. The abuser or the situations may have damaged my body or my mind to a certain extent, but they’ve never damaged me, the real me, the spiritual essence. What I truly am, my true nature, my spiritual essence cannot be damaged by anything or anyone. It’s as if, in order to discover my true nature, that thing that cannot be destroyed or not even touched in any way, I go through all that is supposed to destroy me or I think can destroy me.

And then I come back around to where I started: Am I really responsible for what happened to me? And you will see that from one perspective, absolutely not, but from another perspective, yes. A larger perspective which entails all sorts of karmic reasons that are beyond common rational comprehension. One may even realize that in previous incarnations they were the abuser, if not precisely the abuser of the one who, in this incarnation, abused them. One may catch an external glimpse of this never-ending dress rehearsal, this gruesome and sublime charade called life, this ever-changing shadow-play called maya (3). It is a perspective by which one is willing to own everything and be responsible for everything. When you own even the most horrible thing that happened to you and you are willing to take responsibility even for that, what any more limits to your freedom are there?

I am responsible for everything, therefore I am totally free. Not guilty, not blameworthy. Responsible. Try and understand this for what it truly means, not what the mind wants read into it, not as a way of carrying burdens that were never yours, or beating yourself up. This is a completely different matter. It is you claiming your inner glory and total freedom, it is you taking your rightful place as the master of your own destiny. Nothing damages me, nothing touches me, I am the source of everything, I am beyond it all. (Or, if you prefer some Bible verses, “See now that I am He; there is no God besides Me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39))

Further reading

* A psychomagic technique for healing abuse, offered by Alejandro Jodorowsky on his Facebook page, here. The post is originally written in Spanish, but the Facebook English translation is good enough so that you get the idea.

* Sadhguru talking about a common misconception about spirituality – here.

* Sadhguru on forgiveness vs. forgetting, and misconceptions on the subject – here.

* Jordan Peterson on the importance of confronting the shadow and the dangers of thinking yourself to be harmless – here (ignore the cheesy background music and visuals).


(1) Think about young children who absorb and internalize their parents’ emotions and years later they deal with intense inner conflict not realizing that those emotions are not theirs. Or think about when the parents split and the child thinks it must be their fault in some way. A young child still doesn’t have a firm sense of self and, therefore, they lack boundaries – for a child, everything revolves around them: if something perceived as good happens, they will conclude it’s because of them, and when something perceived as bad happened, they will also conclude it’s because of them. I don’t believe in the idea of sin, but in lack of a better way to put it, yes, we sometimes end up paying for someone else’s sins or carrying their karma. If this happens when we are already adults, one needs to confront their own share in it, meaning that it’s your responsibility to be aware, have boundaries and be in tune with yourself. So, in a way, in the rather unapologetic unemotional equation of the universe and its laws, everything’s fair, it’s just a matter of cause and effect. 

(2) Bear in mind, compassion doesn’t mean lack of boundaries. In fact, here’s what Brene Brown noticed about this: “It was a stack of data [with] the most compassionate people that we’d interviewed over (…) this 8-year period (…) and we couldn’t figure out what they had in common (…) My hypothesis was spirituality (…), but it wasn’t [that.] And I’m talking like monks that we interviewed, like really compassionate people, people that found God in everyone, people that connected to everyone. And you know what they had in common? One variable: boundaries of steel.” (Brene Brown in dialogue with Russell Brand)

(3) This reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (the whole book is an enlightening read, though):    

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha.  He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes–he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying–he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person–he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword–he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love–he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void– he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds–he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni–he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of them died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face–and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips.”


Featured image – collage by Viziunea Interioară – The Inner Vision, based on a card from the Tantric Dakini Oracle by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger