Spoiler Warning for Mahoutsukai no Yome / Ancient Magus’ Bride
(Content Warning: Discussion of fictional child abuse, attempted murder, and suicide)
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, there’s a principle called Radical Acceptance. It’s essentially about accepting whatever happened that made you feel distressed. The event happened for reasons, some of which we can understand if we look carefully at the situation. We can’t change the fact the event occured. We must mindfully try to accept it, over a process of minutes or years. Radical Acceptance is less about dealing with major trauma and more about dealing with daily troubles that distress us, but traumatic experiences aren’t ruled out. So I’ve chosen Chise and her trauma to highlight an example of Radical Acceptance. Chise is the main female character in the Ancient Magus’ Bride anime.
Episode 22 lets us learn about Chise’s past with her family. Her mother and father could see fantasy creatures just like her, and she also had a baby brother who probably had the same ability. For a while, the family was happy, but eventually, it got too frightening and stressful to protect themselves and each other from the attacks of malevolent creatures and monsters. Chise’s father left the home, taking the baby boy with him. Thus, Chise was left alone with her mother, and neither of them had any more financial or emotional support. The strange creatures continued plaguing both mother and daughter every day.
Finally, Chise’s mother was driven insane. She couldn’t take care of herself and Chise both. Saying she wished she had never given birth to Chise, the mother strangled her daughter until she started to faint. The mother let go before killing her, suddenly realizing what a horrible thing she had done. So, in front of her daughter’s wide eyes, Chise’s mother jumped off the balcony and killed herself. Having attempted to murder her own child, she could no longer live with herself. She had also been unhappy for a long time, besides. That is the story of Chise’s trauma.
Therapists and psychologists acknowledge that acceptance is not the same as forgiveness. In some cases, it’s impossible to forgive the offender for what they did to you. Those who were as children abused, neglected, or abandoned must at some point accept the fact that they were abused. If they avoid it forever, their mental and emotional states will only worsen. Chise is much the same. She must accept that her mother tried to kill her, and that she then killed herself because she didn’t think she could take care of Chise anymore. But what Chise (and others) do not have to do is forgive their abusers. If some can, good for them. They should. But for most, it’s impossible to overlook and say they forgive the terrible things that were done to them. Trying to forgive when it’s not healthy can have disastrous consequences.
What is the real difference, though, between forgiveness and acceptance? There are many interpretations of what forgiveness means. So rather than trying to define that, let’s look at what Radical Acceptance is. Basically, it is the mindful acknowledment that X event or action occured. Acknowledging all the pain and negative emotions that come with it. Remembering what we don’t want to remember. Understanding why X happened to the best of our ability. Accepting that nothing we do can ever change the fact that X took place. Looking at X’s effects on our lives.
If X event were a monster, then Radical Acceptance would be like looking the monster in the eye and saying, “Hello. I see you. You’re frightening and dangerous. These are the effects you have on my life. I know you’re there. I can’t change the fact that you exist, but I’m moving on.” In contrast, forgiveness might be telling the monster that it’s ok to be a monster, or that acting like a monster is something you can overlook. “It’s ok that X happened because you forgive X or the monster that made X happen.” That would be forgiveness. Chise Radically Accepted the unspeakable truth that she was reminded of in episode 22, but she cannot forgive, nor forget.
To the image of the mother inside her head, Chise says, “I won’t forgive you. I really loved you, mom. I have many happy memories with you. But ever since that day, I can’t remember any of them. Still, thanks to you, I met someone that I cared for even more than myself. That’s why… I’ll say thank you for letting go of me that day. I won’t forgive you. I won’t forget about you yet, but I’m going to leave you and move on.”
This is a painful and beauitful example of Radical Acceptance.