What About Forgiveness?

Oct 28th, 2010 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing

by Christina Enevoldsen

I started talking about my childhood sexual abuse when I was in my early twenties. I only told a few people that it was my father who abused me, but there was a common response: “Have you forgiven him?” I was from in a religious environment where forgiveness was mandatory. I was afraid not to forgive.

The abuse kept me living in fear— I was afraid of many, many things, but at the top of the list was the fear of abandonment. If I didn’t forgive, I would be disapproved of and rejected by my Christian friends, and more importantly, by God. Unless I wanted to spend eternity cast from God’s presence, I had to forgive. Unforgiveness was, after all, far worse than anything that was done to me. To refuse to forgive made me worse than my abuser. Or so I was taught.

I also thought forgiveness was synonymous with, “Pretend like it never happened.” In my definition of forgiveness, my dad didn’t have to suffer any consequences, I was supposed to stop talking about the abuse or if I talked about it, I couldn’t mention my dad. That would be “uncovering” him. Forgiveness also meant that I shouldn’t feel any negative emotions toward my dad and that our relationship would carry on as it had.

Even without the religious pressure, I wasn’t interested in breaking off my relationship with my father. I didn’t consider it as a possibility. I was just as afraid of being abandoned by him as I was by everyone else.

Through the guise of forgiveness, I stuffed my feelings and stuck a nice big smile on my face. I was supposed to put the past behind me when I forgave, so I denied my feelings. Forgiveness was supposed to be the path to healing, so I acted healed. I buried my anger somewhere deep, somewhere I hoped I would never find it.

The anger didn’t disappear. It was buried, but it was buried alive. It scratched and clawed and cried out. Its voice demanded attention, so I gave it expression through abusive acts toward myself. I continued my own abuse through all kinds of destructive behavior including dangerous sexual activity, over-working and abusive relationships.

Eventually, I wasn’t only hurting myself, but others. I thought the anger would shield me from the type of things I suffered as a kid. It was the illusion of being in control and more powerful. When I vented my anger, I felt bigger than I was. I secretly smiled inside when I recognized that people were intimidated by me. If I inspired fear, maybe they wouldn’t see how afraid I was. But it didn’t protect me. I kept getting hurt in the same way again and again.

I wasn’t happy. Anger was a mask I wore, but it wasn’t the real me. I wanted to feel real and let myself be the gentle, nurturing person I knew I really was.

To finally get rid of the anger that was pushing me, I had to take it out and deal with it. I had to face its source and look at all the pain associated with it. I had to recognize that the true target of my anger was my parents, not me. By then, I realized I was just as angry with my mother for protecting my dad, maybe even more so.

Also by then, my parents escalated in their abusive treatment. I refused to continue the sick patterns and, after setting boundaries they refused to honor, we parted company.

I had a new definition of forgiveness which didn’t include reconciliation, but in my heart, forgiveness represented a threat. Someone suggested that I forgive my parents and I reacted as though that person was locking me in a cage with a hairy beast with long claws, razor teeth and glowing, yellow eyes. In my mind, forgiveness would disarm me and leave me vulnerable to more abuse. I couldn’t be pressured into forgiveness or anything else related to a type of performance or measuring up. My forgiveness facade was blown and I didn’t care. I had to continue to sort out my feelings instead of covering them up.

I continued to write and talk about my anger, fear and pain. One day, after months and months of processing, I woke up and actually wanted to forgive my mom and dad. I was shocked. The day before, I hadn’t felt anywhere near being able to forgive. Suddenly, I was prepared to drop of the baggage of offense. I no longer wanted the responsibility of trying to control what they deserved.

Once I made that decision, I felt lighter, freer. I wouldn’t have believed how much of a difference it made.

Forgiveness didn’t mean the end of my pain. Actually, once I forgave them, I felt the most intense pain of my journey so far. Forgiveness opened my heart to remembering the good things about them and viewing them in a more balanced way. In my anger and hatred, I only saw them as evil people without any redeeming qualities. Since nobody is all good or all bad, that was one of the lies I used to try to protect myself. Once I admitted to myself that my parents actually do have good qualities, I started missing them and the pain of abandonment and rejection engulfed me. This is a journey of finding the truth, so even though the truth brought pain, I welcomed it since it also brings healing.

I’ve worked through that pain now. I don’t feel tied to the abuse like I used to. I always had the knowledge that I was stronger than the abuse, but the forgiveness process left me actually feeling stronger than it.

I still don’t have a relationship with my parents and I don’t ever intend to. Even over the relational and physical distance, they continue their abuse. Occasionally, more things from the past come to light and I’m challenged to sort out my feelings in that regard. My forgiveness has been a layered process. I don’t consider my parents much at all anymore, either with pain or longing. In many ways, they are a distant memory and are becoming more so over time as I continue to face my past. I’ll never forget what they did or failed to do, but there isn’t pain attached to the memories that I’ve worked through.

I don’t have gushy feelings toward them, but I also don’t have the desire for revenge. I divorced myself from the need to control their fate or determine what they deserve. That’s what I think forgiveness really is.

I don’t think those people who tried to sell me forgiveness were trying to hurt me. I’m sure they were only trying to help and were speaking from their own fears. They may not have intended harm, but it was harmful. Forgiveness is a personal issue and one of the most sensitive in dealing with abuse. Forgiving my parents was one product of my healing, not the means to it.

Related Posts:
The Truth About Blame
My Parents Are Dead (To Me)
Life-Saving Anger
Forgive the Abusers? A Bit of a Rant

Christina Enevoldsen

I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. My passion is exploring new ways to express my empowered new life. I’ve recently discovered the joy of waterslides, the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss” and hosting princess tea parties for my granddaughters. My husband and I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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  1. Hi Christina,
    Great post!
    Amazing that we didn’t pre read each others blog posts today! LOL I am excited to be posting two like minded views on this subject! I smiled at your conclusion ~ so similar to my own; that forgiveness is a product of the healing work we do.
    My journey was slightly different in that I didn’t realize I wanted to forgive my parents or abusers, but one day I suddenly realized that I HAD forgiven them. I just didn’t have the energy around those things anymore and like you I began to see them as products of their own environments too, with their own sickness and struggle, but I still stuck to the decision that I had made that I would never tolerate being abused or devalued again.
    This is an amazing journey ! I am thrilled to be on it alongside you!
    Hugs, Darlene

  2. Christina ~

    I could so relate to this post. I went through the same thing with my mother who, as you may remember, is a narcissistic abuser. My father was gone so much that he failed to see the damage she did or was doing. I have forgiven my mother in that I don’t hold the offence against her like I used to, meaning that I don’t seek revenge in any way. But like you, I have no desire for relationship with her – to do so would put me in danger, and quite possibly my kids in danger.

    I was like you when people would tell me to forgive her many years ago, my back would go up and I’d clench my teeth. But like you I came to find that with ‘forgiving’ there is freedom for ourselves. And I’d also get this “forgive and forget” which still makes me fume. Forgive, yes. Forget – absolutely NOT!! I say, ‘Never forget, its when we forget that we open ourselves up to be abused again.’ There is no way I’d let myself be that vulnerable again.

    Thank you so much for sharing this – it is so reassuring to meet others whose view on forgiveness is the same and that means that just because we forgive doesn’t mean we have to reconcile or have unhealthy relationship by pretending it didn’t happen or that it didn’t hurt. Pretending it didn’t happen is no foundation for a healthy relationship.

  3. Darlene,
    That is amazing that we posted our blogs on forgiveness without reading each others and covered so many of the same things. Yes, your conclusion that forgiveness is a result of healing, not a means for it matches my view. I think it’s so counterproductive to pressure anyone into forgiveness, especially ourselves. I think about all the energy that went into the effort to forgive and how it would have served me so much better if I’d have invested that into healing. At least I know now!
    Hugs to you, my friend! Christina

    Your comment, “Pretending it didn’t happen is no foundation for a healthy relationship” is so true! Even if we don’t plan to ever reconcile with the other person, pretending is no foundation for a healthy relationship with ourselves. Unless we can admit the truth to ourselves and process that truth, we can’t reconcile with our true Self. Thanks for sharing!
    Hugs, Christina

  4. Christina,

    I agree. This is an AWESOME post! You have touched on so many similar things that I also have gone through and experienced in my early twenties when I first began to deal with sexual abuse. I had the very same misconceptions about forgiveness and feeling that if I didn’t forgive, then I was not worthy of forgiveness. It was far easier for me back then to fear Gods punishment then to understand love and mercy. I was trying so hard to provide the latter to people who never asked me for forgiveness. And feeling i MUST provide them with it or there was no hope for me.

    My premature forgiveness didn’t take away the pain I was still in. It only pushed full healing away further because ‘repentance’ seems to a great big step that is missed when it comes to many religious organizations. Enabling the abuser seems to be more of the general rule and the ones abused are forced to bear most of the burden as if we didn’t already carry their burden enough through the abuse already! What more do any of us need to carry for them? We don’t!

    Although I’ve managed to redefine what forgiveness means since then over the years, it has still been a topic that has given me trouble in recent years. On the one hand, I’ve realized that my forgiveness isn’t dependent on the actions of my abusers. I’ve also learned that forgiveness and having boundaries are two very different things. We can forgive someone, or should I say, I have been WILLING to forgive someone but that doesn’t mean the relationship goes back to the way it was. When my husband wouldn’t quit drinking and get help, I had to seek a separation. I still loved but I could no longer live under the same roof. We were still separated but still married when he died. That made his death all the more hard for me to cope with. Unresolved grief.

    Since then, I have found myself still being too willing to forgive prematurely. Forgiving certain people too soon by clinging to the false hope that the process of ‘religious forgiveness and reconciliation’ would work. Even with boundaries, I have found that if the other person does not want to change, reconciliation is really possible without more damage to myself. Tough one to deal with sometimes when we are once again faced with giving up in all that we may have hoped for. Since we are all one, I believe that we so much WANT to stay connected to one another. But unfortunately, like cancer, if we are connected to something that is hell bent on destroying themselves and/or us, reconciliation and close proximity is simply not safe.

    There is far more I could share on my end personally and perhaps someday I will.

    Wonderful blog post Christina. Thank you for sharing and I’m glad we connected!


  5. Christina,

    I found that most of the people who told me to forgive my abusers, were the same ones who didn’t want to hear about my abuse. I found it more as a way for them to shut me up. Their view point of forgiveness being that once you forgive you let it go, and stop bad mouthing the abusers.

    Not true. Forgiving my abusers does not mean I have to keep quiet about their abuse. I may not be angry any more and I don’t feel pain anymore, but they still did the act of abuse to me. I may not talk about them like I am talking with spit fire and brimstones, but talk about them I will. I will continue to share my stories of their abuse and be calm and pain free when I do it. Because I have forgiven them. 🙂

    Great blog ((((hugs))) Patty

  6. Thank you for this post…

    When I started to understand that forgiveness was not a requirement for a relationship on my part, nor did it require me to deny what happened. Forgiveness gives me the opportunity to give that abuser, and their abuse, to God so that I can keep surviving and still healing, and still working on my relationships and my faith.

    Your words were what I needed today…bright blessings,

  7. “Forgiveness is a personal issue and one of the most sensitive in dealing with abuse. Forgiving my parents was one product of my healing, not the means to it”

    I love this aspect of your post. I always read posts about forgiveness with a bit of trepidation, because of the prevalent mindset that comes from the ideals of the Christian meaning of forgiveness.

    It’s dangerous to believe that the general assumptions of forgiveness found as a platitude in religious philosophy is healthy in all situations, especially where abuse has taken place. I think a divorce makes more sense. I divorced my mother recently, and it’s been a huge relief, there is forgiveness in it for me because I neither miss or hate her, I just needed out. I needed my boundaries respected, and she couldn’t do that so I made the decision which hurt her, but in simple terms, I was not going to spend the rest of her life or mine fighting her to respect boundaries or to stop dragging me into her lies.

    This worked for me. I gave me peace, I go on about my day and enjoy my life for a change.

    I still get the questions, and the platitudes from other people…but I share Alison Arngrim’s idea of the absurdity of asking a burglary victim how they are getting along with their burglar. That usually puts it in perspective for everyone.

    Anyway, loved your thoughts.

  8. Samantha,
    Your comment,
    ” It was far easier for me back then to fear God’s punishment then to understand love and mercy” really resounded with me. The abuse already taught me that I was a nothing and I couldn’t/shouldn’t expect to be treated well, so love and mercy didn’t compute. I was much more receptive to a rejecting/punishing God. That belief kept that cycle of abuse going for a long time. Thanks for sharing! I’d love to hear more about your journey as you feel comfortable.
    Hugs, Christina

    Your comment:
    “I found that most of the people who told me to forgive my abusers, were the same ones who didn’t want to hear about my abuse. I found it more as a way for them to shut me up.”
    Wow, I could reallly identify with that. I have the feeling that the abuse and any repercussions were too messy for them to deal with. They were desperate for it to go away, but I thought they sincerely wanted to help me. I mistook their desperation for compassion. They didn’t care about my comfort, only their own.

    I’m so happy that they didn’t shut either one of us up with their manipulation– at least not forever! Thanks for making your voice heard! Love and hugs, Christina

  9. Shanyn,
    You’re so right that forgiveness isn’t a requirement for a relationship on your part. It’s as though all the burden of the relationship is placed on the victim and none on the perpetrator. The perpetrator (falsely) becomes the victim in many people’s eyes when we don’t forgive. What a bunch of crap! That’s great that you’re focussing on your healing and not taking on burdens that don’t belong to you. Way to go!
    Hugs, Christina

    I understand reading posts about forgiveness with a bit of trepidation. So do I!!! The forgiveness issue is so connected to my spiritual abuse and still a sore spot for me (working on it!). It was used for so long (along with many other things) to manipulate and control me, and it generates a lot of emotion and sometimes I’m not ready for that. Even when I’m not the one who the post is directed to, I get angry that others are still being hurt by the false definitions of forgiveness.

    I like your idea of the divorce from your mother. In fact, the word ‘forgive’ as it’s used in the Bible actually means ‘to divorce or send away the offense.” In my mind, if the abusive person is so committed to remaining in that behavior, they become married to the offense and have to be sent away with it.

    Thanks for sharing! Hugs, Christina

  10. Thanks for sharing your story on this intense topic. I had fully estranged myself from my family with the exception of my maternal grandmother whom I had always loved and adored. I could tell her anything. She was wise and kind and funny. But as she was getting older and the estrangement time became longer, her wish became “forgive & forget”. She wanted to see her family reunited. I couldn’t oblige and had to finally withdraw completely to keep from being exposed to the painful message as well as knowing I was disappointing her. She passed away about a year ago. Am hoping she knew how much I loved having her in my life.

  11. Well thought out post, Christina! I too was force fed “forgive and forget” in a religious environment, and it just didn’t work. I think it was a way to maintain what I call the “Happy Christian game face” that I saw so much at church. I was sitting on a powder keg of anger, much like you had, and underneath, a lot of hurt.

    One of the most sound things I ever heard was in a men’s 12 step meeting, a guy said “I don’t think I can really forgive until I’ve had my feelings about it.” It proved true for me – I had to release all the pent up emotions to be able to really see the abuse from a new perspective. As I say now, I may heal the wounds, but I’ll always have the scars. They are just there. And the feelings took a long time to release – “it takes as long as it takes” – some before forgiveness, and some after at the losses the abuse had caused.

    Tough topic, well addressed!

  12. Yes, my own experience with forgiveness has been very similar to yours. This is one incidence where just because I was finally able to do forgiveness doesn’t mean that everyone else can also go there. I too believe it is an individual choice for each of us to make or not. Forgiveness does not mean that I will be silenced about incest. Forgiveness does not mean that my abusers will be a part of my life. Before my dad’s death in 2001, I had seen him one time in the past 10 years of his life. He died as a practicing alcoholic and never admitted that he abused me. Thanks for sharing this part of your story.

    Note from Christina: Here are two of Patricia’s blogs on forgiveness:

  13. I’m not sure where I’m at in this process, it’s complicted. I just had this conversation with my mother the other day, She is not my abuser but rather religious. She asked if I forgave them. I said HELL NO! She started the usual forgivness and the Bible etc. etc.

    I don’t take any blame for what happened to me. I wondered for a long time I suppose, but concluded it wasn’t anything I did. They were the perverts with the probelms. Reading lots of what all you other survivors have written has helped me more than anything. I have a peace about things that I never had, things are much better and the anger has slowly deminished. I have no urge to forgive. I don’t really feel I should have to forgive them, that is between them and God. Maybe I’m still just at the beginning of my journey, and silly and I’ll get it one day when I have become un-broken. Can you heal without forgiveness. I told my mother that maybe one day I would forgive them, but it isn’t today.
    Confusing isn’t it!

  14. I wonder why these listeners who can’t stand hearing about abuse and feel the need to come up with a quick fix don’t ever ask, “Has he ASKED for forgiveness?”

  15. Oh Sheryl….that is so brilliant a question!

  16. Christina,
    Your comment “In fact, the word ‘forgive’ as it’s used in the Bible actually means ‘to divorce or send away the offense.” In my mind, if the abusive person is so committed to remaining in that behavior, they become married to the offense and have to be sent away with it.” sort of puts a new twist on the whole subject!

    Maybe we don’t have the right idea in our minds about what forgiveness even is?

  17. Yes, I believe that you can heal without forgiveness and by that I mean forgiveness of the offenders. From everything that I have read and from having spoken with some of the experts in this field, it is not necessary or a requirement for healing. Discussion of forgiveness from an entirely religious perspective seems to cloud the issue and cause confusion and puts a big onus on survivors, especially when they are at the beginning of their healing.

    Perhaps forgiveness is being discussed and viewed from a religious viewpoint too much and not from a trauma viewpoint. The religious people who wrote their texts long ago were experts at religious thinking, not at trauma and recovery; at not knowing about, let alone understanding the deepest of psychic wound/s.

    Trauma is difficult enough for many to deal with, without having to take into account, consider their abuser/s, perpetrators as well.

    Either way this is all a very individual path and must be always seen as such. Each of us in our own way and in our own time.

  18. Maggie,
    Good for you for not being pressured into doing something you weren’t comfortable with. As survivors, we are so used to considering everyone else’s feelings above our own. Of course a lot of people just want a big, happy family who loves each other and gets along with each other. So many of us never got that or had that but were ousted because of our disclosure or boundaries—or simply because we chose a healthier way of life. We have to give up that dream and grieve that loss. BUT sometimes instead of allowing certain family members to face that loss and take responsibility for their own feelings (and sometimes actions) we step in and ‘fix’ their pain by compromising our own feelings and boundaries. Brava for your stand!
    Hug to you, Christina

    Hi Dan,
    That is so true that “it takes as long as it takes”. And it takes as many layers as it takes. When we try to put a limit on those things, we’re doing the same thing to ourselves that those in the religious camp did to us. We can’t be rushed through by anyone—including ourselves. Thanks for sharing!
    Hugs, Christina

    That’s so true that our experiences with forgiveness are all unique, just as our healing journeys are. Don’t you have a blog on forgiveness? Do you want to post a link to it here? If you want to send it to me, I’ll post it within your comment.
    Hugs, Christina

  19. Lisa,
    Yes, it can be so confusing, especially with so many people speaking so passionately about it with opposing views and experiences. I had to put all those voices aside and put the forgiveness issue on hold as though it didn’t exist. Contrary to what I was told, that didn’t hinder my healing or my relationship with God. I think it is absolutely possible to heal without dealing with forgiveness. Like I said in my blog, forgiveness was a by-product of my healing, not the source of it. Thank you for sharing!
    Hugs, Christina

    That’s an excellent question! I agree with Ligeia that it’s brilliant. And a slightly different meaning: Has HE asked for forgiveness? (or SHE) I posted your comment on the OSA wall. Yes, if forgiveness is so darned important, why aren’t those same people who pressure us into forgiving working over the abusers with that forgiveness mumbo jumbo? And I think you’re right that there is so much confusion about what forgiveness really is.
    Hugs, Christina
    Hugs to you, Christina

  20. Kathy,
    I agree with you that “Either way this is all a very individual path and must be always seen as such. Each of us in our own way and in our own time.” I think no matter our beliefs about forgiveness or any other issue, part of healing from abuse is to discover our own way. So many of us come from environments where we were controlled by others and part of our healing is to break away from that. To be pressured or manipulated to do something ‘good’ for us is no longer good for us. Thanks for sharing!
    Hugs, Christina

  21. I’m going to put this link in over at Chicks With Scars at FB, I think the discussion and comments are really quite relevant for a lot of the people who are the page there.

    I’ve seen some of the very questions, comments and insights I have addressed in personal conversations, and I think there are a lot of people who can benefit from just where all this is going.

    Thank you for this conversation today

  22. ” Forgiving my parents was one product of my healing, not the means to it.” I love this because it is so true it shows how we are a whole person made up of many parts healing is the same way .
    I know my abuser too felt that my forgiveness meant I forgot and things would return to the same . when I visited him in the hospital when he was very sick . He thought it meant open the door to let him in to abuse our family all over again . he was shocked when he asked if he could take our children out and my response was ” no that will never happen again , and if you’d like to discuss the why I’d be happy to explain ” he never brought it up again and in fact I never talked to him again until he was fearful when I called police in learning he was babysitting my two nieces. he wanted to meet with me and when I said yes I ‘d love to I have some verty nice people ( meaning therapist , my dh etc. ) who would also be there and like to meet him. He never called me again !
    I know for me taking control back in my life , only came when I could forgive . Being stuck in resentment gave him all the power and control still . as I healed saw things as they were & are saw the choices he made were not mine nor were they even had anything to do with me so much acceptance & undertsnding led me into forgiveness . As I saw myself as a whole person I saw my abuser that way too even if they do not see themselves that way. I try now to see all people as a whole .
    so I too do know my healing did involve forgiveness but it was not the only part.
    Thanks so much for this post
    Thanks so

  23. Amazing! wonderful post! Thank you for your dedicated work!

  24. Christina,
    Well-articulated post. Forgiveness is so misunderstood. It starts with naming the sin, goes on through naming and feeling our feelings. Those processes, of course, can take years…We must recognize the truths…that we didn’t deserve what was done to us, etc. The shame belongs to the abusers.

    We need to set boundaries. Only God can give us a balanced picture of our abusers. I, too, thought my abusive father was completely evil and only after canceling the debt he owed me did I recognize his good points. Reconciliation depends on the quality, if any, of their repentance.

    So many Christians don’t get it. I call it “Christian denial.” They believe: “I’m not supposed to be angry, THEREFORE I AM NOT ANGRY.” Actually, Ephesians 4:26 says we can be angry, but it’s supposed to be time-limited so Satan doesn’t gain a foothold in our hearts.

    I’m speaking soon on Forgiveness for a church service and your and Darlene’s posts have helped me remember just how challenging and difficult this is. I tend to forget, having substantially recovered several years ago. (My story: Trading Fathers: Forgiving Dad, Embracing God )

    Karen Rabbitt, MSW
    Survivor, psychotherapist, writer, and speaker.

  25. What a moving post, Christina! I can so relate to your path of forgiveness, as I used to think that forgiveness would make me feel weak and put me in harm’s way again. It took me a long time to want to forgive my mom for the abuse and even longer to actually forgive her. But I did. And six months before she died, I forgave her in person, and reconciled with her. I had no intent of reconciling, like you, but I did. And those last six months were miraculous. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!


  26. This comment contains much of what will be a new post on my blog about forgiveness, following up an earlier blog post I wrote a week or so ago about my struggles to forgive. I’ve been grappling with issues of forgiveness when you’re met with a wall of sheer defiance, denial, lies, no confession, no repentance and no admittance of fault. In my exploration I’ve realised how abused, misused and badly represented the issue of forgiveness has been throughout years of church teaching and comments/judgement/bad counsel from other Christians. I’ve realised too that in order to forgive one must define what forgiveness is and what forgiveness isn’t.

    When I’ve spoken to Christians about being abused, tortured and disowned by my family many have responded with “have you forgiven them, you must forgive them”. Thus inferring that if I’d forgiven them then I wouldn’t need to talk about them or talk about what they did and how it’s affected my life. Other Christians have pressed upon me that if only I forgave then magically all the hurt and pain would go away, impressing upon me that you cannot be a real Christian if you’ve not truly forgiven from your heart and sought all paths towards reconciliation. This infers that you cannot forgive and not want to be reconciled to the people who so hurt you. Many Christians told me that as they’re your family you have to forgive and forget and act like it never happened because they are your family and as a Christian I was sinning greatly to not do that or to not want to do that. Some Christians have forced me into praying prayers of forgiveness towards my abusers which weren’t so much about me forgiving but more about them feeling they’d done their Christian duty in making me forgive and the rest was up to me complying. Much of what was said to me implied that all the hurt and damage would just vanish from my life if only I could forgive and because I was so hurt and obviously damaged then I could not have really forgiven even if I thought I had. The hurt and confusion such comments caused me was immense.

    There were so many different definitions and understanding about forgiveness in the many things said to me. But none of them worked because each of them was a phoney forgiveness. A forgiveness that forgives, forgets, acts as if the wrong never happened, ignores the hurt and pain, pushes it all under the carpet. That is not real true forgiveness. My understanding of true forgiveness in the context of Christian understanding is that it always happens within a framework of confession, repentance, admittance of fault, apologies, and so on. A making things right with the person wronged in some way – either through reconciliation or making good in some meaningful way.

    I do not believe that outside of that framework true meaningful forgiveness can occur; only partial forgiveness. True forgiveness involves laying the blame where it lies – on the shoulders of the wrongdoer – which involves confrontation but does not necessarily have to lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation should never be the aim of forgiveness. Reconciliation may be a by-product of forgiveness but is not and cannot be the main reason for seeking confrontation in order for forgiveness to occur. Only admittance from the person who wronged you enables true forgiveness. A person who will never confess or repent, but continue to deny, defy, lie, refuse to admit any wrong cannot be truly forgiven nor is deserving of forgiveness.

    Forgiveness in itself does not heal a person. However, it may be a catalyst that kick starts the process of healing. In redefining forgiveness for myself I’ve come to see that forgiveness is not a one-time event but rather a process of letting go your hands from around the neck of the person who wronged you and keeping them by your side.

    I’ve had to get go my dream that my abusers would one acknowledge something was wrong, which they’ve never done. All my life there’s been this great pretence of normality and nothing is wrong. Any acknowledgement of wrong would have made a huge difference to me but it never came. When confronted with the legal consequences of their behaviour a wall of defiance, denials and lies prevented their exposure and caused me immense anguish. Letting that dream go was immensely agonising for me. As I let dream go I let go any other hopes I’d ever had of them ever apologising. I also had to let go my hopes that one day they’d relent and recognise my existence as their daughter. By accepting that it was possible to move on to no longer expecting, wanting for hoping for anything from them. I moved from being totally overwhelmed by pain to a place where I can begin to believe there is a way through to healing. For me forgiveness is a process of letting go day by day. As I do that a door is opened, allowing healing and soothing to come into my wounds so I can have hope and a vision for a future that is no longer captive to my past. By understanding forgiveness in this way I’m able to take my life back and free myself of those invisible ties to my abusers. I know I will continue to over the days, weeks, months and years to come.

    Each time I speak out the truth of what happened I take a little bit of my life back. Every bit of my life I take back the more I win and the more my abusers lose.

  27. For me, forgiveness is a process that comes with ‘willingness’ and insight that it yields rewards.

  28. Christina,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. It speaks to many things essential for personal growth.

    My gut question – did those who caution you to forgive, harm you, nevertheless, generate some awareness of its residual need?

    My question comes from some belief that without the insight and willingness to forgive, a consuming aura of hatred can engulf us in a chronic, toxic soup.


  29. st. ignatius of loyola famously said that were the pope to abolish the order of priests he founded, the society of jesus or jesuits, he would need fifteen minutes of prayer to accept it, and then he would follow the next call. i take that fifteen minutes of prayer to include forgiveness for dashing his hopes and ruining his life’s work. i’ve always seen that story as pious balderdash. i’m in a process of trying to forgive two family members right now, one in particular. perhaps i should work harder at it, but in one case i think it will simply take time; i’ve already felt a couple of layers peel away from the onion. in the other case, i have a feeling it will happen somewhat as you’ve described. you were doubly abused–by your father (and mother)–and by the people who made your forgiveness more of an issue than his culpability.

  30. Christina, it is great to see so many willing to share their own experiences with forgiveness and to know that it is a matter of choice. So much shame was heaped onto my head by well-meaning people telling me to forgive. It made me feel like here was something else that I just couldn’t get right. Finally after many years of believing this crap, some small voice inside me said, “Why don’t you turn it over to God?” I listened and had a conversation with God, telling Him that I couldn’t do the forgiveness thing so I was going to just let Him handle it until maybe one day when I could do it. At that time, I didn’t see myself ever able to forgive my abusers.

    Forgiveness did finally come for me but not until a very lengthy process of reconnecting with my body and feelings. I had to feel and go through every bit of the anger, rage, hurt, sadness, tears and hatred before I could forgive my dad and the others who abused me. Anything less and the forgiveness would not have been real.

    I sent you an email with the link to my own forgiveness post. It is the first of a series of articles that I am writing. Thanks for posting the link on your blog.

  31. Rox, thanks for sharing part of your story. It sounds like you have some really good boundaries with your forgiveness.

    Thanks, Raquel!

    Hi Karen, your comment, “they believe: ‘I’m not supposed to be angry, THEREFORE I AM NOT ANGRY’” is something I was so hung up on for years with the anger issue and so many others. I thought I could make myself better by will-power and determination. I found that I had to stop judging myself first and get to the root of the issue instead of just telling myself that I was wrong to have that reaction. I was having that reaction for a reason and dealing with that reason was the only way to really be free. Otherwise, I was only dealing with the symptoms. Thanks for sharing!

    Hi Ellen, the fear that forgiveness will lead to more harm is huge isn’t it? I was afraid if I got too soft, I’d reconsider my boundaries. It’s great to hear you had a good ending in your case. I appreciate you sharing that.

    Fi, that’s so true about know what forgiveness really is. We’re judged for not forgiving, even when we have because of false definitions of the word. Really, it’s nobody’s business if we have forgiven or not. It’s a personal issue that is unique to each person.
    I personally don’t believe that confrontation is necessary for forgiveness, though I do think it’s necessary for any chance at reconciliation.
    I like your statement: “I’ve come to see that forgiveness is not a one-time event but rather a process of letting go your hands from around the neck of the person who wronged you and keeping them by your side.”
    If you’d like to include a link to your forgiveness blog, send it to me and I’ll include it in your comment.

    Hiecharles, I agree that forgiveness has to come with willingness or it’s not really forgiveness. I don’t believe that the people who pressured me into forgiveness did me any good, even if they meant to. I think I would have been so much further in my healing if not for getting stuck in the external show. I also don’t think I really needed to know that forgiveness would benefit me before I decided to forgive. It was the natural progression in my healing process and it came from something within me instead of something I put on.

    Peter, it sounds like your pressuring yourself to forgive. The “working harder” at it is exactly what didn’t work for me. Mine was like an ointment that I applied to my wound. I first needed to clean out all the anger and pain from the wound before applying anything to it. I know others have a different process, but the “working harder” was a dead-end for me.

    Patricia, I can identify with feeling more shame for not being about to get the forgiveness thing right. Thanks for sharing your process. I’ll check my email for the links and get them posted. Thanks!

    Thank you to all of you who have posted comments. It enriches the conversation and deepens our understanding. If any of you have blogs that specifically deal with the topic of forgiveness, you are welcome to share it. Hugs, Christina

  32. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t saying confrontation was necessary for forgiveness but rather that for me confrontation was an essential part of my journey

  33. Fi, thanks for clarifying that. I didn’t interpret it as something you were mandating, but I thought it was great that you brought up the topic. So many people reconcile with those who repeatedly do awful things without confronting them at all. I was one of those people for a long time. I thought having time pass was enough. I reasoned that “It happened a long time ago” and thought that I’d be safe without even finding out where the person’s heart was. I learned my lesson. Time doesn’t heal wounds and time doesn’t change people. Anyway, I appreciate you adding that. I think it’s an important step that’s often ignored. Hugs, Christina

  34. I hear you saying that your pain and mental image pictures of surreal experiences felt trivialized, invalidated, minimized and were therefore “fanned into rage” by an insistence on forgiving your before you felt capable of doing that.

    I suppose that in the face of non acceptance or denial of your personal experiences (by perpetuators), such insistence on forgiving would be experienced as additional trauma and frustration.


  35. Just one other little comment – there is also this phoney forgiveness in Christian circles that sees forgiveness as forgive, forget, reconcile as if nothing happened – that is not real forgiveness but I’ve come across it so many times in so many churches with so many Christians – and it’s always the abused who gets asked “have you forgiven?” never the abusers who are asked “have you sought forgiveness?” It’s never the abusers who get challenged always the abused. It was one of the things that caused me to walk away from the church.

    Hiecharles – yes forgiving when there is a total wall of denial, lies and defiance, as in my case, certainly does an additional trauma and frustration – and it forced me to take a deeper look at forgiveness and re-define it, I’m still in process on that

  36. Fi, I agree that the false type of forgiveness is widespread, but it’s not limited to Christain circles. I’ve heard people exclaim how much better they felt after ‘forgiving’ this way (just like I did myself), but it’s just a coping method. It’s a way to try to push down the pain and instead of dealing with it.

  37. To forgive and be cautious about my dealing with same people or similar people.

    I do not need to worry about their own struggle. . . that is theirs. I need to focus on mine. My internal environment of peace, serenity and unconditional love. Understanding that I am also imperfect and have also made mistakes. But not wanting to make the same mistakes, over and over.

    I can agree to love unconditionally from a distance and be guarded in my interactions with people I believe are capable of hurting me.

  38. Fi MacLeod exNicholson

    Sometimes I come onto FB with limited time and do not read all the posts. Just read your post and want to validate the intensity of your experience.

    So many people in the mental asylum because of exactly what you experience with your family. It is inspiring that you have found an outlet.

    As a Christian myself, prayers for enemies . . . does it work? I believe it does. It works for me. I believed completely and had no doubt. And when I could not be forgiving in my own heart, I prayed for that strength and ability to be. Even at times when I think I have, some negativity creeps in and I nip it in the bud because I am on guard for it.

    Forgiveness is for self. For our own emotional environments to get right and to have serenity to know the difference between what we can and cannot change. Leave the punishment to God. Surely know they are not in peace, despite what you see or what may otherwise appear.

    Live faithfully, with trust and in peace. Be still and know that I am GOD. Blessings

  39. hiecharles
    – many thanks for your comment which helped me a lot in some respects. I’m so blessed to have an outlet through my writing and and to have found this site and other similar ones which are helping and encouraging me
    – I have just a few comments:-

    – my abusers are in such denial that they believe their own lies and believe everything they did and everything about their lives, including having no relationship with their daughter is normal

    – when people are that far in denial they are living in a bubble they’ve created, that bubble could not even be burst by a police investigation or weakened, it has in fact been strengthened. It is unbelievable how they are behaving since the case against them was dropped. I don’t believe things like peace come into play when people are that deep into lies and denial. We are not dealing with ‘normal’ people living ‘normal every day lives’, as we may understand ‘normal’ or ‘average’ to be. They are living in serious delusion.

    – I’m not in a place where I can pray for them. I did a lot of that during the legal process but with the dropping of the case and their behaviour since everything is so raw that I cannot pray for them. That is for some time in the future. For now I have a lot of anger, disappointment, bewilderment, shock and devastation to navigate my way through.

    – I’ve been exploring the issue of forgiveness a lot during the past month. I’ve been wrestling with the whole issue of forgiveness in the face of lies and total defiance. I’ve now written three articles exploring forgiveness on my blog site. Here are the links to those articles.




    I’m still grappling with the issue of forgiveness but I’m beginning to process some thoughts and conclusions and starting to gain fresh insight and understanding.

  40. I have so much to say on this topic. I have been back and forth on forgiveness for so long that I don’t know what I feel anymore. I think the reality for me is that I need to give myself permission to feel what I feel, for as long as it takes, before I can worry about forgiving anyone else. It is hard, though, because my mother is still a very active part of my life and my anger at her about the past sometimes comes out sideways and hits her over the head in the present…and then I feel worse.

    I just need to let it be what it is for a while. And then go from there. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Maybe it’s contagious?? 😀

  41. Lisa,
    “Letting it be what it is” sounds very wise! Giving yourself “permission to feel what you feel” is the shortest way out of that feeling. When you reject or deny a feeling, it doesn’t make it go away. It sticks around, but instead of you being in control of it, it controls you. By recognizing your feelings and giving yourself time to process them, you’ll express them and they’ll be gone. Hugs to you, Christina

  42. Forgiveness? I don’t know that I’m anywhere near that right now. I’m hurt, I’m angry and I’ve been met with denial, negligence and indifference. I just don’t feel it in my heart and I would imagine that maybe somewhere along the path of healing I will find it. I’m not sure which is worse, the abuse or the secondary wounding. I don’t know that I will ever find justice or a sense of peace over what was done to me. I’ve read that forgiveness is never required and shouldn’t be expected of a victim, yet I still feel an incredible amount of pain associated with the memories. I do agree, I forgave my family too soon. It was just never talked about, and like you I painted a smile on my face and life went on like it never happened. Like you, underneath were the feelings and torment that were never acknowledged, the greiving that was never allowed, fear and a deep sadness that just rocked my core. I want that little girl back, untouched, unharmed; the way she should have grown up. Your story gives me a sense of strength and hope and I pray that I will be able to find that same sense of inner peace some day. It’s a difficult and painful journey.

  43. Lydia,
    I’m sorry for all the pain you’re in now, but I’m glad you’re giving yourself space to express it instead of covering it up. You’re so right that this is a difficult and painful journey, but it does get better. I was shocked the day I woke up actually wanting to forgive. Before that moment, I didn’t feel anywhere near that. I’m glad you have hope for better things. Just keep going!
    Hugs, Christina

  44. My journey to forgiveness has taken over 17years. Forgiveness doesn’t come by others insisting upon it. It is so true that there is so much that you need to feel and acknowledge before it is even possible. The ability to even consider forgiving was for me a sign of how far I’d come and was a very unexpected idea. True forgiveness only comes from truth, not denial, and takes as long as it takes. I believe it should not be the focus of your healing, as it is such a process, and needs to flow in its own way.
    Now that I feel I have forgiven, but not forgotten my abuse, it has lightened my load in the most incredible way. It has helped bring as much closure to this as I think I could get, and somehow has dumped that weight more on the perpetrator and his enabler. I have faced the issue, the truth of my life, my family and unveiled the cause of so much of my protective personality. They haven’t. That is no longer my problem. It is pretty sad for them really. I have accepted that they will never take responsibility, and I have dropped my anger and intense feelings over it, because my healing and my life is not dependent on them. They don’t have that power over me anymore. I don’t need them to say it happened to know it myself, and that is their intense shame that they have to live with everyday. My relationship with them has not gone back to anything like what it was before. I am still in touch, but it doesn’t hurt and confuse me like it did before.

    I wish for forgiveness for every survivor, as it is liberating, and empowering. It is not for your perpetrators that I wish this, but for your transformative healing, inner peace and serenity that you deserve, and to finally let so much pain go. Please also try reiki with a good master, it is incredible in its power to heal and often brings a beautiful support system. You deserve to heal. I have been very blessed.
    Love and healing, Renee

  45. Renee,
    I love what you said: “True forgiveness only comes from truth, not denial” I agree 100%!!! Progress of any kind only comes with the truth! Thanks for your brilliant comment.

  46. Thank you Christina for uploading my post. I re-read the entries and get different things out of them each time. It really helped to solidify and understand where I am at by writing it here and sharing it with others who could relate to how I feel. So many of the entries sound like my life, my family and feelings that I have had along this journey. I think what you are doing by offering this support is incredibly valuable and brave. Thank You for creating something so worthwhile, and putting yourself out there to inspire others to do so as well.

  47. Great one, Christina! Sometimes I think that the shallow, “Christian” insistence that we numbly forgive every possible offense, no matter how horrendous, is just a way for the admonishers to try to maintain the carefully-constructed happy little environment that defines so many modern Christian churches; and just another way to control the victim, not completely unlike the original perpetrator… If you’re going to be accepted in most Christian circles these days, just remember the First Commandment: “Thou shalt not harsh our mellow.”

  48. Ryan,
    LOL! Sadly, that really is the first commandment in a lot of churches. There is the excuse that revealing and dealing with abuse would “compromise our witness”. So they sacrifice the most vulnerable members for the sake of their reputation, while claiming it’s God’s interests they are protecting. That shows their true opinion of God to claim that he needs protection. The truth is that if they were really so concerned about God, they’d understand Jesus’ heart when he said that if we’ve done something to the weakest among us, we’ve done it to him. I wish all people who claim to follow Christ would identify with “the least of these” like Jesus does. Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Ryan!

  49. Dear Christina,
    In my late 30’s, I discovered the theory that “holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and hoping the other guy dies from it.” I took it for what it meant, & it helped. However, I still didn’t see any reason to forgive my abusers. I wasn’t holding a grudge, but I felt no need to forgive. Then, I went to an educators’ conference this summer & took a seminar on dealing with abusive people. It was a Jewish Educators’ conference, so the Holocaust naturally came up. (ie, should we forgive the Nazis to heal?) I had just spoken w a survivor who, at 15, had to stand naked in front of dr joseph mengele and flirt to save her mother’s life…(horrifying!) Many of us know, knew, (or in my case, were rescued) from my abusers by Holocaust Survivors. We all asked a lot of questions, and a wonderful psychologist who was one of the speakers told us it’s ok to redefine “forgiveness” as “acceptance”. For the first time, I could understand how that redefinition can help me heal. I accept that these disturbed, drunken, deviants did what they did. But hurting children (like committing genocide) is simply unforgivable. This step has helped me heal. Thanx for ur intelligence & wisdom! I thank God I found this safe place to share. It’s a true blessing. Xo Rachel

  50. Rachel,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I think “acceptance” is a very appropriate way to define forgiveness. That’s probably the closest word that fits how I’ve forgiven. I no longer look to my abusers with any expectation– of remorse, or apology or restitution or restoration or relationship. I’m at peace, accepting that they won’t and can’t help me out of the mess they created. But then, I’m the best qualified for that job anyway and I’m happy with the job I’m doing. Thanks for your comment!

  51. I have lived the life…I know to well what can happen…the depression…the health concerns…the mental illness…..I appreciate your candor…….

  52. Thank you for this. I was sexually abused by my father, and physically abused by my mother my entire childhood. I have never healed from it and I probably never will. I am glad that you are doing well and better than I am.

  53. JackB,
    I’m sorry that you were abused by your parents, too. It saddens me that you don’t have much hope for healing. I truly believe than anyone can heal. I hope you know you’re worth the effort.

  54. I don’t think I am worth it, and I think it was my fault. I appreciate your compassion though.

  55. Dear Jack,
    It is never ever ever the victim’s fault. Your parents brainwashed you to believe it…just like my
    mother brainwashed me that my reality and instincts were not what I perceived them to be.
    The abusers are “crazy-making”…the scars the left are deep. But that does not ever
    mean we deserved them. I know it’s easier for our minds to grasp this than for our hearts.
    I work every day to make my heart believe my mind.
    We can get through this, and we are worth it!!

  56. Hi Jack,

    I hope that stories of forgiveness and healing aren’t making you and others feel discouraged. I can remember many points on my journey where this would have been my feelings exactly. Feeling as though you have healed doesn’t make it go away. There are still days and circumstances where everything comes up for me, or I get overwhelmed. I am now just further down the path to take hold of these feelings and not let them derail me. We all still live this story, and that’s why we’re here on this site, helping each other and connecting with our reality and stories. It just finds it place better as you heal. I read this great story on the difference between a cure and healing, from a medical doctor who had cancer and switched to alternative healing after his journey. We are not miraculously cured of our past and pain, but rather have healed through it. Healing embraces the journey that the illness or pain takes you on, changing you as you go. Curing seeks to take the patient back to a perfect state as if the problem never happened. I think it helps to seek to heal from this and not find a cure. Healing is also never-ending and a continual process of self care. Look at how far you have come in your healing, because I guarantee it is further than you think. Thank you for your thoughts and feelings, because just connecting to this and writing to you is very helpful to me…You are not alone, abuse is and sadly always has been part of our world. You do deserve healing and it is not your fault.

  57. Thank you for the kind words everyone. I just got into therapy and this is all very hard. I appreciate the support and compassion, and hope all of you are healing and doing well too.

  58. Jack,my heart goes out to you! you do deserve to heal, and none of the abuse was your fault!

    I have not been sexually abused for 30+ years, but i have not anywhere near figured out the forgiveness issue.
    i feel like i should forgive my dad, but i also feel he doesn’t deserve it! – especially since a couple of things he’s said [which contradict his shallow apology] indicate he would still be doing it, if my sister and i would let him!

  59. It seems that when abusers create their own personal victims with their sperm and eggs, their victims grow up to believe that forgiveness of them is an issue that must be dealt with.
    If the abusers are not related to their victims, such as in stranger-rape, the victims don’t typically wrestle with forgiveness as an issue.
    Society in general doesn’t seem to either.
    For example, if someone learns a person was stranger-raped, “Have you forgiven him?” is not a common response.
    It IS if the rapist’s sperm helped create the victim.
    When learning someone was a concentration camp victim, “Have you forgiven Hitler yet?” would be considered an inappropriate question.
    I don’t hear discussions about forgiveness on TV shows or online forums by victims of stranger-rape, or by Holocaust victims.
    I do when the victims are the biological progeny of the abusers.
    I’m sure some victims of stranger-rape consider the issue of forgiveness, it just doesn’t seem to come up a lot.
    So what makes this difference?
    I think it is the influence of Judeo-Christian beliefs of ‘bad’ children who don’t honor their parents.
    That pressure is in our culture.
    There is no ‘honor the strange man who rapes you’ pressure.

  60. I agree with your post entirely. It is exactly how I have felt many times, and is a ridiculous double standard that we are served. The pressure or insistence to forgive prolongs this happening because it rejects us from getting any validation from others. They haven’t heard or understood our pain, they haven’t validated our story, and we may see other rape victims become validated, receive sympathy and understanding, and all the hurt and damage we have felt is ripped up again like an old scab. We feel doubly victimised. YOU DON”T HAVE TO FORGIVE, BE FURIOUS AS LONG AS YOU NEED!! YEAH!!!
    Only, for me, after a while I was exhausted. I hit a point where I was just too tired to keep up the fury of the injustice of it all. YES those bastards and their double standards didn’t understand a thing, and I was stuck in this place that few could understand. They couldn’t hear me!!
    THEN, I didn’t choose to forgive, I didn’t try to forgive, didn’t plan to or buy into the bullshit that you need to or should. It just happened. Maybe rape victims don’t walk this path as often because they’re not as confronted by being forever linked in this way to their perpetrator. Maybe society in its ignorance sees it as the only solution because this situation is too screwed up to see another way out.
    Forgiveness DOES NOT MEAN ITS OK OR THAT THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH THIS. A LOT OF it for me just meant their screwed up crap doesn’t matter to me anymore, and other people’s opinions don’t either, I don’t need them to hear my story and sympathise or respond how I need. I KNOW MY STORY MY STUFF, my perpetrator, the churches, society don’t effect me. If they tell me to forgive and forget no big deal, I don’t care that they say that anymore. They know nothing. But I forgave, not forgot. I pity him , I am infinitely stronger than they are. DON”T let anyone make you feel bad for where you’re at, but don’t rely on them for certain responses either. I was often so hurt by bad and unexpected reactions, but it couldn’t do that to me now. I DO BELIeve in karma. and these screwed up people are not living happy existences. WE need to, you’re already miles ahead. Pity, and remember the unjust history., Forgiveness just helped me let go of a lot of active pain and anger. It comes if its meant to, if not, go hard, be furious! YOu have every right!!!!!!!!!

  61. Jessica,
    I agree that there is definitely more pressure to forgive the abuser when he or she is a family member, especially a parent. I’ve been seeing more and more things written that prescribe forgiveness for all abusers, though. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes, blatant. In the past week, I’ve seen Facebook littered with that propaganda and it can be so harmful to healing. Thanks for sharing.

  62. Renee,
    That sounds so very much like the place I came to as well. They don’t have anything more to offer me and I don’t need anything from them. I hear myself now and if people want to listen, fine, and if they don’t want to listen, fine. Thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts about that.

  63. I do not ever focus on forgiveness or letting go of the past. That word is very loaded. Many tell you to do so because it is God’s will! If that works for them, that is fine. I am an atheist for one, and look at the meaning of the word forgive. That is what does not allow me to forgive. To forgive means to absolve which is: freeing the abusers from guilt or blame or their consequences. It also means to free from responsibility. My abusers cannot get off that easily! If they are not responsible and allowed to be guilt-free, is it my fault! This effects of that past and the damage done by the abuse is what I live with on a moment-by-moment basis! That past is now my present as I try to stop from drowning it its mire!

  64. Ronnie,
    I think that’s a major issue with forgiveness since there are so many different ways that people define it. I’ve heard other people say that forgiveness means to them that there had to be blame assigned to the abuser and that forgiveness freed themselves of the blame. Either way, I agree that the word is very loaded. It’s still one of the things that really gets to me when people claim forgiveness is The Way. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint!

  65. I have been struggling with this for a while now… When my father abused me as a child I told my sister and tried to maybe some how believe they where bad dreams…. Finally one day my sister told my mother after coming to the conclusion that if the dreams stopped every time we went away they prob aren’t dreams.. My mom then confronted him , he was also physically abusive and all hell broke loose…. Cops were called etc. he had to leave the house but my younger sister not knowing what was going on missing him and my moms own inability to let him go she would bring /sneak us to see him..of course with that being said there were more instances.. I mean the story goes on but long story short I was forced to lie about it..In court.. My siblings and I ended up in foster care for a couple of years and my mom worked to get us back. I had been abused by other ppl and never resolved that but I “got over” it… My father went on to have another family… And I always struggled with the fact that my half sisters somewhere in the world are being abused Because I lied and there were adults telling me to lie because he was “a good man” …… I just can’t get over it n there are to many feelings to even write like in many of our cases…. Inappropriate interactions i had with a friends father led me to ask her if she was being abused….. She lied at first , then told me she was….. I told her the biggest thing I ever regretted was lying for my father…. Her father had a younger daughter too somewhere n i told her about the fears I had for the sisters I have never met…. She pursued legal action…. But today I still struggle with these feelings and something in me that can not forgive.

    I’m starting to believe I can not forgive until I do something about this…. I watched my younger sister idolize him growing up and I could never really tell her what the hell truly happened… It’s like a huge rat under the rug that my family has ignored…. I can’t go on knowing that I have sisters somewhere that might be going through this in part I feel because of me…. I can’t even describe these feelings articulately.

    It’s been years later and I really need some guidance to action before I can forgive…. Every day I pray for forgiveness for not being forgiving and that God can lead me on a journey to help protect others and somehow one day resolve this and then maybe I can forgive.

  66. Crystal,
    I’m sorry for how your parents betrayed you. What they did was awful!

    I’ve heard two main reasons to forgive from the survivor community:
    1. Because it’s really for you (or it will help you heal or some other variation of that)
    2. Because it’s God’s will.

    I’ve already addressed the first one in this blog post. I don’t think it really is helpful, just a temporary coping method to avoid dealing with the pain. As for it being God’s will, I don’t believe that either. My husband is a pastor and has done a lot of study on this topic and his conclusion is that God doesn’t expect, nor model, unconditional forgiveness. He’ll be posting his thoughts on this soon. I really hate how we’ve been taught to discount ourselves and to invalidate our own pain in the name of doing something good.

    By the way, welcome to OSA!

  67. What a powerful story. I found your blog looking for information on forgiveness as it relates to abuse. I wasn’t sexually abused but I did go through a very difficult marriage. In telling my story I have been told often by people in the Christian community that I need to be silent on the details because by discussing it that means I haven’t forgiven. I am currently doing a lot of research and reading on this topic because I just don’t believe forgiveness equals silence. I do understand that it’s important to forgive but I’m not sure that means we don’t have the right to speak on the issue or the details. I keep being told over and over again that true forgivness means you no longer would talk about it. I was told point blank that talking about another person’s sin is wrong. That you are judging them. I don’t feel I”m doing it to judge. I’m doing it to help others who have been through the same thing. Only in sharing what happened to us can we bond with those who are going through the same thing. If we continue to suffer in silence and hide the truth isn’t that just giving our abusers power? Why is hiding their abuse more important than our own healing?

  68. It has taken me several years to realize what pushing down sexual abuse actually does to the body. After leaving my spouse after finally accepting what he’d done to me, and truly realizing my first step was to get better, I knew it was going to be very painful. I had come to my parents home where two days before my father passed away my husband decided to rape me. Coming back to this room to live in while I got therapy was devastating!
    I had wanted to say so many time what had happened, to my family, to police, even to the military, when I had tried, I was told by a chaplain that I needed to stop talking because my Husband was the active duty member and that he could not help me. I was told to seek help in the civilian city. I felt my world crushing down on me.
    I felt he told me no one would believe me and he’s right. I wanted him to get help, he promised that he would and wanted me to keep my mouth shut about the “personal demons” he had they were none of my business, and he would be working on it.
    By having my mom and sister and his mother came get our children and bring them to a safe place,( because he kept causing my physical therapy appointments to be cancelled at the last minute) and I couldn’t get better without completing my therapy. I would soon join my children and family in California, where I had a support system. Since getting away from that abusive sickness, I have been able to see truth, I have gotten better than I was, my health has improved, nothing crazy has happened out here, but the anxiety is still there, especially if he calls to speak to the children. We didn’t plan on divorce, (I was so ashamed, and after the rape, and my father passing, I found out that I was pregnant. The rape was the only time I had been, with what he’d done. I had had a major lung surgery four months before, and one week prior I was in the hospital with shingles and MRSA. I was in the hospital for his birthday and he told me I could make it up to him later.) Living in the room where this happened I knew if I was going to learn to deal better with my fibromyalgia I needed to get help, I was still afraid no one would believe me. I had talked to RAINN, (but I was scared to say anything before,because of the chaplain experience, and he made me promises.) After talking with my therapists and church advisers who told me the decision had to be made by me, I had made up my mind to ask him what he wanted. He told me he was planning on coming out for Christmas and he was going to give me something. I told him where are you planning on staying? He got angry, and started talking about divorce, and I told him I had someone else I needed to talk to about what has happened in our marriage. He got really quiet. He said you told someone what happened? I told him that before I answer his divorce question I want to ask one more person and I’m going tonight. he could call tomorrow after I fixed my moms sprinkler system in the front yard. I asked God through prayer and meditation what I should do. I went on the next day feeling peaceful, when he called, (several times) he said, So what do you want? I turned the question to him and I said no what is it that you want?” He said he “wanted a divorce,” I said are you sure? Then I asked, “Why are you not willing to get the help you’ve been promising us that you’d get?” His answer didn’t surprise me. He simply said that he didn’t think our relationship would go anywhere and that it was basically over. So I told him alright. I hope you get help, not for me but so you don’t hurt anyone else. Then he sent me an email that he’d sent to his bishop, confessing how our marriage was over, because of the emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse my children and I had endured, but then in (stated it was not abuse). He was in denial about everything. What is good is that now as I look at this, life example I appreciate getting away and even if it is considered fleeing I am safe and My children are safe. I really don’t think I will trust others for a long time. I feel it is a distraction that I cannot afford. I’m sad for what happened, this is a small fraction of the account, from my perspective, I am glad I kept notes, and journals. I’m glad there was recorded medical logs, and I’m glad My mom was there for some of his meltdowns. She’s meeting with an investigator today. I will be happy when I can move on from the anxiety of re-living what has happened.
    I focus now on work, school, and my beautiful children! All of them.

  69. Christina,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am angry just listening to what your parents did to you. Shaking inside. Your father should have been arrested for sexual abuse and your mother as an accomplice. It is not your fault and you didn’t deserve it. I have been struggling with how to deal with the same abuse my grandfather committed against my mother. All my life it has been an unspoken issue at family functions, Christmas, thanks giving and birthdays. My grandfather shows up. Nothing is said. My grandparents have long since been divorced, but no charges have ever been filed against my grandfather, and my grandmother denies that the abuse ever happened. She truly may not know. My mom has been on depression medication most of my life and she struggles with suicidal thoughts. I’m so sorry about the false forgiveness message that was pressed upon you too. It has run rampant in the church and it was all I knew until I read Gary Chapman’s book, “anger, handling a powerful emotion the healthy way”. Have you read this book? I’m half way through it and if I’m understanding it correctly it basically states that confession and repentance on behalf of the abuser must proceed forgiveness unless you don’t desire restoration, in which case you just give it to God and then forgive your abuser. None of this, forgive them, though they have never acknowledged or appologized for the abuse they committed, and live with them like nothing ever happened crap. Because I love my grandfather and my relationship is cut off from him by his sin against my mother, I believe I must confront him so that he knows his wrong, and knows why he is cut off from me, so that he has a chance to repent, whatever that looks like. I can’t punish him by cutting him off from my life with out him knowing why. From his perspective, he might not know anything is wrong, and he might just think I’m selfish and uninterested in him, which isn’t true. Benji Nolot, the leader of exodus cry, delivered a great message at the IHOP-kc mission base on July 15th, 2012 called “rebuking the oppressor”. It’s on the website, http://www.ihopkc.org/fcf/webstream-archives/ and I highly recommend watching it. It talks about our responsibility to confront those who abuse, and gives good practical examples on how to do this especially when sexual abuse and family members are involved. I hope it will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

    I hope and pray that you find healing an wholeness Christina. You are truly a gift. And people do love you.


    Stephen Wick

  70. Hi Christina,
    I grew up in a home where both my parents were roaring alcoholics and my only sister was in therapy most of her life. I could never understand what the heck was going on with the three of them. All three died off with my sister being the last to die. After her funeral, one of my sister’s friends had a conversation with me. It revealed that my father was raping my sister on a regular basis from the ages of 6 to 12. And my sister’s cry for help to Mom was ignored. All of a sudden my entire life was explained in less than one minute. The drunkenness, the therapy. I was pretty upset. But I could not interrogate any of my family since they were all dead. After reading your article, I realized that I’m not really going to get any answers and will have to settle for “indifference”. I have no one to forgive or get mad at. And of the 4 family members I have nothing to bitch about as I was affected only a very small fraction of what they 3 were. Forgiving my father and mother on what they did to my sister is a moot point. But I was able to gather some solitude by your final words in the article… “Forgiving my parents was one product of my healing, not the means to it.” I have chosen this to be path and I thank you for that.

    The best of luck to you in the future,

  71. Reading your blog was timely for me. My abuse stopped when I was 16 because I blew the whistle on my father. At that time my grandmother helped me, she put her foot down and made it stop.

    My mother told me I had permission to smoke and that my father would never touch me again.As you all know, this type of abuse is difficult to come to grips with.

    I’ve confronted my father, who now says it never happened.

    I don’t have a relationship with him, he cares only for himself and his new wife, Sybil (good name huh).

    I have forgiven the human being but never the act. I forgive my mother for not standing up for me. This does not obsolve them from their sins. I have little to do with my father and my mother died. She was easier to forgive, this sounds terrible but I think I will be able to deal with the abuse a little better when my father dies.
    Thanks for the ability to vent, it helps lessen the sting of this awful abuse.

  72. Jean,
    I can understand thinking that it will be easier to deal with the abuse after your father dies. I’ve been sorting out my feelings about that this past year. I’m still sorting it all out. My daughter and I wrote a blog post together about the death of an abuser in our family: When An Abuser Dies

    Thanks for sharing! I’m glad you feel free to vent here.


  73. I asked one of my support people if I needed to Forgive my abuser and my support person said no I didnt have to

  74. I really was encouraged to read some of these comments. I always feel so silenced because my three older brothers are the ones who abused me. If I talk about it it’s like I’m tearing apart my family. And I haven’t been able to tell the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. So I feel like by forgiving I’m sweeping it under the rug even more than it already is. It sucks :/

  75. I’m tired of seeing forgiveness pushed as a cure-all for victims. It re-victimized me, because everyone told me what a bad person I was for not forgiving. In my case, forgiveness was toxic. My family believes forgiveness means you “put it behind you” and never bring the abuse up again. If you do, that means you didn’t really forgive, and you’re holding a grudge. Continuing with therapy means you didn’t forgive, too – why do you need it if everything is fine?

    This gives the abuser a free pass, and the other relatives are spared embarrassment of other people knowing you were abused. The secret is kept. That’s a tool to keep me quiet, not help me heal.

    I don’t think a person “has” to forgive in order to heal. I simply cut that person out of my life for good.

  76. I am in my 60’s now. I’ve spent much money, hours, effort and pain in finding peace for myself with this issue. I’ve decided to forgive the sick human beings (my parents) but will never forgive what they did. This frees me to maintain my dignity and release pain. My mother died years ago, I found out she too was sexually abused as a teenager. Whatever her reason for turning the other way, doesn’t matter, I would never tolerate my husband abusing my children no matter what.

    My father (the abuser) is still alive. I have confronted him many times in many different ways. I felt great to stand up for myself. I also let all family members know what he did. That had an interesting effect on some of them. They would not touch me, they blamed me (victim blaming is very common). But I continued to hold my head high. It’s his shame not mine, I’m left with finding my way to peace.

    I am left with an eating disorder that I’ve battled most of my life. I work on this best I can, but I have to give myself credit, I am a very strong woman and did not let his actions keep me to the depths of hell. I have had victory over his sickness. He is now Mr. Religion, I find this interesting he can ask G-d for forgiveness but not make amends to his daughter. My sister calls it dad’s pop-tart religion, I tend to agree.

    I am also a recovering alcoholic of 30 years. In my sobriety, I’ve found a way to make my experience useful, I go into a women’s prison and I talk about the sexual abuse, knowing that there are many in the room dealing with the same issue. I hope that they can see in me the ability to have victory over what was done to them. I understand that approximately 85% of those women experienced some kind of sexual abuse.

    There is no cure for this, but there is peace!

    All the best,

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