1. You donât have to forgive anybody. This idea that you must forgive the person who sexually abused you is the worst kind of vapid nonsense. You can forgive your abuser, if and when you want to. Youâre also perfectly free to never forgive your abuser. The former is not necessarily betterâitâs not necessarily any more moralâthan the latter. Whatâs most moral is whatever works best for you. Youâre the one who got hurt. You get to decide what your attitude is toward the person who hurt you, and no one but you (and especially not anyone whose opinion about it you havenât asked) should have jack to say about it. If you ever feel like forgiving your abuser (whatever âforgivingâ in this context actually meansâand the people who use that infernally vague word in this context invariably have little if any idea what the heck they actually mean by it: usually they just like the Oprahesque way it sounds), youâll know you feel that way. Until/if you do feel that way, everyone else can just wait on the party to which no oneâs invited them anyway.
Remember: anyoneâbe they family, friend, sibling, pastor, therapist â¦ anyoneâwho in even the slightest way pressures you to forgive your abuser before youâre good and ready to do that, is at best tragically ignorant, and at worst harboring their own terrible reason for desiring that your pain vaporize away into a warmly glowing mist of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows. They want that to happen for their sake. For your sake, ignore them. Youâve got reality to deal with. And reality actually dealt with beats fantasy every time.
2. Forgiveness isnât one-size-fits-all. We can only forgive for something done against us; forgiveness has no meaning outside the context of a specific offense. And offenses very definitely come in degrees. Cutting you off in traffic is one kind of offense; raping you is an entirely different order of transgression. Never allow yourself to be cajoled into feeling guilty or spiritually inadequate by the treacle that healing and forgiving are inseparable. Saying that you canât be healed unless youâve forgiven your abuser is like saying that a cut canât be healed as long as visible scar tissue remains. And insisting that an abused person âforgiveâ their abuser before they are fully healed from that abuse is like insisting that a person skip rope before their broken leg is fully mended. It can only make things worse.
Healing-wise, what the abuse victim can do is reach a point where they fully understand what happened to them; a point, that is, where their negative feelings about their abuser are neutralized by their comprehension and appreciation of how and why their abuser was rendered so dysfunctional that ultimately they were compelled to commit the crime they did. And for the victim that understanding renders essentially superfluous the whole idea of them forgiving their abuser; then âforgivingâ has no applicable or relevant context. For them, then, what happened simply happened. Itâs over.
3. Abusers of children depend upon the complicity-induced guilt of their victims. Sex abusers of children are evil. And if thereâs one thing evil understands, itâs what its most effective weapons are. And when it comes to keeping his victims emotionally weak and suitably complicit, the child abuser knows that his chief weapon is the guilt that his sexual actions generate in his victims.
Children yearn to please (for the sake of this conversation) their fathers. They want their fathers to love them. They innately trust their fathers. A sexually abused child doesnât at first know that theyâre being sexually abused; all they know is that their father is paying special and even loving attention to them. And as confused in the moment as the child is about what their father is doing to them, part of what breaks through to the childâs consciousness is that, on a strictly physical level, some of it feels pretty good. And the moment avidly awaited by any child abuser is the moment in which the child he is molesting feels any physical pleasure at all. Because he knows that the second the child so much as responsively squirms, or in any way moves to encourage his touch, he has created in that child the victim that he is after. He knows that from that moment on the child can never, and especially not to herself, claim that she didnât like it. That she didnât want it. That she didnât encourage it. Now, inevitably, and in very short order, she will come to think of herself exactly as he wants her to: as a worthless slut good for nothing but providing him sexual pleasure. And, just like that, heâs got her. Because now she wonât tell anyone whatâs happening between the two of them, because now sheâs certain to be too ashamed to. Because now, in her heart of hearts, she believes that itâs her fault.
The abuser got the physical response that he knew perfectly well he would; and that inevitable response automatically becomes the perfect, self-obliterating weapon that his victim will never have any choice but to continuously turn upon herself. And, just like that, heâs secured for himself a quiet, pliant toy that he is free to abuse at will.
The real crime of sexual abuse isnât physical; itâs psychological, emotional, spiritual. You make someone despise who they are sexuallyâwhich is at the very core of the identity of all of usâand youâve created damage that easily lasts for generations.
If you yourself have been the unhappy recipient of such a tragic legacy, the last thing on earth you need to worry about is forgiving your abuser. For now, you have no obligation but to keep on telling yourself Godâs greatest truth, which is that you are absolutely not the wickedly depraved person whom your abuser methodically and carefully tricked you into believing you are. Your innocence was unnaturally destroyed, and you were left to build your identity and life upon the dreary remains of that destruction. Thatâs bad luck for you, for sure. But what happened to you is not your fault. Itâs his, and his alone. And you do not have to spend the rest of your life dwelling like a criminal in the dark, dank hovel to which your abuser condemned you, and within which he depended upon you remaining. No. The light outside is calling you. And you are free to step out into it, the same as anyone else.
4. Asking for forgiveness doesnât mean deserving it. The fact that a person asks you to forgive them in no way obliges you to extend to them your forgiveness. If your abuser tells you that he feels bad about what he did to you, then: A) Whoopee for him; and B) Thatâs not your problem. Itâs not your job to make better the life of the person who made your life hell. If your abuser feels bad about abusing you, then let him go off somewhere by himself and feel as bad about that as, God knows, he should. If by some miracle he has come to feel remorse equal to his offense, then let him do his level best to prove that to you in whatever ways he thinks might. One of the first ways he can do that is by immediately making clear to you two things: that he doesnât expect you to forgive him, and that he will absolutely honor your desire, should you express it, to completely remove himself from your life.
Never forget that abusers are typically superb at expressing sincere remorse for their actions and great affection for their victims. The reason they are so adept at this is because theyâve been practicing it for most of their lives.
5. Forgiving your abuser does not necessitate letting them back into your life. Forgiving your abuser does not, in any way whatsoever, oblige you to have, or continue having, a relationship with them. Period. Forgiving a snake for biting me doesnât mean I have to again pick up that snake.
6. Forgiveness isnât a constant state. Being sexually abused means being wounded at every level of your being. That means that sometimes you will in fact feel healedâwhich is likely to then bring washing over you great waves of forgiveness and even compassion for your abuser. But laterâcould be a day, week, or years laterâyou may find a wave of an altogether different sort pulling you back out to sea, where you will again find yourself cold, lost, and feeling as if youâre sinking. That whole back-and-forth dynamic is just part of the healing process. Victims of abuse commonly enough get trapped into believing that because they felt healed and benevolent on Tuesday, thereâs something wrong with them if on Friday theyâre back to feeling wounded and bitter. But thereâs nothing at all wrong or strange about that phenomenon. Again, itâs just part of the process. Understanding, accepting, and even anticipating that kind of fluctuation in your feelings can leave you, even on your worst days, so close to the shore that you can actually relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the swim back in.
If you were sexually abused, I cannot urge you strongly enough to buy, along with its workbook, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition