Question of the Week: Forgiveness?

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Registered: 05-14-2003
Question of the Week: Forgiveness?
Mon, 07-14-2003 - 2:49am
Okay, stay with me here. This is a subject that gets me hot under the collar faster than anything. I hate it when I hear people (who usually haven't been through anything like this) preach about forgiveness like it's something that you just decide to do, and that it's the first step in the healing process. Talks or lessons in church on this drive me up the wall because they're so simplistic.

I am just finishing a book called "Toxic Parents" and the chapter on forgiveness in this book makes more sense than anything else I have ever read or heard on the subject. I will do a post to this thread telling about what the author says when I answer this question.

Please don't think that by asking this I'm telling anyone that they have to say it's okay that their abuse was done to them. I firmly believe that the blame and responsibility for what happened belongs squarely on the shoulders of the abuser(s).

My question is, what role do you believe forgiveness plays in healing from sexual abuse? Feel free to express your feelings on the subject, and you don't have to be nice about it! If you feel outraged or angry at the concept of forgiveness, let it rip! This is a tough subject for me. I'll probably post about what I read tomorrow.

Hugs to all, Heidi


co-cl, Sexual Abuse Healing Board

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 07-14-2003 - 11:07pm

I don't think its important in my recovery. Of course, I'm not finished treatment, so who knows what will happen. Luckily for me, my T doesn't push anything == esp. not this.

What would add to this question, IMO, is -- what if the abuser came asking for forgiveness on their own? Would that change the way you feel about the abuse itself? the abuser? About forgiving?

Mine said it was no big deal (told this to his current wife, who relayed it to my sister) -- it was 'only fondling'. So I know that he'd never ask me for forgiveness. The fact that he didn't flat out deny it happening was a small, minor victory for me.

Hugz to you my dear!!!



iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Mon, 07-14-2003 - 11:14pm
Interestingly enough, my one thought a day tear off calendar at work's thought for today was on forgiveness. I wish I had brought it home, because it has me thinking also.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender, but with letting go of the hurt and pain the offense and offender has caused. Or that's the gist of it anyways. That's kind of what I want to do, to let go of the pain. I can't change what he/they did. I can use that to be a better parent/grandparent/person. What happened is never going to be okay.

So, I guess it depends on how one defines "forgiveness".

Avatar for osyth33
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Registered: 03-25-2003
Mon, 07-14-2003 - 11:43pm
This is timely for me. I am an Orthodox Christian and have a monastic spiritual mother who is, in effect, my "therapist". A couple of weeks ago, she asked me to think about and tell her what I think it means to be HEALED from SA. It's a tough question, one that I think relates deeply to forgiveness.

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness. I even mentioned to a priest friend of mine that I still feel angry about what happened to me and so I said "I think that means I haven't forgiven my grandfather", thinking that would be something appalling to him. Instead, he said "the fact that you have any emotional response to the abuse shows that you haven't yet forgiven him". BUT, he explained that forgiveness isn't something we can just say we do once and forget about it. It is a process and he recommended that I simply begin by praying for my grandfather. Even a very short prayer - "Lord God, have mercy on your servant Earl" and even one not founded in any sort of good feeling. All that might be too mystical for some, but it is important to me in my own spiritual journey and attempt to heal. I think it's important to remember that not all Christian churches have a confused idea of what it means to forgive. It doesn't mean to forget or to excuse.

In terms of blame, I have spent a lot of time over the years attempting to shift the blame for what happened off myself and onto my grandfather in order to assuage the feelings of worthlessness (which are, after all, self-blame). But, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about it and something he said made me realize that there actually doesn't have to BE any blame. My grandfather and I were caught up in the general sinfulness of the world. My grandfather bears great responsibility for his actions before God, but that is between he and God. I was a child - I bear no responsibility. Neither of us are to blame. The evil one is to blame, if anyone.

So, in a nutshell, there's my very theologically based take on forgiveness and blame. Hope I haven't offended anyone.


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Registered: 05-14-2003
Tue, 07-15-2003 - 1:18am
Okay, here is what the book Toxic Parents says about forgiveness and healing. Some of this may feel contrary to what most people's perception of forgiveness is. Some may disagree, and that's okay. This provided me with more relief than I have experienced in a long time. She addresses the exact things that have tripped me up in this area. This book specifically addresses abuse from parents, but I believe this can apply when the abuser is a non-family member also. Also, although this book doesn't zoom in solely on sexual abuse, it is addressed very extensively. When you read, you can substitute "abuser" for "toxic parent."

"At this point, you may be asking yourself, 'Isn't the first step to forgive my parents?' My answer is *no*. This may shock, anger, dismay, or confuse many. Most of us have been led to believe exactly the opposite00that forgiveness is the first step toward healing.

In fact, it is not necessary to forgive your parents in order to feel better about yourself and to change your life. . .this flies in the face of some of our most cherished religious, spiritual, philosophical, and psychological principles. . .there are many experts in the various helping professions who sincerely believe that forgiveness is not only the *first* step but often the *only* step necessary for inner peace. I disagree completely."

She goes on to say that early in her profession she believed strongly that forgiving people who had injured you, especially parents was an important part of the healing process. She would encourage clients who had been severely mistreated to forgive cruel or abusive parents. In addition, some of her new clients would come in already feeling that they had forgiven. Over time she saw that more often than not, they didn't feel any better for having forgiven. They still felt bad about themselves, still had their symptoms that they came in for in the first place, and often felt more inadequate. They'd beat themselves up, saying that they hadn't forgiven enough. She recognized two different facets to forgiveness: 1. Giving up the need for revenge, and 2. Absolving the guilty party of responsibility. She says that without a doubt people need to learn to let go of the need for revenge, because of the way revenge bogs a person down in obsessive fantasies of giving even and keeps stirring up the emotional chaos that exists between the person and their parents.

The second part is not so clear-cut. There is something wrong with absolving someone unquestioningly of their responsibility, especially when he or she has severely mistreated an innocent child. Things like being battered, raped, terrorized, etc. In families like this, often saying "I forgive you" means "if I forgive you, then we can pretend that what happened wasn't so terrible." That becomes a form of denial, and prevents victims from getting on with their lives and taking control. In these kinds of instances, victims are unable to let go of pent-up emotions that have never been allowed to be expressed. If you've already said "I forgive you," then how can you acknowledge your anger? She says responsibility can only go two places: "outward, onto the people who have hurt you, or inward, into yourself. Someone's got to be responsible. So you may forgive your parents but end up hating yourself all the more in exchange."

She also has noticed that some people in therapy try to rush right to forgiveness to avoid the painful aspects of therapy, thinking it was a shortcut to getting better. Initially they would feel a rush of well-being, thinking that everything was now going to be fine, with lots of love and hugs and everybody would be happy. This feeling didn't last because nothing had really changed in the way they felt or in their family interactions. The same old things would occur over and over again.

She concludes by saying that "people *can* forgive toxic parents, but they should do it at the conclusion--not at the beginning--of their emotional housecleaning. People NEED to get angry about what happened to them. They need to grieve over the fact that they never had the parental love they yearned for. Too often, 'forgive and forget' mean 'pretend that it didn't happen.'"

She also believes that forgiveness is appropriate "only when parents do something to earn it. She has seen emotional and mental peace come as a result of releasing yourself from your toxic parents' control, without necessarily having to forgive them. That release can come only after you've worked through your intense feelings or outrage and grief and after you've put the responsibility on *their* shoulders, where it belongs."

The author of this book is Susan Forward.

I think it's so important that we allow ourselves to put the blame where it belongs. It doesn't belong on our shoulders, where our abusers placed it. And we don't have to get to the point to where we feel loving feelings towards them. I can let go of the need for retaliation in time, but I cannot do the forgive and forget thing. In this section of the book she gives a specific example of a client who was a Born Again christian and because she was so big on saying she had forgiven she wouldn't allow her anger to surface. She started getting angry FOR other people in the support group, and in time finally released hers. She commented afterward, because she felt so much better, that maybe God wanted her to get better more than he wanted her to forgive.

I couldn't wait to share this because it made me look at forgiveness in a way I hadn't before, and took a load off of my shoulders. I hope this is helpful to others here.

Hugs, Heidi


co-cl, Sexual Abuse Healing Board

Avatar for opal45
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-15-2003
Tue, 07-15-2003 - 9:24am
Hi Heidi,

This is obviously a very personal question. For me, forgiveness has changed over the years.

I, too, was one of those people who looked to spirtuality to ease my pain. Your book describes my experience completely. As I thought I had achieved a higher level by forgiving through spirituality, I had really just found a new way of stuffing my feelings. It had a more refined and pious look to it but it was stuffing nonetheless. This actually made therapy very difficult in the beginning. It was hard for me to release those feelings b/c my faith had become so ingrained on forgiveness. But no denying it, I had feelings in there, big feelings, that begged for release.

I truly believe that God wants me to be happy right now. And I believe that's why he has given me this path to follow. I'm with the right therapist and I'm blessed to know a woman who has been down this path as well (her name is Pam). Pam actually runs the self esteem workshop/clinic that I've discussed here in the past. She's also an ordained minister now. One particular weekend retreat we were working on a forgiveness exercise. I froze b/c by that time I had fought long and hard to break free of the forgiveness I had done during my spirituality gig that held me locked by my own feelings. I knew it was vital for me to allow those deep emotions to have a voice if I was ever to find my peace. Pam was also aware of where I had been and how much I struggled with this exercise. She assured me that this would actually help me reach those buried feelings, not bury them deeper. Okay, reluctantly I was game. The exercise was to forgive the abuser for not being the person you expected them to be. For me, that meant saying "I forgive you Karl for not being the step-grandfather I expected you to be. I set you free and I set myself free." (some of you may recognize this from Louise Hayes) The key to it is the word "expected". As I became able to really do this, I noticed a shift. A lot of my pain came from sheer disbelief that my step-grandfather would do this to me. I couldn't make the abuse fit b/c I was so unable to let go of my expectation of how it should have been. Once I started to let go of my expectations, I found myself seeing my abuse much more clearly. I did NOT forgive him for his actions. I forgave him for not being the step-grandfather I needed. Does this make sense? Maybe not. I don't think I would have bought it either if I didn't experience it myself.

Anyway, that's how forgiveness of my abusers fits for me. As for forgiving myself, well, that has come through the tons of inner child work I've been doing. There is no forgiving necessary anymore. As my vision of the abuse becomes clearer, my innocense begins to shine.

Okay, that's my two cents.

Edited 7/15/2003 9:27:20 AM ET by opal45

**gentle hugs**

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-21-2003
Tue, 07-15-2003 - 11:26am
I think memedeb expressed the way I feel about forgiveness. For me, it has nothing to do with my abuser. It just means that I have let go of the anger that was living in me. I used to walk around playing old tapes in my head every single day--replaying things that were said and done over and over and over. I don't do that anymore. PHEW! What a relief to let that go. I'm not even sure when that happened, but I'm glad it did.

I think that cutting off contact with my abusive family has helped me get to this place. If my family were some *other* family and would be honest about what happened, would care about the effects the abuse had on me and my sister, and would apologize, then forgiveness for me would take a more traditional form. But that has not happened, and although I don't have a crystal ball I think I can safely say it will NEVER happen (lol), so for me, forgiveness means letting go of past anger and future expectations. I expect nothing from my abusive family, so they can no longer disappoint me, and therefore I no longer will be angry and resentful because of my disappointment.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-14-2003
Tue, 07-15-2003 - 7:41pm
Forgiveness, I don't know if I have it in me to forgive. There are alot of people that I would have to forgive. Maybe too many. My religious teachings tell me that I should forgive, and that I won't be truly happy until I do. I guess I won't ever be truly happy.

Regret, Forgive, Forget

Like the owl, it's sometimes wise

to look at things with two blind eyes.

Though it may be plain as day---

you often find that it will pay---

not to see and not to hear---

what to others may be clear...

If you cannot ease or mend---

it is wiser to pretend.

You're not always in the right,

Nor can you always trust your sight.

This is wisdom.

Learn to know---

when to come and when to go.

When to say what's on your mind---

and when to be both deaf and blind---

Trying not to criticize---

but to turn unseeing eyes---

on what other people do,

when it hurts or angers you...

When there's animosity---

it's sometimes better not to see---

then there's nothing to regret---

to forgive or to forget.

That about sums it up for me.