Archive for November 8th, 2007

Pink Buds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Most adult survivors of childhood abuse wrestle with issues surrounding forgiveness. The abuses suffered by many abuse survivors are unforgivable acts, and yet most religions strongly encourage people to forgive one another for their “trespasses.” How can an adult survivor of childhood abuse resolve her issues surrounding forgiveness? Must she choose between justice and her faith?

It has taken me years to come to terms with issues surrounding forgiveness. The abuses that I suffered as a child ran much deeper than a simple grudge over a property dispute. It has taken me years to overcome the severe damage that my abusers inflicted upon my body, soul, and spirit. I was unable to forgive them until I worked through many other issues, including honoring my emotions associated with all that I had endured.

I define forgiveness much differently than society does. Society uses pat sayings like “forgive and forget” that are simply not possible. How can I possibly “forget” being severely traumatized? The trauma happened, and it cannot be undone. Society also equates forgiveness with reconciliation, which takes away the abuse survivor’s power because she needs the abuser to take action toward reconciliation, and many abusers have no interest in doing so. I have found that reconciliation is not necessary in order to forgive because forgiveness is a gift that I give myself and has nothing to do with the other person.

Forgiveness is a choice rather than a moment. It is a series of choices to stop nursing your bitterness toward your abuser and, instead, use the freed up energy toward healing yourself. You need do nothing externally for this to happen, and you certainly do not have to have contact with your abuser to accomplish this.

Each time you focus on your bitterness toward your abuser, no matter how legitimate your grievance is, you are choosing to keep yourself “wed” to your abuser. You continue to think about him, and you feed the negativity inside of yourself. When you do this, you continue to give your abuser power over your life. You also choose to continue hurting yourself because it is you, rather than your abuser, who suffers from the bitterness you are nursing.

When you choose to stop nursing the bitterness, you stop putting energy into your “relationship” with your abuser. You stop thinking about your abuser, and you free up that energy toward healing yourself. In time, you will find yourself becoming indifferent toward your abuser.

While hatred and love are polar opposites, they both involve investing energy into another person. The true opposite of love is indifference because you stop thinking about the other person altogether.

I do not like to use the term “forgiveness” because of all of the associations that society places on this term. Instead, I like to call this process “letting go.” By letting go of the bitterness, I was able to heal myself. My abusers’ lives were not affected as I moved from hating them to letting go, but the healing I experienced in letting go of the bitterness was immense. Letting go was a gift that I gave to myself, and I needed nobody else to take action for me to make that choice.

I suffered enough as a child. Through letting go, I ended my suffering for good. I took back my power by choosing to let go of the past and focus on my present.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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