Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

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As I shared previously, I am working through a Bible study right now written by Beth Moore called Breaking Free. Two days of the study during Week 5 are devoted to healing from child victimization. Because I have many readers who are Christians, I thought I would share some of Beth Moore’s insights on forgiveness from a (helpful) Christian perspective.

Beth Moore does not share the details of her child victimization publically, but she has shared that, by the time she first learned what a virgin was, she was ashamed to know that she was not one. She has also shared that the person who raped her was a male authority figure who should have protected her, not harmed her. While I do not agree with everything that worked for her, I think most of what she wrote was helpful. This is definitely the best Christian writing I have seen for addressing healing from child abuse.

Of course, Beth Moore addresses the topic of forgiveness, which is a very touchy subject among child abuse survivors. I really liked what she had to say about it:

Forgiving my perpetrator didn’t mean suddenly shrugging my shoulders, muttering, “OK, I forgive,” and going on as if those things didn’t happen. They did happen. And they took a terrible toll on my life. Forgiveness involved my handing over to God the responsibility for justice. The longer I held on to it, the more bondage strangled the life out of me. God saw every bit of it, and He can far better represent me and uphold my cause. Forgiveness meant my deferring the cause to Christ and deciding to be free from the ongoing burden of bitterness and blame. ~ p. 112

While I would word my perspective on forgiveness differently, I think we are pretty much saying the same thing. Forgiveness has nothing to do with “forgetting” or letting my abuser off the hook. Instead, it is about choosing to stop nursing the bitterness as a gift to myself. By making this choice, I stopped thinking about my abusers so much and also stopped making them a central focus of my life. I was able to use that freed up energy to focus on my own healing and my own life.

She says that the “memories are still painful to me at times, but they no longer have power over me” (p. 112). This has been my experience as well. While I still have the memories of all of the abuse and can now access them at will, they don’t rock me in the way that they once did. They are a fact of my history, but they are not who I am.

Like many of you, I have also heard many unhelpful things about forgiveness from Christians, including from the pulpit. It is refreshing to hear a more realistic view from a prominent Christian teacher who has actually lived through child abuse and can speak from her own personal experience.

Beth Moore also equates the battle of healing from childhood abuse to the battle that David experienced when battling Goliath. She does not minimize the devastation of child abuse at all, which is also very refreshing to read.

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On my blog entry entitled In the Spotlight: Nancy Richard’s Heal and Forgive Blog, a reader posted the following comment:

How about forgiving yourself:

Forgive yourself for being young, vulnerable, unable to live up to the impossible standards your abusers placed on you. Forgive yourself for being needy, forgive yourself for having your own thoughts and opinions, forgive yourself for being alive…

I know for myself, and I think for many other survivors, the main blame is placed on our own self.

So my goal in recovery has been to forgive myself. To give myself grace. To accept all of my selves, accept that I am human, and make mistakes and to cherish myself regardless. I think for me, that has been a huge key to my recovery… to standing up for myself, to feeling that I deserve life.

Forgiving myself is much more important than forgiving them. I don’t see them seeking forgiveness, but I do see myself needing that validation. ~ Cera

I think there is so much wisdom in the comment. I abridged it for sake of space, but you can read the entire comment here.

I agree that forgiving myself has been one of the most difficult parts of my healing journey. I find myself having to forgive myself for things that I would never expect of another person. I have to forgive myself for being human … for having needs … for not being perfect . I don’t begrudge my eight-year-old child for needing his mother, but I begrudge myself for having needs that went unmet when I was eight (and much younger).

I see my eight-year-old child as an innocent little kid. I view myself at eight as being an adult and beat myself up for not making adult choices at that age. I have a very hard time reconciling what an eight year old is like with what I expected of myself at age eight.

When my son makes mistakes, I see it as a learning experience. When he does something the wrong way, he learns why it was wrong and then makes a better choice the next time. When I make a mistake, I believe I don’t even deserve to live. I am a stupid, worthless person who should feel grateful that anyone even endures my presence on this earth. There is such a disconnect between how I feel toward my son and how I feel toward myself. Part of that is the distortion from my abusers, and part of that is a lack of self-love.

I will do just about anything for my child, but I deprive myself of the simple pleasures of life. I want my child to embrace life fully, but I fill my own life up with duties and responsibilities so there is no room or time for joy. In many ways, I am continuing to “punish” myself for being me. I think that forgiving myself is the way out of this cycle.

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On my blog entry Struggle between Religion and Healing from Child Abuse, a fellow child abuse survivor blogger named Nancy Richards posted an insightful comment. I checked out her blog, and I was impressed. So, I thought I would put her blog in the spotlight today.

Nancy’s blog is called Heal and Forgive. Her tag line is “Issues surrounding adult survivors of childhood abuse, family estrangement, forgiveness, and reconciliation.” Considering that the issues of forgiveness and family estrangement are such a difficult topic for child abuse survivors, I thought you might want to know that her blog exists.

I really like what she has posted on the side of her blog. I think this is quite insightful and healing, particularly for those of you who wrestle with being true to healing yourself while, at the same time, true to your faith:

For decades, I heard from friends, relatives, therapists, and fellow Christians, that I needed to forgive my abusers in order to heal. This advice – and the attempts I made to forgive before I’d learned to exercise personal boundaries – left me open to further injury and damaged me deeply.

When I finally mustered the courage to buck societal expectations; not to forgive; and to put my own healing and well-being first, I achieved a level of healing that I never thought was possible. My period of Not forgiving created the space necessary to achieve the greatest emotional growth of my life. Wow!

The unintentional by-product of this healing, was – ironically – forgiveness.

At that time, I realized that the old adage, “Forgive and Heal,” was backwards. For me, it was “Heal and Forgive!”

If I only knew *then* that adequate healing had to come first, it would have saved me a great deal of time and pain. So, now I shout it from the roof tops “Heal, THEN Forgive!” ~ Nancy Richards from Heal and Forgive

I have found this dynamic to be true in many areas of my life. People will tell me that I need to do X to get to Y, but really I need to do Y in order to get to X. For example, my marriage improved when I was willing to leave it. Until then, I was a doormat because, no matter what happened, I was willing to stay. Once I was willing to go, things changed, making me want to stay.

That ties into what Nancy says on her blog. How can I possibly consider forgiving when I am in deep pain and unable to protect myself? However, after I am no longer in constant pain, it frees me to recognize that my abusers did not break me, which makes the thought of forgiveness a little more palatable.

I still cannot say that I have the forgiveness stuff all figured out. As I have shared before, I consider forgiveness to mean choosing to stop nursing the bitterness and, instead, use that freed up energy to help heal myself. Others tell me that forgiveness can run deeper, but I am not there. Will I ever be there? I don’t know.

So, if you are interested in reading another perspective on healing and forgiveness from someone who is farther along that process than I am, check out Nancy’s blog. I particularly recommend her blog for those of you who are Christians and wrestle with how to stay true to your faith and the wounded child inside at the same time.

Books by Nancy Richards:

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

The book The Shack hits upon a hot-button topic for child abuse survivors: forgiveness. I have mixed reviews to offer about the way this book handles forgiveness. I was quite displeased with the sudden forgiveness of and reconciliation with the abusive father. However, the matter involving forgiving the man who murdered Mack’s daughter was much more realistic.

I do not completely agree with the author’s views on forgiveness, but I really did like this part:

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love full and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don’t you want to cut that off? ~ The Shack page 227

I have been saying for years that forgiveness has nothing to do with reconciliation. It also has nothing to do with “forgetting” about the offense. Instead, forgiveness is an internal choice that I made within myself to stop “feeding” energy into hatred toward my abusers. By choosing to stop nursing the bitterness and, instead, use the energy to heal myself, I cut the bond between us.

The day I chose to begin forgiving my mother/abuser (forgiveness is a process, not a “moment”), my life stopped being about her. Up until that point, I aimed so much mental energy toward hating her. My life was consumed by hating her. I thought about her a lot (how much I hated her), and I limited the degree to which I could connect with other people. There was no room left for investing in loving others because so much of myself was consumed by hating her.

I did not want to stop hating her because she deserved my hatred. However, it hit me that I was the only one suffering, not her. My hatred was all inside of myself. So, when I chose to stop nursing my bitterness toward her, it really made little difference in her life, but it made all of the difference in the world in mine.

I don’t really like the term “forgiveness” because society has tacked on many things that it does not include, such as forgetting about the offense and reconciling with the offender. I like the term “letting go” better because that better captures what was involved in my choice to forgive.

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On my blog entry Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

What are the steps or rather the things you can do to stop thinking about what s happened to you, to stop nursing your hurt. You Im allowing time to help me with this as it does dissapate. However, the hurt will always remain. There will be times when it resurfaces. I know I do need to let go, but if I have a list in front of me if the things I can do, I can really visually, verbally, and kinesthetically do this..

Here is my own “how to” list for how to forgive an abuser.

1. Decide that you are ready to put healing yourself above holding onto your pain.

While it might seem obvious that someone would choose healing over pain, it really is not that simple. When you choose to forgive, a part of yourself will scream, “But s/he deserves my hatred. S/He does not deserve to be forgiven.”

It is true that your abuser does not deserve forgiveness. However, you deserve to live a life free from the pain of the abuse. You also deserve to live a life that is no longer “tied” to your abuser. Until you decide to place healing yourself over holding onto your anger, you will not be ready to begin the process of forgiveness.

2. Stop thinking about your abuser.

I did not realize how frequently I thought about my mother/abuser until I chose to work on forgiving her. I thought about her all the time, and I would get angry. I was “wed” to my abuser because she filled my thoughts.

You choose what you think about in your own head, so you have the power to stop thinking about your abuser. It will be a challenge at first, but with practice, you will learn how to stop.

I did this by choosing to think about other things. Whenever my mother/abuser would pop into my head, I would consciously choose not to dwell on the thought. Instead, I would put on my favorite CD, call a friend, or think about something that made me happy. As I channeled my mental energy toward things that made me feel good about myself, I stopped thinking about my abusers as frequently.

3. Process your anger.

Until you process your anger, you will be unable to stop thinking about your abuser. Do something physical to release your anger once and for all. Here are some things that have for worked for other abuser survivors:

  • Beat the ground with a baseball bat.
  • Punch pillows.
  • Take a kickboxing class.
  • Throw things at the wall that won’t damage it.
  • Visualize beating up your abuser.
  • Write your abuser’s name on red balloons and pop them.

You can come up with your own way to process your anger. Doing something physical works best for most people. Make sure you “see” your abuser’s face as you process your anger.

4. Honor your other emotions.

As you experience grief, terror, or other emotions, honor them. Comfort yourself as you would a hurting child. I found a picture of myself as a little girl and would use it to see the wounded little girl inside. I did lots of visualizations of the adult me comforting the child me.

5. Focus on healing yourself.

As you work through the first four steps, you will find yourself freeing up a lot of energy. Use that energy to heal yourself. Do things that are good for you, like exercising or hanging out with friends. Make a conscious choice to spend your time, thoughts, and energy on things that make you feel good about yourself.

As you turn your focus away from the past and turn it onto who you are today, you will find yourself spending less time nursing the bitterness toward your abuser. As you do this, you will feel less “wed” to your abuser as you take charge of your own life.

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I received an email from a reader who asked me to talk more about “processing the forgiveness” part. I have written about forgiveness several times on this blog. However, I do not claim to have all of the answers.

I will share my own forgiveness process and then share what I have heard from others. I have not fully forgiven my mother, although I really am trying. However, I do know child abuse survivors who have completed the forgiveness process, and I will pass along what they have told me.

I used to hate my mother/abuser. I would nurse the bitterness, and I would be so frustrated that she continued to have the power to hurt me. It simply was not fair.

I was listening to a talk radio show, and somebody called in with a similar issue. The host said that the way to get out of this dynamic is to forgive. I about choked at that advice because my mother did not deserve forgiveness. However, after really thinking about it, I decided that I deserved to be free from the pain, so I began the process of forgiving her.

For me, forgiveness has meant choosing to stop thinking about my mother/abuser and, instead, use that energy to heal myself. I made a conscious choice to stop nursing the bitterness. Whenever my mother/abuser would pop into my head, I would choose to think about something else. Gradually, as I stopped putting energy into hating my mother/abuser, I began to release the bitterness.

The next step was to heal myself. Part of healing myself involved expressing my anger toward my mother/abuser. This was very different from nursing the bitterness. Instead of pouring more energy into myself through hating her, I was pouring energy out of myself by giving my anger somewhere to go. I did not need to interact with my mother to express my anger. I managed this by punching pillows and doing other physical things to process my anger.

Since then, I have moved into a place of indifference toward my mother/abuser. I really do not care if she lives or dies. (However, I will admit that I get an involuntary smile on my face when I think about her dying). I put no energy into her at all. I rarely think about her, and, when I do, I just let the thought pass on through.

So, this is where I stand now as far as forgiving my mother/abuser.

I have friends who have moved past this stage of indifference. They tell me that the next step is to grow compassion for your abuser. You see the weakness in the abuser, and you feel compassion for all of the hurt that s/he has suffered. You want to reach out yourself to heal your abuser’s wounds.

Personally, I do not know if I will ever reach that place. I cannot fathom wanting to spend one more second of my life around my mother/abuser. However, these abuse survivors were once in the place where I am, and that is where they have gone. I just need to trust that my intuition will lead me where I need to go if and when the time comes.

Related Topic:

How to Forgive an Abuser After Child Abuse

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtI have written a few times about forgiveness after child abuse. Forgiveness is such a huge stumbling block for many adult survivors of child abuse. I have heard many say that if forgiveness is required in order to heal from child abuse, then they will never fully heal.

I first approached the idea of forgiveness before I faced the extent of my child abuse history. I hated my mother/abuser throughout my life, and I thought it all stemmed from certain emotional abuses that I have always remembered. I was angry about the fact that she continued to have the power to hurt me. I was listening to a talk radio show, and somebody called in about a similar issue. The radio personality said that forgiveness was the key to releasing my mother/abuser’s power over me.

I was floored and had the same reaction that most child abuse survivors do – She does not deserve forgiveness. However, I wanted relief from the ongoing emotional pain, so I read a book about forgiveness. I came to realize that, while she did not deserve forgiveness, I deserved healing. I chose myself over her. Also, I came to realize that, whether or not I forgave my mother, her life was pretty much the same. I was the only one who was suffering.

So, I chose to let go of the bitterness, which is how I have always defined forgiveness. I chose to stop nursing the bitterness, and I freed myself from her. The emotional abuse history lost its power and stopped hurting me.

I have applied this principle to my other abusers, first processing my anger toward them and then choosing to let go of putting energy into thinking about them. I have defined forgiveness as becoming indifferent toward them. However, some comments now have me questioning if this is forgiveness or something else.

I have a friend who has forgiven her father for his sexual abuse. She went through the same place where I am now for a very long time. However, as she continued to heal, she grew compassion for him, and he is now in her life again. She says that forgiveness is about recognizing his limitations and wanting to love him through them. If that is forgiveness, then I am not there and probably never will be.

I also wrote an article on forgiveness for eHow.com. A reader over there says that I am only “pretending to be indifferent.” Seriously, I am not pretending anything. I really do not think about my mother that often, unless something forces me to think about her like having to provide her maiden name to get a credit card. But that is more of an annoyance, not a dwelling.

That reader says that forgiveness is really about finding compassion for the other person, which is the same thing that my friend says. And that seems to tie into forgiveness meaning understanding. If that is true, then I guess I have not forgiven my abusers. If I have not, then what have I done? It has brought me an enormous amount of relief and comfort. But what exactly is it?

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Bird flying in sky (c) Lynda BernhardtI am a big fan of the writings of Dr. Brian Weiss, who wrote the book Many Lives, Many Masters as well as several other books about past lives and how we are on this earth to learn life lessons. I have written about how embracing a belief in reincarnation has freed me to forgive my abusers (which I define as letting go of the bitterness).

I am currently reading another book by Dr. Weiss entitled Messages from the Masters. In that book, I found the following quote:

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It means understanding. – Dr. Brian Weiss

I thought that was pretty deep and would make a good blog topic.

To put the quote in context, he was talking about a psychiatrist who was a skeptic about near death experiences. The man was apparently condescending about a woman’s very powerful near death experience. Dr. Weiss called the man “arrogant,” but the woman said that his comments arose out of fear, not arrogance. By understanding where the man was coming from, she was able to forgive the comment.

Of course, as applied to child abuse, the transgression is much more severe than simply belittling another person’s experience. However, I do believe this same principle can be applied as well.

I have been doing this with my mother/abuser. I do not understand how she could have done the things she did to me or allowed other people to abuse me as well. However, I do understand that she was severely abused herself and that her sanity snapped, so she was weak. For whatever reason, she did not have the strength to overcome her own history of abuse and stand up to protect her children (both from herself and from others).

I also understand that my ritual abusers were weak people. They thought they would be “strong” by controlling my will, but they never controlled me. Yes, they harmed my body, but they did not have the power to turn me into one of them because I was stronger than they are. By understanding this dynamic, it changes my perception of those abusers from being monsters who I cannot slay to weak people who I have already beaten. This has been quite empowering for me.

This realization has also enabled me to feel safe in my life. I am not a walking victim who can be harmed again. Instead, I am a conqueror who has already faced the worse possible abuse imaginable that I will ever face. (It is no longer possible for me to be restrained and tortured by a bunch of people who are four times my size.) I need fear nothing that the future holds because I have already conquered the worst that could happen.

Even death has no power over me because I know that death is not the end. Whether I am here on this earth for another year or another three decades, I am learning and growing, and I am providing a healing balm to others. When that time ends, I know at a heart level that I will be okay.

Related Topic:

Pondering Forgiveness after Child Abuse

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Tree (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my post, Child Abuse: Severe Emotional Abuses I Suffered, a reader posted a question about whether my abusers are still “alive and well” but not incarcerated. As far as I know, none of them ever did any jail time for what they did to my sister and me. However, I have made peace with this, and I want to share how.

Those of you who were moved by my discussion of reincarnation will probably find this very useful. Those who think I am off my rocker for believing in reincarnation will likely find this post and my next one to be a little nutty.

A fundamental part of being a human being is needing justice. People who do good things are supposed to be rewarded, and those who do bad things are supposed to suffer. Unfortunately, the world is filled with examples of where this is not the case.

If I based my need for justice on this lifetime, then I would likely never move past my hatred toward my abusers. I define “forgiveness” as letting go of the bitterness. Without justice, I do not believe that I could accomplish this. However, my beliefs in karma and reincarnation have enabled me to accept that my abusers will pay for what they did to me, which has enabled me to let go of my bitterness.

I believe that, after we die, our spirits rest. Then, our spirits must experience how our actions in our last lifetime affected others. So, I believe that when each abuser dies, he will have to feel the same pain that I felt and know that he caused that pain. While in spiritual state, I believe that each abuser will feel an enormous amount of remorse for the pain he inflicted. In my next post, I will share how I came to this belief.

I do believe that there is karma in this life as well. My mother/abuser feels pain because I am no longer in her life other than sending the occasional letter. I have told her not to call or visit me. I do not do this to hurt her: I do it to protect myself. However, this choice has the effect of hurting her, and I believe this is part of her karma and learning her life lessons. You cannot treat another person any way you want and then expect to have that person continue to give you love and energy. My mother lost a lot when she lost me.

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In my post, Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, I talked about how forgiveness is a process rather than a moment. I have also found that sometimes forgiveness happens in layers.

For my abusers who harmed me one time, I have been able to choose to let go of the bitterness and, over time, heal the wound and forgive. However, for abusers who repeatedly harmed me, I have had to forgive in layers. It is sort of like the difference between healing a first degree versus a third degree burn. You have to heal one layer of skin at a time if the burn runs deeper.

My primary abuser is the same person who provided most of my others abusers access to me as a child. I have found that I needed to forgive that abuser first for the things done directly to me. After I healed those wounded parts of myself, I was ready to start healing the wounds inflicted by providing access to others. I also needed to heal different layers based upon the forms of abuse inflicted upon me.

Because my wounds were so deep, it appeared to others like I continued to wrestle with the same wounds with this one abuser. In actuality, I was continuously healing my wounds – they were just very deep. I would fully heal the wounds from one type of abuse, but I would move on to another wound that was still very raw.

I still cannot say that I have fully forgiven this person, although I would estimate that I am 90% there. I do not want to invest any energy into this person, which is how I let go of the bitterness. However, it does take a very long time to fully forgive when the person inflicted multiple wounds.

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