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A reader wants to know how to forgive yourself for what your abusers forced you to do or watch as they harmed those you love. This is a complicated process that is going to involve different steps for different people, but the big picture process is the same – you need to find a way to accept at a heart level that you were not responsible for your abusers’ actions. This includes not being responsible for doing things that you were forced to do.

When I first recovered the sickening awareness and then memories that I had been forced to sexually abuse my younger sister, I didn’t think I could bear it. I was flooded with suicidal urges and simply wanted to die. Thankfully, my mind released a montage of memories of my sister being forced to abuse me. I knew at a heart level that she was not responsible for any of those vile things. Even at the time, I never blamed her for the things our abusers forced her to do to me. That was the starting point for me removing blame from myself – if I could see that my sister was not to blame for what they did to me, perhaps I was not to blame for what they made me to do her.

It helps that my sister and I talk about our shared abuse, so I was able to tell her that I had recovered memories of us being forced to harm each other and that I was sorry for all that they forced me to do to her. She was able to tell me immediately that she did not blame me, which helped the process along. The conversation was not a switch that made the self-blame go away, but it was a huge start.

From there, I had to force myself to stop blaming myself. When guilt or shame would ooze out about what I had been forced to do, I would actively stop it. I would tell myself that I was not responsible for those actions and refuse to put more energy into hating myself over them. I would then replace those thoughts with positive ones, focusing on anything I could to feed the right wolf.

One thing that worked for me was doing positive mantras. (Some child abuse survivors have told me that this doesn’t work for them, but they have found other ways to achieve the same goals, so don’t despair if this doesn’t work for you.) During this phase of healing, if I was flooded with guilt and shame over what I had been forced to do to my sister, I would recite, “I love you; you are safe; I’m sorry” over and over and over and over in my head. I didn’t believe a word of it, so it’s OK if you don’t, either. However, over time, just as I had been brainwashed by hearing how rotten I was as a child, I was able to “brainwash” my way back to believing that I loved myself and was safe.

Feeding the right wolf works. You need to find a way that your wolf can be fed.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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