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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness after child abuse’

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.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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.

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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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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.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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