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Posts Tagged ‘forgiving yourself’

On my blog entry entitled Enemas, Tubes, and Object Insertion as Part of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

[My abuse] started when I was an infant, and continued until I was in high school. I always feel like its my fault, and I wanted it to happen, becasue even as I got older, I DIDN’T STOP IT–I LET IT HAPPEN–I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING! For me, that only proves how much of a freak I really am! And it wasn’t just my parents that hurt me, there were others–a deacon from our church, and my brother–who abused me as a kid, and then raped me about 12 years ago. I asked my mother when I was teenager if she knew that my brother had done this–her response to me was ‘yes, but he’s my son!’ So what does that make me??? ~ Theresa

Theresa’s comment expresses the shame that so many child abuse survivors feel, even though child abuse is never the child’s fault – NEVER! According to Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery, feeling responsible for the child abuse is a coping mechanism that abused children use to survive the abuse. As long as the abuse is “my fault,” then I can do something differently to make it stop. To accept the truth – that the abused child has absolutely no control over the abuse – would result in the child acknowledging just how hopeless the situation is, which would cause the child to sink into utter despair. It is actually easier for the abused child to believe that he or she is responsible because then there is at least some hope of making it stop.

While this shame might serve a purpose while the abuse continues, it is extremely damaging to the adult survivor of child abuse who is no longer being abused. When you judge your childhood actions through adult eyes, you are being very unfair to yourself. From an adult perspective, you can see different alternatives that never would have occurred to you as a child (or to any other child). This is because you were a child, not an adult. Also, it is easy to forget how helpless a child really is because, as an adult, you are able to take care of yourself. A child depends upon the adults in his or her life for food, clothing, shelter, etc., and simply leaving home and taking care of yourself is not an option. Also, those in charge are three or four times your size, so physically fighting back simply isn’t an option.

One truth that people don’t talk about enough is that abused children (without therapy or healing) revert back to being abused children in their heads when they are triggered, even if they are 80 years old. Whenever I tell someone about my mother sexually abusing me again after my father died (when I was 17), they inevitably ask why I did not fight her off. I didn’t fight her off because, when she awoke me and started hurting me, I “became” that wounded abused toddler again. It did not occur to me to fight back at age 17 because I was not 17 years old emotionally when she hurt me again.

The same is true into your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. Until you heal, you will perpetually stay the emotional age that you were when the abuse started whenever you are triggered, particularly if the child abuse was ongoing. This is why you hear about some incest victims who continue having a “sexual relationship” with their abuser even when the child becomes an adult. It’s not a consensual relationship – the twenty-something victim is still an abused child emotionally.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my post, Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, a reader left the following comment:

The person I need to forgive is me. I did nothing wrong, and have no reason to be blamed for anything that happened, yet I feel dirty, ashamed, guilty and a million and 1 other negative emotions. They are dissipating, slowly, and as I let go of each one, I come closer to the self forgiveness and the peace that I so need.

There is so much wisdom in that comment. The reader captures well the struggles that survivors of childhood abuse face as they wrestle with finding a way to forgive themselves.

I, too, used to feel very guilty and filled with shame over my childhood, even though I did nothing wrong. I was just an innocent child. I did not choose to be abused, and I did not choose the things that my abusers forced me to do. However, no matter how much I knew these things in my head, I still felt very guilty at a heart level.

In my post Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, I described the forgiveness of others as the act of letting go – of choosing to stop nursing the bitterness and, instead, using that energy to heal yourself. I used the same process in forgiving myself.

Whether or not I “should” feel guilty about my history of abuse, I did feel guilty. I needed to choose to stop nursing that guilt and shame. Whenever I felt filled with shame, I would choose to be kind to myself and think about positive things, even when doing so felt foreign to me.

One resource that really helped me was the book, Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman. In this book, Ms. Herman talks about different causes of trauma, including soldiers who are traumatized by war. I could look at a soldier’s situation more objectively: They were drafted to fight, so why should they feel guilty? Then I thought about what that guilt-ridden soldier would say to me about things that I suffered as a young child. Taking a step back from my specific circumstances helped me to see my circumstances more objectively.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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