Many people with good intention have advised survivors of sexual abuse to simply forgive. They have been assured that instant healing of their emotions will happen.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case and when there is no evidence of such a miraculous cure, these counselors quickly point out that the damaged person is undoubtedly responsible for not forgiving properly. For the survivor it becomes a vicious circle of blame.
Phrases like: "You should forgive, it's been a long time." "You forgive so that we can leave it behind." "Are you never going to forgive?" ... These are phrases that turn the word "sorry" into a throwing weapon. In a word that hurts.
We must be very careful with the use of the concept "forgive". Many survivors suffer from the guilt of not being able to forgive and the idea of forgiveness is not conceived. That is why on many occasions we prefer to use the concept of "liberating".
How to free yourself from those grudges in your life, caused by that sexual abuse? When you are abused, it causes emotional wounds that hurt you, but they can also cause deep resentment, hatred, resentment or bitterness. Many times the idea of retaliation or revenge can cross the mind of the victim. But you need to understand that the best way to really feel relief is not revenge, but freedom from the offending person. It is one of the most powerful remedies you can find to be free from that hurt, that bitterness. "I release you, I give up taking revenge on you, I loosen the chains that bind you to me, I let you go ..."
It is important that the survivor understands that the first beneficiary to forgive is himself or herself. When you forgive, your feelings, they stop being the prey of the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is an act of will. There is always a false sense of punishing the aggressor, while keeping the hatred and thirst for revenge alive. The feeling that forgiving is something totally unfair is very understandable. “How is the aggressor going to remain unpunished?” However, for many years the aggressor has been the source of all the survivor's problems.
Bono, singer of the Irish band U2, said in one of their concerts: "Let's not become the monster to defeat the monster." The aggressor has robbed us enough with the damage that he did to us in the past, so we shouldn't as well allowi him to embitter our present and future, dying it of hatred and rancor. Those corresponding thoughts and feelings are toxic, they do us no good.
Every time you remember the past with pain and resentment, the abuse is repeated in your mind, in your emotions. Many times the aggressor is not even aware of the misery he has caused in the survivor. He committed the abuse, satisfied himself and today lives as if nothing has ever happened, perhaps he doesn't even remember the abuse while the survivor suffers the consequences that make him unhappy. It is time to stop living in the past. The aggressor must be released. Not because he deserves our forgiveness but because we yearn to be free.
It is also important for the survivor to understand that forgiveness does not force to reconciliation with the aggressor. It is true that all forgiveness has the ideal purpose of reconciliation and restoration of the relationship. However, in cases of abuse, the damage done is very deep and the survivor cannot be asked to restore the relationship with the abuser.
In seldom cases, in which the abuser, after having been confronted by the victim, he has asked for forgiveness and shown fruits of repentance, a restoration of the relationship has been possible, but they are rare cases.
It is not always possible (the aggressor may have already passed away), sometimes it is not advisable to confront the aggressor and express forgiveness (there are survivors who feel dread at the idea of seeing their executioner again). It can be done in the heart and mind and share it with a counselor or friend. We recommend expressing it by writing a letter.
It is not about exempting the responsibility of the offense committed, in any way, the aggressor is responsible and if necessary, must be denounced and deserves a criminal punishment. Even if he ended up in jail, that would not mean he was not forgiven. Forgiving does not mean justice is not done.
"Forgiveness is a difficult word for most survivors of abuse, often used as a whip, insisting they should grow and" leave the past behind. " Sometimes even an abuser can use it and tell them how bad they are for not forgiving. The whip can also be internal, with the survivor accusing himself / herself.
The result of all this is, that the word forgiveness can cause allergy and repulsion. When working with abused people, we need to understand this and be sensitive in the way we talk about forgiveness. To forgive in Greek comes from the root ‘release’. If we continue to focus on the abuser, we will continue to be tied to him. Releasing means that we can focus on the future, focus on our own choices, even if the abuser refuses to admit what he did, or downplay the responsibility he had with what really happened. ”(Teo van der Weele. From Shame to Peace)
I have friends that didn't like the idea of forgiving the abuser, because for them that meant a feeling. For them, forgiving is for those you want to restore a relationship with. They think that what needs to be done is to willingly release the abuser from your mind and emotions. You have to let him go, not feeding his memory with hatred or bitterness. I personally think that forgiving is the same, to let go. But I can understand that for some survivors, forgiving sounds like something that's not fair and asking way too much. Let's avoid getting lost in terms. The important thing is to undestand we have to let go and release the person that hurt us.
We must be extremely careful in puting too much pressure on a survivor with this issue. There are cases in which it takes months, even years in the healing process, before they gather enough will to take the step of forgiving. With all our good intentions we can do even more damage. Let's not blame the survivor even more. Let's try to show the deep personal benefit that forgiveness (or releasing) can produce. Forgiving frees your life from continuing to hold a grudge and detoxify your emotions. Forgiving is an act to take care of yourself and take the responsability of your present and your future. The past loses its petrifying power and without that burden on our back we can walk upright, with the pride of a precious human being full of dignity.
Joel de Bruine