Must I forgive my brother who serially molested me for seven years?

[UPDATE: All They've Been Waiting to Say]

Got this in:

Hi John,

My name is L., and I’m a survivor of childhood abuse. My brother, seven years my senior, started molesting me when I was very young. My first memory of it is when I was about five years old. I believe it went on until I was about twelve. I know he raped me multiple times.

I did not grow up going to church. But I believe that I know God, and have for a very long time. God is a vital part of me, and I believe that without him I would be dead, or just freaking crazy.

I have been diagnosed as dissociative (no surprise, given my past), and have had a counselor tell me that my “God” was created by my childhood psyche to help me cope with the abuse. There may be some reality to this, as I remember God being with me, talking to me, and playing with me as a little child, distracting me from what was going on. The memories are very bitter sweet, as I’m sure you can imagine. Instead of remembering being molested, I actually remember playing games with my “God,” singing with him, etc. And I even remember Him telling me when to leave my body because my brother was coming. Regardless if this is all in my mind, I believe that God taught me how to dissociate so that I would survive.

I recently confronted my brother about what he did to me. Afterwards I cut him off from my life, refusing to deal with him. I wanted to have the last word. Now, though, he wants to “sit down and work things out” with me. He is begging my family to talk me into sitting down with him. My family (who for years has known about what he did to me—and who allowed the abuse to occur) insists that now I’ve not only opened a can of worms, but that I “owe it” to my brother to meet and talk with him. They say I owe my brother because I am a Christian, and so must forgive him.

Honestly, I often have quite vivid, very non-Christian like thoughts of my brother dying. I know that in reality I don’t want him to die. On some level I actually do love my brother. But I feel better when I sometimes allow myself to think these things when I’m hurting. And I don’t feel guilty sometimes for the hate that I feel towards him. It has been at least twenty-five years since the last time he sexually touched me. A lot of time has passed, but this is still very fresh in my mind and the anger burns sometimes like a fire in me.

Do I really need to forgive him? I can hardly believe that God would send me to hell for angry thoughts I have about my brother. Just wondering your opinion.

You’ve “opened a can of worms”? During the most vulnerable years of your life your older brother, for years on end, sexually abuses you; as an adult you find the courage to bring that horrific truth out into the open—and your family responds by accusing you of having “opened a can of worms”?

Who are these cretins? Who would say such a thing?

Oh, that’s right: people trying to shift responsibility for their evil onto the victims of their evil.

They want you to suffer now with the same silence you suffered then. That’s what is best for them.

And don’t you want what’s best for your family?

Don’t you love your family?

And boom—that’s the hook they use to catch you: that’s how they turn your natural love into their unnatural hate; that’s how your light becomes their darkness. That’s how they get you to tape shut your own mouth. That’s how they make you your own worst enemy.

Go away, little girl, they say.

Go to your room.

Shut the door. Shut your mouth.

And keep your mouth shut until you die.

Ugh.

Your family—or at least those within it who tried to blame you for responding to what happened to you—are animals. Here’s hoping they don’t remain that way until the end.

You do not need to forgive your brother. “Forgive and forget” sounds spiritually enlightened, but the fact is that it’s simply not possible for any person to forget an egregious violation against them. Your brother did do what he did. You literally cannot forget that. And you’re under no moral obligation whatsoever to make him feel better about it. His conscience is his responsibility, not yours.

The Greek word most often translated in the Bible as “forgive” is aphiemi. It means to depart, separate from, bid goodbye. The word is derived from apo, a prefix implying separation, and hiemi, meaning to put in motion, send. It means send away.

And that is something you want to do. You do want to send away the pain your brother caused you. You want to separate from it, bid it goodbye. You want it away from you.

But that’s about you, not about your brother or your family. You.

You take care of you. God will take care of your brother and family.

So the question is, how do you “send away” the pain and anger that you feel for your brother? Well, the first thing is to simply acknowledge the validity of those emotions. What happened to you should cause you anger and hurt. It should engender feelings of revenge and retribution. Those feelings have an organic integrity. From your brother’s violation of you is naturally born within you the same righteous anger that you would feel toward anyone who has victimized any innocent. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel that anger. That you do means nothing more awful than that your conscience has remained intact. It means that you’re still with us.

So the first thing is to just accept as okay and healthy whatever anger or ill-will you harbor for your brother. Be okay with it. Let it be.

Once allowed its free expression, that anger begins to abate a little. And that will open up for you the peace necessary for getting down to the question that is central to your “sending away” all of your anger and ill-will toward your brother: the question you must answer if you are to ever, in the realest sense, “forgive” him.

And that is the question of why what happened to you did.

Why did your brother hurt you so? It’s in finding the answer to that question that your salvation—which is to say your enduring peace of mind—lies.

Well, there can be only two causes for your brother’s evil actions: nature or nurture. The boy was either born evil, or he learned evil.

He’s either innately, profoundly, organically dysfunctional—he was simply born with some really messed-up wiring in his brain—or somewhere along the line he was treated so terribly that then his wiring went bad. Then he became just like a pit bull whose owner has beaten it into becoming an attack dog.

I’m voting that what’s almost always true in these matters is also true in this case: that when he was young, your brother was also sexually abused. It’s almost a certainty that he did to you what was first done to him.

It happens all the time. Kids process by acting out. They have no other way of processing. They simply get imprinted upon—and then act accordingly.

That your brother was abused as he abused you would explain (as nothing else could) your parents’ abysmal response to you wanting to discuss that abuse. Pointing to your brother means pointing through him, straight at them.

Which isn’t going to work for them, of course. Which is why they reverted back to trying to make you feel guilty for the guilt that remains theirs.

Ultimately you can forgive your brother, because ultimately he’s not morally culpable for what he did.

He wasn’t then, that is. But today he is. As an adult, your brother needs to take so seriously his past offenses against you that today he finds himself compelled to go through whatever he must in order to reconcile himself to himself, and to you.

If he’s serious about doing that, then his tone, and the things he says, will show you beyond a doubt that he is.

But if you get from him anything less than that, stay away. If your brother does not make completely clear to you that he is in that contrite, repentant, truly healing space, do not let him in any way near you. He must first—and for as long, and in as many ways as it takes—show you that he’s willing to be anything but defensive: that he is as broken as you are by what he was led to do to you.

When he comes to you, and begs for forgiveness, and is clearly open to really talking about what really happened—and when above all he makes clear to you that he understands that the real transgressors in your lives were and are your father and mother—then you can talk to him.

But if all he’s doing is asking your parents if they’ll get you to talk to him?

That’s not conviction of sin. That’s damage repair. That’s just him taking care of him. Which is as typical as typical gets.

Open up a Gmail account you can shut down whenever you want; tell your parents and your brother that they are fee to contact you there and in no other way; ignore from them any emails that aren’t positively ringing with the unmistakable tone of true contrition.

You don’t belong to them anymore. You belong to you; you belong to the God who saved you; and you belong to those of us out here who, like you, finally decided to claim for ourselves an identity grown and nurtured in the ground of truth, not lies.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Rhea

    In a lot of ways it sounds like she already *has* forgiven her brother…but what she hasn’t done is acted like everything is now okay and wonderful and blah, blah, blah…which is what it seems to be her family wants (which is *totally* fcuked up).

  • Mary

    You can forgive someone who is truly repentant, but it doesn’t mean you have to have anything to do with them after that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mockwriting Michael Mock via Facebook

    I am sooooo not going to read that. My lack of faith in humanity is already suffering, and I’m pretty sure that would just set me off. But my immediate response to the title is, “Absent serious repentance by the brother, absolutely not; and even with it, no.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sharon-Smith/1344171469 Sharon Smith via Facebook

    No more than Indigenous peoples should forgive the genocide. No more than Africans and Indians should forgive the slavery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mockwriting Michael Mock via Facebook

    IOW, forgiveness is something that should be offered; it is never something that can be required.

  • http://www.canyonwalkerconnections,com Kathy Baldock

    Her story is my story with even the ages 5 to 12 but I had TWO brothers, on mother and no father. My experience of dealing with it with my family has been DECADES long and it is still working itself out.

    The KEY to my eventual healing was forgiveness, of all of them. I was just telling a friend yesterday, that until I dealt with this at an intensely deep level, it was the driver of many of the most important decisions of my life.

    Anyone that knows me today would never see the scarring of those years, they really are gone. What is the miracle is the way in which I have been able to reach BACK INTO my family to help them too. My goodness, the process is like frozen molasses.

    Shit happens and beauty REALLY can come of it. Rising above my deepest wounds was painful, but not more painful than making the same stupid mistakes over and over. Your writer can forgive fully, or not, and there will still be a road to walk out of this impact. It is so, so worth it though.

  • Cathy Cory via Facebook

    I love you. Thank you for well thought out and concise advice.

  • Jim

    Beautiful analysis John.

    And I would like to add: We ALL “belong to the God who saved us,” her brother and parents included.

  • Jeanne Morrison via Facebook

    she sure has to get past it.

  • Drew Montoya via Facebook

    This is why I read your blog. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/wackywilliams Phinneas David Israel Williams via Facebook

    I truly understand the delimma, I was melested from 2-5 by my oldest bro who is 13 yrs older then me & then gang raped at 5 by by my bio father, his step sone & a next door nabor & beaten to complete unreconisebilty with chains, bords, wips & steel pipes, then when my mid bro brought me home, my mother told my mid bro & grand ma to cover me with a sheet, ignore me & let me die, I too have been dignosed with disotive disorder & borderline persanalty disorder & PTSD, I struggled for along time want my bio father dead & comming up with many seniros to enact it. my oldest bro I just wanted to disapear I knew there was something really wrong with him from a young age, there has never been a offishil dignoses of whats wrong with him but anyone that spends 5 minits with him can tell hes severly cracked, & I had to learn to frogive not for them, (nobody in my family to this day thinks they did anything wrong) but for me, the anger & hatrid was eating me alive! & when I learned to acnolige & deal with the trama the alters slowly began to blend & thank God I dont have over 56 alters to deal with any more & can deal with life fairly normaly. I am truly sorry that happend to you, but frogiveness douse help, but over all frogiveing yourself for any precived fault you think you had, that was & still is, the hardest for me.

  • Rebecca Harrison

    Many years ago, I had a foster daughter who experienced much the same thing as L. Her brother was only a couple of years older than she, and she could recall him raping her at least 30 times. She was also raped by male friends of her father’s. She was removed from the home at some point, and went into institutional care for a year or two, and was then placed with us. She would tell me that her family did and said the same kinds of things that L’s family is doing and saying to her. “We want to be a family.” It was tragic, and made more so because our family (husband, children and me) took a short vacation break, during which time our foster daughter stayed with another foster family. Our vacation was shortened when we got a frantic phone call telling us the foster father had digitally manipulated this young woman while she was on the floor watching television. She began cutting herself after that, and ultimately we had to let her go back to institutional care. The social worker told us then that the young woman would likely end up on the streets, either as a hooker or homeless, because of all she’d experienced. I have always been deeply saddened by that, and by the knowledge that I couldn’t “fix” her problem. It seems L has at least gotten some help for herself, and is making good progress in that she’s asking questions about the propriety of forgiveness in this situation. What a wonderful response, John. Thank you for being so real.

    • Allie

      My heart goes out to you – my husband and I made so many mistakes in trying to help our own foster daughter. We are so much more mature now and know so much that we would do differently. But please don’t blame yourself. Caring for an abused teen is hard, very hard. Bless you for getting in there and doing the best you knew how to do. Whatever odds the young lady is facing today are just that much better because she had you as a model of normal, healthy relationships, even if for a short time, and she got to be with someone who wasn’t hurting her or trying to use her. Sometimes a seed that doesn’t seem to take when it’s planted can bear fruit a long time after.

  • Cynthia Haug-West via Facebook

    John, your response to L. is beautiful and merciful and true, and it helps me to think about issues of forgiveness & anger & familial “obligation” in my own life. Bless you and your beautiful clarity. Bless her and her God-given strength and spirit.

  • Lymis

    I wish we could get past this stupid, stupid idea we seem to have these days about what forgiveness looks like.

    So many people speak about forgiveness as though it means you have to pretend that nothing bad happened, that it didn’t really hurt, that “you didn’t mean it” and that “it’s okay after all.”

    Forgiveness is where we let ourselves not let it control our lives any more, and we don’t make whatever it was force us into reactive decisions. It does not mean we forget, and it does not mean we naively act as though everything is the way it was or would have been if whatever it was didn’t happen.

    And if seeing the face or hearing the voice of the person who raped you, or assaulted you, or did some other horrendous thing means you will find yourself dragged into some mental space of hatred and vindictiveness, forgiveness sure as heck CAN mean choosing never to see someone again. If you go away and leave me alone, I won’t spend any energy on hating you, and I’ll do you the favor of leaving you alone as well.

    It does not mean having to go to family events together and making nice. It’s wonderful when grace and peace can create that kind of genuine reconciliation, but it shouldn’t ever be considered mandatory, much less the minimum allowable moral stand.

    And yes, it’s sickening when someone like a rapist gets more “points” for being willing to let their victim forgive them than for actually doing anything to try to be worthy of forgiveness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Djata-Bumpus/1262958669 Djata Bumpus via Facebook

    As you know Sharon, I grew up with 5 brothers – no sisters…while I heard about this happeneing in friends’ houses, as a kid, I could never believe that it actually happened…I am sure that if we had a sister, she would only be protected – never abused, because that’s how we all are….Therefore, like Mike, it’s hard for me to read those kinds of stories…besides, they only bring out my anger in the worst way.

  • Matthew

    As someone who has gone through the same thing (my brother molested/raped me over a summer), I completely understand the plight. My father walked in on us once, turned around and walked out of the room – never spoke about it. My brother is 4.5 years older than me (he was 13, I was 8 at the time) and since I came to terms with this at age 19, I’ve been trying to comprehend the root of how/why this happened. He was always physically abusive to me and belittling – was this his way to dominate me and maintain control, when he didn’t as a child? Was he just being sexual at 13 years of age? These are not excuses, just theories.

    My oldest brother always asked why we other two siblings didn’t get along and kept at me regarding this – as we all would like to have a safe, communicative relationship with all family members. After I gave up and just told him of the violations, he never concerned himself with our relationship. “You do what you need to do, and I won’t bring it up anymore.” He and I have a GREAT relationship.

    There are moments that I am still bitter/angry about the situation, as it has COMPLETELY underscored ALL of my relationships – with men and with women. I used to think he ruined my life and often wonder if I’ve missed the boat on a real relationship, as I’ve let the good ones slip away as a result of my own self-defenses. Then, I pick myself up and know I cannot be a victim anymore and empower myself and offer my heart as best as I can.

    I haven’t had the courage to actually confront my brother and “forgive” him, for fear of a physical acting out, but again, that’s not my duty, nor my problem. He has to live with his transgressions, I can chose live with the repercussions. I don’t talk to him, unless I’m required at various family functions, and he rarely makes an attempt to contact me. It would be nice to just burst out and destroy his entire life that he made, by simply being truthful to everyone and define the evil, but what does that do? I’d rather send positive energy out into the world and embrace light.

    • Matthew

      can’t believe I publicly addresses this. Also, I attempted to post this in another group on Facebook and was asked to take down as it may be offensive to some people in the group. Ugh – serenity… not just an undergarment

      • Christie L.

        *sending love your way* I don’t know what else to say or do…

        • Matthew

          *hugs* love and light :)

  • Plinky Limpingco via Facebook

    as someone who has been harassed thru voyeurism by a cousin a year ago(my family did nothing, my mother was even apologetic to my aunt when I tried to confront . my faith declined)This article gave me some kind of support. I have not consulted anyone abt it yet, and it always feel horrible to be reminded everyday(we’re neighbors) how can nobody protect me. It is just so awful to be burdened so much by someones evil.

  • Gordon

    I was bullied, humiliated and psychologically abused by a guy in my school from the 8th grade through the first two years of high school. I know what I experienced is not nearly as traumatic as sexual abuse from a brother, especially with parents being complicit, but the psychological scarring is certainly real. I hated and despised this person with rage and passion that actually scared me. He was killed in a car accident not long after we graduated, and I went to the beach and screamed, cried and walked for miles. What I was feeling was not grief. It was joy. Reading all this, I realized I have never actually forgiven him. And…I’m not sure I need to, but it has given me a lot to think about.

    John, as always, you are a strong, compassionate and practical voice for the walking wounded out here. Love and blessings to you!

    • Gordon

      I love that picture, by the way. (You do realize that it’s going to make some people’s heads spin around, right? Of course you do….)

      • Diana A.

        Yes! Best picture ever! And so appropriate to this topic.

    • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

      There was a guy in high school I did not get along with. And by “not get along with” I mean on the order of fantasizing about taking a gun to school and shooting first in his limbs, then in various vital organs, saving the last two shots for his heart and brain.

      *Really* did not get along with this guy.

      One day someone brought a guitar to school and this guy stunned us by playing some of the most intricate bluegrass pieces I’ve ever heard. Genuine professional quality. In one of the few times I ever spoke to him w/o animosity I told him he ought to go to Nashville and look for work as a professional musician. He really was that good.

      Times passes. My family moves out of state, I graduate from a different school, get drafted, get married, start my own career.

      And over the years my anger and bile and resentment against this guy starts to fade, finally getting to the place where I’m thinking, “Geeze, what were we pissed off at each other about?” (And this is NOT to diminish the accounts of abuse survivors or rape victims; the levels of offense between him and me and those of abuse cases are different by several degrees of magnitude.) It did get me to thinking about whether I should ever apologize to him to anything I had done to piss him off, to just let him know I bore no grudge, that I wished him well.

      So a year ago I was invited to join a FB page for people who lived in my old hometown. I contacted a couple of old classmates and got to thinking about this guy again and asked if anybody knew anything about him.

      Turns out he was killed in a car crash a decade or so back.

      Never got to be a professional musician from what I hear. Just took a run of the mill factory job. Don’t know if he had a family.

      Forty years ago I would have been pissing on his tombstone. Now I’m just sorry over all the wasted time and energy and emotion that went into hating him.

      Turn it loose

      Put it down

      Walk away from it

      Life’s too short

      • Gordon

        Thank you, buzz. Wise words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/douglas.sewell Doug Sewell via Facebook

    To me, forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiver, not the forgiven one. That doesn’t mean you let them have full access to your life after doing so.
    Have you considered talking to legal counsel and/or law enforcement?

  • Susan in NY

    L, my thoughts are with you today.

    In addition to all the other wonderful words from commenters, I wanted to add that if you do have a diagnosis of dissociative disorder, there is help available from the mental health community. Specifically, if you are in therapy, please be sure you are seeing someone who specializes in dissociative disorder. You can get rid of that diagnosis once and for all with the help of a highly skilled therapist.

    God bless you.

    Susan

  • Adara Pallady via Facebook

    What a compassionate & grounded response- thank you.

  • Robert

    I’m with Lymis, and also Kathy. Forgiveness isn’t for him, it’s for you, so you can move forward with your life without having to carry this putrid albatross around your neck. That said, once you do forgive, you are under no obligation to have anything to do with him, or your family, ever again. Seeing them to “iron things out” isn’t forgiveness, it’s masochism.

  • Sue Hulett via Facebook

    Excellent response, John.

  • http://www.synergebooks.com Annie Nutt

    Rebecca Harrison, it’s not a given that your foster daughter will become a homeless person or a prostitute; I’ve been through a lot of rape and have never been a voluntary prostitute and was only homeless for a day. It sounds like that social worker is stereotyping rape victims, and that social worker should re-evaluate the way they stereotype children. A LOT OF CHILDREN CUT THEMSELVES. I used to. It’s a sign they are being abused, and in the case of my friends and I, sexually. I lucked out in the family department; my folks never abused me. At twelve, I met a rapist and he gave some other rapists ideas and furthermore introduced me to other rapists. He used to blackmail me, and then he would drug me and sell me to other rapists against my will. It was part-time; my parents didn’t know. I spent a lot of time making myself ugly each day. I dressed like a stereotypical lesbian, even though I wasn’t gay. I tried and tried and tried to escape, and worked hard to earn enough money to leave the country, even though I was just a child. Better communication with my parents would have been a plus, because they never let me leave the country. Three times I tried to leave, the last time with the money saved, and three times they wouldn’t let me. Ironically, they were being over-protective. My brother has been to a few countries by now, and was allowed to go in primary school. I got gang raped in school, in middle school, and started to hate school, to literally despise it. I still had to go; I seemed to have some sort of communication disorder and was having a lot of trouble communicating with my parents. Finally, I went to college in Athens. Dropped out to follow my one true love. Went to Macon State. Got raped by a supposed friend and wouldn’t leave the apartment, flunked out of school. I got married. One of my husband’s family members via marriage also raped me, the crackhead alcoholic bastard. My son was in the next room; there was an incomplete wall, but no door. I went to a few more colleges; hating school made college nearly impossible to complete. I started complaining, finally, to my mom. I love my mom, but here were her responses to me. “Oh, Annie, why don’t you tell me?” “Oh, Annie, you blind; maybe they not even evil anymore.” “Oh, Annie, they only kids back then; maybe you should give them a chance.” Upon finding out that my step-grandfather raped my cousin and I held a grudge, “Oh, Annie, she forgives him and you should too. Let’s pray.” Please. Like I’m going to pray for the power to forgive a rapist. I will forgive all these horribly adjectived rapists when I die and only then. My brother also urges me to forgive, from a religious perspective, but at least he says that he gets the urge to beat those people up. Mother also says, “Annie, if you don’t shut up about these things, maybe they kill you.” I am taking me and my nuclear family and we are traveling the world, and while I’m exceptionally good at finding people, I’ve made it impossible to find me and my family. My parents are good parents, but I’m plenty old enough now that they’ll never be able to stop me from escaping this hell to find someplace better.

    • Rachel M

      I’m sorry for all your pain, Annie, and I admire you as a very strong woman. I hope you are proud of yourself for not only surviving but for taking yourself and your family to a better place. Continue to love yourself and to hold up your head as the beautiful and capable woman you are.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    Oh thank you, for putting it quite clearly what forgiveness really is what repentance should be and what is often demanded of the victims is often of no actual benefit to those victims. It is instead to try to lessen the burdens of the guilty at the cost to the innocent.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

      Ok, maybe I should edit better when I post..What I meant is that forgiveness is often demanded to help lessen the guilt of the innocent at the cost to the innocent. Well at least in my experience that has been the case, but it just doesn’t work that way does it?

      It’s hard, No…its damned near impossible in more then one case. I think that what John is trying to tell us (correct me if I am wrong, of course John). And that it needs to be for the person’ doing the forgiving’s sake first. Whether the guilty party ever hears a word of the deed being done is not nearly as necessary.

  • Allie

    Hey. This one is close to me because my foster daughter was raped by her father with her mother’s complicity.

    Beautiful response, John.

    I can’t stress strongly enough that not only do you not have to forgive your brother, you don’t have to excuse your family for their ongoing abuse of you. Because it is abuse to expect you to feel in any way bad or wrong for what happened and your reactions to it, regardless of whether or not John is correct about the source of your brother’s issues. And he may be totally mistaken – many times a boy is abused by an older playmate, a friend’s brother. Your parents may not have known. Or he may be absolutely correct, and your father may be the one at the root of all of this.

    The thing is, it doesn’t matter. No one else gets to tell you when it’s time for you to forgive. And it takes some nerve to tell you that you have to do this because you’re a Christian – that’s between Christ and you. I hope that some day you can forgive, in the sense of letting go, and maybe even feeling some compassion for his being such a fucked-up person as to do this horrible thing to you. But even if you do forgive him, there is absolutely no need to put yourself in danger of being hurt by him ever again, on any level, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. You are not responsible for fixing him or making him feel better about what he did.

    I do believe it’s Christian to forgive. It’s the only way I know to break the cycle of bad coming from bad. But I also believe that Christ is capable of forgiving sin without in one iota minimizing it or pretending that it’s less than it is. That righteous anger is, well, righteous. And I believe that in Christ, perfect righteous anger can coexist with perfect forgiveness, but that combination of emotions is a little tricky for the rest of us.

  • http://toothpic.wordpress.com Toothpic

    This is terrible. What has happened to this poor woman. The idea that forgiving means you have to talk things out with your abuser is bullshit. Forgiving is not letting the feelings as a result of the event inhibit your normal life and learning from your experience how some people are and how to treat them. But it’s not being stupid, acting like nothing happened and trying to go back to the way things are. The parents reaction makes me mad.

  • Theresa DePaepe via Facebook

    Great piece. As the mother of a child who came to us abused by her birth parents and step family this says it all. I will be sharing with those family members who believe we / she should just put this behind her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phoebe.fennell Phoebe Fennell via Facebook

    Bravo, John. L and Phinneas, loving you from far away. And so is everyone on this thread. You are loved and cherished by people all over the world. I, too, was sexually molested as a child. It isn’t really something you get over, or get past. It is part of us and always will be. But so are many other things. Be angry, there is nothing wrong with hating the sin and fighting for justice. And even in our anger, in our brokenness, our abandonment, we are loved. Never forget that part.

  • Chris Gillespie via Facebook

    Excellent response. We must never forget who the victim is in these cases.

    The unhealthy concentration of many Christians on sin – usually the “sin” of the victim (yes he DID do that to you, but you are demonstrating resentment and unforgiveness, of which sin you must repent if you are to know healing)… makes reasonable people want to puke their stomach out.

    Specific signs of genuine repentance of the aggressor is the TOTAL absence of phrases like, “Yes, I did that, BUT… YOU also… XYZ”.

    A repentant person will begin with something along these lines, “I did this. It was very wrong, and I have no excuses, no extenuating circumstances to plead. I do not deserve your forgiveness. I probably have no idea how much you have suffered due to my actions, but I can only guess that your suffering has been enormous. If it would be helpful to you, I am prepared to sit silently here while you tell me how it has been for you, and I will not interrupt or speak until you tell me I may. I can never undo what I did, nor restore you the life you would have had… but I am dedicated to do whatever is within my power to repair the damage I have caused…”.

    If these or similar words are present, there is a basis for working through the process at a speed determined by the victim, not the aggressor or (much less) some wanking Christian who understands nothing of the feelings involved, and/or has an axe to grind like wanting to “put this all behind us as soon as possible”. The process of healing is very like morning the death of a loved one… it requires time to process EVERY stage adequately, and cannot be rushed. To not give adequate time to the victim after he/she has had the courage to “tell” can do more damage, as their feelings and experiences are diminished and de-validated ON TOP of the original experience. I have known victims who have been irreparably damaged, not by the original abuse, but by an inadequate treatment of their report.

    To finish this rave… it should be remembered that forgiveness is ALWAYS for the victim, not the aggressor. It is said that to remain resentful of someone who has wronged us is to allow them to live, rent-free in our soul. They don’t deserve this continued access to your life, dreams and relationships ON TOP of the original abuse. It’s not easy tho – it may be the hardest thing the victim will ever have to do.

    • Pass the Forgiveness

      “I have known victims who have been irreparably damaged, not by the original abuse, but by an inadequate treatment of their report.”

      Yes, this!!! I’m so grateful that I *didn’t* reveal what was happening when I was a child. If I had been treated as a child as I have been as an adult, I’m certain that my mental health would have suffered irreparably. I have managed as an adult to know that my family’s response is insane, unChristian (I am not a Christian, but they claim to be), and so unhealthy. For that I am just so thankful.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    I didn’t have nearly as bad a time with my older brother, but he’s *still* the main reason why I *jumped* at the opportunity to move 3,000 miles away from my family, my state, my climate and everything I’d ever known.

    My brother is actually… about 14 years older than I am, give or take. My parents spaced out their births – my sister’s 7 years my senior, then there’s me. I didn’t know my brother well in my childhood years because that’s when he was trying to make it on his own and got to know him too well in my teenage years when he’d moved back in and gave me and my parents hell even though they were taking care of him finanically. I remember epic screaming fights, him getting drunk/high and doing stupid things, putting his hand through windows when angry, stealing money from me… the fears my dad had that his explosive anger would lead him to killing us all and burying us in the desert… seriously, my parents were scared of him. Yet, they took him back in after his stay in prison hoping the experience had changed him… he got a psychatric diagnosis there (bipolar), but it didn’t change him much (just toned him down a bit because he didn’t want to go back to prison).

    He’s the reason why I took forever to accept “bipolar” as a possibility for my own problems. I thought “Oh no, this is the disorder that makes you an asshole. I can’t have that!” Turns out I do, and that I’m kind of an asshole… anyway…

    Anyway, with him, it was a lot of yelling, threats, stealing my stuff. Not much in the way of sexual issues, but there were a few. He’d tried to grab my chest a few times when I was a teenager. My parents found a mysterious milk crate outside my bedroom window that appeared sometimes, prompting them to tell me to keep my curtains closed – since it appeared more than once we think it was something he was doing as opposed to some random creep. I once caught him looking in on me in the shower (during my young adulthood) – our shower had a pair of high windows to let light in only accesible from the outside by a tall ladder and I saw his eye peeking in on me once and screamed enough to wake the dead. When I was tweleve I woke up to him, stoned out of his brain *stroking my leg.* He did nothing else to me and when I screamed at him, he grunted and went back to the trailer he lived in on our backyard – I told Mom and Dad about it.

    Yet, when they retired and had bought a property in the mountains, they just kind of left (adult) me and (adult) him alone on their house and property together, I guess becuase they couldn’t think of anything else to do with a couple of deadbeats (one an ex-con on disability and me, a person boucing around from job to job who was there because she *couldn’t* cut it in the military like she tried to and maybe they were still disappointed with that).

    So when a guy I’d met on the Internet and had flown out to the east coast to go to anime conventions and concerts to a couple of times offered me a ring and to take me away from my life, I jumped on the opportunity.

    And didn’t look back.

    Still phone call my parents (in fact, they’ve financially bailed our butts out of a lot of things), and have a good relationship with them. My brother? Sometimes gets a Christmas card, but we never talk to each other. I think that’s a good thing. We just don’t get along.

    Forgiveness is a tricky thing, spiritual-wise. I think Jesus wanted to reduce all the violence, revenge and unecessary holding onto hurt in the world, but I don’t think he ever meant for us to be stupid about the whole business. Some people conflate spiritual practices to be some kind of unrealistic fantasy-land stuff they were never meant to be. Just my opinion.

    • Don Rappe

      I don’t think he ever meant us to be stupid about it either.

  • Brian W

    As a father of 5 grown kids – this makes me weep, I can hardly see my monitor through my tears. Sin causes so much pain…..what a post John

  • Susan

    If that jerk (and his parents) REALLY cared about her and wanted to make amends, he would be showing concern for HER well being and respecting her desire for distance.

    Got regrets? Want to make amends to the person you physically violated horribly instead of protecting her? Write a damned letter of admission and contrition. Send it. Leave her alone to make the next move.

    Really want to make amends in person? Leave it between the two of you, offer a meeting with a neutral, skilled therapist OF HER CHOICE and don’t go whining to your parents to “talk sense into her”. But so far, it sounds like its all about THEM- not you.

    • Diana A.

      I agree.

  • http://www.marstonmmyers.com Marston

    “Forgiving” is NOT the same, nor never should be the same as “forgetting”. As a hypnotherapist that sometimes deals with very painful situations caused by others, I always try and make the point that carrying around the anger, sadness, fear and guilt of past experiences harms no one but yourself. If a person refuses to “forgive” another to “get back at them” or “make them suffer”, WHO is actually being harmed? I suggest that to forgive and NOT forget releases the pain from the victim and while retaining the “learnings” of the experience thus allowing the person to move forward free of emotional baggage yet safer and stronger than before. In resolving to help others similarly victimized (physically or spiritually) they then turn the bad acts of others into helpful acts for others. This is a discussion of Cause vs. Effect. We cannot always control What happens to us, but we can ALWAYS control How we react to it. When we are “at cause” we are conscious of how and why we are reacting to some external influence. Because you forgive someone does NOT mean you CHOOSE to ever see them again or fail to pursue their punishment legally or even acknowledge their existence ever again. Forgiveness frees our own soul from the crime committed against us, it does not release the perpetrator from whatever punishment they have created for themselves. Forgiveness then cuts the energetic ties to the abuser, punishing them by cutting them off from us completely and not allowing them or their act to affect our lives any longer. Regardless of how much you “love” someone, sometimes they or the memories of what was done by them are simply not healthy to allow to be carried in your mind and soul.

    I hold all of those affected by emotional or physical abuse in the Light of Love and pray for peace and un-conditional love in your lives. Peace, Light and Love.

    • Lee Walker

      agreed. Real forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, rationalizing or justifying. It is releasing. (“sending away” as John pointed out in his response). Remembering the offense without letting bitterness eat at you is a hard trick to learn but it’s a necessary and healthy defense.

      • Karen McKim

        The day I realized I could forgive my alcoholic, abusive husband without forgetting and without reconciling was the day I started to heal. Forgiveness is what you do independently, on your own, for yourself. You turn away from the hurt, the losses, the anger, the grief, all the things that continue to damage you even after the abuse stops. It can be achieved without reconciliation, without forgetting, and without the guilty party showing remorse or even awareness. It’s a healing gift you give to yourself, not the guilty party–or parties, in the case of this writer.

    • Don Rappe

      While I surely agree with this in most cases, there are cases where we have been abused so badly we are “broken” (PTSD) and cannot control how we react to certain stimuli. In these cases, people must do as best they can.

  • Monique Jones via Facebook

    Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Thank you for such a thoughtful, intelligent response, John. God bless you.

  • Lee Walker

    As a future counselor in training (only 2nd semester of grad school), I can already tell that one of the major themes of my personal theoretical approach will be issues of forgiveness. I am becoming slowly but sure obsessed with the whole idea and process, believing, however naively, that Jesus’ teachings are true… that forgiveness is the key to healing. I have been forewarned by professors that sadly I will see a good deal of such cases.

    I’m on the road to learning so much more, but John, your response to this tragedy rings so true and wise, I will try to keep and assimilate as much of it as possible for as long as possible.

    And to the woman who wrote: dear loved one of God, you DID experience God in those darkest of times. Yes, it could be described as a coping technique to deal with the trauma, but you ARE loved by God. You did not make God up. By everything you wrote I’d say you are remarkably resilient and healthy, not screwed up crazy. That would be your family.

    • EN

      Wrong, Lee. Forgiveness is not necessary for healing. Forgiveness is a RESULT of healing. That should have come up in your undergrad psych classes.

      If your grad school is letting you get away with that idea, you need a better program.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Tread more lightly, EN. What Lee said was a good deal more complex, nuanced and compassionate than these few words of his you’ve attacked.

        • http://www.mosaicminds.org EN

          If you know him/his writing well enough to say that, I’ll believe you. But I have twenty years behind me of seeing abuse survivors being told exactly those things by Christians. If I had been keeping track of the results of those instructions, I am confident that I know what the data would look like.

          Forgiveness as a *part* or *result* of healing, I would let pass. But *key* to healing? Nope. Not unless you’re talking about an abuse survivor forgiving him- or herself, or, of course, experiencing God’s forgiveness.

      • Lee Walker

        EN, I’m not quoting any text or professor. The subject has only begun to arise in one of my classes. I am expressing my own thoughts, and part of my particular process is to sound them out with others as they continually evolve. I am cautious of ANY final ultimate opinion on much of anything, as it seems to shut the door on future learning. Having come back a few hours later, and read some of the subsequent responses, I find I resonate stronger with the concept of (true) forgiveness being a result or response of healing. But thanks for your feedback. And yeah, maybe a little less adamance in commenting?

        • http://www.mosaicminds.org EN

          Thank you so much for your gracious response. I’m glad to hear that what you intended was not what originally came across.

          As for my adamance, it comes from twenty years of both my own healing work and working with (primarily dissociative) abuse survivors as a pastoral counselor with psych background. I’ve just deleted four or five attempts to briefly explain what’s problematic about calling forgiveness “key” to healing especially as it relates to such people, because it’s so complicated it can’t be put into a paragraph or two (and I need to get offline and go do homework–I’m in school for psych training, too). So I’ll just say for now that I’ve seen far more dissociative folks than almost anyone sees in a lifetime, and this has been a nearly universal theme. It comes across as, “I can’t do any healing until I forgive my abusers, and I can’t forgive them, so there’s no hope for me.”

          So yes, I *am* adamant about this. Very, and unapologetically so.

          • Lee Walker

            EN,

            I understand how my wording could be construed that way, and will try to correct that and be more clear in the future. As I said, I tend to process things by bouncing them off others. The result is I end up sometimes wording concepts in ways that aren’t fully realized and easily misinterpreted. I don’t want to hijack the thread and get off topic, but just to say that I do NOT believe forgiveness is the quick and easy patch that some think it to be. I know from experience that it’s hard work and often outrageous to consider. I have experienced healing in conjunction with forgiveness. Does healing come first or forgiveness? Maybe both or neither. Perhaps it depends on the situation and people involved, and the depth of transgression and trauma. I look at the Amish community that forgave the killer of one of their children, the work of Bishop Tutu in leading reconciliation efforts to help heal South Africa, and other situations and wonder… “how is that possible?”

            What is clear however, is that individuals like the original poster have been tragically abused and harmed and do not ‘owe’ anything to their abusers. I am not saying they ‘must’ forgive as a condition to healing. I am in full agreement with the majority of posters on this thread that this woman must separate herself from these abusers (the entire toxic family system) and that if one day she is able to release (perhaps a better word than forgive) the need for revenge and let God take care of justice, she might find even deeper healing than she already is. It’s a path, a journey, and often a hard road at that.

            Grace,

            Lee

          • DR

            I appreciate your candor.

          • Don Rappe

            EN I know little of psychology but I have always been sensitive to the notion of “cause and effect” in many different contexts. When you say forgiveness is made possible by healing and not a cause of it, I am 100% aboard with you.

  • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

    By its very nature, true forgiveness can never really be earned, demanded, or deserved. Forgiveness is something L. can only do freely and uncoerced. It is not something she “owes” her brother, but something she may want to do for her own heart’s peace.

    That said, it sounds like what her family wants is not forgiveness, but reconciliation, to go back to some pretense, some fantasy world, where this injury did not take place. But even if she offers her brother forgiveness, there are still consequences for what he did. And one of those consequences is that he has left scars which cause his presence to be painful to his sister. For her own health, L. is well-within reason to avoid his presence to prevent further injury. He gets to live with those consequences. L. cannot change them or ignore them. For him to expect her to ignore the interests of her own spiritual and mental health for him is like expecting someone with a severe and life-threatening allergy to ignore their better judgement and expose themselves to their allergen just to make you feel better about yourself. It’s selfish. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you don’t take steps to avoid being further injured. Allowing him further control, further power to commit injury is unwise and would be harmful to both of them, truthfully.

    Must she forgive her brother? I think for her own health, she must deal with the pain he caused and find a way to put it behind her, not because he deserves it, but because she deserves to be free of her burden of pain. But I don’t believe that means for a moment that she must reconcile to him or relieve him of the consequences of his actions.

    • Don Rappe

      Forgiveness of this type involves penitence of the felonious assailant. If the statute of limitations has not passed he may wish to turn himself over to the authorities and confess his misdeeds. Depending on the number of his offenses and how many years he is sentenced in total, he may humbly and at a distance request forgiveness afterwards, when he will have made the sign of repentance. If the limits have passed, he may heal himself by doing the equivalent without benefit of law. The first step of this is, like the trial, to tell everyone he knows and the public in general of the exact nature and details of his crimes. Then, if after a period of isolating himself from ordinary society, he feels his spirit is healed, he may consider requesting forgiveness. If she is still in pain, she may ignore his request until she has been healed of her pain. IMHO.

      • Don Rappe

        Don’t even ask me about the parents. But, if someone is needed to throw the switch or pull the trigger, I would happily volunteer.

  • Manuel

    John,

    Again and again, I find G-d speaking through you, the compassion of Christ reaching out to others through you, the grace of the Holy spirit touching others through your words.

    Thank you for being open to G-d’s love and for allowing that love to flow through you to others who need healing.

    You are always in my prayers,

    Manuel

  • Rachel M

    My step-grandfather tried to molest me when I was 10 or 12. I was smart enough to run away before he got what he wanted, but I really hated him after that. He did get to a few of my cousins. I made sure never to be alone with him again–until the last time I saw him. He died when I was in college, and when he was in a coma I stood beside his hospital bed, leaned over, and whispered in his ear: “I’m glad you are dying.” Then I walked out. Thinking about him, when some random thing reminds me, still stirs up emotion, but not nearly as much as before I was able to express my hatred to him. I’m a pretty spiritual person, so it makes me squirm a little bit that I was that hateful to a dying man. But it freed me some.

    • olivia

      Rachel M – I take pause with you saying you were “smart” enough to run away. Possibly it was just an unintended and poor choice of words, but it was a poor choice nonetheless. That you were “smart” enough implies that children who cannot escape the abuser are not smart, and that they are somehow responsible, at least in part, for the abuse they suffer. I am thankful that you escaped, but many many more do not.

      • http://patricewassmann@yahoo.com Patrice wassmann

        I had the same thought about that choice of words, which was (I hope )probably an oversight while Rachel was writing. Perhaps, hopefully, she meant that she was lucky enough to be able to get away from him. So many abuse victims are not so fortunate. The reason they are abused is because they are vulnerable and have no means of escape.

        • Rachel M

          Yes, I should have said “lucky.” Thank you.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Rachel: Thanks for this very gracious response. (I didn’t take what you wrote to mean that you were in any way condemning kids who don’t run away; it was clear it was just a conventional choice of words. I’m sure no one was offended by it–though I did also great appreciate Olivia and Patrice’s exquisite sensitivities here.)

  • Christine McQueen

    Dear L.,

    I haven’t yet read John’s reply to this letter, but wanted to tell you my thoughts ahead of that.

    I’ve never gone through what you did as a child, though there were other ways in which some people in my life have “used” me. The most recent is a cousin, who showed up on my doorstep in 2004, needing a place to stay. Of course, being who I am and feeling as I do about family, (family and family connections have always been very important to me) I allowed him to move in. He ended up staying here for just over 5 years, never causing a problem, always paying me a minimal rent and helping by food, etc.

    It was only after he moved out early 2010 and wanted to return last year that I learned he had lied to me for that entire time. Oh, not out and out telling untruths. But he had never, in all the time he was here, told me the whole truth about why he left out home state. In November of 20011, he was arrested on an embezzlement charge and it was in discussing with his son and daughter how to help him that I finally learned that the reason he had changed locations was that he disagreed with his doctor’s assessment of his mental condition. (He was diagnosed as schizophrenic.) Now, in looking back over the years he was here, there were ‘signs’ that were I a more suspicious person might have clued me in to his schizophrenia and paranoia. I guess one could say I just ignored those signs.

    My point in saying all of this is that, yes, I have found it within myself to be able to forgive him, not for HIM, but for ME. I will never allow him (or anyone else) to use me in that way again, but, for my own peace of mind, I will not hold onto my anger. He will never again be a part of my life, but I refuse to hate him. I’ve never expressed my forgiveness to him, because, again, that forgiveness is not for his sake, but for mine.

  • http://www.worcesterfellowship.org Elizabeth Magill

    Thanks John!!

    In my ministry I deal with a lot of people who are both abused and abusers.

    My present theory is that forgiveness that Jesus talked about was always a person (or God!) with power forgiving a person with less power (including a person with money forgiving the debts of a person who owed money) OR in a church relationship, equals forgiving each other.

    So in the case of a person being abused, I suggest that once they feel more powerful than their abuser, then they might want to think about forgiving the abuser. Until then, I don’t think there is any command as Christians to forgive…

    What do you think?

    • EN

      I like this a lot. Forgiveness comes from a place of wholeness and power, NOT from someone who’s being told “you won’t heal unless you forgive.”

    • DR

      That is super insightful. Thank you!

    • Don Rappe

      I agree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.b.douglas Cat Douglas

    Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook, it’s about freeing yourself from the pain and anguish you feel from having been victimized. Forgiveness is never owed to the perpetrator, though it can be earned. If her brother was truly repentant, she might have an easier time finding forgiveness. This is true.

    But it is not just the brother who needs forgiveness here. She indicates her family knew this was happening and for whatever reason failed to protect her from the abuse. That is, believe it or not, a bigger mind f**k than what her brother did. If you can’t trust your parents who can you trust? Does she owe forgiveness? No. Would forgiveness free her of the pain and anguish that still burns her like an open fire? Yes. However, there can be no forgiveness until the perpetrators not only admit they were wrong, that they did damage to her, that they failed to hold her sacred and provide her with the sanctuary of famial protection all children deserve. From the sound of it, her family is in denial about their own guilt.

    Here’s her clue: anytime you are made to feel like you are somehow responsible for any of the abuse you suffered as a child by the person who abused you or the people who knew about that abuse and failed to protect you, forgiveness is not fully available to give or even feel. She may need to stay away from them for as long as it takes for her to heal by herself and come into the full knowledge of her worth.

    She deserves to find peace and to reconcile within herself that this happened to her and she did not have the love and protection she deserved, but this does not have to define the rest of her life. She may never be able to find forgiveness for her bother or her family. But she can let go of the pain and find acceptance that this was a part of her life and through the fire of her pain find a strength to live a life that is extraordinary because she rose above the ashes of her pain.

    It is my hope that she finds a support group where she can obtain the resources she will need to process the grief and feelings of betrayal weighing so heavily on her. I also hope she will continue to trust in God as she understands him. As a child, I too, spent a lot of time with God. I learned early in life that God does not stop the bad things from happening to us. Instead God provides us with the strength we need to rise above them.

  • Mindy

    Once again, John Shore, you have blown my mind with your beautiful words. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Worthington-Long-Enslow/1284198849 Worthington Long Enslow via Facebook

    Spot on as usual, John.

  • charles m

    John, that was outstanding.

  • Colleen Brooks via Facebook

    how about the parents that allow it? they should b in jail.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Granted they should, Colleen, but I doubt that will do much for the letter writer’s healing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Meadows/100001133739970 Brian Meadows via Facebook

    Topnotch, sez I!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    amazing answer. I learn something everytime I read you blog.

  • LSS

    somebody please give her the link to somatic strength’s blog, i can’t find it. the blog is called “it is better to speak”

    • LSS

      this was a great answer, though. especially the part where she needs to do what SHE NEEDS, not owing that family anything.

      i know people coming from both angles of this kind of situation, i mean, people for whom forgiveness worked out and people for whom it would have been the worst thing they could do for their mental health and even safety. it has to be her call.

      Oh i found the blog, it is:

      http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com/

  • Sharla

    Forgiveness doesn’t depend on the offender’s repentance, because it’s just about the victim letting go of their anger so they can go on with their life. If the relationship cannot be restored (as seems pretty obvious in this case), that’s as much as she has to do. And she doesn’t have to do it on someone else’s timeline. She does it when she’s ready–when God makes her ready, perhaps.

    I can’t think of any earthly reason why she has any responsibility to talk to him, or her parents, and if she has minor children I absolutely would never let them have any contact with these people. Forgiveness does NOT mean pretending horrible things didn’t really happen. That only opens the door to more people being put into a position where they have to figure out whether, and when, to forgive their own victimization.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Blaine-Williams/100001220897612 Blaine Williams via Facebook

    this was excellent, and is really good guidance for anyone hurt and/or damaged by others’ mistreatment, rape, sexual abuse, or something else. So, good t read you tell her it was okay to be angry. that her anger is a natural response to such atrocious treatment. And you really pegged it about her parents trying to push the guilt back on her, the victim, to keep from admitting their own culpability.

  • http://rescuinglittlel.wordpress.com Little L

    i feel almost frozen in my chair…i’m a incest survivor….don’t have too many words at this point but thank you…we are so often demonized when we finally start talking, after lifetimes of hell…your validation is strange music to my ears….thank you again….

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Bless you, Little L.

    • Andrew Raymond

      My heart goes out to you, Little L. I pray that healing comes to you as well.

    • http://www.mosaicminds.org EN

      Hi Little L.,

      I’m so glad you’re reading here. There are others like us at the website I have linked. I’ve been there for a very long time.

      • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

        Hi Little L. I’m the letter writer. My heart goes out to you. I feel your pain. Hang in there sweetie…

  • Laurel Louise Lewis via Facebook

    this picture is like a kick in the gut…and the answer is pretty powerful too…good validation…

  • Dianne Mc

    My love and prayers go out to the letter writer. And thank you John for your precious reply to her. It brought to mind my dear cousin who was sexually abused by not only her brothers but her father most of her life. I remember sitting on the school bus with her one day talking about Christ and salvation when she said, “But, you don’t understand, Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with me, not after everything that I have done.” We were 12 years old at the time. I was certainly not a counselor, but I loved her and I knew God loved her and I also knew she had done nothing wrong. I shared with her and we prayed and I heard her ask for forgiveness and pour her heart out to God that day in a school bus on an old country road.

    I don’t think she was asking forgiveness for herself, but for her family. In later years she lived her life going from one man to another. She was never taken out of the circumstances where she might have had a chance. She was shot in the head in a bar where two men were fighting over her. At her funeral, one of her family members made the mistake of saying where I could hear, “Well, she died like she lived, no good.” I lost it on them. I assured them that she had took the sins of her entire family on her shoulders as a child and never felt worthy of anything more, but she was not the sinner nor was she the guilty one, THEY WERE for allowing her to suffer in silence so many years. I felt my own guilt because she had confided in me and made me promise to never say anything. As a child myself, I didn’t know any better than to do as she ask. I regret it everyday. But, most of the adults in the community knew what was going on and not one single person did anything to stop it, it was “family business” and we shouldn’t interfere. Keep the peace at all cost. The cost for her was her life. I have no doubt she is with God and His Son this very moment. What people will do to avoid conflict in a “family circle” is beyond amazing and my heart cries with grief for every child who has to suffer the consequences. Dear Letter Writer, be strong and come to forgiveness when and where and if you ever want to. Much love and prayers for you.

    • Andie

      Good for you for standing up for your friend, even if it was after she was gone. I always regret not saying something when I hear someone say something cruel. You inspire me. I am sorry about the pain your friend carried, and the pain you must feel about her life and death. You are a good friend. Bless you and thank you for sharing.

      • Dianne Mc

        Thank you Andie, all our secrets, burdens and pain become so much lighter when we share with each other. I thank God for being led to this blog. What an incredible group of folks!

  • Andrew Raymond

    John, as ever, you are dead on here.

    Letter Writer, from my own experience as an abuse victim, I can tell you that once you can learn to accept as valid your feelings, I expect that in time you may come to view your brother with pity, rather than with anger. In my own experience that is when forgiveness will begin to happen. But that said, don’t let your family force you into forgiveness on their terms or on their schedule. You need to let it come if or when it comes to you. You need to process out all of that pain and anger to the point where you can begin to let it go.

    May The Lord’s Peace be with you!

  • Mindi Palmer Fried via Facebook

    Thank you. Good and wise words.

  • http://www.mosaicminds.org EN

    Dear L.,

    1. NONE of this was your fault. Never was, never will be.

    2. You are NOT required to forgive by ANYONE. Forgiveness, when/if it comes, will be a fruit of your personal healing and a gift of grace from God.

    3. You are having NORMAL emotions. Dissociation does a lot of odd things to a person’s mental and emotional development. One of the really common things is that a dissociative person has no clue what “normal” is. So we (yes, I am dissociative too, been in treatment a very long time) tend to assume that whatever pops into our heads is normal, *or* we “guess” at what normal is, based on clues we garner from the world around us.

    It is normal and appropriate and healthy to have emotions all over the place about what happened and where you are now. Anger, rage, grief, despair, feeling crazy/unreal….All part of the package. A whole chunk of your life was blocked out. You experienced something completely different from what really happened. All that good stuff feels stolen from you and this horrific bunch of awfulness dumped in its place. Who wouldn’t be totally freaked out, enraged, destabilized, horrified, etc. by that?

    And that’s without even starting to deal with what really happened.

    Then there’s the matter of learning to live with the dawning understanding that you are different from other people. You experience and process things differently. Being dissociative has some interesting challenges attached.

    4. Hmmm, then there are those abusive bastards who think YOU should be required to do something for THEIR benefit. Um, NO, you need do NONE of this for them. Your parents are complicit in the abuse to this day. If they had moved out of complicity, their communication with you would be quite different. They would NOT be talking about forgiveness and family healing and what not. They would be very clearly taking responsibility for YOUR injury and would NOT be playing middleman for your brother.

    If your brother really was taking full responsibility for his actions, this is not the kind of thing he’d be doing. He’d be actively confessing his sins/crimes. He’d be clearly stating his responsibility and how he was willing to do ANYTHING you wanted or needed in order for you to heal…including to disappear from your life forever and never to initiate contact again, waiting instead for you to contact him in your time and on your terms.

    As others have said, they don’t want forgiveness. They don’t want reconciliation. They want to hide from their crimes and they want you to go back to playing the fantasy game.

    I’ve been working on my own healing, as well as working and fellowshipping with people on similar healing journeys, for nearly twenty years. Your abusers–and they are ALL abusers–are playing out a script so familiar I could tell you the next few acts of the play. Don’t let them talk you into going back and participating in their stuff. Contact can and should be 100% on YOUR terms. If they can’t respect that one boundary, how can they be trusted about anything else?

    Regarding the God “stuff”….. What your therapist says probably has some truth to it, insofar as it refers to how you *imagined* God to be. The mental pictures are, of course, your creation. But that does not mean that God wasn’t really there and giving you a special gift of grace to survive the sins of others inflicted upon you. I consider dissociative ability to be exactly that kind of gift. It’s something God created in me and was available to me when I needed it.

    One of the fundamental teachings of Christian faith is that God is *most* present for the people who are suffering the worst. So it only makes sense that you had powerful experiences of God in those times. Don’t let anyone take that truth from you. Your faith will change and develop as you heal, in a way that’s unique to you. You might discover that you have many different experiences of God within your dissociative self/selves. The walk of faith is alive and dynamic, so it changes constantly. For some people it ceases to be meaningful, or the meanings/images/directions change a lot.

    L., you have already survived so much, and done so beautifully. You have an intact conscience. You have love, faith, a sound mind (yes, really! even if it doesn’t feel that way at times). You can heal yourself. You deserve healing. I have great confidence in your ability to do this and great faith in God to see you through.

    I’d like to invite you to take a look at the website I’ve linked here. It’s terribly antiquated, but we’re making big changes (finally entering the 21st century internet LOL) and have high hopes that it will become more user friendly and that the community will grow again.

  • Brena

    Perfect. The burden of reaction to abuse is not with the victim. The victim is to heal for their own sake. Just very well said, John.

  • Christie L.

    Dear L.,

    I believe it absolutely was God who helped you survive. Playing and singing with you, it seems to me such a beautiful thing for God to have done. Bittersweet memories for sure, but from my outside perspective, it shows the power and glory and love of God.

    I pray for as good an outcome to your situation with your family as possible, whatever that looks like for you. And yes, it’s about you and not them.

    Much Love,

    Christie

  • Pass the Forgiveness

    I went through (and am still going through) a very similar situation with my brother and parents. Ultimately, all I want is to never have to see or think about my brother again. He continually put the onus of forgiveness on me, in spite me pointing out that it’s between him and his god. I have never supported the notion that it was my responsibility to forgive him, and now that I have divorced myself from Christianity I feel so even more strongly. I don’t believe that this is something we can heal from together, the thought makes me sick. I will deal with the fallout here in my way, and he can do whatever the hell he wants.

    My parents are so put out by me standing up for myself. My mother can’t look me in the eye when I bring up the topic, my dad just becomes enraged. John, you have it so right…. I was silent for so long, not out of self protection, but because I loved them and didn’t want to cause any grief in my already dysfunctional family. To be told to continue to be silent is evidence to me that they don’t share that same love for me. Why would I put my energy into such toxic people when I have an amazing family of my own now? My husband has never once asked me to be silent or acted like I should handle this in any way but what feels right to me.

    I so, so appreciate this post and to the original poster, I send all of my love to you. It sounds to me like you have your head on your shoulders… And your family has theirs firmly planted elsewhere.

  • Andrea Claassen

    Nothing to add to the discussion, but I want to compliment you on your beautiful response, John. Every one of your blog posts I’ve read so far has been so on the mark, and eloquent, and sensitive, and wise. Thank you for sharing your compassion and wisdom with all of us out here.

    The writer’s story reminds me — sadly — of the story of my best friend in middle school who confided to me that her dad raped her in sixth grade. As she told it, he was “saved” shortly thereafter, and since he had repented before God, she was told that she could no longer be upset about it… it was the former version of him, after all, and now he was born again, a new creature in the Lord. She couldn’t be mad at the new him when it was the old him who committed the act, right? And that’s how a 12-year-old girl was made to deal with a violation that both parents and at least one pastor knew about: in silence, alone, as if she were the sinner for harboring negative feelings about the matter. Forgive and forget, as simply as that. What a load of bullshit. I wish I’d had the perspective, understanding, and wisdom to have helped her back then.

  • Roger

    Brilliant response, John.

    Bless you!

  • Diana A.

    Perfect, John. Absolutely perfect. Thank you so much for your response to this letter!

  • mike

    Dear Letter Writer,

    Having been the victim of (non-sexual) violence that was ignored or minimized by family and friends, I know a little of what you are going through.

    These people you speak of are bad people. Spiritually toxic, horrible, people who need to be cut out of your life. And as John explains, don’t let them back in, except under the most narrow and probationary of circumstances (they really should be begging you for forgiveness.)

    Everything you need to know about their hearts and souls can be found in the words “can of worms” and “owe it.” They are quite evil, really. They don’t follow Jesus, and they are family to you only in the worst possible sense.

    Years ago I was fortunate to share dinner with the Dalai Lama, and he talked to us of forgiveness. He spoke of learning to love and, most fascinating to me, how we must not ignore the nature of those who harm us.

    He said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit: A snake comes near to us and bites us, revealing its nature. If we again extend our hand to the snake and are bitten, the failure is now ours, for we have learned by its own action that it is in this snake’s nature to bite. In refusing to acknowledge this fact, we have asked and expected the snake to change its very nature, something it cannot do.

    People are the same. Once we have learned of a person’s nature, we can never again betrayed by that person; we can only be betrayed by our own expectations of that person.

    For its worth, I found this helpful in making and holding-to the decision to severe harmful relationships from my life.

    And prepare yourself. As you are discovering, people like your family – because they know they’ve done you grave harm – will come at you from all sides trying to make this about your failings, in order to let themselves off the hook. They crave your forgiveness, as they should, and are now demanding it. But John has great insight … they are only doing it for themselves, not you.

    The path to love and healing is harder, and I wish I could be more helpful.

    The words of Jesus and a “simple Buddhist monk” are great, but I also found psychiatry and modern pharmacology very helpful at keeping murderous thoughts at bay.

    Good luck sounds lame, but know I’m only one of hundreds of people out here wishing you much love.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Mike, as someone who also struggled with the inadequacy of words in responding, aren’t all words likely to be inadequate? But for what it’s worth, I think you did a great job.

  • Andie

    Beautiful response, John. You are such a healer.

    That playing and singing wasn’t imaginary; that is exactly what God is sometimes for some people.

    You don’t have to forgive anyone. Your family is circling you like a pack of dogs when they should be groveling at your feet. There is literally NO REASON for you ever to interact with them. If you want to, that’s fine, but you do not have to.

  • Will

    You don’t belong to them. You belong to you. You belong to God.

    Carve these words in stone! Place these words permanently in every heart!

  • Ben

    I second Johns gmail account suggestion, though I would add that rather than reading the mail yourself, let somebody you trust read it and play a triage role. It’s impossible to un-read something and some of what gets sent is likely to be hurtful. You’re in my prayers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.mcclellan Roger McClellan via Facebook

    Well done, John Shore. I say again, I know many pastors who would envy your reach and ministry to the hurting

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I’m sitting here shaking my head in anger and sorrow over what was done to the writer. I tend to think John is correct — many abusers were once victims unless they were born with a screwup in the wiring — but I also don’t think that there is some requirement that the writer grant him absolution for what was done to her. Even if he is willing to make amends, I don’t think she is under any obligation to forgive him. The sheer insanity of her family making her brother’s crimes HER responsibility is beyond ludicrous. What a messed-up pile of dysfunction they must be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Moore/1554332494 Mike Moore via Facebook

    amazing words, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sspencerwolff Scott Spencer-Wolff via Facebook

    Agrees that is nothing less than SPECTACULAR advice. Very good job.

  • Karen Miller

    Like the original letter writer, I was molested as a child and have the same diagnosis. I too, went rigid in my chair as I read her letter and John’s response. After years and years of therapy, John’s response is the first answer to my many questions. My father was abused as a child and he was one of my abusers. Knowing he suffered an egregious childhood has helped me let go of some of my anger. It has not lessened the pain or stopped the nightmares. My father died at home a few years ago, with me taking care of him as he died. He wanted to die at home and my mother was incapable of caring for him. I’m the RN so it seemed logical for me to care for him. I had no feeling for him as I changed his diapers and rectally inserted pain medication. He was simply an old, debilitated man. I wanted to ask him if he was at peace with God but I couldn’t do it. I really didn’t care about his soul or his afterlife. I had long hoped he would suffer for eternity. I had once walked through his house, armed with a revolver. My intention was to kill him, thinking if he was dead my problems would be gone. I had a moment of clarity and left the house. I realized I would go to jail if I killed him and I would be the one suffering, not him.

    I’m 53 yrs old. The effects of the abuse still linger. My relationship with my family is awkward as most of them did not believe me when I told them way back in 1986. They simply thought I was ‘crazy’. Many of my behaviours over the last 35 years would be considered crazy. In-between bouts of depression I have been able to graduate from 2 universities, maintain long-term employment and be respected amongst my peers. But, when least expected, I’ll have a flashback and my life will be thrown into chaos.

    One last thing. I was reared in a home without religion. We had no Christmas or Easter. We were not allowed to go to church. I have no idea why we lived this way. It was simply my fathers command. As a small child, I found a God substitute to talk to. It was the air-conditioner/furnace. At night, unable to sleep, I would hear the furnace click on and off. When it would come on, I talked to it. When it clicked off, I stopped talking. I didn’t know about prayer but my conversations were actually prayers. I prayed to die, I prayed I was adopted and my ‘real’ family would come rescue me, and I prayed for ‘it’ to stop. As an adult, I could not understand why these horrible things happened. I couldn’t understand why a loving God would allow it to happen. I understand the concept of free will and that my abusers had free will. I realize God didn’t do these things to me. I realize that just as I have free will, my abusers had free will. Knowing these things in my head doesn’t mean it has made it’s way to my heart. I can logically think these things through and forgive and let go. But deep down, my heart still aches.

    Thank you John for posting the letter and sharing your answer. You put a voice to what I’ve wanted to hear, all these many years.

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

      Hi Karen, I wrote the letter and so much of what you experienced I can just feel. I too remember just begging over and over and over again to die. OMG, sometimes I couldn’t take it anymore. And at times I would beg to get hurt so that I could just be in a hospital to feel safe.

      My heart goes out to you… I just can’t say much more but trust me, I feel your pain and what you wrote touched me deeply.

    • Sara

      I too cared for my father who died in my home in 2002. I hated him for many years, used to cry at night wishing I were adopted, wishing I could live in some other family. His brutal abuse left me scarred for life. Fists, belts, PVC pipe, fanbelts, electric cattle prods, critical, hateful words…any way he could find to hurt and abuse me was fair game.

      Those last two years of his life, as he disintegrated into the final stages of Alzheimers were a tremendous blessing to….me.

      Caring for him, night and day, listening to his incoherent yells of obscenities, dodging fists and hurtful grasping hands as I tended to his bodily needs gave me the opportunity to let go of the hate and pain that I had carried for years. That hate and pain poisoned me, hurt me, damaged precious relationships ….letting go of it was the most freeing, wonderful gift I’ve ever given to myself.

      Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It lets you get rid of the poison of the evil done to you. Don’t misunderstand me, forgiveness does NOT mean you allow the evil to continue to be inflicted upon you. It means you no longer allow it to affect you. It does NOT mean you have to draw that evil-doer to your bosom to be bitten again.

      Jesus preached forgiveness because he knew of that gift. He knew that gift was the best remedy for the poison left by the evil-doers in our lives. Lynne and Somatic, I pray that you find the peace given by the gift of forgiveness, knowing you do not have to allow those toxic people back into your lives.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I know my saying this here will pretty soon bury it, but I want to say to whomever might at this moment be reading that these responses are just … swelling my heart. AMAZING stuff. Thank you, saints.

    • Dianne Mc

      Thank you John for opening a forum for people to discuss painful events in a safe and supportive manner. It is what true ministering to each other is all about!

      • Andrew Raymond

        Second that!!!

    • mike

      thank you, John … you’ve created a safe space for so many people to discuss and reveal so much about ourselves. The world is a better place because of you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rene.pasquier René Pasquier via Facebook

    You wrote: “And that is something you want to do. You do want to send away the pain your brother caused you. You want to separate from it, bid it goodbye. You want it away from you.”… Love the definition of forgiveness. Well done John.

  • Linnea

    Well said, John. Thank you for the compassion you show in your responses to people who are hurting. You are a blessing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    Great post, John! As usual, you were right in tune with her feelings. Excellent advice. I loved the deeper definition of “forgiveness”…. sometimes we all get hung up on that. Love your posts in general. It’s just a special blessing getting to read them whenever I choose…… GOD BLESS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    P.S. LOVE THE PICTURE!! Atta Girl!

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    I’m not going to read the post or the comments because I won’t be able to handle them. I’m writing this in word so I can do a quick copy paste. Considering the title of this piece alone has sent me into panic and shakes from all the ways that forgiveness is used against me as a survivor, and against most survivors especially in Christianity, there is so much damage that is done in the name of “forgiveness.” And even the usually fancy, redone, “Oh, forgiveness doesn’t mean that it means letting go or moving on” or whatever such bullshit that I’ve heard from Christians, which usually still feels like a “see, you MUST forgive now that I’ve changed the definition” is still a horrible and disgusting thing to say.

    I’m not a Christian anymore, thank myself, because forgiveness alone probably would have killed me.

    So I would like to state for everyone: Forgiveness doesn’t mean healing in the same way that the wound on your face won’t be healed if you forgive me for knifing you in the face.

    If there is some Christian obligation to do something that is harmful to a survivor (and forgiveness is for a LOT of survivors) then fuck Christianity, fuck Jesus, fuck God because you are basically saying that God would like to destroy people while telling them that he’s doing good for them, which is pretty much the epitome of an abuser.

    The only thing a survivor “has” to do is determine what they think is best for themselves. And hell, they don’t have to do that. They don’t have to do anything.

    Half the time Christians who say that you should forgive say it because THEY want to feel better, they could care less about the survivors feelings. And how do I know this? Because when you say, “hey, forgiveness isn’t good for me” you typically get argued down. Because hey, who cares that forgiveness isn’t good for you, WE ARE TELLING YOU IT’S GOOD FOR YOU WHO CARES WHAT YOU THINK IS GOOD FOR YOU. The other half the time they say you should forgive because they believe bullshit prescriptivism comes before the individual. Note: not all medicine works for all people.

    I have many reasons for leaving Christianity. Forgiveness is the only one that makes me hate it passionately, and all Christians who demand it of survivors.

    To the OP: do what you need to do for yourself, whether that is forgiveness or not. I know that as survivors, a lot of times we have a hard time listening to ourselves, and think that we shouldn’t trust ourselves, but you should. Trust yourself and what you think is best for you. If God is a loving God, he will understand. If God isn’t, he isn’t worth obeying.

    To Christians: if you ever tell someone they have to forgive, for any reason, even one you *think* is about the survivor, fuck you, I hate you, and I curse you to an eternity with my rapist brother. Since he claims Christianity just as much as you do, I’m sure that can be arranged.

    • Karen McKim

      Dear Somatic Strength: (what a great name!)

      You are absolutely correct that survivors of abuse do not HAVE to do anything. The world has no right to shovel demands or requirements on people who have already been buried by others under a pile of s**t and poison.

      If ‘forgiveness’ means forgetting events that rocked our world; if it means being friendly or tolerating the presence of someone who did horrible things and pretending they didn’t; if it means implying that what they did was excusable; if it means forcing feelings of disgust, fury, and hopelessness down into the core of our souls where no one else can see them, you’re right. If that’s what forgiveness means, then fuck forgiveness.

      The strength of survivors–those who came through it, those who LIVED–is not to be underestimated. Our fury is ours, and it comes from a place inside us that is strong, secure, and intact, which the abuser never could touch, never can touch. If we didn’t have that hard solid silver core, we would have been conquered. But we were not conquered.

      That hard, solid silver core is the pure seed of the clean, unsullied person we would have been without the abuse. When we find and nurture it, it can, in time, shine through all the shit and poison, and produce not only fury, but the full range of human emotions–all the way to happiness and love. When we find and grow that pure silver seed, all the shit and the poison–along with all the grief, anger, and hurt they created–will be of no more consequence than dirt on the ground beneath our feet. Healing ourselves from our own silver seeds will not be of any benefit or credit to the people who did us harm, but it will make them fade into the oblivion they deserve, while we move on with our new, shining lives.

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

      Hi somaticstrength, I am the one who sent John the letter. I don’t know if you will come back and read this or not but I can definitely say that I understand your reaction and your response. I’ll just say that I went through a time when I told God that I would gladly go to hell for one chance to punch him in the face for what happened to me. I went through a spell where I wanted NOTHING TO DO WITH GOD, NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS PEOPLE, etc, etc, etc… for this very reason. I’ve since come back around some what.

      God is God. His people are his people. And so many of his people are F*%&-ed up.

      I felt the pain in what you wrote. I’m so sorry for your experiences. You are in my thoughts.

      • LSS

        Was wanting you to read her blog because she backs up what John Shore says in the OP response, that YOU and only you get to decide what you need to do and what you are going to do about what you have survived.

  • http://avantaknits.wordpress.com Angela

    So many people think that forgiving someone who caused harm means allowing that person a free pass. No. It does not. Forgiveness means letting go of the hurt and resentment so I CAN BE FREE. Carrying around that anger and bitterness is like holding poison in my heart. It causes further harm, not only to myself, but potentially to the people I hold dearest.

    I was molested by my grandfather when I was a young girl. I forgave him as an adult, but it was all internal…meaning I never even spoke to him. I had no interest in healing the relationship, only in healing me. After years and years of working through it — with therapy, prayer, meditation, medication, and more therapy — one day I was ready, and I just let go of the anger and the hurt. Once I was able to forgive him and let it go, I walked with a lighter step and lighter heart, and never once looked back. Years later, I attended his funeral, but only out of courtesy to my grandmother.

    So, I say, yes, as a Christian, I am obligated to forgive. But only when I can do so freely and without hesitation. Take your time. We all process grief differently. There is no schedule to keep, no one’s time frame to follow. Take care of yourself, and eventually, the willingness to forgive will come.

    • Leslie

      Great response on how and when to forgive. Thanks, Angela.

  • Rebecca

    First, thank you to the writer and to John for being open to discussing this issue. I, too, was molested by an older brother. It’s was a one time offense and my family has never discussed it since; mostly because my brother molested our younger sister for years and that is what our family remembers. What I remember is a vague sense of the sexual molestation and a vivid memory of being disciplined as if I did something wrong. My brother was caught and we both were spanked with a belt. I can not wipe from my memory this fact: that I was humiliated and spanked with a belt for the first and last time in my life. When my sister later came forward, I felt extreme guilt for not protecting her and grateful that she was not punished as I had been. I know my mom and step dad most likely didn’t know what to do at the time but I have not forgiven that instance. I know with a righteous anger that I did not deserve the belt. It seems odd to me that I am more angry about the discipline rather than the molestation; but I think my brother was sexually abused and my parents were meant to protect us. That is where my anger resides. I was left unprotected. I, too, do not think the writer “owes” anything to her brother or family. Long before John expressed it so eloquently, I found my peace in knowing I belong and am accountable to God, not anyone else.

    • Diana A.

      “It seems odd to me that I am more angry about the discipline rather than the molestation;”

      It doesn’t seem odd to me. Their assumption that you were complicit in what your brother did to you was very hurtful, even without the belt. Then the fact that they never acknowledged that they were wrong to punish you when he was the one at fault, that would hurt too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Dooher-Sciarratta/1122474578 Elizabeth Dooher Sciarratta via Facebook

    absolutely brilliant. unfortunately what people think forgiveness is is really like what Pilate did: handwashing.

    • PS

      And even then, Pilate eventually repented according to some accounts…

  • Dawn Dusendang via Facebook

    Wow! Great response! Amazing insight!

  • Cheryl

    I am also a survivor AND a Christian. I whole-heartedly agree with John. Do NOT accept that you have any duty or obligation to anyone in this regard. Your duty is to yourself. I was helped by 7 years of psychotherapy and concurrent work with a spiritual director. Healing is possible, but definitely not easy or quick. Godspeed.

  • Rachel Koopmans

    I agree with your advice John and my heart goes out to this woman. No doubt I will be lambasted for this post but I don’t agree that children who act sexually towards other children were necessarily abused themselves, and I think it is dangerous to say so, because you are implying that someone in the boy’s circle has done the same to him, and planting a seed of suspicion. Will she ever be able to look at her dads and uncles again without wondering? The fact is, children and teenagers ARE innately sexually curious and we need to come to grips with that. Goodness, we played “doctor” with our cousins and neighbours all the time. Unfortunately there are children out there who haven’t been taught to RESPECT BOUNDARIES either, and can take things to another level without an adult’s understanding and consideration of the circumstances (especially when the child becomes a teenager and teenage hormones add risk-taking to the scenario).

    Please don’t think I am denigrating this woman’s experience – but don’t fob it off as “he must have had it done to him”. I DO think there’s a difference between children molesting children and adults molesting children – although once again I am NOT excusing the actions – and that doesn’t make that boy a paedophile (note that by 17 his actions had stopped – I imagine because he had begun to develop an adult’s understanding that what he was doing was wrong.) I am quite sure he looks back on this situation with intense shame and regret, and (like most of us would) he has tried to block it out and not deal with it. I am profoundly impressed that this woman has had the courage to shine a light into her past and deal with it.

    One of my children had ADHD as a child and when he was about 12 he made an inappropriate advance towards his ten year old cousin, who immediately came out of her room and told her mother (my sister) and I about it. I can assure you he was NOT sexually abused by anyone! We sat him down and firmly and severely set him straight, and that was the end of that. He needed to understand that his actions were wrong, and he needed to learn about boundaries. He is now 21, in a relationship with a wonderful girl and I have no concerns that he will do anything to harm any future children he might have. I just wish the same had happened with that boy when HE was 12 – things might be different for this family now. I pray they can work through things together and come to some resolution, whatever it may be.

    • DR

      Rachel, I appreciate the intention behind this post. It’s important to point out the exception to the rule and acknowledge that some gray exists – a minute amount, and it’s exactly in the scenarios you described. The exception, however proves the rule and the timing of bringing up sexual experimentation and the reasons behind abuse when this young woman was clearly raped, over and over again doesn’t seem productive to the primary purpose of this post? That’s my reaction.

      . This is repetitive sexual abuse – rape – that happened for years. It’s not in the ball park of childlike experimentation or playing doctors. There’s some substantial data that shows sexual abuse at this level is almost always generated as a result of being victimized by it.

      That’s my reaction to your comment.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      A little boy “acting sexually toward other children,” expressing “innate sexual curiosity” and “not respecting sexual boundaries” is a very long way from a teenage boy serially sexually abusing his much younger sister over a period of at least seven years. That’s like saying a little spontaneous rough-housing is the same as stalking someone and beating them near to death–repeatedly, for seven years.

      • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

        Hello. I am the author who wrote the letter. I am just now going through the comments and wanted to say that my brother was in fact abused. I remember his abusers quite well but having a childlike understanding of it all did not know what had occurred until many years later. When I recalled his abusers it actually helped me understand his side a little bit, even though I still just cannot forgive it.

        Interestingly enough when I pointed out to my parents his abusers and where they came from they said they felt relief that there was a reason he acted that way and became angry on his behalf. That part did not help. They did not get angry for me.

        Anyways… just wanted to throw that part out there.

        • Rachel Koopmans

          Thanks Lynne, for taking the time out to clarify things. I understand how intensely difficult it must be to even have this discussion! Please don’t think I was siding with your abuser or in any way attempting to diminish your experience – it wasn’t clear from the initial postings that he had been abused himself. I’m sorry your family didn’t get angry for you too. I wonder if your abuser had been a stranger whether they would respond differently.

          Once again I reiterate that I agree with the advice that John has given you. God bless you on your journey to healing and wholeness xxx

          • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

            Thanks Rachael. :)

        • Leslie

          Lynne, when I first read this post earlier I was stunned. Your story mirrors mine so much it was eerie. Then I read this response of yours, and again, I’m stunned by the similarities. My mom also showed much anger towards my father for abusing my half-brother (as well as my other brother and sister) but never once showed any anger towards my half-brother for abusing me, my brother, and sister. That still makes me angry at times. As a parent I can understand loving your children unconditionally…but that wasn’t my mother. Her love was very conditional. So why’d she act like this? I’ll never know.

          I’m with everyone else that has said forgiveness isn’t for the person who abused you, but for you. You forgive someone and in some strange way it takes away the remaining power they have over you. I also think forgiveness is a process. I started really dealing with my childhood about 8 years ago and still haven’t completely forgiven him. I forgive some parts then find I have to forgive again and again. BUT I absolutely won’t forget what he did. I also absolutely refuse to have anything to do with him.

          I understand that he started abusing because he was abused–same as your brother. That doesn’t take away their responsibility in their actions. Even a child knows right from wrong.

          Honestly I wouldn’t have anything to do with him at all unless he sincerely asked for your forgiveness, admitting to you and your family that he was the one in the wrong and shouldn’t have ever hurt you. I hope that your brother eventually realized he was doing wrong which would probably mean he stopped that behavior. But he still has to seek forgiveness.

          Sorry I rambled on. I have a fever and am on cold medicine, making me rather loopy. I do wish you well and hope you know that even with the dissociation and everything else you can heal. You can do this! If you ever want to talk privately with someone who’s been there please get my email from John or message me on facebook (I’m one of the admins on Unfundamentalist Christians).

        • DR

          It’s so crazy, Lynne. How alone you must have felt in all of that. Makes me cry.

        • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

          They should have been angry as hell on your behalf. Regardless of whether your brother was a victim as well, his victimization of YOU hurt you, scarred you for life. They should have folded protectively and lovingly around you and acknowledged your pain, acknowledged righteous anger at YOUR abuser, not just his. Gah. It makes my brain hurt.

          I just want to go hug my children now, since I can’t reach through the internet and hug you, Lynne.

      • DR

        Thank you, that comment left me quite unsettled. Room for all sorts of points of view but “playing doctor” is not even remotely part of the scenario here.

  • John Carson via Facebook

    John, I’m sitting here in tears. I was sexually abused as a child by individuals outside my home. It turns out my wife was also molested/abused by her brother. This article hits so close to home for her/us. For the last several years I have been active as part of the management team for an interactive website geared toward men who were sexually abused as children. I just want to say your article is the most poignant, articulate, and spot on article I/we have ever read on this topic. Thanks sooo much for giving victims a voice with your words!

  • DR

    Dearest letter writer,

    I’m stunned by the expectations your family has placed on you. But then I’m not so stunned, given how we have perverted “forgiveness” to the point where we no longer can recognize it anymore.

    Simply put, Christians seem completely ill-equipped to know how to face, acknowledge and repair the damage and devastation of sin. We can’t manage our own feelings about it – we can’t even FEEL it. We’ve turned God into this magical fairy who has all of the answers so we can move through the ravages of sin as quickly as possible and just “be OK”. Which in many Christian families means not *feeling* anything negative.

    Forgiveness is not a holy amnesia. It exists to drain the toxic of evil from our being.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anita-Baker-Gillette/100000188333213 Anita Baker Gillette via Facebook

    Phinneas and Doug, I’m glad to have seen your responses because that is the truth. The forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiver, not the forgiven. I have forgiven my step father for his multiple versions of abuse to me for over 10 years. I forgave my mother for just standing there and often telling me I was mistaken. I forgave my aunt and uncle for sexually molesting me for 10-12 years. I forgave the woman who slept with my husband. I forgave my ex-husband for what he had done to me and our family. NOTICE I said EX husband because we do not have to be friends with these people but the act of forgiveness frees us from a festering poisonous wound inside that only kills us eventually. God TELLS us to forgive and doesn’t make any conditions for it.

  • Matthew Principe via Facebook

    SHE’s awesome!

  • Colleen

    When I “spilled the beans” (Yep. That is what it was called) about my grandpa molesting me I was looked at as some kind of freak. I hated our family. My sisters and cousins denied me.

    • Andrew Raymond

      I’m sorry you had to go through that Colleen. My heart and prayers are with you.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      It makes me deeply angry that so many victims are victimized not only by their abusers but by the families who are supposed to protect and cherish them. FURIOUSLY ANGRY.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Melissa-Soalt/100000120420262 Melissa Soalt via Facebook

    Good answers.

  • Nai-nai Gonzalez via Facebook

    I loved a good portion of your response! It is so true that people often tell others to “forgive” and use various manipulation techniques such as, “don’t you love us?” Or “you have to forgive because you are a christian” to keep people silent and to try and focus the attention away from their responsibility for what occurred. I also enjoyed how you reaffirmed that her emotions were normal. and Im glad you pointed out how hurting people often hurt other people. I’m not sure though i agree that he was not morally culpable for his actions, at least when he first did them. Not everyone who is abused, even from a young age, abuses their younger siblings. but that’s just my two cents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Baker/1466226554 John Baker via Facebook

    I’d sit down with him… As long as I was holding a rusty straight razor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drenda.tigner Drenda Tigner via Facebook

    No

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.n.weigand Lisa Noelle Weigand via Facebook

    “Pointing to…means pointing through” has been in my mind all day. Beautiful, John.

  • Michael

    i always wondered why the phrase forgive and forget was used so much. I mean forgiveness, sure, but forget? why would you forget? thats just setting yourself up to be a victim again.

  • Angela

    Dear Mr. Shore,

    Thank you. Thank you for posting wonderful advice to the lady who wrote to you. If you were a pastor (are you??), I would RUN back to the Christian church. It’s so wonderful to hear a real person speaking and not one just spouting verses I don’t understand or one who makes others feel guilty.

    Angela

  • http://www.facebook.com/Grynner Chris Clement via Facebook

    Technically, yes, she does need to forgive him. If only as part of her own healing process.
    She does NOT need to inform him of this forgiveness. She does NOT need to have any further contact with, let alone a “sit down” with him. For that matter, If she can forgive, and move on, then she can leave her biological family behind if they cannot understand and hold her brother accountable (however hard that might be for the parents)…she would not be the first to abandon a dysfunctional blood family for a family of choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Grynner Chris Clement via Facebook

    I take that back. I can think of 2 ways that she would need to face him again….One of them involves him sitting as the accused in a court of law. The other….isn’t quite so christian tho it is biblical.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevohhhh Steve Rose via Facebook

    Religion just makes this even more of a mess than it needs to be. Her brother molested her. He needs to be punished and held accountable now so there’s less chance he will do it to anyone else. Not wait for god to dole out the punishment, especially since there is no god. And for her to worry about what god will think of her depending on how she reacts is crazy. A human man, her brother, molested her, a human child and now woman. There is no god that is going to look down on her for responding in an ungodly manner. Her feelings are hers. She can feel and respond in whatever way she likes without having to worry about what anyone else or any supreme being might think. No one can tell her how she should respond. No one else went through what she did. Her problem now has been totally brought on by her religious beliefs. Poor girl has been victimized by everyone around her, especially those who continue to promote the fairy tales.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jill-Joiner/100000809409370 Jill Joiner via Facebook

    Tears fill my eyes as I read that sweet sweet womans letter because it could be mine. I forgave but I had to step away from my family because they wanted to essentially play happy family and it was a lie. John you have been told great advice etc. I want to add your empathy was amazing and you recognized how your own family could be the most poisionous.

  • Meryl Stewart via Facebook

    That’s the trouble with all these “turn the other cheek” christians (lower case WAS intentional) this girl wants and deserves VENGEANCE … it is not “the Lord’s” it is hers, and personally I would advocate cutting off his dick and stuffing it down his throat (response from someone who was raped as a young girl and whose christian parents blamed her for the rape)

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Aw, damn, Meryl. I’m really angry and sad that happened to you.

      I’m also in the dick-stuffing camp.

  • Tim

    So many of us have been through the ringer. I can’t really critique any one else in their coping.

    However, I must say that I learned to forgive something between what John and the others are expressing here and the typical judgmental Christian way. Some of these people I have confronted, others not, mainly that was opportunity or lack thereof. Always, however, I have allowed the memory of the wrong done to me to be divorced from the person. Maybe I’m just not as noble as everyone else here or not as far along, but I don’t have that switch that allows me to remain angry (even righteously so) and move on. That would feel too much like a cleavage or divorce from healing.

    In essence, I can’t get over the ill that has happened to me until I literally decide to hold the other person guiltless. Rationally, this is possible because I can’t fathom what would lead to someone else acting in those certain ways. I can’t imagine what would mess you up so bad. then again, I know there are countless people so warped by evil. In the end, this is the Devil’s world. I may never trust the person again, but I choose to not hold them accountable. That allows me to get over them and get to my own healing in a way that is constructive as I can get to.

    I know that my abuse has resulted in issues. I still view sexuality (mostly without meaning to and I realize it when I consider any form of commitment and intimacy) as an exploitative thing. The two ideas are inescapable and have been for years and I don’t see how they break apart. Sex just simply is about one (or more) people utilizing another (or more than one) person for their own gratification. My one real relationship (with a great guy in many ways broken himself) was charged with sexual potential, but I would never have been able to get to that point myself without becoming something I didn’t want to be as a human being. Such are the remnants of my brokenness. It isn’t good, so I can’t critique the alternative here. I just know that my best was different. It has to have been about the other person before I can let it be about me.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    Skimming the letter again after thinking about it all day… I posted earlier about my own family life – not so bad, but with its own dysfunctions. I kinda had a flashback to the family dynamics of psychological warfare that went on in my household. It was raised to an art form, which is why I recognize horseshit when I smell it…

    The way your family is approaching you – your brother getting your parents involved and them all saying you “owe” something and that you “have to forgive becuase you’re a Christian.” GAH – That’s straight-up emotional manipulation. It speaks to me of people who aren’t ready to truly reconcile their relationship with you but of people who think they still have (or should have) power over you. They’re trying to guilt-trip you into doing what they want when they should be *on their knees* before you, acknowleding themselves as *utter crap* excuses for “humans” for abusing you/allowing the abuse to happen.

    I think a lot of people confuse “forgiveness” with “reconciliation.” Sometimes “forgiveness” isn’t “Yay! You’re sorry! Let’s have happy rainbow funtimes together!” Sometimes, “forgiveness” is simply walking away without burying a well-deserved hatchet in someone’s brain.

    I am sorry if I sound a little “fierce” it’s just that thinking about this letter makes me angry that they’d do what they did to you, then have the sheer BALLS to try to guilt-trip you.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Point well made as ever, Shadsie.

    • vj

      “Sometimes, “forgiveness” is simply walking away without burying a well-deserved hatchet in someone’s brain. ”

      I think this should be a bumper sticker…

      • Diana A.

        Agreed!

  • Blake

    7X70 times, my friend. They interpreted it as “forgive” for a reason.

    • PS

      Christ also said forgive IF your brother repents. IF he comes to you and says “I repent,” *then* you forgive In other words, if someone does NOT repent, we are under no obligation.

      If. Such a tiny word, but probably the most powerful one in that directive.

  • B

    Hello John, though I agree with your recommendation for Lynne I don’t agree with two things you said, 1. “You do not NEED to forgive him”, might better be stated “you do not

    “HAVE” to forgive him, but yes, Lynne DOES need to forgive for the very reasons that Jesus commanded it because He knew that a “root of bitterness” grows and festers within our hearts if we do not forgive. Angela put it correctly when she stated, “So many people think that forgiving someone who caused harm means allowing that person a free pass. No. It does not. Forgiveness means letting go of the hurt and resentment so I CAN BE FREE. Carrying around that anger and bitterness is like holding poison in my heart. It causes further harm, not only to myself, but potentially to the people I hold dearest.” I once heard that when we don’t forgive we become, “emotional bond-slaves” to the abuser. I was abused as well as you all above. I too have shared many emotions and had relationships that had not worked out due to the harm that abuse caused, however, I have forgiven my abuser, not put myself in harms way to be engaged in that abuse any further, however left the revenge for my God to judge. We are to forgive our “brothers 70×7 times Jesus said”, doesn’t mean we have to speak to them or be around them or have them in our lives rather “let them go, as a gift to ourselves in freeing our souls to live wholly again. There are wounds that only will be healed in eternity, but I don’t want to cling to anger here and be miserable for the rest of my earthly life also.

    2. John, that Lynne’s brother is indeed “culpable” for his behavior, regardless of whether he had been abused or not. We are responsible for our choices from the “age of knowing” and he was certainly capable for “knowing” what he was doing, taking his rage and violent anger out sexually on his sister. This brother should be reported to the police for his actions and let the law deal with him as well as their parents for neglect. This is not hatred or anger, rather justice and holding the people responsible for their actions who are not interested in true reconciliation and the interest of Lynne, rather the interest of themselves.

    • Warrior of Lourdes

      I was going to make a similar reply, but you beat me to it! http://www.warriorsoflourdes.org

    • DR

      You are not reading to understand. And to tell someone who has survived this experience that they *need* to forgive or they will remain angry and bitter forever is not the language recommended with victims. Stop telling victims what they need to do, honestly, what is so difficult to get about that? People find their own way with the suggestions they seek and receive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Betty-Ann-Simpson/673361077 Betty Ann Simpson via Facebook

    Yes, Drenda, let’s talk about this one!

  • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

    While there are many good comments here, I’m struck by the lack of anyone emphasizing publicly outing this man. While you may not be able to get legal justice, you can do everything that you can to prevent him from doing this to anyone else (it’s possible/probable that you’ve already done, I just want to bring it up on the off chance that you haven’t and for anyone else that may have similar issues). Only one person so far, Doug, suggested getting legal advice. This may be helpful, I’m not sure. My thoughts involve informing anyone in his life who has children of the horrible things that he did. He began abusing you at 5 and stopped (don’t know if this was due to his own decisions or if he had to stop for some external reason). He can’t be on the sex offender registry if he’s never been convicted, but there’s nothing stopping you from creating a website with his name, picture, address, description of abuse and anything else that you find relevant. As I type this, I realize that it sounds vengeful. I in no way mean it this way. Part of healing could be knowing that you have done all that you can to prevent the same things from happening to others. IF you have any desire to follow John’s advice and email your family, you could inform them that acknowledgment of and regret for their actions would go a long way. If your brother expresses this, you could inform him that he is dangerous and that he should voluntarily keep himself away from children. Families with children should be warned about him. If he can accept this, then maybe there is something good left in him. If he can’t, then he isn’t acknowledging his actions and I see no reason for further contact. As for forgiveness, I think that’s an entirely different issue from whether or not you keep in any contact with the family that did this to you. That’s my opinion though. These are intended as suggestions, not proscriptions. I’m also not suggesting that this is all that you do, but I think that other people have better things to say on the forgiveness/letting go/healing part.

    • DR

      Don’t be surprised – a lot of people just wanted to offer her their love, understanding and support, not remind her of the additional burdens and expectations placed on victims to “out” their abuser so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. There’s a time and a place for that.

      • Andrew Raymond

        Agreed, DR. The emotional burden of outing the accuser can be immense. And after having her initial attempt at doing so rebuffed by her family, I would have to say that I would probably be reluctant to go that route if I was in her position. Not to mention that getting any kind of legal action initiated years later is difficult in the extreme.

        • DR

          Exactly this. Her parents actually had the responsibility of informing the authorities. The burdens on victims are so horrifying. I get the desire to want to see that happen, it’s an impossible place to be in. Jesus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DianeReischling Diane Re via Facebook

    @Chris Clement: Chris, a victim does not *need* to do anything but heal according to their specific and customized terms. Please be so careful, forgiving doesn’t always need to happen for people to heal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DianeReischling Diane Re via Facebook

    @Steve Rose: I like a lot of what you said. I also wonder what the hundreds of sexual abuse victims reading this who actually do rely upon their faith – and have – to heal think about you classifying their source of restoration) as “fairy tales”. Perhaps in making your point you could do so without the agenda of making sure everyone knows being an atheist is the only proper posture to hold. Thanks.

  • Marthina

    For me, personally, been molested from the age of 5 (well, that’s when I started to remember it) by 2 family members and a rape survivor 2 years ago. (not by a family member, but a total stranger) it took me a while to reach the place I’m at right now. I can’t ever forget what happened and probably won’t. I’ve been taught from a very early age that you MUST forgive because you will be set free from bitterness in your life and unforgiveness is like a “cancer” in your body. I went for trauma counselling for years and I still couldn’t get myself to forgive them. Even after the one family member committed suicide, it didn’t make it better. But what I did realise over the years is that “forgiveness” to me, is an ongoing thing! I have to “forgive” them everyday. Especially that time of the year, 31 October, the day I was raped. And let me tell you, its not easy. Its opening all the wounds all over again. And its raw for a long time.

  • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

    Hello, this is the writer of the letter. I have not been able to read all of the comments, as they were a lot. I read John’s blog every day and he has (literally) kept me sane at times with his compassionate response to issues in Christianity/religion that have almost at times eaten me alive. I am also gay, recently came out and I started to read John’s writing a few months ago during a time when I hated God just because I thougth that my sexuality and faith in God could not be compatible. This fact about me has nothing to do with why I’m writing, I just wanted to state how I came to start reading (AND LOVING!) John’s writing.

    Now to why I’m writing. After reading what I could last night I went to bed. Some day I may read everything but it was just too much last night. Anyways, last night I a dream that I think came from many of the comments on the blog. I woke up and wrote a note to my counselor which I would like to share with you:

    I had a dream last night that I went off on my mother. I know I’ve had these dreams before, but this one was more vivid. I have absolutely no idea what I said. I didn’t actually have words in the dream; I was just screaming a bunch of syllables at her. My entire family was sitting there at my grandmother’s dining room table.

    I woke up feeling like I had been in a complete rage. My entire body was stiff. The one thing I think odd is that I felt like in the dream I was actually angry for somebody else. In the dream I think it was me as a little kid yelling at my mother. I felt like a little kid screaming at her, like I had a complete temper tantrum, and I think I would’ve thrown my toys at her if I had any around me.

    Oh my God the dream was so raw and so vivid and talking about it just makes me more angry.

    I think this started because I sent a letter to John Shore, where I told my story, and he asked for permission to post my letter on his blog. My letter and his response to it resulted in so many comments. Many of the comments were compassionate; a lot of them expressed anger against my family. Some of the comments talk about prosecution against my brother, and prosecution against my family.

    I had to stop reading it was too much. It was good to read but I just had to stop .

    It’s one thing to try to get angry for yourself. It’s another thing to have a couple of people in your life getting angry for you. But when that many strangers get angry on your behalf, it makes the reality a little easier to connect with.

    I have been way too kind to my family. I’m doubtful that I’m going to go off on them. I don’t know that this will change how I interact with them currently.

    What I do know right now is that I want very much to grab hold of that little girl, and hold her tight. They don’t matter here, but she does.

    And she’s never been as angry as she was in my dream last night.

    So many of your comments felt therapeutic for me. I found some of them to be a bit much but I can compartmentalize that.

    Anger is very difficult for me to accept. I quite literally shut down when I feel it coming on. You would need to know me to understand why. “Outing” my brother, my family, or even seeking prosecution, legal action, etc is very difficult for me. Again, you would need to know me to understand. My personal and professional life does not allow for that without major (AND I MEAN MAJOR) interruption. I, like many of you have a family, a professional life, etc… and there must be a balance. That being said, I have contacted child protective services multiple times to report him (as he does unfortunately live with children which I LOATHE). There have been a couple of investigations that have not gone anywhere and I hope that is because he has not done this again. I’ve done what I can, including informing his girl friend of the past (and I mean, BRUTAL DETAILS… I TOLD HER EVERYTHING and she chose to remain with him). I’ve also spoken with close friends who work in law enforcement who are in fact willing to help me through the system if I choose legal action (which is not off the table). Unfortunately, the reality of it is that it did occur so many years ago. And one thing about the area where I live is that the district attorney is chicken S%#@ in prosecuting even the most solid case. So my best bet is to contact child protective services in our state for the children he lives with to be checked on. And they have checked… and my family was PISSED at me for doing that (but oh well…) And I will continue to take calculated steps forward to deal with him and do my best to protect the children.

    Now, to those of you who responded who share my history… my heart breaks. I read a few of your comments and just felt your pain. I have no words.

    Anyways… thank you John for your response. Thank you for being just freaking amazing. And thank you for the role you’ve played in my life lately.

    • Lymis

      Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t imagine how hard this all is for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eleanora-Grey/100003314483878 Eleanora Grey via Facebook

    Thank you John Shore for posting this. I am “L”.

  • Anonymous

    Just wanted to write in, Lynne, as a fellow survivor of sibling abuse and a queer woman. My brother also physically and sexually abused me. I still love him, and I always will. I’ve healed and found a wonderful life that includes him, though I know this is not possible for all survivors. My family also guilted me extensively as they worked through the news when I told them.

    As a culture, we think of abusers as just monsters, because it’s easier that way. They couldn’t be beloved brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, friends, pillars of the community, and break another human being like that. So we turn to the victims for answers. “She shouldnt’ have…” “He didn’t…” “They were…”

    I got through to the other side, but I don’t have answers. I wish I did.

    I just want to say this again, for you and me: God loves us. For the Bible tells us so.

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

      Thank you Anonymoust. The feelings of love and hate (and then love and hate again) come so quickly when it comes to our abusers, huh? And the weird responses we feel (like protect them??? How can that be?? Keep the secret for years??? Feel pain for them??? Then hate them again???) can be hard to accept. I honestly think my brother deals with his own personal hell. He’s a raging alcoholic and a drug addict and has never been able to hold a job, have a long term relationship, etc. I don’t view him as a monster. I see him as an adult now but parts of me see him as I view the men who hurt him as monsters. I view him as a broken man. I still get angry sometimes but at other times I actually hurt for him.

      Sorry for anybody that just does not “get that”. Trust me… the feelings come and go so quickly some times. Tomorrow I may hate him. Tomorrow I may feel like a little girl again afraid of him. You just never know…

  • Matthew Stockmyer via Facebook

    @Steve Rose, You have some good points mate, however, stating that there is no God, when in fact, you nor I have no more clue that there actually is a God is moot.

    This woman turned to a faith to help her through this. Her “christian” parents did not do what was supposed to be done. Her brother is srsly a POS. However…..

    That does not give you the right to declare your arrogance and stupidity by pushing atheistic viewpoints on a site that does not necessarily believe what you don’t.

    You have no true knowledge, you try to base your stuff on “facts,” when in FACT, neither you, nor I have any facts or any KNOWLEDGE of there being a God. But, what separates many from hating people such as yourself is that they BELIEVE in a deity to help them through whatever, and it may or may not give them some sense of purpose. Whether it be God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Buddah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever. Soooo sit down and leave YOUR religious viewpoints outside pls.

    To be honest, I attribute this woman even discussing this and getting past it with the strength of some kind of faith to be honorable at the very least. And to the author of the letter:

    Honey, you DESERVE retribution, you DESERVE the right to live without these horrible memories and feelings. Your childhood was ROBBED from you, and you did what you could – whether it be called disassociating or a Deity really matters not – your mind did what it could to pull you through it.

    No, you don’t HAVE to forgive him. No, you don’t NEED to forgive him. You can hate him forever. BUT, if you choose to forgive this man, you don’t have to do so to his face, nor to your family’s knowledge. Period. They only person that truly matters in this is YOU. I don’t recall anywhere in religious texts that say that the perp has to be knowledgeable of your forgiveness. Personally, I would forgive him, as he himself was an immature child…. but I wouldn’t tell him, and just let him sweat it out. But that’s MY viewpoint. Ok, rant over

  • mike

    Lynne, I’ve noticed a few comments suggesting you go to law enforcement about this. If you are considering doing so, be exceptionally thoughtful and careful in your decision.

    In my experience, and in the experience of several people I know, law enforcement and the courts often make these matters worse, inflicting more harm on the abused than on the abuser.

    Because of the act of violence against me, the police were brought in. For years my life revolved around – it was completely inescapable – courts and attorneys. My own life was dissected publicly. My own mistakes pounced upon and amplified.

    Lies about me were made up to diminish my credibility. The lies were obvious, without any basis, and transparent … yet the defense attorneys and the judges let these be entered into the public record without comment or caveat. For the record, the oath witnesses give to tell the truth is all but meaningless in a court of law, so rare are witnesses and their attorneys held accountable.

    My attackers ended up in jail and probation. This provided zero satisfaction or closure for me. I was much worse for the experience.

    The process to get them there was so harrowing that I walked away more damaged and angrier than ever, because, in addition to anger over the original act of violence, I was then seething with fury at the judges, the defense attorneys, and even the prosecutor.

    Were I in your shoes, knowing what I know today, I’d stay away from “the system.” My only exception would be if I thought your brother were still a predator.

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

      Hi Mike. I actually work in law enforcement. I probably have more resources than most and more connections but I also know how difficult this case can be to prove. Take that intimate knowledge and combine it with the pain of being interrogated and it just makes you want to run like hell.

      It’s different for each person – some just need to come forward and report. Some can not. No matter what, each of us should always let the victims of the crime come forward when they are ready. And until that day we should just support them in whatever way they need.

      I’m so sorry for your experiences… :(

      • mike

        and I yours.

        Given you have gone through, I’m relieved to know you work in law enforcement. I wish there were more people who understand what you understand.

        best thoughts to you.

  • Ashley C

    I am so very terribly sorry for what happened to you! Honestly, I believe that Jesus tells us to forgive to keep us from harboring anger/resentment/pain that can hinder our lives and thusly end up harming ourselves. In cases like this, however, ‘forgiveness’ can be far more harmful to us than protecting ourselves, assuming it can even be done. God does not want us to inflict harm on ourselves, which is why I FIRMLY believe that there are situations where forgiveness is simply not the solution and not what God would want.

    I also think the notion that forgiveness is somehow linked to having the person you are forgiving in your life is absurd. I have never understood why people seem to think that forgiving someone for hurting you means you have to continually give them the opportunity to hurt you again so that you have to go through the process of forgiving them again and allowing them to hurt you again. It’s a horrible cycle and something I struggled over with my own father for many years. I finally decided that I could work through and forgive him for his past transgressions against me, but that did not mean that I had to believe he was going to change or to subject myself to further proof that he wasn’t.

    Even if you DO someday ‘forgive’ your brother, that does NOT mean that you suddenly have to start having him over for dinner or spending family holidays with him. You are the victim here, regardless of what your family seems to think. I pray that you continue with your counseling and your faith and that one day you are able to find peace on this matter. But don’t let your family and their guilt and shame bully you into hurting yourself further.

  • Amitai Sela

    Forgiving him has absolutely nothing to do with him or even interacting with him. Forgiveness is about you letting go of your pain and anger. These can cause you continued harm and traps you in a vicious cycle. Giving forgiveness is for him, and you have no obligation to do that unless it helps in your healing process. Pain and anger feed on your life. You should never forget what happened. Just don’t let your past be a weight against your future. You sought comfort and peace in G-d. Continue that process. You have a strong personal relationship with your idea of G-d. Use that to heal. Forgiveness will allow the wound to close. The true forgiveness that is required here is forgiving yourself. You will always carry the scars, but in time, if you forgive yourself, you can reclaim the life the G-d wants for you.

    As far as your brother goes, he is seeking acceptance and approval, not forgiveness. This must never be given because there is no situation where what he did is acceptable or approved. To achieve forgiveness he must focus on you and your healing and accept his mistakes. I do not get the impression that he or your family have done so yet. You must attend to your wounds before you can consider attending to theirs. If they truly love you and seek your forgiveness, then they will tend to your wounds and accept their culpability. Until then, it is just you and G-d. You have a personal relationship, whether real or imagined is irrelevant, which is guiding you towards your healing and salvation. Follow your light.

  • Ina

    a long while ago, a writer, child advocate, and lawyer named Andrew Vachss addressed the issue of ‘forgiveness’ with Oprah on national TV, talking about the abuse she suffered at the hands of an uncle, and the family that got mad at her for confronting the situation as an adult, despite evidence that she was not his only victim.

    I suspect the interview is still available, either on youtube, or through his website.

    it might help…it will hurt, I’m sure – cleaning wounds is almost always painful…but I have yet to hear a more eloquent person speak on the difference freeing yourself, and freeing someone else from the consequences of their actions.

    part of healing is discovering for your own self what helps. it does take time, and it may need to be set down and picked up again many times before the process is completed…

    you’re so very right, and perceptive…that little girl, and the woman, are what matter, through all the stages of mourning, and rebuilding, and new wonders.

    bright blessings in your journey.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, I saw that show! Vachss was (is?) excpetionally powerful.

  • Rhonda

    As someone who was physically and sexually abused for many years by my parents, I’ve done much in the way of counseling and re-parenting and learning who I am – becoming a whole person – and realizing who they were/are – selfish people who refuse to admit and take responsibility for what they did. I don’t think it matters one single bit whether they were abused themselves, it doesn’t make what they did to me and what this brother did to his innocent little sister, acceptable or excusable in any form at all. The are many people in this world who have been abused who do not go on to hurt others.

    My parents are not a part of my life at all because of their actions. My father killed himself two years ago, he went to his grave refusing to take responsibility for his actions and the horrific, life long damage they caused not only to me but to my sisters as well. My mother refers to me as ‘f*#king family” and the ‘ruination of her life’. With that said, it is absolutely acceptable, if not necessary, to remove these kinds of people from your life. It doesn’t matter if they’re your family or not. Good riddance to bad rubbish as they say. Especially if they continue to blame you – the victim!!

    Oddly enough, I became a Christian in 1995 and spent a majority of that time believing that I had to forgive and forget, the message given to me by many of the leaders at every church that I attended who knew about my history. However, as my growth has matured and a clearer view of life and the world around me emerges, I find myself re-thinking my belief system. If God was with this person and the other person you posted about – taking them ‘away’ during the abusive acts – why wouldn’t he do more than that? Why wouldn’t he stop the harm and strike the perpetrator dead in his tracks?!

    I find it extraordinarily cruel to think that an all powerful god, one that could end the most hideous of acts, the most brutal sufferings a child could experience – would only just ‘play’ with these children and not rescue them from harm.

    I absolutely refuse to believe that there is a god out there who would allow such devastation to children – they become the walking dead!! It’s better to believe that there is no god then to believe that there is one but he chose not to save you. I find the belief in that god to be one of the most sad and repulsive ‘jokes’ of the freaking universe!

  • http://ellieraespunkinpatch.blogspot.com Ellie Rae

    Amen to all of this. Thank you for posting. You are right, this perp is just trying to take care of himself; the family is blaming the victim. True forgiveness can only come when acknowledgement of the wrongdoing is there, with remorse — because that is the only way forgiveness can even be received. Forgiveness AFTER TRUE REPENTANCE mirrors the forgiveness of Christ. You are right, she should settle for nothing less than this. God doesn’t. My heart goes out to her. Today, Christians and non-Christians alike have redefined “forgiveness” as “getting over it and moving on and not wallowing in bitterness.” The two are very very different. Forgiveness implies the restoration of a relationship, after repentance, and that may not always be possible. Thank you again for posting this and not blaming victims. (Victims go through many coping techniques that work for a while: disassociation, blaming themselves, “forgiving” the perp, whatever. True healing takes time and must be worked through. There is no “magic” that will bring peace to the victim in false “forgiveness”. Thank you for posting.

  • http://ellieraespunkinpatch.blogspot.com Ellie Rae

    Yes, Michael (above) I think forgetting serious crimes like this can set you up to be a victim again; we must always stay aware.

  • Cate

    Thank you for an intelligent, wonderful response. You are awesome!

  • Lisa Hunt

    This post really hits home for me! I was sexually abused as a child and beat by two men that I know of, possibly more can’t remember at the age of 3 and 4. It really traumatized me both Spiritually, emotionally and physically. I never was able to press charges but they were both eventually arrested for abusing other children! I was adopted by a Christian family, my brother and I. Well, years went by and by the age of 8, my adopted brother and his friend approached me one day after I came out of the bathroom. They were about 12 or 13 years old odd enough. My brother told me to show my privates to him and he would show me his. He even had me touch his penis. There was never any penetration but I did feel uncomfortable. He told me not to tell so I didn’t and as time passed I forced myself to forget that it happened. I also was touched and fondled by my cousin while pretending to be asleep. Most of my life I have had such low confidence in myself and to this day I am starting to feel acceptable about being raped. That’s how used to it I have gotten. I have probablly been raped at least 25-30 seperate times in all my life including unwanted sexual advances. Really the most traumatizing to me was the two men who killed my Spirit litterally when I was a toddler. To those of you who say people can just get over this kind of horrific trauma, I beg to differ. You try having a big male penis shoved into a pebble size vagina as a toddler. It hurts badly! I had to dissociate just to deal with the pain. That trauma and fear of men and abandonment never leaves. It took my adopted family a year to get me not to scream and run behind a couch whenever someone came to the door. Anyway, I started working through alot of the issues of abuse as a teenagar in high school. I was going through a Sexual Abuse workbook with my therapist. I had written down about my brother and my adopted mother found it. She told the whole family my accusation. They had a meeting about me outside. No one cared to talk to me about it! When they came back inside they never said another word about it. I felt kinda awkward around everyone and they were thinking of sending me back to the adoption place since I was making accusations against one of there own. It really made me feel unloved, unworthy and even more bad than before they had found out. I felt so tore up I nearly tried to kill myself but my dad told me if I ever did kill myself he would spit on my grave. I really had no one to talk to. They were Christian people but didn’t seem to care about me or being touched at all. I agree in experimentation and all but when you’re uncomfortable with something, it goes beyond experimentation. To this day, they don’t want me to talk about it or my life story including any of them. They want me only to bring up the positives in my life. Whenever I bring anything up that is negative that happened they either say that was in the past or don’t believe it happened or remember! I guess I just need closure! I am trying to be a good Christian woman. I feel like I’ve tried to show them I love them, cleaned the house all the time for them without wanting anything in return but love and acknowledgement! I guess the old saying is true: blood is thicker than anything. If I was there child, they would overlook abuse, doing drugs and adultery other things they did but for some reason they all hate me! Am I over reacting? What is the real reason most adopted families decide on there own child over a child they chose to love? My only blood brother died when I was 12 years old and ever since then, I’ve felt completely alone! I know I have God but how could he allow a toddler of 3 who hadn’t done a thing wrong and was just beginning to discover who she was, be hurt so badly? What could I have done to make so many people in this world hate me so? I still get so depressed I find myself struggling to think of a reason to live! Abuse is like killing internally eating you up inside out…a slow and painful death till you are nothing more than a rotting corpse!!!!

  • http://ellieraesmilitaryretro.blogspot.com Ellie Raem

    God doesn’t forgive people if they don’t repent. We don’t have to, either. “Getting over it and moving on and not being bitter” is not forgiveness. It is “getting over it and moving on and not being bitter.” The two are not the same. We have redefined forgiveness to the point where it is useless. Our forgiveness needs to mirror that of Christs — when the person repents, they are forgiven. Not before that. This woman does not need to forgive this person. She shouldn’t — he’ll take it as “amnesty,” that is, believing he did nothing wrong. Don’t enable these people.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      YES, Ellie! Exactly. Perfectly said.

  • Andrea

    I have not read all the posting because they are very lengthily bu

  • PS

    I just came across this tonight… how I wish I’d come across it years ago. Decades ago. I am a survivor of sibling abuse as well – my brother beat and molested me for several years. My parents knew all along because I told them but because my mother insisted it was “normal family experimentation” (oh, and she’s a counselor, BTW, so she had that clout in addition to being a parent), it all got swept under the rug. Confronting them by letter several years ago and disclosing it to the rest of the family got me branded as a liar, harassed, and cyberstalked.

    I thought I had forgiven them when I was a young adult. I thought it was all behind me and we could all move on as a family. The problem is they never apologized, in fact they tried to say there was nothing wrong with it, later said it never happened at all. What I thought was forgiveness was really denial mixed in with fear of rejection if I brought up the elephant in the room.

    Outside of the confrontation, and a couple of conversations with my terminally ill father, I haven’t talked to them in over a decade… the longer time goes by the more I’m okay with that. It grieved me at first to see that they were never willing to come to me with any apology, any remorse… but as time has gone by I’ve seen that’s how it always was. It also grieved me when my extended family dismissed me and never tried to look for me on their own, but when I’ve seen that they never really invested any time in me outside of family gatherings or visits, that tells me more than enough.

    I had a therapist who said you can’t forgive if it isn’t there. This is so true. Those words helped me stop putting pressure on myself to do so… I’ve probably been one of my worst enemies in this department. I’ve had others put pressure on me and shame me for not forgiving or not reconciling, but the greatest shame I’ve felt was from within. I was so used to being a “nice girl,” conditioned to never speak up or stand up to anyone because to do so meant violent consequences, that it horrified me to realize I could not forgive these people.

    With the help of several different support venues, I’m realizing I am under no obligation. Christ said to forgive IF someone repents (Luke 17:3). If is such a small word but it holds SO much power in that statement. Other statements in Scripture support this – God takes forgiveness seriously. He does not want cheap grace.

    I’ve come a long way thanks to therapy, EMDR, support groups, friends who “get it,” etc. But the scars still remain, and some days they hurt terribly. I think lately they have because this is the month that marks when I cut off contact, and as with many anniversaries there are reminders and triggers. There is that child inside me who still howls with outrage and pain. That’s when I let the tears come.

    That’s also when reading responses like John’s to Lynn do so much good. Thank you, sir.

    Thank you too, Lynn, for sharing your story. You have my support and you are truly brave for having told. I hope in the time that’s passed since then that you are doing better and that you have managed to kick your family’s guilt tripping to the curb.

  • Tyler Durdin

    “I’m voting that what’s almost always true in these matters is also true in this case: that when he was young, your brother was also sexually abused. ”

    I’m voting that the brother was the victim of a common medical procedure called circumcision. Also known as male genital mutilation. A sexual violation so widespread that nobody bothers to look into the psychological problems it causes.
    Then again I could be wrong. Maybe the boy was just a messed up kid from the start. Just check and see if the doctors butchered him before passing judgement. -

  • Psycho Gecko

    That’s messed up. I wouldn’t say L is under any obligation to forgive the older brother, or the family for wanting it simply hushed up. In fact, I’d say that some more delving needs to be done about why the family wants to take the brother’s side so readily. And I really hope L continues to seek therapy.


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