Six Things to Know About Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness

Six Things to Know About Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness March 18, 2013

young businesswoman or student with a stop gesture
People who are sexually abused are very often, however subtly or overtly, pressured to forgive their assailants. (A subject which, as you might know, has lately come up here.) If you are in any way burdened by the notion that you are not, as comprehensively as you or others feel that you’re obliged to, forgiving the person who sexually abused you, please consider these six truths about forgiveness (which, being universal, hold as true for the Christian as they do anyone else).

1. You don’t have to forgive anybody. This idea that you must forgive the person who sexually abused you is the worst kind of vapid nonsense. You can forgive your abuser, if and when you want to. You’re also perfectly free to never forgive your abuser. The former is not necessarily better—it’s not necessarily any more moral—than the latter. What’s most moral is whatever works best for you. You’re the one who got hurt. You get to decide what your attitude is toward the person who hurt you, and no one but you (and especially not anyone whose opinion about it you haven’t asked) should have jack to say about it. If you ever feel like forgiving your abuser (whatever “forgiving” in this context actually means—and the people who use that infernally vague word in this context invariably have little if any idea what the heck they actually mean by it: usually they just like the Oprahesque way it sounds), you’ll know you feel that way. Until/if you do feel that way, everyone else can just wait on the party to which no one’s invited them anyway.

Remember: anyone—be they family, friend, sibling, pastor, therapist … anyone—who in even the slightest way pressures you to forgive your abuser before you’re good and ready to do that, is at best tragically ignorant, and at worst harboring their own terrible reason for desiring that your pain vaporize away into a warmly glowing mist of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows. They want that to happen for their sake. For your sake, ignore them. You’ve got reality to deal with. And reality actually dealt with beats fantasy every time.

2. Forgiveness isn’t one-size-fits-all. We can only forgive for something done against us; forgiveness has no meaning outside the context of a specific offense. And offenses very definitely come in degrees. Cutting you off in traffic is one kind of offense; raping you is an entirely different order of transgression. Never allow yourself to be cajoled into feeling guilty or spiritually inadequate by the treacle that healing and forgiving are inseparable. Saying that you can’t be healed unless you’ve forgiven your abuser is like saying that a cut can’t be healed as long as visible scar tissue remains. And insisting that an abused person “forgive” their abuser before they are fully healed from that abuse is like insisting that a person skip rope before their broken leg is fully mended. It can only make things worse.

Healing-wise, what the abuse victim can do is reach a point where they fully understand what happened to them; a point, that is, where their negative feelings about their abuser are neutralized by their comprehension and appreciation of how and why their abuser was rendered so dysfunctional that ultimately they were compelled to commit the crime they did. And for the victim that understanding renders essentially superfluous the whole idea of them forgiving their abuser; then “forgiving” has no applicable or relevant context. For them, then, what happened simply happened. It’s over.

3. Abusers of children depend upon the complicity-induced guilt of their victims. Sex abusers of children are evil. And if there’s one thing evil understands, it’s what its most effective weapons are. And when it comes to keeping his victims emotionally weak and suitably complicit, the child abuser knows that his chief weapon is the guilt that his sexual actions generate in his victims.

Children yearn to please (for the sake of this conversation) their fathers. They want their fathers to love them. They innately trust their fathers. A sexually abused child doesn’t at first know that they’re being sexually abused; all they know is that their father is paying special and even loving attention to them. And as confused in the moment as the child is about what their father is doing to them, part of what breaks through to the child’s consciousness is that, on a strictly physical level, some of it feels pretty good. And the moment avidly awaited by any child abuser is the moment in which the child he is molesting feels any physical pleasure at all. Because he knows that the second the child so much as responsively squirms, or in any way moves to encourage his touch, he has created in that child the victim that he is after. He knows that from that moment on the child can never, and especially not to herself, claim that she didn’t like it. That she didn’t want it. That she didn’t encourage it. Now, inevitably, and in very short order, she will come to think of herself exactly as he wants her to: as a worthless slut good for nothing but providing him sexual pleasure. And, just like that, he’s got her. Because now she won’t tell anyone what’s happening between the two of them, because now she’s certain to be too ashamed to. Because now, in her heart of hearts, she believes that it’s her fault.

The abuser got the physical response that he knew perfectly well he would; and that inevitable response automatically becomes the perfect, self-obliterating weapon that his victim will never have any choice but to continuously turn upon herself. And, just like that, he’s secured for himself a quiet, pliant toy that he is free to abuse at will.

The real crime of sexual abuse isn’t physical; it’s psychological, emotional, spiritual. You make someone despise who they are sexually—which is at the very core of the identity of all of us—and you’ve created damage that easily lasts for generations.

If you yourself have been the unhappy recipient of such a tragic legacy, the last thing on earth you need to worry about is forgiving your abuser. For now, you have no obligation but to keep on telling yourself God’s greatest truth, which is that you are absolutely not the wickedly depraved person whom your abuser methodically and carefully tricked you into believing you are. Your innocence was unnaturally destroyed, and you were left to build your identity and life upon the dreary remains of that destruction. That’s bad luck for you, for sure. But what happened to you is not your fault. It’s his, and his alone. And you do not have to spend the rest of your life dwelling like a criminal in the dark, dank hovel to which your abuser condemned you, and within which he depended upon you remaining. No. The light outside is calling you. And you are free to step out into it, the same as anyone else.

4. Asking for forgiveness doesn’t mean deserving it. The fact that a person asks you to forgive them in no way obliges you to extend to them your forgiveness. If your abuser tells you that he feels bad about what he did to you, then: A) Whoopee for him; and B) That’s not your problem. It’s not your job to make better the life of the person who made your life hell. If your abuser feels bad about abusing you, then let him go off somewhere by himself and feel as bad about that as, God knows, he should. If by some miracle he has come to feel remorse equal to his offense, then let him do his level best to prove that to you in whatever ways he thinks might. One of the first ways he can do that is by immediately making clear to you two things: that he doesn’t expect you to forgive him, and that he will absolutely honor your desire, should you express it, to completely remove himself from your life.

Never forget that abusers are typically superb at expressing sincere remorse for their actions and great affection for their victims. The reason they are so adept at this is because they’ve been practicing it for most of their lives.

5. Forgiving your abuser does not necessitate letting them back into your life. Forgiving your abuser does not, in any way whatsoever, oblige you to have, or continue having, a relationship with them. Period. Forgiving a snake for biting me doesn’t mean I have to again pick up that snake.

6. Forgiveness isn’t a constant state. Being sexually abused means being wounded at every level of your being. That means that sometimes you will in fact feel healed—which is likely to then bring washing over you great waves of forgiveness and even compassion for your abuser. But later—could be a day, week, or years later—you may find a wave of an altogether different sort pulling you back out to sea, where you will again find yourself cold, lost, and feeling as if you’re sinking. That whole back-and-forth dynamic is just part of the healing process. Victims of abuse commonly enough get trapped into believing that because they felt healed and benevolent on Tuesday, there’s something wrong with them if on Friday they’re back to feeling wounded and bitter. But there’s nothing at all wrong or strange about that phenomenon. Again, it’s just part of the process. Understanding, accepting, and even anticipating that kind of fluctuation in your feelings can leave you, even on your worst days, so close to the shore that you can actually relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the swim back in.

If you were sexually abused, I cannot urge you strongly enough to buy, along with its workbook, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • James

    There is one person victims of sexual abuse MUST forgive before healing can begin and that person is themselves. Anyone else who might want their forgiveness should take a number and wait until the abused party is good and ready to consider any forgiving.

  • Shannon

    In regards to #4, I would add that when we are seriously sorry for our actions, part of showing that is making amends. Making amends (in part) means taking the consequences of our actions. In the case of someone who has perpetrated abuse upon another, that needs to include turning themselves into the authorities with full honesty regarding the abuses they heaped upon their victims. There is NO REASON to consider forgiving someone who hasn’t taken that step. There may or may not be reason to forgive someone who has taken that step. But there damn sure is NOT a reason if they haven’t bothered to suffer the consequences of their choice.

  • I’m not sure if its forgiving oneself, but rather recognizing that what happened was not their fault, that the guilt is not upon them , but upon their attacker. That’s a tough one, because enforced guilt is part of the trauma enacted upon victims. Absolving oneself of that responsibility can be part of the healing process.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, John, for this. I had no idea how much I needed to hear some of it. It’s freeing to think that I am not required to forgive my abusers, yet I can experience healing. I’ve been out of the Christian mainstream for 4 or so years, but this had still hung on in the back of my mind. I think I can move on to a deeper healing of those wounds, now, knowing this.

    Thank you.

  • I’m trying to be really careful here because I realize how much this has been abused and I agree with what you are saying John. Wholeheartedly.

    But, is it really no better to forgive than not to forgive? It’s really no more moral, right, good, or whatever other word you want to use?

    What about the model of Jesus? Forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. (They actually did seem to know what they were doing and they were killing him.)

    Of course, you don’t have to, and, of course, forgiving is not some kind of magic incantation necessary for movement and, of course, forgiving doesn’t mean approving of or necessarily ever seeing the person again.

    But, it seems that the essence of forgiving – realizing that we’re all humans and capable of hideous choices (and often we make those choices b/c of hideous choices that were made to us) and thus having more grace toward ourselves and others – is a better way to bring healing to us all.

    Am I wrong?

  • You aren’t wrong, but for some such a thing is currently impossible. For others its simply not yet time, and won’t be for awhile. It has less to do with being morality, and more to do with coming to terms with what has happened, and being able to put it behind oneself, if possible, on a permament basis.

    We ain’t Jesus, so trying to consider forgiveness along those lines just isn’t practical. We don’t have Jesus’s mindset, that is unique to him. We only have ours. He offers us an example, not a play by play. Jesus shows us its possible, not that its essential.

    Yes he answers the question of how often we should forgive someone, but one has to get to the place where that is a probability first, then they can address it. And considering how the pain caused can reoccur, having to to through that process repeatedly is understandable. Its a process of healing, if and when a person is ready to take that step. Until then, other matters are of greater importance.

  • Brande

    I really do think that forgiveness has been very important in my healing process. Total forgiveness, all the time, with no hurt lingering at all, is as far as I can see, not attainable. Being a victim of many sexually related abuses, forgiveness, for me, is an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, an acceptance of myself as innocent, and a relinquishing of the right to revenge. I did not ever receive justice from the powers that be. They in fact failed me at every turn. But I do trust in God’s justice. Romans 12:19 tells me, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This is not to make light of, or to ignore the feelings that I have been left with, but I just know somehow that justice will be done. And if I look at the contrast of my life vs. the lives of those who have violated me, I see that a measure of that justice has already been served. I am doing better than I ever have before. I do not hate myself so viciously anymore. On the contrary, I have been given a new life entirely, and am growing and thriving despite the challenges I have faced. The same cannot be said of them. To me, that is vindication. Though I will continue to take back the forgiveness I have extended, I will forgive again. Because, by God’s mercy, it heals me over and over.

  • Brande

    What about in Matthew 6:15 where Jesus says, “But if you don’t forgive men their sins, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.” That is a hard verse that seems to tell me that forgiveness is in fact essential. Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not in anyway trying to be rude, or arrogant, or anything like that. I am also not trying to be trite, as I have struggled with the issue of forgiveness for some time now. I get that we are not Jesus, and that we will never be able to extend the kind of self sacrificial forgiveness He extended to us. But I do think that we should be doing our best to follow His example. I do also agree with sdparris that you must be ready for such a step. Taking that step before you are ready is not helpful or healing. Letting shame set the stage for forgiveness is bound to keep you tangled in what you’re trying to get away from. I only know that from experience. You have to be patient, and you have to extend some compassion for yourself.

  • Lymis

    I want to tweak #4 by adding a bit to it.

    You say, quite validly,

    “If by some miracle he has come to feel remorse equal to his offense, then let him do his level best to prove that to you in whatever ways he thinks might. “

    I agree with this insofar as you are talking about it being the other person’s responsibility to try to make amends, rather than the victim’s to seek them.

    On the other hand, and I suspect you agree, the victim is under no more obligation to allow the person free access to try to make amends than they are to forgive or do anything else.

    I agree that asking for forgiveness doesn’t obligate the giving of it, and that feeling bad doesn’t obligate someone to make you feel better. But, having abused or otherwise hurt someone and then feeling so bad you want to make amends doesn’t obligate the other person to return phone calls, unlock the door, waive the restraining order, or stay in your presence long enough for you to try to prove anything.

    Courtesy and common sense, as well as considerations of blood pressure and legal action, may obligate someone to refrain from, say, actually spitting on you or macing you on sight, but beyond that, if you didn’t give the victim any say in being abused, you can hardly demand that they participate in your making amends, either. If you wanted consent, that boat already sailed.

  • Leslie Marbach

    Thank you for this, John. For years I’ve dealt with this concept of forgiveness. How can I truly forgive the person who abused me who has never once even admitted he did so but instead has labeled me as crazy to people around him? Because he won’t admit it of course he won’t ask for forgiveness. And neither did he stop in his abuse even after he stopped abusing me. He went on to abuse at least 4 other people that I positively know about. Four other children, two are probably being abused right now as we speak. Authorities do nothing. How can I possibly forgive this evil, evil person? I can’t. I’ve tried. I played it lip service saying forgiveness is a process. I said I’ll forgive so I can heal. Well, you know what? I’ve healed pretty well from 13 years of abuse that ended 31 years ago. (Guess you all know I’m 44 now. 🙂 ) I probably will heal even more.

    But I don’t buy into that whole thing that God will only forgive me if I forgive him. There’s a huge difference. For one, I truly am sorry for any wrong I’ve done. I actively try to not do those things again, through the grace of God. My abuser does not. He wants to stay evil.

    This falls under the category of so many other things I learned in church that were just wrong. Once I accepted that the church hadn’t taught me correctly and I started living according to what I learned on my own, or some would say learned through the Holy Spirit, the peace in my life increased. Every time. It’s almost a tangible peace that I felt when I finally quit pressuring myself to forgive in this case.

  • Lymis

    “But, is it really no better to forgive than not to forgive? It’s really no more moral, right, good, or whatever other word you want to use?”

    Assuming that someone actually has the free choice to fully and completely forgive someone, heal, and move on, and consciously and deliberately makes the choice to continue to hold a grudge, seek unnecessary vengeance, and continue to harm themselves by harboring malicious thoughts, then obviously, that’s a poor choice to make, morally and practically.

    But in actual practice, the vast majority of the time, that isn’t the actual choice that is being offered, especially no when someone who has been deeply and consistently abused, or viciously and violently attacked is pressured to “forgive” out of some misplaced idea of Christian charity.

    The choice isn’t between actual forgiveness or holding a grudge.

    The choice is between honestly dealing with your feelings, including feelings of outrage, anger, hostility, and pain, or stuffing those feelings and pretending that they aren’t real, or that they aren’t important, in the name of some sort of spackled-over appearance of harmony and peace.

    In other words, the choice is to deal with your own feelings honestly, or let the bastard off the hook and pretend nothing bad happened.

    When that is the choice, no, it isn’t better to lie about your own truth, especially (but not exclusively) if it means freeing the creep to do it to someone else, or worse, to get away with continuing to do it to you.

    Often, the only path TO genuine forgiveness is honestly and openly dealing with the feelings that get in the way of forgiving someone prematurely.

  • Thanks Lymis and sdparris – that does help.

  • Well said John.

  • Kathy

    Thank you so much for this empowering article! I never recognized the double bind of trying to forgive my father for something about which he had nor remorse. And I very much appreciated the description of the healing journey, in which the victim gains an insight and feels better, feels forgiving, and later feels the negative affects from the abuse and guilt/shame. This was my healing journey, but I didn’t know it was usual or ordinary to be so emotionally labile.

    I wonder if you would give permission for me to share this with the Starting Point, a local service for victims of domestic and sexual violence. If you agree, I will retype it and give to the organization in which I volunteer. Thank you.

  • I’m wondering if that passage in Matthew doesn’t have a contextual matter here. The context being that Jesus wasn’t talking about forgiveness because someone had harmed you, or had committed an offense that directly affected you, but something else instead. It was not uncommon in that day, (a habit we’ve yet to break) to look at others as sinners, of considering them less worthy because of a litany of moral/societal/religious offenses. It may have been more a perception issue rather than a personal, “you wronged me” one.

    So Jesus may have been telling people to “forgive those sins” or rather to, “geez, stop trying to force your morality onto others already.” The purpose to recognize others, not as moral pariah, but as neighbor.

    At least that’s how I read the segment.

  • Hi, Kathy. Thanks for responding. Yeah, of course, feel free to use the piece as you see fit. But don’t bother typing out the whole thing yourself. Is there no way for you to … I dunno, just print the thing out? If not, let me know, and I’ll send it to you as a Word doc. (Oh, you might also care to check out my “Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them,” which you can learn a bit about here:

  • Yes, exactly, Leslie; thank you. I’d add to what you’ve here said, but … only if I could. And I can’t. Thanks again.

  • Jill

    Point #6, many times over.

    For my part, the forgiveness concept had to be rewritten a few times before it made a positive impact on my life. I generally think the word itself is such an emotional minefield that it’s not always terribly productive.

    I made a deal with God decades ago that since S/He allowed life to unfold as it did, that I was not always safe, then I have full freedom, a blank check to heal as I saw fit. I wasn’t going to then attach religious conditions on my therapy. I was going to honor my inner wisdom for a change. I was going to believe in myself for a change and believe if God is constant, and if I’m made in His/Her image, then I can leave patriarchal religion and find the true nature of God in my own healed way. And I would not stop pursuing healing until I found out. Guilt, be damned. Fear, find a shelf and stay there.

    I have only come back around to Christ because I did my inner work, because I have learned how to meditate like Buddha taught, because I learned how to know and love people I had been taught were bad, ungodly. I really had to forgive God for leaving me in that mess.

    I couldn’t see then what I do now, which is that God made sure my spirit had a way out.

  • Very nicely said, Brande. Thanks for this.

  • It’s not that forgiving is less or more moral or right, Ryan. It’s that it’s never, in any given case, necessarily either of the two. That’s really all I’m saying. What’s right and good and helpful for one person might really, really not be for another. What’s definitely not good is anyone who’s been abused being made to feel that they have failed morally for not forgiving their abuser. And I think that’s so important that I tended, within the very limited confines of this piece, to lean a little more away from that then I did toward forgiving. It’s real important to keep that cart and horse in the right order.

  • Thank you, A.

  • OMG this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Jill. *hug*

  • Brande

    That makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

  • Allie

    This was really beautiful, John. Especially the explanation of how sexual abusers make their victims feel complicit in what has happened to them.

    As a college student I roomed with a girl who had been sexually abused, who told me very seriously in “girltalk” that when I knew I had a date coming up, I should go off the pill a day before, so I could use my period as an excuse for saying I didn’t want to have sex. I was stunned into silence at first, but then asked why she didn’t simply say she didn’t want sex, no messing about with pills required. Then it was her turn to be stunned. It had simply never occurred to her on any level that she had the right to say she didn’t want sex. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she could just LIE and use her period as an excuse without someone checking to make sure she was telling the truth. Her whole mind-set towards sex and autonomy was still based on her childhood as the helpless property of a man who could demand anything at any time.

    I do want to say something about the word “innocence.” There’s a sense of the word in which it’s absolutely correct to say someone’s innocence can be stolen, when the word is used to mean lack of awareness, lack of knowledge. I just looked it up, and that’s the fourth dictionary definition. All too often, though, when speaking of survivors of sexual abuse, this word is used in the first dictionary sense, the quality or state of being innocent, freedom from moral wrong. And that is something that cannot be taken from anyone. You are innocent no matter what is done to you. You are pure and perfect and have nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Allie

    It seems to me that the FIRST condition of making amends for forcing your will on another person is respecting their will. Which means if they say they don’t want you around, you respect that and leave them the hell alone. Anyone who seems to have difficulty understanding this is clearly not remorseful.

  • Allie

    That seems not to work, considering that Jesus (and later Stephen) made a point of demonstrating forgiveness towards their killers, not just towards random “sinners.” It’s pretty clear that Jesus did in fact require forgiveness as a condition for being forgiven.

    However, in no place did Jesus say to mind other people’s business and tell them they’re not doing it right. And if we should feel compassion for abusers because of the process which led them to be such broken people that they would do such horrible things, then shouldn’t we feel ten thousand times more compassion for victims, who having been abused, don’t feel like forgiving? If Christ offered a thief a place enthroned at his side, then I’m sure he’s not going to act hateful towards someone for being wounded.

  • Doodlebug

    A find it offensive that the victim is assumed to be female. There are very many male victims of all kinds of abuse!

  • We’re aware. Thank you.

  • Dave Bowling

    I did not look at the gender assignments in this blog – I realized it was convenient to make some assumptions regarding gender in order to get the point across. John knows many of us that follow his blog are survivors of abuse in all methods and genders. Being one of those (John: not sure I ever revealed this to you or the bloggers before), I simply looked at the message of hope, healing, and acknowledgement provided.

    Thank you John for such a noteworthy post.

  • Thanks for this, Dave. I just … couldn’t get it up to explain. So thanks again, for everything.

  • Dave Bowling

    Thank you, John.

  • susy

    I am just coming out the other side of a month long rage against the Catholic machine–on behalf of the abused children and my own inner abused child who connects some of her abuse with the Episcopal, to be fair, not the Catholic church. My mother told me when I was 13 that her dad, an Episcopal priest, raped her when she was 12 or so while her mother was being hospitalized for post-partum depression. Eventually, I came to understand that this was why she couldn’t help me, couldn’t see me and what was happening to me, and couldn’t keep me safe. She told me this after hearing from me about my abuse for the first time. I had never mentioned it, but finally told her about everything except for my dad because I was afraid one of my brothers had made me pregnant when I was about 13. By that time, there had been my father, my earliest abuser, (the only memory I repressed until my early 30s) two male babysitters from my church, my brothers, and a man and his daughter from down the street.

    “Well my father raped me and look at all I’ve accomplished,” she said to me as I wondered how she could expect me to be making good grades in school after what I had told her. It was not helpful. Even after I shared my fears with her about possible pregnancy, there was no trip to the doctor. “Let’s just see if your period comes,” she said.

    It did, because I hadn’t really had sex with my brother. But I didn’t really know what sex was because despite the abuse–none of the abuse was of the kind that it takes to create a pregnancy. I have never lived through such terror since and I have had terror.

    My brothers later told me that my father’s brother had abused them which they believed caused their acting out with me.

    For my own sake I am in forgiveness with my family and other perpetrators. But this piece of history affected my whole family, enough of us for the worse. My younger sister is in assisted living at 55 with fibromyalgia and COPD. My oldest brother is unable to earn himself a decent living. I have a male cousin who has to weigh over 400 lbs and is unable to work. By the luck of the draw I have been able to fight my way clear of all this along with another brother and my youngest sister. Now I am in rage against any system that supports child sexual abuse. My own abuse led to two rapes in my late teens.

    For me there was no cure except direct confrontation. With therapeutic support for the most part, I confronted my father, my brothers, the daughter of the man who lived down the street which started a healing process for her. And some of my deepest healing came by way of the Catholic church which is beyond ironic.

    “Healing-wise, what the abuse victim can do is reach a point where they fully understand what happened to them; a point, that is, where their negative feelings about their abuser are neutralized by their comprehension and appreciation of how and why their abuser was rendered so dysfunctional that ultimately they were compelled to commit the crime they did. And for the victim that understanding renders essentially superfluous the whole idea of them forgiving their abuser; then “forgiving” has no applicable or relevant context. For them, then, what happened simply happened. It’s over.”

    This is an excellent description of where I am at. The only difference is that I do feel like forgiveness played a part and that it became possible as my understanding of how my father and mother had been damaged grew over time. Here is a poem I wrote about my path:

    Dear Daddy

    I remember the night

    you made yourself


    My eyes shining up at

    you in the moonlight

    at midnight

    My eyes the dividing line between

    you and our agreement

    the forgetting part

    of forgiveness

    You made yourself stop

    thinking I would

    remember to


    and I did forget

    for decades

    everything but that

    last visit

    when you stopped yourself

    before my shining eyes

    You thought that my forgetting would

    keep me safe

    from your betrayal

    Not knowing that

    others would immediately

    forge ahead

    On the path of our


    already so solidly

    so firmly tamped down


    I learned it

    all too well

    applying it

    in my four year old mind

    to all who came after

    the ones I didn’t forget

    to remember

    Only one careful enough

    to threaten me

    for it

    my silence

    for your life

    “Don’t tell your father.

    He’ll kill me and then

    go to prison for it.”

    I protected you

    you didn’t kill anyone

    but still I failed somehow

    To save you from prison

    the bars went up in your eyes

    the gates slammed shut

    on your heart

    And they stayed shut

    even after I found my way

    down the secret path

    of forgiveness

    Until you came to my home

    in hospice and

    death’s kindness finally

    opened your eyes


  • Mindy

    Doodlebug, if you are a regular reader of John’s, you know that he has been discussing a particular strain of child sexual abuse in fundamental Christianity, that of father against daughter, because of the patriarchal hierarchy that defends, justifies and covers it up.

    In this community here, we know full well that children of both sexes are abused.

  • Mindy

    This is incredible, John. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    When I was commenting on your Marc Monte post, in response to Allie, I believe, I think what I was calling forgiveness was really more of a “letting go.” Letting the power of the abuser and the abuse fall away, because you’ve reached a point in your healing to let that happen. Because that perpetrator can no longer, on any level, impact your life – you’ve let him fall away because you’ve come to terms with the fact that in your life, for the rest of your life, YOU matter so very much more than he does.

    I don’t know if that makes sense. When I think of this stuff, I do so through the lens of a close friend’s experience, rather than my own. And her father NEVER expressed remorse. Thought she should just get over it. Never acknowledged how severely he harmed her young psyche, how devastating his behavior was. He was completely unable to grasp it. I still can’t picture the bastard in my head without my stomach churning a little. She removed him, finally, completely from her life. She has not seen him or talked to him in almost 20 years. And I imagine, if you asked her if she’s forgiven him, she’d say no. But she’s let it go, through a lot of hard work, and she’s moved on. Thank God.

    This has been a weird week for me – because of the Steubenville rape verdict, I’ve been thrown back in time and forced to think about an eerily similar story I lived through at 16. No camera phones to document everything, but the same thing happened – a group of guys, a chaperoned trip on which the chaperones failed, and the first time I drank beer in my life. And I am so, so angry at how the story has been handled – because I have lived with the guilt of that event for almost 40 years. I was drunk, so it must’ve been my fault. Even though I was not conscious. It still breaks my heart.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    The Courage to Heal *is* awesome; so is therapy in a group of other same-sex abuse survivors. Forgiveness is something you choose to do, or maybe not, and most assuredly on your own unique timeline in your own way. And I know God understands. I have btdt.

    Healing is slow; anybody who really loves YOU will *never* tell you to get over it, move on, forgive him/her, you “should” (do anything), what’s done is done, or any other line of crap. This is a very personal journey, and unless you’ve been sexually abused or raped, your opinion doesn’t matter. Not one whit.

    So if you must have theological debates or share your opinions, please – do the wounded a favor, and take it somewhere else. Let those who need to recover and heal and learn to love themselves again, do just that – they really don’t need your help. Or your pious judgment.

    Speaking as one who has healed,

    i am

    using my voice well.

  • Jill

    Mindy, I am holding you gently in my prayers and thoughts tonight. I am so sorry the young girl you were was not kept safe. It breaks my heart for you.

  • John, you done a superlative job on explaining forgiveness in the context of child abuse (or other, similar abuse).

    As has been pointed out, Christ’s teachings on forgiveness are among the hardest to grasp & apply. He certainly cautions about being judgmental & unforgiving, warning that we will be judged as we judge others.

    And certainly he was pretty much an absolutist in not returning hate for hate, evil for evil, and when someone wrongs us not to actively resist (i.e., turn the other cheek).

    But he did not teach forgiveness for all offenses, great and small. For example, he taught that divorce was acceptable only as the result of adultery (and adultery is less about the physical act and much more about the betrayal of personal trust and intimacy with one’s spouse).

    It’s not at all far-fetched to assume he would approve of someone who could and was willing to offer forgiveness to an erring yet repentant spouse — but he did not make that a requirement, and he certainly taught it was permissible to remove the offender from one’s presence.

    Often when Christ taught about forgiveness it was in the context of an apostle or other person asking “how often should I forgive?” There is an implication in that question that the offense is not one that has created an insurmountable barrier, that the offended party has to some degree a desire to maintain some sort of relationship with the offender (described as a “brother” tho that probably is meant in the sense of fellow believer, not strictly biological), and that the offender is more of a jerk than a dangerous threat.

    And most importantly for this specific topic, Christ famously taught that on judgment day it will be better for those who harmed a child to have been cast into the sea with a mill stone around their neck than to face God. Yes, Christ is speaking more about spiritual harm, but in the case of child abuse, spiritual harm goes right along with the physical harm. (Indeed, as you point out the actual physical harm may be the least problematic part of the victim’s ordeal).

  • Jill

    Nicole, you’re very sweet. Hugs back. 🙂

  • Mindy

    Thank you, Jill – you are so kind. And to be clear, when I said I was angry at how the story has been handled, I was referring to the Steubenville story, and the intense focus on the poor little perpetrators and how their lives have been ruined. Because they are suffering the consequences of their own very amoral behavior.

    I really want to remind the media that their lives are not, in fact, over. They will be free young men in their early twenties. Different lives than they’d planned, yes. But they will still have ample opportunity to turn themselves into good men. I pray they learn from their mistakes.

  • Matt

    Nicole speaks the truth, my friend.

  • Matt

    “Remember: anyone—be they family, friend, sibling, pastor, therapist … anyone—who in even the slightest way pressures you to forgive your abuser before you’re good and ready to do that, is at best tragically ignorant, and at worst harboring their own terrible reason for desiring that your pain vaporize away into a warmly glowing mist of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows.”

    This made a profound difference for me, and answered a nagging question of mine. After I told my parents that my brother had sexually and physically abused me for years, my mom removed me to physical safety, and then…clammed up. I could not express sadness, anger, or bitterness without being urged to forgive. She insisted that being angry was: “Drinking the poison and expecting him to die.” I was sent to therapists, sent to mental hospitals, made to take more and more drugs.

    And I now realize that, though my mother is a wonderful person, she did have her own reasons for encouraging me to forgive, and given what I know about her I can guess what they were.

    But what did end up happening is that I felt I had no one to talk to, and turned horrible rage, pain, and sadness inward. And it wasn’t pretty. My body is physically scarred. I called myself horrible things, purposely starved and neglected my body.

    My partner is the only one who has heard my entire story. She never told me to forgive. She always told me it wasn’t my fault. She explained that I wasn’t crazy, that I was responding how normal human beings to do crazy-making circumstances. She’s pretty wise, my beloved companion.

    For me, what’s helped the most is writing, as you may have noticed. I express myself the best through writing, and some things are still easier to write down that say aloud. As for forgiveness, I have definitely forgiven my brother (and those who came after him) sometimes, and sometimes I haven’t. But thank to you, John, I can finally let myself be okay with that. Thank you.

  • Sonny Bellotte

    John, I appreciate this latest blog post. I have posted comments about previous installments related to this issue, and maybe I have been too strong in my belief. Or too naive. Or maybe I didn’t make the connection clearly enough, that: People who have experienced sexual abuse have to go through a process very similar to what we go through when grieving over the loss of a loved one. And nobody, but NOBODY, has any right to tell another, “You’re not doing it right.” Because it is personal. It is for each, his own struggle. I have looked through a few of the related blog posts and readers’ comments to try to find my own previous comments, but I have not found them at this sitting. Please allow me to here say, if anything I have said, regarding the need to forgive, has been overboard, or has offended anyone, or set anyone back in his or her process of coming to terms with the horrible thing that he or she suffered in his or her own past, I apologize. Perhaps for THIS sin, forgiveness is a different process than for most other sins. I never experienced sexual abuse, only mental/emotional/verbal and disciplinary abuse. But in any case, we are all wounded souls, and together we are all seeking to love and be loved as fully and as beautifully as we are each capable of doing. It is sin, that has wounded all of us. Whether someone else’s sin (as in sexual abuse), or our own (of whatever sort), what we all need is the love, healing, and transformation that only the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus can provide. And each of us finds that in his or her own time, and in his or her own way. It is not for any of us, to prescribe for another, what the “right answer” is. We *may* however, each benefit by each one sharing his or her own experiences, how he or she came to terms with what happened, and then each of us taking what he or she can use, and leaving the rest on the shelf… because we might find that we can use it LATER, if not today. Then again, maybe some experiences or approaches might never work for all of us. It is an individual thing. Nobody can tell any other how long it should take, or how they should go about it, or what the ultimate outcome of the process should, or must, be.

  • Brande

    Matt, I identify with you hugely. This is beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your gift with us. 🙂

  • Jill

    I very much agree, and it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway that prayers continue to go out on behalf of the young girl, that her life is not over. She so needs to know that her life is not over. It is not over in spite of the violation, and it is not over because some were sentenced to a short prison term, while too many who did nothing but laugh and videotape got no punishment at all. She needs to know she is loved. She will feel safe again someday.

  • Jill

    It’s exactly the biggest conundrum: how do you know you’re not crazy when you’ve lived in crazy-making circumstances? You sure as hell feel crazy.

    Writing heals, sharing in trust-sustaining environments heals, hearing from others who walk a similar path heals. Somehow, like a homing device, we find each other to help carry some of the burden we’ve kept tied to our own shoulders while we have quietly walked our lonely, silent roads.

    Matt, you keep me grounded. Your writing here does so much good, in ways you probably aren’t able to see. I tap in, it’s like an IV of hope.

  • Jill

    I for one think your strength is just right. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sonny.

  • Jill

    Dear Susy, I am thinking of you as I hold abuse victims in prayer tonight. Peace.

  • Jill

    “I started living according to what I learned on my own, or some would say learned through the Holy Spirit, the peace in my life increased.”

    Leslie, I read this I think three times and just caught that little message that I needed to hear tonight. I often felt alone, yet surrounded by presence. I didn’t have the words for it. Then the more I pushed doctrine out, the more room I’d made for Spirit to find me, locked in my fear. The more I followed that Spirit, to my counselor’s office, to the library, even though broke with no car and shady transportation options, the more I grew strength and knowledge to heal what was broken. The stronger I’ve become, the more clearly I receive the message of the Spirit in the places and moments that I’ve needed it.

    Most recently for instance, when I went looking for an article on yet another gay-bashing jerk preacher last spring, and Google sent me to a blog written by the first intelligently spoken, inclusive Christian man I’d ever read… perhaps the Holy Spirit uses Google too…

  • thanks for supporting sonny, jill.

  • Matt

    You know you do the same for me, yes? Being here with everyone (but you especially, Jill) gives me time to be utterly myself, which keeps me healthy and able to move forward. I can’t describe the sense of well-being I get at simply being called Matt, to have male pronouns used to refer to me. And how easy it is! Here, I don’t have to painfully bind my chest, dress carefully, police my body language, or constantly look over my shoulder–I am simply myself. And not only that, I can speak my truths, many of which I can’t speak of anywhere else, and support others in the process. Such an incredible gift! 🙂

  • Alex McFerron

    Fantastic post

  • Sometimes Magical

    Amazing. Sharing on my page because it’s a perfect accompaniment to my own post on forgiveness as popularly touted today.

  • Theresa DePaepe

    Spot on John. I have written about this very topic on my blog “Forgiveness . . . Then What?” and “There is No Closure” among others.

  • Morgan Gerber

    Excellent, excellent article. Thank you so much for this!

  • David Collins

    In my understanding of Christ and being Christian, the benefit of Christ’s death is that we have a reason to forgive anyone for anything. Christ took the blame and punishment for every evil action, no matter how harmful the action was.

    I can agree with some of what John says, but I have a problem with point 1. Forgiveness is a personal process, between the victim, the sinner, and God, and no one else should stick their nose in. But I think it’s risky to dismiss forgiveness as unnecessary, because to me that means Christ’s sacrifice was unnecessary.

  • Elizabeth Buker

    As a survivor of spiritual abuse (admittedly different), forgiveness IS personal. It IS between me, God and, at this point, NO ONE else. My mom (my abuser) has nothing to do with me since I broke free. Anybody who tells me to forgive, isn’t taking into account ME, how I’m feeling, how I’m processing everything, where I am in my healing. They’re trying to force me to be at a place I may not be at yet, and need to be understanding. Otherwise, if I “forgave” before I was ready, I wouldn’t heal, I wouldn’t be able to keep moving forward, but would become stuck because now, everything should be “all right” since I forgave my abuser. Speaking from experience, it not only doesn’t work that way, it’s really, really unhealthy. It doesn’t mean that Christ’s sacrifice was unnecessary, it means I (or whomever) am moving forward at my own pace, in my own healing, towards forgiveness, usually. Just my two cents

  • Su Campbell McLain

    Thanks, John. I entirely agree with you.

  • Anonymous

    “Never forget that abusers are typically superb at expressing sincere remorse for their actions and great affection for their victims. The reason they are so adept at this is because they’ve been practicing it for most of their lives.”


    The steaming pile of [redacted] that sexually abused and assaulted me was unbelievably manipulative. He could do the “I’m so sorry” routine and turn on the waterworks at will, but at heart I think he was a sociopath and had no empathy for other people, just a very good grasp of how to mimic the warmth and affection that he needed to achieve his ends.

    If he had ever come back to me asking for forgiveness and asking to be let back into my life, I would have told him, “You’ve broken my trust too badly for me to let you back into my life. But, if you want to feel that you’ve done right by me, think about the way that you treated me, and what went wrong, and make sure that you never treat anyone like that again. That’s all that I ask.”

  • Jill

    My apology to anyone that thought I didn’t support Sonny’s very loving comments out here. As I had said, I did not express myself clearly. My earlier comment ran together, but I consider these thoughts as some of the *best* on the forgiveness subject I’d ever read.

  • Forgiving someone who purposely hurt us really isn’t related to Christ’s sacrifice, at least not how I see it. But then I see that event as having a lot more layers to it then just supposed forgiveness of sins.

    I also think that forgiveness is about you and you alone. It is a decision to be able to walk away, finally and completely from the hurt, the offense and all the ugliness that come with it. (if you can, because sometimes the hurt returns) It can mean that a relationship can be restored, between you and the offender, but that is often not the case, or is it necessary. Because ultimately forgiveness is about you and you alone.

    As I mentioned already. Jesus offers us examples and does touch on the topic of forgiveness, but more time is spent on teaching us how to behave towards others, maybe in hopes that our actions don’t warrent someone feeling they need to forgive us. Other faiths also discuss its worth, and most recognize how difficult it is to accomplish. Which brings me to this. Forgiveness is not just a Christian thing, its a human thing, its a very personal matter, it is something people of all religions and cultures struggle with. Being Christian doesn’t make one any better at the task then anyone else.

  • Matt

    There is no need for apologies, I believe. I think John was just thanking you for responding to Sonny, becausee it may not have been easy for them to share their thoughts.

  • susy

    Thank you Jill. And just to be clear, while my path led me to forgiveness, as John said, that is an individual choice that I made, that no one had a right to or tried to impose on me, and that had nothing to do with my value or my own redemption in the eyes of any sort of higher power. In fact, it was the result of discovering who I really am in the process of my recovery through a spiritual experience that has never faded–a precious, beautiful and beloved child of the universe to my absolute core, and that I have never been anything else and never will be anything else.

  • susy

    Yes you are. Using your voice well.

  • Exactly, Matt: thank you. It means more to me than I can say when one of you guys steps in and shows support/love to anyone posting here who could clearly use a dose of either–just like you and Jill, and any number of other regulars here do so very well. It’s just … invaluable. (So yes, as you say–just to make sure I’m being very clear–I was sincerely thanking Jill for supporting Sonny. Which … um … I could of course now do directly to Jill. Duh. Thanks, Jill!)

  • Lymis

    I think reading John’s piece as being that forgiveness is unnecessary is a bit of a misreading. I don’t think John’s taking a stand on the necessity of forgiveness quite so much as on this idea that forgiveness is mandatory, and further, that forgiveness inherently takes a specific form.

    Most especially because the popular conception of forgiveness is that you tell the person who hurt you that everything is okay, with extra credit for saying “I know you didn’t mean it” and that “I’m over it now, let’s put it behind us.” And, whether or not that’s an accurate statement of most people’s view of forgiveness, I think it’s a completely accurate view of what people who demand that the wounded forgive their persecutors are demanding from the victims.

    For that matter, if you are going to use Jesus as the model for Christian forgiveness, remember that in the moment of the Atonement, he didn’t say, “Father, I forgive them for everything, because they didn’t know what they were doing.” Jesus asked the Father to forgive them.

    So it is hardly some sort of denial of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice to say “I am not prepared to feel all warm and cuddly about this person, but I am willing to turn the whole matter over to God for resolution and stay out of it myself.”

    If a Christian has any obligation, it is to try to remember that the soul and salvation of their persecutor is a matter between them and God. That doesn’t extend to an obligation to hang out with them and think well of them or pretend that the harm didn’t happen.

    For that matter, though I wouldn’t put too much theological weight on it in this context, it’s worth noting that Jesus asked God to forgive his persecutors specifically because they did not know what they were doing.

    That opens a lot of doors for a more nuanced response to people who damn well did know what they were doing, knew that it was wrong, knew who they were hurting, and continued to do it anyway.

    You can look at the cross and say that Jesus was some sort of wonderful fluffy bunny full of love and unconditional forgiveness. But then you also have to look at Luke 17:

    “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”

    That’s not quite so cuddly. It makes rebuking your persecutor not only acceptable, but an actual command, and makes forgiveness contingent on their repentance.

    Certainly, if you can manage it, there’s something freeing about forgiving someone who doesn’t repent – it frees you up so that you are no longer under their power to hurt you further.

    But claiming that not forgiving the unrepentant (and simply publicly demanding forgiveness is not the same thing as actual repentance) is in someway denying the sacrifice of Christ is seriously misguided.

    And, too, while this may sound all high-minded as a theory, remember that it applies to specific people in specific circumstances – and that saying this is saying to someone who was raped as a child by a serial child molester that if they can’t feel snuggly toward their rapist, they are denying Christ’s sacrifice for all humanity.

    That some seriously screwed up stuff. And, since it’s the tool that the rapist’s use, it risks putting you on the side of the rapist. Talk about risky.

  • Thank you for this, Lymis. (And you too, Sylvie.)

  • Jill

    I simply didn’t want there to be misunderstandings between people I care about.

    Thanks to you all, for you continue to teach me what it is to practice Christianity and be so awesome.

  • It has always astounded me how repentance gets left out of discussions of forgiveness. I have worked in congregations where there has been abuse–part of a team that helped them heal. Despite years of sermons and Bible studies about what repentance means, when a situation of abuse (or any number of sins, really) arises in the community the talk goes straight to forgiveness. People are surprised–relieved–to be reminded that there is a process to forgiveness. Personally, I think it is a blessing not to forgive too quickly. In my own case (not sexual abuse) I wanted to be sure that the person who wronged me was not going to hurt others again. I know their behavior isn’t my responsibility, but it did make me feel better to know they had admitted doing wrong and taken steps to change; it was part of my healing.

  • Jill

    I try to know that, Matt. I really do. And I know your sincerity, without doubt– it means so much.

    I’m understanding lately that I’m not great at receiving. I had to learn once how to receive compliments graciously (really, my therapist taught me that!), to believe in them.

    Only no one but me hears that really angry voice from deep within that says, “if only you knew the real me, you wouldn’t have such nice things to say.” Most of us seem to have some version of that voice inside. I’ve let it make some big life decisions for me, only now starting to face that fact.

    I almost quit going to that UCC church I started last fall because I thought, “I’m gonna screw this up like I did the last time I got involved. I’m gonna end up hurt and mad, and walk away in shame again.” Took me 2 months of a break to get me back there.

    I’ve healed so much, and yet I’m still SO hard on myself in the area I care the most– to belong, to find a safe place to fall, and to share love and be appreciated. It’s been easier just to live around it, until lately.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    David Collins, Christ’s sacrifice was for you. His message of forgiveness is for you.

    That victim has been through (most likely repeated) episode(s) of being forced, choked, gagged, tied up, hit, slapped, punched, thrown down, stripped, bruised, and violated in his/her most private personal parts. Perhaps at gunpoint or with a knife at his/her throat. Bullied to an extreme you can’t even imagine. Tormented mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

    There is no sweet, simple act of abuse.

    I have to imagine a Samaritan coming down the road and discovering a beaten ball of human flesh at the side of the road, and the Samaritan preaching to him about what he should do next.

    So I would suggest that *you* begin the process by forgiving any victim who is not focused on forgiving his/her abuser within the confines of your understanding and/or time frame. Begin at home. Always. You can start by showing Forgiveness to the one who has been brutally and viciously injured. Your kindness and compassion is what will lead that victim back to health and perhaps forgiveness.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    thank you, susy.

  • aspektx

    this has been my actual process. the only thing i have ever allowed myself to say is, Never say never. in keeping the future open i was able to continue w/o worrying whether i was doing the right thing or not.

    a suggested book entitled “Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by 3 roman catholic family members was decisive in my dealing with forgiveness. aside from not worrying about forgiving they take the 5 Stages of Grief and apply them to the process of forgiveness. quite well done, even if you are not, like me, a member of that particular faith tradition.

  • aspektx

    you’re already a better human than i am Anon. i lived for quite some time with images of a nonverbal assault–with a gun. i abhor violence, but i was in no position to be anywhere near forgiveness.

    sounds like you’ve come a long way. i hope the rest of your journey is paved well ahead of you.

  • Leslie Marbach

    Thanks, Jill. Doctrine, dogma, rules, laws…they have a way of blocking the Spirit. Letting go of all the “shoulds” allows the Spirit to work.

    Blessings to you.

  • Steve Flower

    John, you (and your commenters, for which I give much thanks!) have shared some powerful stuff.

    The only thing I would add would be to include a book reference for the male abuse survivors, to match the one for the females you posted above: “Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse,” by Richard B. Gartner.

    This idea of “having to forgive others, so that I can be forgiven” is smeared about by some 12-step gurus, who don’t know this kind of pain. Your writing is particularly timely, as I am dealing with a young man who has come out to me as a victim of boyhood abuse. God bless you, and all who have commented.

  • Elizabeth

    Powerful stuff, John. It takes quite a bit to leave me speechless.

  • Cynthia

    Thank you so much for this, John. The abuse I endured from my father and from a church was not sexual; it was emotional and spiritual. But the same principles and process you describe apply just as well, since the abuse damaged me in significant and probably lifelong ways. What you’ve written here puts into words the objections I have not been able to fully articulate when well-meaning people suggest (or insist) that I “need” to forgive the people who hurt me before I can heal. They are wrong; healing is a process–no, a journey–on which I am spending years and a ton of money for a very good therapist; and since their definition of forgiveness almost always includes letting my unchanged abusers back into my life, it is deeply flawed. Bless you.

  • Excellent. As I’ve said, love child of Dear Abby and Savage Love. This post brought tears to my eyes on the train this morning. Thank you.

    I remember asking a pastor how one goes about forgiving such people.

    His response: “The same way Christ forgives us on the cross.”

    Awesomely unhelpful.

  • Inacat

    Mindy – I have also been following that trial with a sick feeling in my gut. The true horror of it, for me, is how not alone she is – one of my mother’s housemates in the 40’s lost her scholarship for ‘allowing herself to be placed in a compromising situation’ and there’s a more or less unbroken line of pain and secrecy since they wrote Deuteronomy. I’m glad you survived the experience, and grew up to be the sort of woman who could be a strong friend and a caring advocate for another person whose inherent right to safety and trust was violated.

  • Very well said, Lymis. Thank you for saying it.

  • Inacat

    Of such understandings are paladins born anew into this world. I can’t think of a stronger calling that to prevent harm to another. ..I remember Andrew Vachss asking Oprah what use forgiveness could have, knowing that her abuser was still accepted in the family, and allowed access to vulnerable children.

  • I so treasure your comments, Ric.

  • Sarah

    John, thank you so much for this post. Someone very important to my was sexually abused as a child, and I’ve seen his family and community go so far as to pressure him to invite his abuser to his wedding. It’s a shame that some people seem to see that as in any way “Christ-like” behavior. Your words of compassion for victims and survivors are sadly needed.

  • Leland Sinclair

    I prefer to say that if you forgive you just should never forget.

  • Lisa Hellie Linderman

    I think people assume that it’s black and white. Either you’ve forgiven your attacker, or you’re mired in victimhood/trauma/anger forever. Doesn’t have to be. You can recover, move on, heal…and still not forgive.

  • Meghon Ross

    As someone who was sexually abused as a child, thank you. Especially for #6. I have done a lot of work healing, and thought I had put it all behind me many years ago, but I have found myself in circumstances of late that has caused some of the past to rear it’s ugly head again. I was unprepared for that.

  • Kaede Fyrecreek

    The forgiveness that was called for was my own. For feeling responsible when I was not, for feeling what he made me feel not because I secretly wanted it but because he controlled it. The person I needed to forgive was me. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I forget that I have and need to find that place again. It doesn’t matter that it’s 25 years later.

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust

    I appreciate the perspective that forgiveness is something that is voluntary and that it is a process that ebbs and flows; also that it can only be done from the perspective of a full recognition of the evil that was done, so part of forgiveness is knowing and naming the event and its consequences. I think whether it’s expected of you depends a lot on your religious tradition and your own spiritual perspective and practices. It’s hard, but like other difficult disciplines, it has benefits. Forgiveness allows me to pursue grace and life, not hate and vengeance. And I think there’s a qualitative difference between going at life expecting a close accounting and full payment for every evil and going at it in faith that evil things can be put aside eventually and good can come out of even the worst events and people. Marked as my life is by sexual assault, I certainly don’t wish I’d spent it holding the perpetrator accountable for some kind of repayment that would have been impossible to achieve. Forgiveness helped me reach a place where I don’t think about him on most days.

  • Jozette Shaffer

    The ONLY forgiveness that should be given is to yourself: to forgive yourself if you felt like this was somehow your fault or for feeling less human because it happened to you.

  • Sonny Bellotte

    I think one thing that is coming through loud and clear, and which John indicated in his post, is that it (forgiveness or simply, sanity) may an on again / off again thing, for a very long time. I know that forgiving my crazy-makers has not been either complete or permanent, and I’ve been trying to work on it, or to come to grips with it, for 30-40 years. One of the worst offenders is now passed on. But the pain which that person caused affects me to this day. And I’m no spring chicken. Matt and Jill (and so many others) I identify with thing you have shared. And I empathize. Someone said, “A burden shared, is a burden lightened.” (Or something like that.) I believe John’s blog posts, and our discussions of them, probably help most of us in each his/her own process of healing — no matter which of several stages we are each currently in. Thank you for being willing to share your pain and your struggles. Together, may we all find the healing we all desire so deeply.

  • DR

    Oh, Mindy. What an awful, excruciating burden, reading that brought tears to my eyes. Margaret Atwood once wrote that “men have a fear of women laughing at them. Women have a fear of men killing them, but the greater fear women have is being blamed for it.”

    Much love to you.

  • DR

    Yes, exactly this. The horror of even being passively blamed for being raped when alcohol is involved is obscene.

  • Matt

    I think Jesus said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” at his crucifixion because the Roman soldiers really didn’t know what they were doing–they were performing their part of God’s plan for forgiveness of humankind. And unfortunately that part meant inflicting horrible pain on Jesus.

    Jesus knew this. He prepared for it in advance. He knew exactly why it was necessary. He knew God’s heart, and could trust Their intentions. He even had a chance to turn back (that’s how I interpret his pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane).

    But the offenses we’re talking about involve no consent by definition. They are inherently damaging. Motivation and explanation are often murky and sometimes never known. There is no “greater good” being served, and victims have no choice in the matter. They are often psychologically, emotionally, and financially bound to their abuser–stronger bonds than any physical rope could ever hope to be.

    So forgiveness is naturally going to be a different can of worms entirely.

  • vj

    “His response: “The same way Christ forgives us on the cross.””

    Not only awesomely unhelpful, just plain WRONG! The forgiveness Christ offers is for OUR benefit, not His… Yes, ‘for the joy set before Him’ He did what He did, but He would have been just fine had God decided to just wipe us all out forever.

    When WE are in a situation that calls for us to forgive others, guess what: it is still for OUR benefit, not the benefit of the perpetrator. It is NOT the victim’s responsibility to make him/her feel better! [Please note that I am speaking of the forgiveness that we choose to give as part of (or resulting from) a true healing process, not the instant/automatic “forgiveness” that others might try to demand/expect/coerce, and which only makes the victim feel worse because the wrongdoing is swept under the rug and not acknowledged/healed.]

  • Amy

    Susie (((((big big hug)))))

    Your courage to live and take back your life is absolutely jaw dropping inspiring. I am standing up inside applauding you for sharing your story… and for your passion to stand up for those who are not being heard. Something I see thoughout your comment is something I have seen in my own healing journey, that our voices have become our greatest tool against shame. Finding my voice IS and HAS been such a part of the healing of incest and sexual abuse. I see it here too. Beautiful <3

    Continued life and wholeness to you, lovie…

  • Amy

    I saw no gender in this post either… everybody knows that sexual abuse knows no gender. Thankyou, John so much for this powerful post! I hope many find it and are filled with courage and hope.

    xx Amy

  • Jean Baller

    [fundy drivel actually rather artfully presented as reasonable discourse–but not quite reasonably enough (key phrase: “You are teaching false doctrine”)–deleted.]

  • Mike Goetz

    A few have touched on it, but I do feel that a big missing piece in this discussion is a good definition of forgiveness.

    In my understanding, forgiveness is simply breaking the cycle of violence; a refusal to repay evil with more evil. It is declining the right to hold the offense against the offender in terms of demanding retribution. You let go of your right to exert punishment.

    Forgiveness is NOT THE SAME as trust or a restored relationship. It is not the same as no longer harboring feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, or disappointment.

    So I can forgive you, but the consequence of your action is that our relationship is forever destroyed. It may be that I need to separate myself from you for my own protection. It may be that I can never trust you again, or that it will take a long time before trust can be re-established. It may be that I will always feel some measure of anger towards you or hurt for what was done. It may be that the authorities will need to prosecute you as a consequence of your actions.

    Given this context, forgiveness is most certainly something that is essentially between you and God, and does not involve the offender directly. Indeed the offender asking you to forgive him (ie. “please don’t repay my evil with more evil”) sounds rather self-serving.

    But if I am able to forgive it means that I no longer demand retribution. I no longer plan my revenge. Forgiveness becomes an active choice, rather than ‘forced feelings’ (you feel the way you feel, and you can’t change that). It is a discipline, but not a demand to ‘put it behind you’ or say that it’s all ok now.

  • Mindy

    Jean, the bible does not include explicit instructions for every detail of life – and if it did, it would be 2000 years out of date. So if it isn’t in the Bible, that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

    It’s like looking in the Bible for instructions on how to best use your dishwasher.

    Fortunately, our self-awareness as a species has evolved considerably since then; thus, we adapt accordingly.

  • I am not Mr. Shore, but I don’t agree with how you are defining forgiveness, it’s purpose, or it’s imperative. As far as I can tell, John Shore gets his right to teach his message from Scripture and experience, two valid sources.

    Forgiveness is a process and it is part of justice-making:

    “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you several times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, “I repent,” you must forgive him. “(Luke 17: 3-4, RSV)

    Repentance is not confession or remorse. It is completely turning your life around. If you have wronged another person through sexual abuse (or any other sin) your victim has no imperative to forgive you unless you turn from your sin. As others have noted, this does not absolve you from paying for your crime through punishment, broken relationships, loss of status, or restitution.

    Moreover, “forgive and forget” is not a statement that comes to us from our religious heritage. It comes from Shakespeare- four different plays in fact. Jesus doesn’t say we have to forget our life experiences in order to be healed. That is not only impossible, it is unhealthy.

  • Elizabeth

    Please forgive *me* if I’m misreading this, but forgiveness is not breaking a cycle of violence. No violence lives innately in a victim; he/she is free to say “fuck off” and continue his or her own healing his or her own way.

    I may want to beat the abuser with a baseball bat. Sexual abuse victims are often better people than I. I’m glad you no longer demand retribution. To imply others shouldn’t, or in fact that they ever did, is simplistic not disciplined.

  • Lymis

    I get what you are saying, but I agree with Elizabeth that the “violence” part rings wrong.

    The way I phrase it is that forgiveness is the point at which you decide that the past has no more power to continue to do new hurt in the present.

    That includes allowing yourself to stop being vengeful if you’ve been vengeful, or to stop repaying evil with more evil, but it also means letting yourself out from under any weight that you have put on yourself because of someone else’s past actions.

    I’m not sure that forgiveness means relinquishing the right to demand that someone else’s actions have consequences, including punishment. It does mean not taking glee in that or insisting on punishment out of a desire to harm. (I also think it does NOT require actively feeling bad about some harm that does come to someone as a result of the measured consequences of their actions.)

    Not all punishment is vengeance. And not all waiving of punishment is an act of charity – especially if, unpunished, the person will go on to harm others.

  • Lymis


    The Roman soldiers didn’t know WHO they were crucifying, but they certainly knew that they were crucifying someone. It’s not like they thought they were serving a lovely brunch and three people accidentally got hung on crosses, and someone slipped and clumsily shoved a spear in one of them and broke the legs of the others.

    God is certainly creative and flexible enough to have worked something out if those particular soldiers said, “No, I won’t be a part of this, it’s wrong.”

    They don’t get a pass because something good came of it. Or else everyone gets a pass because something good can come of everything.

  • Mike Goetz

    Yes my choice of the word ‘violence’ was a poor one, my apologies. I was trying to articulate the notion that revenge for wrongdoing can lead to a perpetual cycle of retribution that forgiveness can break. I did not mean to imply that violence lives innately in a victim.

    And yes, forgiveness still allows room for the appropriate consequences of a person’s actions. My point is that I think too often we confuse the notion of forgiveness with restored trust and relationship (letting bygones be bygones, like Marc Monte seems to want).

  • Jill

    Yes, yes, yes. This point in my life, in the last year or so, I truly believe we’re healing our wounds together. I can only lone wolf it for so long before healing becomes avoidance.

    To all that have courageously shared your pain and your love and your thoughts here, I am grateful beyond words that we are in this together.

  • Elizabeth

    “Forgiveness is the point at which you decide that the past has no more power to continue to do new hurt in the present.” True on so many levels. Thank you, Lymis.

  • Jill

    I’m genuinely going to think about that statement, because honestly that was the one sentence I had trouble with. Absolutely positively I know both of you are not in the least negating anyone’s pain, so this is not my criticism of you.

    My hesitation, perhaps my misinterpretation, is that memories come out of the blue and knock your head around. At any time, in any moment. Often at the worst possible, like when you’re intimate with someone safe. And then, for that moment, the present is ruined by the past. All the forgiveness in the world hasn’t seemed to resolve that. Those are the moments when forgiveness seems to have failed. There is new hurt when old hurt doesn’t want to go away. Does anyone else get what I’m saying?

    When does forgiveness = no more power to cause hurt? Maybe there’s more I can do to heal myself that I haven’t tried?

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t have the magic answer to that, Jill. I wish I did. The memories that come knocking around at our most intimate, vulnerable moments aren’t exclusive to sexual abuse survivors, but recognizable to many who’ve been hurt many ways. Forgiveness isn’t an end goal. It’s an ongoing process of learning to trust.

  • Susy

    Thank you Amy. It’s been a long road and I owe so much of it to my husband. I was programmed to marry an alcoholic abuser, but somehow chose a kind and decent man instead who chose me back. It took me a few years to learn to take him at face value–it just finally got too tiring, not to mention boring, waiting for him to turn into a monster. We probably spent upwards of $30,000 or so on therapy, group and individual for me, and some for him as well. I got in with an excellent group of therapists who got me into a 2 month inpatient treatment program post suicidal psychotic break when my memories started popping and then a 6 week educational program on the dynamics of abusive families before they would let me start therapy. My main therapist had a theory that the best way to work through things was to go back to the very beginning. It took five years of therapy to become emotionally secure enough to remember about my father. While the memories started to come up in the treatment center, I did not get the right kind of support and so they submerged again but I did get some breathing room. Right before those memories did finally surface five years later, I was calling her from work every day at my breaks and lunch half hour due to panic attacks. It felt crazy, I felt crazy. I stayed in therapy another seven years after that, continuing to work on healing, confronting some of my abusers as I went along. My therapist believed in me so much she let me run up a $15000 bill. I called myself her “walking IRA.” She stuck with me and helped me my husband get me through school to become an occupational therapist. We paid her off several years ago now. She’s retired now. I’ve written her more than one thank you letter and been out to visit. I wish our society could commit to giving abuse victims the kind of treatment they need for full recovery.

    I feel so blessed that I was able to heal my sexuality and come to understand that while my child self may have felt pleasure from the abuse, I had nothing to be ashamed of and that finding my way to sexual pleasure as an adult was the best thing I could do for myself in my recovery. Human beings are wired for pleasure. Just because adults are uncomfortable with child sexuality doesn’t mean children don’t have it. Of course some of what children feel is sexual pleasure when they are abused. It’s neurological. They also feel pain, shame and humiliation. They may even feel like they are dying. One of my memories involved asphyxiation during abuse. I think I literally almost died. In my recovery process, I held a funeral for the inner child who did not survive that attack. But enough of me survived to choose healing at any price. My goal was to become as close as I possibly could to being the person I would have been had none of those bad things ever happened to me. And I am there thanks to the love, understanding and guidance of a good many good people and a higher power who has walked with me through it.

  • Matt

    No, I didn’t mean that there was a free pass. Of course they knew they were crucifying someone–but they didn’t know they were crucifying the Messiah. That tends to change things.

  • DR


  • Lymis

    I absolutely get what you are saying, Jill, and first, I’m not going to try to rigidly defend the metaphor – things like that only go so far.

    If we look at a purely physical injury as a metaphor, though, it’s what helps me be clear on what I mean.

    If you get a thorn in your hand, you first have to get the thorn out, and clean the would. That’s ending the immediate ongoing harm. Healing takes time, and yes, as the wound heals, things will pull, and you’ll bump it and have a new hurt as part of the healing of the old one. You may be limited in how you can use your hand for a while. But that’s distinct from choosing to deliberately pick at the scab or to actually take some new sharp object and poke into the old wound.

    And it would be completely unrealistic to pretend that “healing” in all cases means “going back to exactly how things were before.” Even in physical wounds, you can lose a finger or a limb, you can have an injury to your back or knee that forever afterwards limits you or causes pain when you try to do things you used to do, or even when things like the weather change.

    Complete healing may never be possible, and that’s a reality. But there is still a difference between incomplete healing and ongoing injury.

    Forgiveness is like taking the thorn out, or taking the knife out, or cauterizing or having surgery on a major wound. Forgiveness isn’t the same as healing, and it doesn’t guarantee that healing is possible or that the repercussions of the original wound won’t linger and anything from having to retrain yourself to use another hand or a wheelchair to minor twinges at odd moments can still be part of your life for the rest of your life.

    But I see consequences of the old wound and the best healing you can achieve as separate from the original wound itself.

    I don’t think forgiveness is ever exactly the same as no more hurt. But there’s still a difference between “You are still a force in my life that causes me pain” and “What happened to me in the past because of you is something I must continue to deal with.”

    Some of it, of course, also comes from our very real and very human and very understandable wish in certain circumstances to wish the people and situations aren’t what they actually are. There’s a very real hurt that comes from holding onto a picture of how parents are supposed to act, or how families are supposed to be, or how Christians are supposed to behave, or how life is supposed to work.

    If parents are supposed to be loving, and our parents weren’t – or were horrible or abusive or violent or even just disappointingly human, there is a new hurt we can give ourselves every time we poke ourselves with the idea that we were hurt because of how they were supposed to be, but weren’t.

    Sometimes it sucks, but people aren’t the way they are supposed to be. Holding on to that in the face of how they actually are or were is like poking your wound with a new stick. Parents are supposed to be loving, and some aren’t. Friends are supposed to be trustworthy, and some aren’t. Bosses are supposed to be fair, and some aren’t. Christians are supposed to be Christian, and some aren’t.

    That doesn’t excuse anything, but knowing that (as John says in the next article) we happened to draw the short straw can let us just let what was be what was and proceed to deal with the aftermath rather than poking at our wound with the “what should have been instead” stick.

    When a past hurt poisons a present moment, you can see it as the present being ruined, or you can see it as a present reality that needs to be addressed in the moment, and let how the present might have been different go.

    I’m not saying that’s easy – holy cow, I’ll never say that, especially in the face of dealing with some horrible trauma or deep betrayal, but my background certainly has plenty of fuel for holding on to rage and oppression – but it’s an option each and every time, and it’s something that gets easier as it becomes a habit of mind and spirit.

    There’s a grace in focusing on the actual options that your current circumstance presents you with. The Holy Spirit is only present in the moment; now is the only point where eternity intersects with history. If our spirit is in the past dwelling on what was, or in the future dwelling on what might be, or in some alternate universe dwelling on what might have been, we aren’t in the moment, and the Spirit has the much more trouble indwelling within us.

    And, sometimes, what feels like the past poisoning the present is an invitation, especially in a situation of intimacy, to address that past directly so that it can be healed and set aside. Not always, but certainly sometimes.

  • robert

    John… thank you… I agree with everything that you said… I wanted to add something… which you likely talked about…. forgiving someone does not make what happened “ok”… it does not absolve them of their “guilt”…. what it does is… it releases you from the seemingly never ending spinning on the traumatic event… it allows you… or at least it allowed me… to say “this is what happened… what happened was wrong… it should not have happened… I can sort of understand why it happened… I would never have done it… I have no control over the past… but I am tired of having hate in my heart… that person is sick… sick people do sick things… I can let it go (repeat this as many times as needed)… I never want anything to do with that person again… they are not allowed in my life again… I can protect myself from them… because if they did it once… they will likely do it again… I can move on. ” this is the process that I have had to go through and it took years for me finally get some resolution…. I don’t pretend to the dalai lama or ghandi.. . I don’t want “them” to steal one more second of my joy and peace of mind… I also realized… they are not staying up night lamenting over what happened… and for me to hang on to it… just continued to hurt me…

  • Jill

    Mind blowing. Incredibly wonderful replies from you both, thank you so much. It seemed that to do the healing process, at least in the cognitive behavioral style of therapy I’m familiar with, I had to delve into the darkness to some degree, uncover what once had to be buried to survive.

    An interesting challenge came when all this drudge came forward, and then I needed to figure out what to do with it. Where do you put it? Like John said, it highly sensitizes you to others’ pain, you feel so much you might explode. Like Elizabeth said, learning to trust is not a given.

    And then the time comes invariably when life asks you to focus forward, be present in today. I have investigated a variety of forgiveness models, the Buddhist thought of self-detachment offering the most benefit personally. I thought I got ‘all zen’. Oh, how silly I can be! A new layer unfolds, and I’m at the process again.

    I have not forgiven the God of the Christian bible yet, and that is part of my current journey. All these things do twist and turn as we stumble along our path, and we can find our way toward grace at deeper levels.

    Lymis, you said everything I needed to hear right now. I remain in awe of those here that understand and are so willing to keep sharing and supporting.

  • Great post, John.

    One thing I’d like you to understand is that you kept referring to the victim as “her” or “she”. I’m here to tell you, John, that One of every Six boys is also sexually victimized as well. I was one of those victims. The impact of this abuse on our society is profound beyond belief. If I could offer you one word of counsel it would be to bear in mind in your writings that sexual abuse is not gender specific. If people would recognize that fact when referring to sexual abuse by eliminating statements that make the crime seem as tho it is specific to female victims, it could change the conversation and allow male victims who feel a huge burden of stigmatization being lifted from their shoulders. Just a little food for thought, John.

    Thanks for your wonderful work. Please keep on defending the vulnerable. You’re giving hope to thousands.

  • Beulah

    The circumstances that you wrote about in section 3 kept ashamed and silent for all of my childhood. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I started seeking help and yet I still remained silent to my father, who was the abuser and my mother, who may or may not have known what was happening me when I was the same age as my little grandchildren are now, 4 & 6. After my father died, I had a brief conversation with my mother about it. She said she would have left my dad had she of known. Whether that is true or not, I will never know. She passed away 3 years after my dad. Now, at 54, when I look at photos of that happy looking family that were taken during the time that the sexual abuse took place, I cry for the little girl standing there with a smile hiding a horrible secret. Do I forgive my father? Yes, most days. Do I forgive my mother for not protecting me? Yes, most days. Do I forgive myself? Most definitely, but it does not take away the sadness nor anger that I feel when I allow myself to think about what I missed had I not been abused.

  • Sam

    Your work on forgiveness and the stages of recovery is refreshing John, thank you.

    I was referred to this blog by a male survivor who felt this work was vitally important to men who have been sexually abused. I completely agree. This is such an important obstacle to overcome and it cannot be stressed enough to remove blockages to all sufferers of abuse, whether by excluding gender specific reference or by using genderless verbiage.

    Abuse has no exception to gender, neither can support for recovery. Much success to you on your efforts, I have benefited from your perspective.


  • This was an awesome post. I didn’t know that the back and forth – feeling healed on Tuesday and bitter on Friday was status quo for healing. That is reassuring because that just happened to me last week. And yes, I feel like I’m floating lost at Sea. I will try to enjoy the swim back in. Thank you.

  • Inwoodista

    As a survivor of child sexual abuse, and rape at the age of 19, this is an excellent post. Thank you for recommending “Courage to Heal”. It helped me a great deal in my healing.

  • No, it doesn’t.

  • adam

    i agree that being gender specific makes it seem your leaving out a huge part of abused children . sexual abuse for boys has it’s own set of aftereffects ,different in many ways than abuse of girls .no worse just different with a different stigma attached . the resources available to male survivors is extremely limited

  • adam

    I’m in the will-not-forgive part of the equation, and have battled greatly with those who say i must forgive in order to heal. it’s refreshing to see it in print that i don’t have to forgive. to me, forgiving is somehow saying it’s allright. and it will never be allright.

  • Ginger

    Love and light now.. For this is what we so deserve. Feel it and see it now my brothers and sisters. Love love love!!! Shame on them, not shame on us.

  • Sally

    I am a victim and still in the healing process.I acually had to deal with everything on my own as my offender is a man in power and i wouldnt have a case as it would be my word against his.It took me time to have to get here,to a point that i would feel so good enough to share this.I was a victim of sexual abuse as a child at an early age of 5-7,then at age 13 and lastly this year at age17.I know all the feeling and i actually never confronted the man as he is dangerous and would make me feel even worse but with time,i am healing and i have decided to forgive him and that is where im struggling.Any help?

  • Susyc

    Have you gotten any outside help with this situation? I am speaking of counseling or therapy. Forgiveness may need to go on the backburner until you have resolved the feelings around what has happened to you. Forcing forgiveness doesn’t work. In fact, it tends to backfire with very negative effects. I tried to forgive my father before I knew what I was forgiving him for and it backfired into a psychotic break and two back-to-back stays at two different treatment centers due to suicidal ideation. Your most important job right now is to take care of yourself–to do whatever it takes to heal yourself. Nothing, not even forgiveness is more important than that.

  • Jean

    Most times, however, forgiveness is a slow process. Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book, Forgive and Forget, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” So we forgive for ones self. Unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. We forgive by faith out of obedience to God because he commanded us to forgive. Intent, when you go to the Lord and ask him for help you release the person who did you wrong , you release that person to the Lord. Colossians 3:13

    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

    God wants you to forgive for your own sake. It takes a long time and you will never forget what happened but eventually you will be able to think about it without anger and pain. Believe me, I went through it. It took me years but I kept giving it to the Lord and now when I think about that person it is without malice. Remember this also, God always brings good out of a bad situation.

  • Matt

    I appreciate your intent, Jean, and I’m sure you don’t mean any harm. But your very same words are often used to guilt victims/survivors into forgiving before they’re truly ready, something that John addresses in his post. In that case, forgiveness is yet another burden placed on us, or else we are “imprisoned” (of course, it’s our fault–yet again). “Unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die,” was endlessly told to me especially, when the real poison in my soul was people who had their own reasons for telling me that. Those reasons, when examined carefully, were not pretty at all. I feared being angry because I was told it was a sign of bitterness, but once I actually allowed myself to feel the anger, it was amazing how it came and went very naturally and easily. And I had the same situation as Susyc–I had to figure out what exactly happened first, which sounds obvious but isn’t always when you face resistance from the rest of your family, as I did.

    In some cases, forgiveness may help a person move on and have some closure, after they have healed as much as they feel they need to. In others, forgiveness is not possible, but we can still find peace in other ways. I believe that God wants the best for us, and He trusts us to find that out for ourselves, with His help if we ask for it. I’m glad you found what works for you.

  • Inwoodista

    Dear Sally – I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse by a member of my church.

    First, good for you in reaching out for support and help from fellow survivors. This is an important step in your sacred path of healing.

    Second, I’m concerned about your safety. The most important thing is for you to be safe.

    To truly be able to heal, you need to be in a place of physical safety, and also emotional and spiritual safety. Healing happens in its own divine time, with God’s grace, but you can’t rush it by forgiving the person who violated you, especially when it sounds like this man is still exerting a lot of power in your life.

    I agree with both Susyc and Jean. You are just beginning to understand the harm that was done to you by this man. It’s much too early to consider forgiving him. Is pressure being put on you to forgive him?

    I’m concerned that this man still has a lot of direct power in your life. Your first priority is to take care of yourself, a precious child of God whose divine right is that of safety and health. There is no requirement that you forgive this man and much danger to your mental and spiritual health to do so prematurely. God forgives all. You don’t need to: not yet.

    There is much that you haven’t shared that’s important. Are you still living with your parents? Are they and/or people in your church pressuring you to forgive this man right now? (This is a man who sexually abused you very recently.) If so, this is abusive behavior and is not a safe environment for you to heal.

    It also sounds like you are afraid of this man and the power he still exerts in your life. Do everything you can to keep yourself away from him while you figure out how to become independent so that you can remove yourself from this situation.

    Whether you are ready to consider leaving or not, you need support in your path of healing. A therapist who specializes in working with survivors of child sexual abuse is the best, if possible. Also, look for a local support group for survivors of child sexual abuse or sexual assault. If an in-person therapist & support group isn’t possible right now, then look for an online support group.

    Also, please read the book “Courage to Heal”. It’s a great reference and provided compassionate support to me and thousands of others in healing from child sexual abuse.

    For excellent advice and strategies on finding friends supportive of your healing and independence, and advice on planning & preparing to leave home (when home is abusive and/or manipulative) see Here is a good post on how to begin thinking/planning about leaving home when home is an unhealthy place to live:

    Bless you and please continue to reach out for support in your healing. I know what it’s like to just want the pain to be over, but truly feeling and owning your pain with the loving support of people who are willing to hear your story is how one truly heals. Please be patient with yourself and the pain and know that your healing and greater strength will come through experiencing that pain in a place of loving support and safety.

  • harrisco

    Sally: I am terribly sorry that this man used his power over you in an abusive way. You did not merit this kind of treatment. You deserved love and care and protection. I am sorry you got the opposite. You are a child of God who has been treated as something much less than that. It should not have happened. I hope you will do everything you can now to ensure your own safety. Abusers are often full of hollow apologies and they are surrounded by apologists and deniers. I am sorry you are hearing from them now. Get yourself to safety. Realize there are a lot of people who do not want to believe your abuse was real. Hold to the truth. Do not let smooth talkers mess with your head. You know the truth of what happened. Here is one other truth I want to assure you of: You are a precious, beautiful child of God. No one ever has the right to treat you as something less than that. I believe that–and lots of other people reading your post believe that too. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Would you mind if I say a prayer on your behalf?

  • Jean

    I don’t recall saying forgiveness was an instantaneous act. I recall saying it took me a long time to forgive. Forgiveness is part of the healing process. Learning to let go of the anger and resentment frees a person. No one should tell you to let the abuser back into your life. You are not commanded to do that and to tell you that is wrong. Once I understood that releasing the person that harmed me is very freeing, then I understood why God tells us to forgive. Of course that is up to you when you decide to let go.

  • Carolyn

    I really appreciate this. I was sexually abuse for eleven years, and I had to turn my parents in for it. That was only 3 years ago. I am now 18 years old, and my life is much better. But I still have the pain of those eleven years. I am frequently talked to about forgiveness. I am often told that forgiveness will heal everything. I don’t believe that, and I’m glad to have found this site. All of the people telling me about forgiveness don’t understand how it is for me. They actually can forgive the person who did awful things to me. I can’t. It’s bad enough that he didn’t get what he deserved. He is only a sex offender. No prison, no justice. For me to just forgive him and move on with my life, makes no sense. I can’t get back those eleven years. He destroyed my childhood. If I forgive him, then I’m letting him get away with everything. He caused so much pain in my life. I will never forget what happened to me. He will never know the pain he caused me and my family. No one else will understand either, only the people who have also experienced abuse. I get so angered to hear that I need to forgive. I can not do that. And if the people who have forgiven him, lived what I did for years, they would understand as well.

  • Jill

    Hi Carolyn, I’m so glad you’re here. This really is a beautiful space where your pain is validated, not judged. The comments section along with John’s incredible wisdom has given me great solace and the opportunity to heal more and more. I hope you find the same. Peace to you, Jill

  • Jill

    Hi adam, I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner, but I’m glad you’re here too. You’re right that men and boys have great obstacles to receiving the proper care as survivors, and the fear attached can seem insurmountable.

    You likely already know that your healing journey is yours, and yours alone, meaning that no one else can dictate how it works for you or when it happens. You are by no means alone on this path, but you are in the driver’s seat. Opinions are like elbows– most everyone’s got at least one, and someone’s opinion of forgiveness is just that: their opinion of what it means. You’re in a safe environment to agree, to disagree, and find your own voice and way to go.

    I hope you take hope in this space that you are heard and your needs are honored. My best to you, Jill

  • Liz

    Ek. I hate hearing or reading the word “slut” because it’s so rape culture. I suppose you can’t have a conversation about forgiving rapists without putting the word “slut” in it. Otherwise, though, I appreciate the effort.

  • Sara

    How can I forgive? I left therapy today thinking about it, the first time in twenty some years. I have never ever put thought into forgiving him. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t give a damn about what he did to me. He is a sociopath. I was tortured, abused, as I am sure all of you were too. Some of you said you could forgive. I will just have to figure out if it will make me feel better. Because all I can do is hate him. But for right now, it is not looking too good on the forgiveness. Just to be honest. It just cannot be an overnight thing to forgive and be done with it. Right? He has never tried to get in touch with me to ask for forgiveness either. He just doesn’t feel bad at all. And I have a huge family, and they have forgiven him! And they don’t talk to me! It is so backwards now! Is it because I don’t forgive him?? I am not a mind reader, is it because they don’t know what to say to me? I have no clue. I just moved on with my life without them. Anyways, thanks for listening.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Sara. I’m not a sexual abuse survivor. I have a bunch of other ‘issues’, many of them related to controlling men, but that’s not one. Your family is wrong. You don’t need to forgive anyone. God does that. It’s His job. If you’re in therapy, I’m sure you’re familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the five stages of grief. Skip Stage 2, anger, and you never heal. Prayers for you and those you choose to love.

  • Jill

    Hi Sara, your story– your experience needs to be heard. Talking it out like you are with your therapist, putting words to the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the unbelievably horrible, is what gets us anywhere close to forgiveness, letting go, moving forward, whatever.

    You deserve to be heard, and you deserve to feel healed. Forgiveness, a really obstinately blinking word for me, is something separate from this. John’s point #1 is key here. Truly, if you’re worrying about forgiveness, please don’t. Continue to take very good care of yourself, and I believe, as I’ve experienced, forgiveness flows outward from healing. I wish you all the best, Jill

  • Debrah

    Hi. Um, how do I know that I’ve really forgiving my abuser? It started when I was 9, exactly what you said, as soon as I felt that evil pleasure and ‘squirmed’ he always used to say that I obviously liked it and I cant tell my mum (it was my step-dad). I’ve never had therapy, I’m 14 now, the abuse has stopped. My mum found out like a year after they got married, this was going on while they were dating. When she found out (read my diary) all she said was that she’ll talk to him, but afterwards they pretended like nothing happened and we’ve never spoke about it till this day. I think I’ve forgiven him but I can never forget. We all still live together, my mum’s pregnant. I get on with him, though after my mum found out I was really depressed whenever I went to church for some reason.

  • susyc

    Dear Deborah, I know for me that when I reached forgiveness with my abusers, I knew it. Have you talked to anyone outside your family about the abuse? I am sorry you have never had therapy. I wonder if you can get some. Don’t worry about forgiving or not forgiving. No you will never forget, but the fact that this happened to you does not have to rule your life forever either. Forgiving or not forgiving are both legitimate choices and you will make that choice when it is the right time to make that choice. I think the important thing is to know that it wasn’t your fault that this happened to you or that anything you did caused it to happen. Pleasure is not evil. The fact that you felt pleasure is because you, like ALL human beings have nerve endings that are set up to detect pleasure, pain, and every sensation in between and carry that information to our brains. Do not judge yourself because you felt pleasure. But these things do affect us and change us. I hope you will get the support you need to deal with it. You are so young acknowledging that this abuse is part of your history! That is so courageous. The problem with abuse of any kind is that the person who it happened to makes it about something being wrong with themselves. There is nothing wrong with you. But without help, you might see these feelings beginning to affect your life, like the ones you have about church for example. Some people begin having trouble in areas of life that were not problems before, like failing in school, getting along with brothers and sisters, parents, getting into drugs and alcohol, getting into trouble, deciding to have sex before they are really ready and many other things. So I will really encourage you to find a way to get professional help if you can. I will be thinking of you. You can always write here to talk about it.

  • susyc

    Sorry, I just noticed I spelled your name wrong! Debrah is so pretty.

  • Debrah

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve only told 3 friends that I can trust but they usually say the same thing so I don’t talk about it that much. I realize now that it does affect my life, I don’t really think about what he’s done, seeing as he is now and forever will be a part of my life.. which does kinda suck on my part. Its weird though, when we watch tv together and stuff like rape or sexual harassment comes up in the news, my mum talks about it like its absolutely disgusting, like she’s forgotten that her own daughter went through the same thing, I don’t think she realizes that I will forever be mentally scarred. He’s never come up to me asking for an apology. After she apparently ‘talked it out’ with him, she questioned me asking if everything I said, or wrote, was true and that he said that he will never do it again. So 1) He was apologizing to HER and not Me and 2) How can SHE question me about something like that? She doesn’t even trust me now, she even said it to my face one time that she doesn’t trust me, which sucks. I know none of this was my fault but.. It definitely feels like it is.

  • This is really great, Susyc. Perfect. Thank you.

  • Debrah: What really sucks is that in your house you now have to play the role of mature adult. You mom and step-father sure aren’t: they’re lying; they’re avoiding the truth; they’re not taking responsibility for the awful thing that’s happened to you; they’re blaming you in the hopes that you’ll feel bad about yourself, and in so doing relieve them of some of the blame for what you’re going through, allof which is their fault entirely. Shame on the asshole who took advantage of you, and shame on your mother for abdicating, as she has, all responsibility for protecting you.

    So. You’ve got a sucky situation there. We’re all feeling your pain. Most of us have been there: stuck in a house with parents who wouldn’t know actual parental behavior from one of their own moody pout-fits. You’ve been robbed of a proper childhood, and that’s a terrible thing.

    But you’ll be all right. It’s very clear from what you’ve written here that you’re more than capable of properly dealing with all that’s happened to you–because it’s clear that you’re quite clear on what’s right and what’s wrong. And if you know that, you’ll be okay. It’s a shame that you’re being forced to keep your own counsel; it’s a blessing that counsel is so good.

    Hang in there, girl. Write us, or me ( anytime you want to, about anything you want to. We love you. You’re a sister to we who, when younger, suffered in the way you are now.

  • susyc

    Ugh, I know and I wish there was a magic wand we could wave that would make people take responsibility for their actions. I know there was nothing more I wanted for the longest time than to have my dad and mom own their behavior and take responsibility for it to my face! It never happened. There were validations, but they were never a direct and honest ownership of their behavior and their responsibility. But when I finally had the support in place in my life, a stable home, independence, I decided I was going to do the work I needed to do in order to become as close to the person I would have been had none of that abuse and neglect ever happened to me. That was going to be my revenge. I decided to become the best me I could owning and taking responsibility for my past, present and future. I had to get a lot of help to do that. I KNOW you will do that too.

  • susyc

    In fact, Debrah, you have already started your recovery by writing about it here. You are young, you may not have too many options for professional help around you, but maybe you know of one or two you could approach. And maybe you are afraid of upsetting your mom and step dad by getting help. In any case, we are here for you.

  • Elizabeth

    Debrah: what John said. Generally, but especially about this. In the perfect world, your parents would be overjoyed to help you get therapy. In the real world… my parents’ divorce dragged on for 8 years. I asked for therapy starting at 12. I was told I was strong. Suck it up. I finally attempted suicide on my 16th birthday. That got me court-ordered therapy — woefully inadequate — but nothing could make my parents go to family counseling. Their power struggle was still more important than me. And yes, Dad read my diary which is never OK. It’s a violation. Certainly not as egregious as other ways you’ve been violated, but dead wrong nonetheless.

    DON’T do any of that. I’m a test case in what not to do, really. DO read John’s Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, And How To Defeat Each One of Them. If you can’t afford it or don’t want to leave a paper trail, contact me through John. I’ll buy it for you. It’s a painful read. It’s kind of like getting repeatedly kicked in the stomach. It annihilates, in easy steps, every single excuse you have for staying in toxic relationships. It can be applied to all of them: husbands, parents, friends, employers, anyone who makes you feel trapped.

    Those stories we tell ourselves to survive are really hard to let go. I know.

    Email John if you need to. He really answers. Get my contact info from him if you want a big sister perspective. This forum is safe. John makes damn sure it is. We’re all just a bunch of saints and misfits trying to help each other out. xo

  • Matt

    Hello Debrah!

    I was born female, and in a very similar situation as you at around your age. If it helps you see how not-right this is, my mother had a very similar reaction. My entire family made up a story that I was mentally ill in order to hide their own dysfunction (and the abuse I suffered). Adult after adult failed me, including counselors and social workers who accepted the front my parents put up for them. My abuser used torture in order to keep me quiet.

    But I made it through. You can too. It’s so awesome how you’re seeing through the lies being fed to you. What’s happening to you is not your fault, and nothing can ever make it your fault. It is not okay, and no amount of sweet words can make it okay. I’m undergoing good and competent counseling now as a young adult for what happened to me, and you’re right to seek it out. It makes all the difference.

    If you have questions or want to talk, feel free to get my information from John. Or just talk here. I worked hard for the good life and good health that I enjoy now, and it doesn’t mean nearly as much if I can’t turn around and help other young girls who are just where I was. You’re definitely not alone.

  • DR

    It’s such a betrayal when a family moves at an entirely different pace toward the abuser and doesn’t let the victim set the pace. It’s the worst kind of isolation and you’re left alone twice because it’s too difficult to get angry at “forgiveness”. I’m sorry your family is dealing with this through some kind of forgiveness amnesia that trivializes your experience.

  • DR

    Oh my God, what is wrong with people…

  • Amarah

    Hey i was sexually abusd my my 15 year older bother from the age of 3 to 11. i remember it started before i could talk properly. i had the most pathetic chilhood any girl could have. I never told anyone or confronted him. He just assumes i dont remember cause i was so small. but i HATE him. I cry over the disgusting things he did to me every night. Do you have any idea what i can do to make myself feel better? Or if you’re aware of any online forums i can talk about this on please let me know

  • Hi Amarah. First, I’m so sorry. I made lots of dubious decisions with older men — I hashtag it #poordecisions — but none of them were against my will or when I was too young to consent. I can’t even imagine.

    Telling ANYONE, even this cyber-community, is an essential first step. You can’t keep that locked up inside; it will eat you alive. Hatred is healthy. Let’s yell it a couple more times: HATE HATE HATE him. Someday you may forgive your brother, but you are under absolutely no obligation to. Ever.

    You need a psychologist, psychiatrist, or support group, at least. If you cry every night, your physical as well as mental health is in danger. I’ve shared the heck out of this: It’s 11 minutes of pure win. She’s lesbian, but she speaks eloquently on the pitch-black closets we all have. Hard is not relative. Hard is hard. 5:41-5:57 speaks to your health issues: “Not having those hard conversations can go on for years, and your body just can’t handle it. Chronic exposure to adrenaline and cortisol disrupts almost every system in your body and can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, just to name a few.”

    Your brother stole your childhood. Don’t let him steal your future.

    Places to start: The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network ( and The American Psychological Association’s brochure on child sex abuse ( They are geared toward recent assaults, but don’t be put off by that. So many children don’t speak up until years later. If you contact them, I’m sure they can help. Even your local hospital can recommend someone to get you on your path to healing. xo

  • Amarah

    Thankyou so much you have no idea how much everything you said means to me. Just knowing that someone out there is ackowledging my pain makes me feel slightly better. I’m from a pakistani society where such topics are tabbo-ed i can never say a word of this to anyone and going to therapists in our society is considered a ‘bad’ thing. But most importantly I need to keep this a secret because my parents are old and sick if they found out they would break. I’m so confused I’m tired of crying and I’m tired of feeling scared and alone. I’ve heard that girls who have been abused in their chilhood are highly likely to end up marrying abusive men, I’m SO scared that’ll happen to me. My life has been snatched away from me and I’m only 18, everyday i wonder ‘Why me?’

  • Matt

    Hi, Amarah. I am also very, very sorry about what has happened to you. That jerk! He had no right to treat you that way.

    I understand being scared of marrying an abusive man. You are not doomed to that fate. Your life is definitely still your own. Trust your instincts. No one gets to verbally insult you, no matter how angry you make them. No one gets to hit you, or otherwise be physical with you when you don’t want it. Period. There is no grey area where you may have provoked them. That’s just not true, and anyone who tries to tell you that is not a safe person.

    I second what Elizabeth has said: If you feel that you can’t tell your parents, that’s your call. But you do need to talk about it with someone. It makes you sick to hold it inside. Talking about the worst, the very things that you feel you could never say out loud, will help take away the deep shame and make you feel much less alone.

    Good luck. And again, I am so sorry that you had to endure what no child ever should have to.

  • Amarah

    Thanks so much matt everything you’ve said means alot to me 🙂 Yeah I’ve started writing about it, and that really helps me vent everything out. And as far as talking about it goes I was hoping that this would be enough, or I could join some online forum but i couldn’t really find any. You and elizabeth are the first two people to ever ackowledge my pain and trust me I already feel so much better, I dont feel alone anymore. Once again, thankyou

  • Matt

    This is a very good start, and it’s been very courageous of you to speak up.

    Have you ever heard of Pandora’s Aquarium? They are an online forum/support group for rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse survivors. Since you’re 18, it should be no problem to make an account there. They also have articles and resources to answer questions that you may have about the healing process. Give that a try and see if it helps.

    For me, the deepest healing has come from conversations with others offline. Once you feel safe enough, I highly recommend it. So many of the emotions you may be experiencing (because I have been there) can’t be neatly condensed into paragraphs, or even expressed at all through words. And you may struggle with numbing out your feelings, as I do, and another person who knows what they’re doing can help you get back in touch with them. Being with someone who gives you space to let them out is life-changing, and worth seeking out until you find them.

    And you are of course welcome. A thousand times over. I ought to be thanking you for your immense bravery and steadfast strength.

  • harrisco

    Amarah – I am so terribly sorry for the way you have suffered. I am so glad, though, that you have reached out, in search of help and healing. I hope and pray that you will find places and people who offer you hope and encouragement and understanding as you journey on.

  • Amarah

    Thankyou I’ll definitely try that. Since the day I posted here, I’ve felt free, I no longer feel weighed down by my past. I guess all I really needed was a little encouragment and someone to share my story with. I know this page is about forgiveness and christiantity and I’m neither christian nor seeking knowledge on how to forgive but thing is I was in such a low place when i posted here, my wrists were swollen because I had repeatedly hit them against the wall, I no longer had any desire to live. So I thank you all with every bit of my being, for replying and being so kind even though my story does not fit here. I haven’t shed a single tear since I read your replies, because I’ve realized that what my older brother did, trapped me in a deep and dark hole and all I’ve done for 18 years is sulk in that hole, it’s time for me to fight back and climb out of it. I have my Cambridge interview in a week and I had given up on it, I had stopped studying because I thought that people like me who have been sexually abused cannot get anywhere in life or make anything of themselves, I used to loathe myself and consider myself as dirty. I”m now full of hope, I’m gonna study as hard as I can and hopefully I will get in. Once again thankyou for being there for me when no one else was, and all three of you should feel really good knowing that when I make something out of myself it’ll just be because of you.

  • Amarah, I feel really good reading this. See? You’re something already. Give my love to Oxbridge. I think you’re a perfect fit. xo

  • Victor Frankenstein Gonzalez

    At 50,,Im still in pain,I never had all this to read,my ex wife aborted our child before I could hold em,always saying after 9. Years we were married I was getting to black and what were we going to do with another black kid in this world,I did open up to her about me being abused in the middle of our marriage,I wonder today if that had anything to do with it,cause my family continues to lie about me being abused,and he even started to abuse his 4 year old daughter but I helped in stopping that,but my family still wants it all to be not true,and I’m always told to stop acting liking a victim,then I educated some of them on abuse and they stopped telling me this,but continue to shun and lie about it,leaving me feeling so fucked up cause ….of this…with 50 nephews and nieces I was never picked to be a godfather to not one,and I feel some of my nieces don’t bring there little girls around cause of this as well,cause they got stories about me that aren’t true,like at 13 I wanted to get sexed by my brother,at 10 I wanted to get sexed by my uncle,and foster parent type,I think this is hurting me now so much,cause they have there little groups..yet I’m all alone..I’m the liar…it was all my fault,and watch out for me cause even though they say I’m a liar so to speak,what they are doing is in defense I was told by a Conselor for me expressing myself soo much,they are in denial yet afraid that I will repeat what was done to me….but for the life of me,I never never never (oh god,please hold me I’m crying now,but I want to finish writing this)never even had the thought in the slightest way of doing such a terrible thing to anyone….especially my family…I love em….one day…maybe they will love me……….your site has really up touched me….I’m so angry at times about all this,yet I still continue to thrive in other ways in life..I’m trying to finish a book on child sexual abuse….I held out so long so as not to hurt anyone …but I must write this…im sending you and all here a hug,,,, may we through the grace of god find strength and hope and love in al, this……

  • INFJ

    Hey Amarah, I can understand your pain and the isolation you feel. I am from Pakistan and have suffered abuse in my childhood as well. Interestingly, when I was 18, I also looked for support online and I still can’t forget the consolation and peace I felt, having people just listen to me. I just wanted to let you know that you have so much to look forward to. I’m glad you are feeling better and please continue to find the right avenues to talk and heal. Have you heard about Rozan? They work on child abuse prevention and offer e-mail counseling to those who want to talk. Here’s their website:
    You are worthy of all the love and happiness there is. Take good care of yourself and remember, you are not alone. Sending you lots of love and light.

  • Rose Marylove

    Am happy to share this testimony about the great man called Dr Samura. I am Sandra from California , my husband had an affair with another lady for almost 10 years now and it was the worse thing that ever happened to our marriage. I was forced to take a good hard look at MY behavior in the marriage and I came to realize that I was partly to blame for his affair. I had become emotionally unavailable to him and when something good or bad happened in my life, I called my friends instead of my husband. I had stopped allowing him to love me and to support me and he felt as if I no longer needed him. As a musician on the road with his band, it became to much temptation for him when a girl he met on road became interested in him and was more than available for him emotionally and physically. Once I really started to examine my behavior, I realized that I had as much work to do as he did. When going through all theses problem i came across Dr Samura then i explained things to him. after explanation to him, he told me what to do by bringing back my husband so i decided to follow the rules which he gave to me. Now, My husband cut all tires with his other woman and became committed to working on our marriage to save it. Today, we have a beautiful son, another on the way in a couple weeks, we own our home, and have a fuller, happier life than we ever imagined. After i came across the testimony made by Julie about how this man of spirit brought back her ex husband for more than ten years in marriage. so my if you are in such pain and you don’t no what to do you can contact this great man for help i promise you all he will help you the way he helped me so via Email SAMURATELLERSPELL100@YAHOO.COM or call him +2348103508204 or visit his website

  • Vanessa

    Hi, I was molested at a young age by my father. He didn’t rape me but he liked to touch my breasts. He would always do that when he was drunk. I was terrified of him coming into my room. I don’t remember of him touching me anywhere else, I can remember. When my little sister was born he took me and my other siblings home to rest while my mother stayed at the hospital and I was scared because I knew that he was going to go in my room at night so I asked my grandma if we could stay with her that night but he said no. So that night I remember him going into my room late at night and he just started touching my breasts. I felt uncomfortable. Finally one day i told my mother and she got upset. When my father got home she spoke with him and at first he denied it and later that day he asked me to forgive him. I didn’t understand why my mother did not leave him. Later on I went to see a therapist she helped me alot. He asked for my forgiveness several times already. Now we are civil with each other. Now that I have two kids and he holds them or gives them a kiss it bring back memories. My husband knows my story and he hates him but is civil with him. Am i a bad person for “forgiving my father” I feel confused now because my husband when his upset for whatever reason he says sarcastic things to me.. he believes that i enjoyed what my father did to me. He doesn’t understand that Im trying to move on from my past and its frustrating that he keeps bringing it up. I feel so confused and lost..

  • Amy Black

    what if the situation was told be kept as a “promise” to not tell ny1?… can we tell it? to someone? or should we not.. or shud v just keep it in a diary?… so confused…

  • Amy Black

    Dear vannessa… you’re not a bad person..and i don’t think u’ve actually forgiven your being civil with him is not the same as “forgiving him” and like the blog says, it’s not a crime if u dont… it’s totally upto you.. there are many reasons for you to be civil with him and i completely understand and empathise with you as… u do it in order to move on from that incident. as for your husband saying these things.. you have to tell him to stop doing so ..and tell him exactly what you feel…like you’ve written in your comment as its the one of the ways.. he needs to stop bringing that up when he’s upset… maybe it could stem from the fact that.. he can’t accept u being civil to ur father.. knowin what he’s done.. somewhere he may think that .. u think it was okay for u to have 4givn him.. or something.. whatever .. it may be.. you need to talk to ur husband and ask him why he would go there…and bring that up ..and not do so in the future… i know this conversation is not an easy one to make..but i needs to be done.. so that u dont feel as confused.. and that your husband gains a better understanding and is a little more sensitive towards your feelings about this matter…

  • Andy

    I’ve never been in this situation as a victim, but just from what I’ve read, the situations where someone tells you not to tell anyone, it’s probably best that you do tell someone. If someone was abused and told to keep it a secret, I would probably advise them to tell someone they trust — other than the abuser, of course — and probably someone who isn’t close to the abuser, so he or she doesn’t dismiss the problem or just assume that they would never do something like that. If they couldn’t confide in a family member that they could trust to take them seriously, I would find someone else to tell — a neighbor, the police, anyone. We can’t afford to let people get away with crime, especially a heinous one like abuse.

    I assume this is a very difficult thing, as I’m told that often the abuser is a family member or friend and thus the abused person can have many conflicting emotions. If you or someone you know was abused, I hope you find the strength to tell someone.

  • Kathy Mulholland-Isabell

    I’m glad you said you don’t have to forgive your abuser. I was not sexually abused but my mother physically and emotionally abused me. We are estranged. I have struggled with the whole forgiveness thing. I don’t want to forgive her, and I just want to walk away from her, just give myself permission to live free from all the damage she did to me. Thank you for giving me that permission. No one, no counselor, no pastor, no person I’ve ever met has ever said that’s OK, and I’m 53. That’s a long time to live with so much pain. I read a lot of what you write and it means a lot to me. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Kathy. What you’ve said means a lot to me.

  • jackie

    How do you forgive a person who raped u I’m 33 years old and my step brother raped me at age 10 and I just feel like Killing my self cause every time I close my eyes I see him help me please

  • Amarah

    Omg you can’t imagine the rush I felt when I read you’re from Pakistan too. Now I feel like I’m not completely alone here! Thanks so much. Thing is when I think about it I get depressed then I start crying and I feel worthless, like a sex object. It started when I was still in diapers so I feel like it’s been repeatedly programmed in my brain that I am not worthy of love, like I’m spoilt goods. So I block it out and focus on my studies. This email counselling will be anonymous?

  • Victor Vic

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  • INFJ

    Hi Amarah,

    Yes the counseling will be anonymous. You are a very intelligent girl and you understand that the thought patterns/emotions you experience are not ‘you’, but rather they are how your brain has been conditioned. The good news is that the brain can be rewired, much like a computer. Of course it’s a process and you are already on the right track. This is a good website for dealing with dark emotions and helps with rewiring:

    I strongly recommend reaching out to Rozan as I had mentioned in my previous post.

    I hope your studies are going well and best of luck for the future. You have a great life ahead of you 🙂

  • INFJ

    Jackie are you seeing a therapist? If not I strongly recommend you do this. With the right help you WILL get over this. I promise.

  • INFJ

    Healing does not require forgiveness. It’s a myth and a bad one.

  • Eric Schramm

    I remember the verses from Matthew 18:21-35. They end with “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart”. That is what these people refer to. I understand the concept, God is being forgiving and wants us to as well. Not because He will condemn us for eternity in hell.
    Hell as we understand it is a modern concept. When Jesus, Ezekiel, Moses, etc said “hell” they spoke of the grave where your sins “rotted away”. Jesus came to make that painful time unnecessary so we can be right with God right now. We like our wounds cleaned out so they don’t fester – we shouldn’t let anger fester in spiritual gangrene.
    Feel, Express, Release. Let yourself feel the anger, express it, then release it. You don’t have to tell yourself “I forgive this person for all they’ve done to me”. What you should do – for your own mental health – is to admit you have the right to “Be ye angry and sin not”. Holding on to anger “is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
    Go right ahead and be angry. it’s your right. then release it and let it go. As often as you can remember to.

  • alhatesreligion

    What do you base this on?

  • Dejah

    I was sexually abused by other children and by my brother from age 5-12. He was only 4 years older than I and so at points was of dubious culpability. In my late teens I came to terms with the abuse and largely healed, mostly by rationalizing that the culpable abuser was the adult male who was raping the 11 year old girl who was the oldest of the children, while the girl went on to molest her younger brother, my brother and me. We were ALL victims. And all three of them we’re far more damaged than I, who had extensive therapy in my youth for other reasons, though never told about the abuse. The older girl descended into drugs and prostitution. Her brother ended up in prison. My brother was scarred for life. He really never recovered and eventually died of poor health, poverty, lack of medical insurance, and alcoholism in 2010 at 44. Though disabled, I’m sexually functional and happily married. I thought all was well.

    And then the Duggar Scandal hit the fan.

    And I found myself following it relentlessly. Sickened. Angry. Not with Josh Duggar. Angry with my brother. Who has been dead for 4 years. Who I “forgave” 25 years ago, even though he never asked me.

    And I am in turmoil again.

    I had to forgive to heal, to live peacefully in my family and my skin. Now that he is dead, I guess I can be angry. Forty years have passed, I am still 5 years old.

  • Angelia Monroe

    Two male cousins began to sexually abused me when I was 6 years old. One is seven years older than me, and the other is 3 years older. They would get me alone at my aunt’s house and fondle me or have me fondle them. My mother and aunt had no idea. When we quit visiting as often, my oldest cousin started coming over to our house and abusing me there.

    One particular summer stands out in my mind. This was when the worst of the abuse occurred. I was only ten years old. It included fondling, penetration with objects, French kissing, oral sex, and he even tried to have intercourse with me but was unsuccessful.

    The abuse continued up until the time that I was an adolescent. By then, I understood that what they were doing was wrong, and I tried to avoid them. Though my younger cousin stopped when he was around 11, the oldest continued. He even came on to me when he drove me home after I babysat for him and his wife when I was 15—he was 22. As we sat in his car he put his hand on my thigh and said he’d like to kiss me goodnight. I refused and got out of the car. I never babysat for them again.

    Two years later, I got married and moved far away. My close relationship with my husband was a healing experience for me.

    I never told anyone in my family about the abuse until I moved back home 12 years later. I had kept silent, because my self-esteem was low, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone, including my aunt and my cousin’s wife.

    But finally, I told my mother. At first, she was skeptical, then she blew it off as if it was nothing. She excused my oldest cousin, saying that he was too young to know what he was doing. I didn’t buy it. During the worst of the abuse, he was 17. He knew exactly what he was doing.

    Her skepticism caused a rift between us. We haven’t spoken in years. She also violated my trust by sharing my secret with others in the family and now most of my family have little or nothing to do with me. They all think I’m a big liar for making this claim. Even the few family members who still communicate with me invite him to family gatherings and have him on their Facebook friend list.

    I’m so filled with bitterness about it all.

    Though I’ve forgiven my youngest cousin, because I feel that he was young and as much a victim as I was, I can’t forgive the oldest. He was the one who instigated it and continued it for all those years.

    I’ve considered writing him a letter and telling him how much he hurt me and how I feel about him. But I fear that would just cause more trouble.

  • Angelia Monroe

    I’m so sorry. I know exactly how you feel. Like you, I too was abused for many years as a child and by a close family member. Sometimes I too think I have forgiven it all, and then, something, God only knows what, will bring the pain back to the fore.

    My abuser is still alive and I remain torn about whether to confront him.

    As your abuser is no longer alive, why not write him a letter and explain exactly how you feel? You can leave it on his grave or burn it afterward. You can even go to his grave and tell him how you feel directly. It might help you get out those tortured feelings.

    I met a counselor recently who told me that confrontations can help tremendously in such cases, can give one closure that brings healing. I don’t see why you can’t still do it even if he’s dead. After all, it’s for you, not him.

    At any rate, I think it’s okay to be angry and whatever else it is that you feel for him.

    I wish you the best. Hugs!

  • carol

    Having been sexually abused for many years by a close family member, the horror of which I could never hope to articulate, I was diagnosed with PTSD about 10 years ago. Thanks to a loving and encouraging husband, I found an excellent psychologist, who specialized in trauma therapy. He gave me the tools I needed to work with they memories and the PTSD symptoms. I am very happy to say that abuse and PTSD no longer have power over me.
    I am grateful that my therapist never, not once, told me that I needed to forgive. However, I can truly say that I have forgiven my abuser, the one who haunted my memories for most of my life. I forgave, not for the sake or my abuser but for my own sake. I was tired of being bitter and angry.
    What I have learned through my own healing journey, is that forgiveness is not a feeling but an action. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. I do not want to forget because the abuse was a part of my story. It has made me into the person I have become and given me compassion for others. Forgiveness does not mean we trust or love or have a relationship with our abuser. I hate everything about what he did to me. I would never allow him near one of my children and I have gone to great lengths to make sure other children do not become his victim. Forgiveness is a conscious decision that I must make over and over again. While I do not see my abuser often, there are times when I do and every time I have to forgive him again. Every time a memory is triggered, I make the decision, once again, to forgive. I think forgiveness is marked by absence……the absence of hatred, absence of all consuming thoughts of past offenses, absence of need for revenge, absence of need to strike out at life itself.
    Forgiveness is absolutely not necessary. My abuser did not deserve my forgiveness. He was a monster. There is no law that dictates forgiveness and honestly, it doesn’t even make sense to forgive something so horrific. Having said all that, I highly recommend forgiveness, not for the abuser but for us, the victims.
    Forgiveness is freedom.

  • DanTheMan21

    Your story sounds so much like mine. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share what happened to you. Admitting and sharing what has happened to is not easy, even in the slightest.

    My abuser was not my cousin, but my mother. And the whole family would either disown me with that information…or they would just gossip about it. I know for a fact that “speaking out” would cause trouble. So I haven’t.

    Sometimes I want to talk to my mom, or tell her how I feel. But most times I am afraid of rocking the boat.

    So, I may not have good advice in telling you what you should or should not do…
    but I can sympathize, and I hope you find peace in any choice you make

  • Stephen

    I also feel incredibly sorry for what has happened to you I think the best thing for you has a human being to do is to do what you feel is right but as I am christian What I would suggest trying to see through all the anger and rage felt and seek healing and forgiveness which ultimately leads to relief and happiness.

  • Stephen

    forgiveness isn’t required for healing but boiling in all the hate is not going to help but as long as you feel relaxed and you as a person wont do harm to anyone else I don’t see a problem with that. My mom was abused when she was 4 and she abused me when i was 9 until the age of 17 and I am now old enough to understand what she is going through. She was abused by a neighbor who she had know idea what he was going through and still to this day 40 years later still has immense amount of hate to that boy and I fell like i have partially forgiven her but I can tell she is at all not well and she too needs to seek forgiveness like I am or attempt in healing some other way as Kathy has mentioned.

  • Stephen

    that’s the abusers technique of keeping the heavy guilt on you of course you need to tell someone but tell someone you are extremely close with…good luck

  • stellacadente

    I am usually the last to chime in with #WATM, but are there similar resources like Courage to Heal for male victims of female abusers? I am married to one. He cannot seem to bring himself to get outside help. Thanks.

  • TIinCA

    “Victims No Longer” by Mike Lew is the first book I read, and it is considered to be one of the better first books for male victims of sexual abuse to read.

    The abuse and trauma books written by the now deceased Alice Miller are all good, but they deal with trauma in general; however, she was such a gifted writer on this subject, I have to recommend her as well.

    Lots of good books out there, just off the top of my head, “Soul Murder” is good as well.

  • Healing Injustice

    Thank you for this inspiration. It relieved me instantly over many “guilty feelings”.

    Have you got something to say to the mothers of sexually abused children, in particular protective mothers who lost custody of their child(ren) to a sexually abusing father? Sadly, such scenariors are very common (in the US it is estimated that 70% of abusing men seeking sole custody will get it).

    My impression is that mothers who unsuccessfully tried to protect their children from abuse feel like they are raped themselves, plus the enormous guilt of a) failing to protect b) falling for an abuser/sexual predator in the first place.

  • clw

    I have been molested by my father starting when I was in Elementary school and the abuse stopped somewhere in Middle School. My father has been dead since October 2008 and it was after his funeral when the past started coming back to haunt me. At random moments I feel angry, sad, or downright depressed. I ask God constantly why he allowed it to happen and I ask myself why did I not tell anyone. I guess I feel like a hypocrite because I did little to help myself, but I keep going at it like like I was raped and ripped of my innocence when I was kissed and touched. I’m haunted by the past and I’m trying desperately to move on. I know it’s stupid to want to forget, but I don’t want to feel the pain of remembering anymore. And I know how ridiculously stupid it is to give a dead man such power over my emotions, but I don’t think I can help it. Every time I remember it’s like I can feel him still doing it. My mother keeps telling me to let it go, but how do you let go?

  • Hey, just want to give you a bit of support while we wait for the author to respond. I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’ve been asking that question to myself for years. For me, it takes a lot of time, a lot of crying and a lot of anxiety. It took a long time before I forgive myself, before I believed it wasn’t my fault. It took a lot of anguish when “the negatives” (shame, guilt, disgust) kept coming back even after forgiving myself. It just takes an insurmountable amount of time. And after all that, you decide. You decide what to do with what you’ve been through. I decide to reach out to you. Sorry for the long message.

  • clw

    Don’t be sorry, I’m really trying to move on with my life and every bit helps. Thank you. I, too, am sorry for what you’ve been through.

  • Meredith Silverman


    I JUST JUST JUST went through this and the last scar healed yesterday on the 13th anniversary of my abuser’s death.

    I would like you to understand that God didn’t just “allow” this to happen to you. Ever hear the phrase “Jesus wept?” GOD WEEPS over sexual crimes against the innocent. WEEPS!! IT BREAKS GOD’S HEART!! GOD ABHORS crimes of this nature. I know because it’s both in the Old and New testament (trust me I done did my homework.)

    I went marching myself RIGHT UP TO GOD screaming and hollering His House down here recently all about, “WHY GOD?? WHERE THE F WERE YOU WHEN ALL THIS HORRIBLENESS WAS GOING ON?”

    Because free will & God’s policy on NOT infringing upon it.
    Here’s a pretty good comprehensive article about that here. which will help you understand this particular Policy because I didn’t quite understand it myself so I don’t want to pass along half-assed knowledge. Ain’t NOBODY got time fo’ dat!

    God was crying. That’s where God was. Because your free will, you, the innocent child, the free will that God imbued EVERYONE with was being abused by the DEVIL through YOUR FATHER against you, okay?

    GOD HATES THAT. LET me assure you. With a…PASSION, if you will.

    Here’s what God was doing: He was crying and making plans to deal with your father properly as He says in Romans: VENGEANCE IS MINE, B*TCHES!!

    Well, okay God doesn’t exactly say it like that but here’s what He does say in Romans 12:9:
    Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

    Trust me, he WILL repay. I can PROMISE you that.

    You did little to help yourself? What could you do? What could I do? We were told our world would be blown to hell if we told. I once DECKED someone who told me “well, you had a choice.” EXCUSE ME? THE I did, plus I WAS A CHILD WHAT THE HELL EXACTLY WAS I GOING TO DO?? What an AWFUL, BULLSH*T responsibility to put on a child so, grown up you, you get to shrug THAT 50 lb. backpack of useless emotional rocks RIGHT off your shoulders and drop that puppy on the GROUND because you do not, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, have to any more.

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO now isn’t THAT a relief, right??

    You know what? Go watch this lady. Joyce Meyer. Google “Joyce Meyer Ministries” … matter of fact here you go:

    She and Lady Gaga (Listen to the song “Until It Happens To You.”) are the final two people I needed to hear and see to realize that I, like you was the VICTIM OF A HIDEOUS CRIME but God can and does deliver.

    Two things: You have to believe He can, and you have to believe He WILL. Actually there’s a third thing. It does take TIME. My abuser died in 2003 and it’s taken me THIS LONG, thirteen years to “get over it.”
    Which you really don’t just “get over”. Anyone who tells you, “oh, just get over it,” needs to be told to go flush themselves down the toilet twice and that’s the end of it because they will NEVER, to quote Lady GaGa, KNOW UNTIL IT HAPPENS TO THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Know that your mother feels as guilty if not guilter.
    Know that you’re a human being, uniquely made.
    Know that God has a purpose for you.

    Did I mention this isn’t your fault??

    That’s hard to hear when you’re in the middle of all this but you know what, someone told me this in the middle of the dark so I’m gon’ turn around and tell you. March yourself up to God and holla at The Man.

    If you want Him to help you, He needs to know what you need help with.
    It’s work. It’s more work, almost than RuPaul singing Supermodel WORK WORK WORK and sometimes you WILL fall off the catwalk but you got to get yo’self up and KEEP STRUTTIN’ because SOME DAY that spotlight is gon’ be ALL ON ON YOU and the whole JOINT will be RINGING with applause FOR YOUR BEAUTY AND GRACE AND you will be able to scream out, and MEAN it:


    I can assure you, IT CAN BE DONE because God bless America I DID IT but ONLY and I do mean ONLY by the grace and the assistance of God. There is no way in hell I could do it myself and believe me I TRIED for pretty close to 20 years.

    I’ll pray for you, in Jesus name, Amen.

    There but for the grace of God go I,
    Meredith Silverman

  • INFJ

    Personal experience. You cannot make forgiveness a goal. Your only focus can be taking care of yourself when healing. Forgiveness may or may not be a by-product.

  • sarah

    Sexual abuse isn’t something to kid about. These kind of matter should be dealt seriously and legally One of my best friend was abused by her father. Initially she hesitated to speak about it but later both of us consulted criminal lawyer ( ) and filed a case against her dad and we exposed him to the hands of law and justice. There is nothing to be ashamed of. After all its not your mistake and you don have to let culprit live a comfort life. Each and everyone of us should stay bold and move legally.

  • BetterdaysLE

    How did you forgive?

  • clw

    I read this and immediately my heart became lighter. Thank you for this. I’m sorry for my very very late reply, but please know that this helps. I just finished pasting it on MS Word and saved it under words of encouragement. God bless you.

  • spw

    Healing Injustice,
    I understand what you’re saying, as I too am a mother of an abused child. I also feel violated and am heart broken for my child that I couldn’t protect him. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I still want the rapest to pay for his crimes, but my son cannot go through a trial anytime soon.

  • spw

    I’m so sorry Dejah.
    My son was raped from age 4-6 yrs old, by his 14-16 yr. old cousin. He kept it a secret until he was 23. The Dugar scandal and the fact my sons abuser now has child the age he was. He still relives the trauma and is in a child’s mindset. I’m so very sorry for children of this pain. I wish you well.

  • Sad

    Very hard to forgive for violation of human rights with unconsented touching and photographing of naked body. My case is unusual. Doctor mutilated my erogenous areas: my lips, my nipples, breasts and labia majora while I was under anestesia. I now have dysfunction and constant pain because he destroyed parts of me. I seeked help from Dr Timothy J Marten md of Marten clinic of plastic surgery in San Francisco and this Tim Marten md destroyed so many parts in me.
    This is a unusual form of violence and sexual violence too that is very sick.

    I’m sad that it is very hard to find justice in these cases. There should be zero tolerance for this!

  • Disgusted

    That is NOT sexual abuse. Comparing a botched elective surgery to child rape is unacceptable. You are a very sad person indeed.

  • Janet

    Had a family friend try to hook up with our 13 year old daughter it was consensual they only just kissed and that was it she didn’t ask him to back off we were told buy someone who knew about it that then came to us now we confronted the abuser who is over 30 he admitted it and has asked for forgiveness was a long time friend never seen it coming he said he then relized how bad it was and it’s been 1 year after it happen that we are now finding out . It’s wasn’t rape or criminal charges I left that alone but is that some thing that can be forgiving. And if so how can his actions show that he is not a complete abuser who just fell short of a victim.