How do you forgive someone for doing something that changed your life forever? And why should you?
For me, forgiveness was an act of claiming my identity back from the person who had stolen it decades before.
The sexual abuse I experienced as a child taught me that I had no value, that I was bad and I would always be so. I began to believe I was unworthy of love.
It took me years to heal from the abuse and from the crippling insecurities it caused. As I have written previously, finally becoming angry was part of my healing process. It meant that I knew that I had value, that I deserved more. But as long as I was living with anger, I was still giving my abuser control over my thoughts and feelings.
The anger had been a necessary passage to move through in my healing, but near the end of my voyage I spotted dry land, and I knew it was time to leave the ship behind. I was ready to move forward with my life. Only when I could let go of that anger through forgiveness, could I truly be free.
Here are a few powerful things I learned when I chose to forgive my sexual abuser:
1. Forgiveness is not an admission that the offense didn’t really matter. I have come to understand that it is possible to recognize that the wrong committed was heinous, undeserved, unparalleled, and monumental and still choose to forgive anyway.
2. Forgiveness is about the survivor, not the abuser. In fact, it is possible to know that the offender does in no way deserve forgiveness and yet choose to offer forgiveness anyway. Even if the wrong-doer doesn’t admit guilt or express remorse, the survivor can choose to forgive.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting things go back to the way they were before. If the offense is small, this is possible, but not when the offense is catastrophic. You can’t give someone the opportunity to continue to hurt you. Many sexual abusers are close to the family of the children they abuse. That can mean they are cut off from contact when they are found out. Forgiveness also does not exclude the pursuit of justice through legal means if the survivor wishes to pursue it.
I made the choice to forgive him. Eventually I came to realize that I didn’t hate my abuser anymore. I sincerely wished good things for him, even though the things he did were so wrong. I didn’t want him to continue living a life of arrogance, manipulation, and abuse. I wanted him to have the kind of peace that can come only from experiencing real sorrow for one’s offenses and making amends.
This is my hard-won lesson: There is nothing we can ever do to rid ourselves of our value. There is nothing that another person can do to us to lessen our value. This seemed almost too good to be true for me who believed for so I was unworthy of love.
I believe in forgiveness because I believe in love. I didn’t want to live in anger and resentment for the rest of my days. I chose forgiveness because I chose to live in love. By accepting myself, and giving forgiveness I began to live a life of peace and freedom.