How Forgiving Abusive Parents Can Be a Part of Healing

My father’s emotional abuse has been something I’ve spent most of my life trying to heal from.

Never a “happy birthday,” never an “I believe in you.” I never knew if he thought I was smart or if he was proud of me. The void that left in me was dark and deep, and it still hurts to think of it. Only once did he ever say “I love you.” Over the phone.

As I’ve written previously, he was easily angered and very critical of me. I was constantly reminded that my father didn’t like me for me. Because of his hurtful words, it was hard for me to find my self-worth.

To prevent angry outbursts from him, I became very, very good at ignoring what I didn’t want to notice. I took it all in and held it deep inside myself. But it made me sick on the inside (sometimes literally, in the form of stomach aches and indigestion). Worst of all, that anger would come out in unhealthy ways. I hated that most of all because it was in those times that I became just like my father.

My father’s abuse had a massive impact on my life. I still deal with the effects, especially the impact on my relationships with men, including in my marriage. So why, after all of that, did I forgive him?

I could feel the hurt and anger that resulted from his emotional abuse inside of me smoldering like a hot coal. I wanted to rise above the pain he caused me and my negative feelings toward him.

Ultimately, I wanted to break the cycle of abuse. I did not want to repeat it by ending up with someone like my father or becoming like him myself. I had to heal so that I could have a healthy marriage and a strong family. And the only way I could do that was to let go of my anger and hatred. I had to forgive him.

But I couldn’t just snap my fingers and be done with it.

The key for me in dealing with my hurt and anger and finding room for forgiveness was getting away from him. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to move away. It was the freedom I so desperately needed. I had room to discover who I was, and I had the time and space to finally seek the healing I needed.

There wasn’t a specific moment at which I remember flipping a switch from “unforgiven” to “forgiven.” I began to open up to others about how I was feeling, and they helped me recognize that my father had emotionally abused me. As I began to heal, I started letting go of my anger. I no longer saw him as a monster; I began to see him as a flawed person who desperately needs help to deal with his hurts. I think that’s when I realized I’d turned a corner in the way I viewed him in my heart.

My father, however, is not the sort of person I can have a heart-to-heart with. So when I say I forgave my father, it’s something I did in my heart. Having any kind of relationship would require him to become vulnerable, and he’s too broken to do that. Perhaps a moment of forgiveness face-to-face will come for us in the future, but for now I’m at peace with the way things are.

Back when I was staring up at the seemingly insurmountable mountain that was forgiving my father, I wondered what forgiveness would feel like. Would all the hurt ever be gone? I can truthfully say that’s not the way it was for me. His negative comments still hurt, and I still wonder if he’s proud of me.

But the anger and hatred that I held inside are gone. I feel like I’m breathing clean air when I’m around him and when I’m not. Letting go, through healing and forgiveness, has made me feel free.

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