Forgiveness

Forgiveness is touted as the ultimate step toward freedom from the effects of CSA. Like many people, I have difficulty with this concept. How can you forgive a father for raping his little daughter, or a mother for seducing her little son -- especially when the parent shows no remorse? Certainly to become whole the victor needs to let go of the shame, anger, guilt and hatred.

Perhaps we need a new word in place of forgiveness because to many of us "forgiveness" smacks of condoning; of implying that the abuse was no big deal.

It's interesting that the dictionary definition of forgiveness says nothing about condoning or accepting evil behaviour. Only "letting go of resentment."

Hypnotherapy can help you to deal with the difficult topic of forgiveness. Hypnosis makes it possible for you to safely delve into those parts of you that harbor grief, anger, resentment, hurt, shame and bewilderment.

In using hypnosis to change subconscious beliefs you can free yourself from the devastating effects of non-forgiveness.

Forgiving does not mean you condone the betrayal, it means you rise above the harm done to you so you no longer continue the suffering.

One of the members of my Victory Over CSA group wrote the following poem, more than 50 years after her father not only sexually abused her but tried to murder her as well. I have to tell you that she now looks ten years younger. Plus all her physical aches and pains have vanished.

She told us that it was difficult to say these things, that she had to reach deep inside herself, that for more than half a century she had not allowed herself feelings about her father.

To Forgive

  • Do I forgive you?
  • What can I say.
  • You broke my spirit
  • My world went away
  • You tortured my mind
  • 'till I wanted to die
  • You showed me no mercy
  • Not a tear in your eye.
  • You abused my body
  • You tore it apart.
  • You tried to kill me
  • with hate in your heart.
  • You gave me life but
  • You took it away.
  • Do I forgive you?
  • Yes, Father, I forgive you
  • I forgive you today.

Here is some commentary on the topic from a hypnotherapist: Forgiveness and the Christian Perspective Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., C.C.H. At a convention, after giving a talk on healing past abuse through the use of altered state methods, the Q & A session elicited concerns about the idea of "forgiveness" having religious connotation. There was also concern with the possibility that a therapist might be forcing more guilt upon the victim, by equating the necessity of “forgiving” with their healing. I have had clients who already had borne enough guilt as a result of the action of others. They ended up feeling more guilty because they couldn't forgive and thought they "should". Or they thought they had forgiven, only to have all those “negative” feelings surface again. Personally, I think there is a real danger in forcing an act of "forgiveness" too soon after some trauma or other issue. Sometimes I wonder if the word and concept of "forgiveness" goes along with the assumptions so many hypnotherapists make about the religious convictions of others.

For instance, I am continually amazed at how Christianity is assumed by many Hypnotherapy speakers and writers, including "script writers." In the last convention I attended at least one third of the presenters, within the content of their presentations, made this assumption. I could have pointed out to those presenters that in that room of people they addressed sat at least one Buddhist and two Jews, a couple of agnostics, and myself, a weird mixture of heaven-knows-what. This assumption [of mutual Christian belief] is evident in informal gatherings of colleagues. We sit around meal tables talking together, without knowing the religious preferences of those present. I was baptized a Christian, and yet I am always offended by such assumptions. Imagine what it must be like for a Jew, Buddhist, or agnostic.

My greater concern is, that, if this assumption is made before whole audiences, and among us in informal settings, then what assumptions are being made in relationship to one’s clientele. This is why, in the client’s intake, I include questions about the religion in which the client was raised, whether currently practiced, and what the person believes in. This can make quite a difference in how the therapist approaches this person. Also, it can affect how the therapist decides to handle the dynamic of "forgiveness." Now, I call forgiveness a "dynamic" (or a process, if you prefer). "Forgiveness" is just a word -- like all words are merely words. At some point in history, a word was put on some dynamic, or process, or event, or experience, in order to remember it or to tell someone else about it.

Unfortunately, we sometimes let the "word" itself get in the way, rather than looking underneath the word to figure out what it really is pointing to. My own approaches to the dynamic I would consider "forgiveness" range from “reframing" the incident or trauma to creating a setting for dialogue among the key figures involved in the trauma. Certainly, there are other methods one can use to assist someone through the process of letting go of the hold of the past. For instance, when working with healing of past abuse while a client is in an altered state, I feel that confronting the issue may be needed. One method I use is a dialogue with the abuser, which is staged in a safe environment. The victim of that abuser is helped to understand where the guilt actually lies, and is given power to handle that person, including what should happen to the perpetrator.

I consider this to be a major step in "forgiveness." The client experiences their feelings of new power and confidence. They then decide whether this new memory and attached feelings are what they prefer carrying into the future, agreeing to leave behind the old “stuff.” Someone who has been raised Christian may well respond to the above by wanting his or her abuser to be forgiven. If so, then it comes out from the internal experience they are going through in the altered state, not because a therapist is suggesting that they will be healed only if they do so. For active Christians, the words "forgiving-forgiveness-forgiven" may be important. But I find that there is a lot less "guilt", and more power, when they are used to explain the experiences of healing that the client has gone through, rather than what the client "needs" or "ought" to go through. The client may use a different word or phrase to describe the experience of such a process, such as “cleaning the slate,” “clearing the garbage,” “releasing a ton of bricks,” “feeling lighter than air,” etc. A Buddhist might speak of it as experiencing Buddha's mercy. A Hindu might speak of it as fulfilling Karma. There may be many other ways of talking about it. It doesn't matter what it is called -- the question is, did the person get released from the past? Did they recover their power and confidence? Do they feel free to move into the future? (They always were free to do so, but had not experienced it before.)

Regardless of whether the word "forgiveness" is used, I think it is important for any therapist to understand more than one technique and process that can help a client be released from the hold others have had over them. The therapist’s job is to help their client understand that the past is only a set of memories, only thoughts. Those memories or thoughts can have a powerful hold over someone only if allowed to have that hold. Often they must be dealt with if the client (or the child within them) is to be released to move on. That's why we use such things as hypnotherapy. Hypnotic tools deal with that powerful hold most effectively. Perhaps, "forgiveness" is much like "breaking old hypnotic spells."

Here's ANOTHER VIEW on forgiveness:

G.S. writes:
"As you invited comments on the subject of forgiveness - here is how it feels on my victim end to likely more people than just me."
Forgiveness toward my childhood abuser (father) would be very counterproductive to therapy in my case and as I suspect in many other people's cases. The abuse consisted of intense verbal, emotional, physical and to a lesser extent sexual but with great emphasis of the other abuse forms to extremes, lasting from birth until adulthood with a great deal of repressed memory and more blanks than events/memories accounted for in the entire childhood years (only a few complete memories present with much of 2 first life decades mostly blank memory and mostly only intense body memories/emotions remembered as total fund of childhood memories), severe difficulty functioning even now 4 decades later although healing is progressing with my own efforts in the last years, but a history of life-long social isolation to the point of never having had a close personal relationship or meaningful friend in my life, to this day constant nightmares, flashbacks, and spending so much time in dissociation that I have struggled to hold a job all my life or perform minimal functioning at times while at other times producing incredible personal successes (virtually by myself building a humanitarian organization the success of which landed in the mass media in several countries).

I worked with orphans and rape camp refugee victims in Bosnia and became one of the most successful individuals in the humanitarian scene doing so. Much such compulsive overachievement to prove my worthlessness-whispering demons wrong, often alternating great success with inability to function on Adult level for prolonged periods. While father was active abuser, mother was passively enabling it and spent exhaustive efforts placing guilt on me for everything which occurred by my father and minimizing/denial/guilt by my mother and assigning guilt to me for everything INCLUDING NOT FORGIVING, FORGETTING AND DENYING.

It was extreme to the point that not only was the abuse not to ever, ever be discussed but even a frown on my face was reprimanded. Tears and stress reactions post abuse were severely prohibited - no signs of showing abuse and were met with demands to not make a big deal out of it, forgive for the sake of my father's health - my mother constantly manipulated that my forgiveness of father's abuse was a must as my father would otherwise physically die of grief - "he has chest pains and if you give him any grief, he may die of heart attack, you MUST go in there and forgive and make peace" was a reaction to my panting after a tonic/clonic seizure after a beating and much verbal/emotional abuse and such comments and forgiveness being enlisted as part of the abuse were very common. My only defense in adulthood is distance from my parents as they are still alive in Europe and I have to deal with them somehow.

Forgiving - visibly and allowing them closer in my life than the great distance at which I insist they must stay from me or even quietly forgiving for my own therapeutic sake without discussing it with them directly or showing change in my carefully controlled very distant relationship toward them - any form of such forgiveness would not only invite more abuse if I relaxed the vigil and imposed distance but confirm the denial they instilled into me that nothing actually happened or the "little bit of difficulty" my mother occasionally admits to which may have happened in two unspeakable decades of growing up with them was not such a big thing as to hold a grudge over and I would partner with them in my renewed abuse and recycle a great deal of old pain by participating in renewal of the abuse by "forgiving" which I was programmed since early childhood to do under pressure and such a forgiving process would be met not with therapeutic gain but grave setbacks.

My upbringing was not religious but many others have religious guilt. I wonder how many other survivors relive the terror if "forgiving " - in ANY way - is suggested.

I think therapists must be very cautious with this term or concept and thoroughly research history/nature of abuse before suggesting it. There is therapy in NOT forgiving and indulging in guilt-free rage against my parents. The intensity of the rage of course is counterproductive to healing but it's a phase I find I must go through before letting go gradually. Rather than "forgiving" which implies very upsetting ideas such as minimizing, letting an abuser get away with it, giving up a well-earned rage before its time to let it go, coupled with guilt, is very counterproductive. Thinking of it instead as letting go allows at least some degree of retaining what feels as deserved outrage, guilt and rage while working on releasing and diminishing that without the pressure of "forgiving" which seems impossible and too much to ask for. Letting go allows rage to diminish in its own time. Forgiveness is an outrageous concept of being robbed of the only emotion I have to this day of answering the abuse with. Coping strategies slowly replace the rage but it cannot be taken away by a deliberate process of forgiving.

"Forgiving" implies a frightening sanctioning of responsibility; releasing or letting go in its own time without releasing accountability of abuser's responsibility or guilt does not. The intensity of the outrage eases a little with time on its own as incremental "letting go" is a productive process which does not involve forgiving which bears the risk of "letting the abuser get away with it".

And here's what M.S. wrote:
"As an abuse survivor of a ritualistic cult back in the early 70's and the continued denial, minimization, invalidation, and at times outright abusive manipulations of my family over three decades, the lack of forgiveness, the anger, hatred, and even rage have kept me alive so as to not remain in the black hole of shame, despair and all encompassing wallowing victimhood. Forgiveness may help me in the future, but without righteous anger I risk dropping my own personal boundaries to the many narcissistically selfish individuals we encounter more often in our good character-less society. At least I have kept my empathy, love, care and concern and at times taken them to the extreme. Because I choose to care. Forgiveness, however, because of past unconcious damage may not be as easy for any of us to attain if abuse has shamed us so brutally that we have been cut off from our sense of selves. Even the mature mind and heart for self protection holds on to anger and yes sometimes even rage, but still loves to the extreme. You cannot love unless you can also hate. Our world is missing far too many with a necessary mix of human compassion and righteous anger. Because some people in our lives are very dangerous triggers we as humans have developed very primitive defense mechanisms to deal with threats to our own self-preservation. The lack of forgiveness has actually assisted me in both the help and healing of others as well as sustaining and honing my own realizations and awareness. Sometimes it takes more anger than just assertiveness to look back at the wall of assertiveness we need to back us up when situations call for it.

Not letting go is also an act of maintaining sanity, as it helps us who have suffered through terrible trauma take a more black and white stance on life's issues, especially when sitting on the fence can cause much vagueness and confusion. For trauma survivors betrayal of the self is by far the worst betrayal of all. Thus living with at times an unhealthy dose of anger provides many of us with a sense of direction to make better decisions in a world strewn with a multitude of immature manipulators. Life used to be much harder for a greater percentage of the population, thus it used to be character building. Now lack of character pervades every aspect of our society, but the true survivors know who they are, and if forgiveness helps them, all the power to them."

P.A. writes:
"I am responding to the section in which you discuss forgiveness. When thinking about my situation, which I will explain later on, I have mixed feelings about forgiveness. I was sexually abused by my brother; he’s only four years older than me. I suppose since it happened I never got angry at him. I’m now realizing that is protecting the abuser and owning the guilt, shame and everything else that comes along with it. That being said, I had forgiven him from almost the time that the abuse was ongoing. Now it is said in the discussion that forgiveness (or letting go etc…) is a very important step, a final step if you will. In my case the forgiveness came too early and trumped all my “rights” to any other feelings I may have had. I thought that because I forgave him I wasn't mad at him and always felt a sense of protecting him (by not letting anyone know what was going on).

I’m realizing now that it is a huge block to my healing and “letting go.” Now all these feelings are under the surface waiting to bubble up. Only I’m not sure how to set them free. You see my brother had a sexual OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and has and is being treated for it. Now how do you get angry at someone who is doing something about their issue and correcting the problem so as not to let it become something much worse? So I suppose in my case because it was my brother and I loved him, I didn’t want him to get in trouble. The abuse was not malicious (I’m not condoning it nor am I saying it wasn’t a horrible thing to do) as it is in a lot of other situations. There was no verbal abuse, no physical abuse, just sexual and not even that extreme. I would probably be considered one of the less serious problems (not to diminish what happened). And because of all this it was hard for me to be angry and still is today but I do have a lot of anger in me and I don’t know how to release it. Today it affects me in ways that I wish it didn’t.

My biggest issue is my relationship; I don’t know how to have one. I still have major trust issues, when I know that my boyfriend is very trustworthy. That leads to a problem with fear: of being abandoned, fear of not being good enough for him, fear of never getting better (I’m also suffering from a Major Depression, I am in and out of the hospital), fear of never living up to my potential and I could go on and on. I am very disconnected from my body and still very numb. I have no sexual desire and know that I love my boyfriend but can’t feel the love I have for him. I used to have a stomach ulcer and now I still get all the symptoms of it, only it’s not there anymore (psychosomatic). All this to say, sometimes forgiveness is not what is needed, sometimes what is needed is expression… get angry, yell, scream. Be sad, cry, sob uncontrollably and let yourself go and allow yourself to grieve as if losing a family member because if it is incest, you have and if it is someone that you knew the same is true. The moment that the person touches you is the moment that person dies and someone else takes over. Only when all the feelings are expressed can they be overcome. Don’t trap yourself like I did. Now I don’t know how to be mad, for the person that abused me dies twice, once when the abuse started and then again when he got help. Sometimes 2 + 2 = 5 or 6 or 7.

I do hope that my story brings a little insight to another school of thought and that it was helpful in even the smallest way. Thank you for your site."

H.M writes:
"After reading the information and other poems on your website, I wrote my own. I have a good gestalt therapist that is helping me through my own trauma. Perhaps my poem can help others too.

  • You ripped my heart away
  • You stole my innocence too
  • How can I trust anyone
  • When I was supposed to trust you
  • You taught me to hide
  • You taught me to deny
  • Not wanting to face the truth
  • Easier to believe the lie
  • Even as I write now
  • I struggle to face all of this
  • But it's affected me so much
  • That ignorance can no longer be bliss
  • I struggle to hate you
  • Cos u seemed to be the only one that cared
  • I can't remember too much
  • Of my childhood we so incessantly shared
  • All I know is that I’m not healthy
  • With all my tendencies to recreate
  • That final eventual feeling
  • Where I am in a betrayed state
  • My hopes smashed once again
  • Where all I want is someone to care
  • Then I realize all I am to them
  • Is a body, an object lying there
  • And here I am now
  • Stuck in all this grief
  • Looking for someone to love me
  • Looking for relief
  • I’ve abused myself in so many ways
  • Over so many years
  • Can't run from this any more
  • Can't fight back the tears
  • I want so much more for myself
  • Can't hide in the symptoms of my pain
  • Am willing to go through this grief
  • To find my rainbow after the rain
  • My awareness level has reached a peak
  • Where I cannot disassociate anymore
  • I want to take charge of my life
  • And stop picking myself up off the floor
  • I am lovable for the person I am
  • For my mind, intellect and soul
  • Not just for my body
  • Or my sexual role
  • I deserve care and love
  • Dignity, honour and respect
  • And I wish that what happened
  • Will eventually lose its effect
  • No more shame no more guilt
  • No more internalization of what I feel
  • Just me, my innocence,
  • It wasn't yours to steal
  • So I give back this shame
  • I give it all back to you
  • It wasn't mine to begin with
  • I have some self-healing to do."

W.S. writes:
"As a 64 yr old victor over abandonment, sexual, physical and psychological abuses as a child I believe that using the word forgiveness is counter productive in the healing process. As several have mentioned, although forgiveness in its true meaning, has nothing to do with condoning or approval most people associate it so. I do not believe that forgiveness is an act itself, as it is an end result of a change in the person's perspective; a change in how they see themselves. When a person is filled with anger, shame, fear, self loathing and all the other negative emotions that goes along with abuse and being a victim, it is impossible to forgive the person(s) who made you feel that way. You would have to be a bit masochistic to do that and I would question one's veracity. It would be so nice to be able to just say I forgive you and all that would go away.

I believe the key to recovery and letting go (forgiveness) is not in trying to let go as an act but in changing how you see yourself. For years I worked on all the emotions and read all the books and gained quite an education which has served me well (all things are a two-edged sword) but did not walk through the door until a meeting lead by a simple, uneducated woman who stood before a group of rape crisis victims and volunteers and told us her story, the details of which are the same as many others but the conclusion is what is different. She said it hit her one day that she was still thinking of herself as "the victim" even though 30+ years had passed. She always thought of herself as "the victim" in her life. Not as in I was once a victim of an unfortunate situation or time in her life, but as in "I am a victim" ; an ongoing victim.

I left the meeting a changed person for I knew that is what I had been doing all my life and I chose to be a survivor at that moment. Twenty-five years have passed since that meeting, I do not even know the woman's name, but I am very grateful to her, and I don't even think of myself as a survivor any more as none of that is important to me now. It was what it was. I let go of the past and it just was.

Once done, I found that my father was a victim of child abuse by his father and his father's friends. My mother was the adopted child of the town whore and her adopted father abused her as did the nun in the Catholic school, she attended, who told her she would grow up to be like her mother (probably because she was such a beautiful child) a whore. We are all victims of abuse of some sort, everyone has some story they can tell. I am sure the 4ft 8in 90 lb elevator operator in the hotel I grew up in who molested my sister and I had been terribly taunted by peers for his size and weight and probably only felt strong when in the presences of little girls. This does not mean I condone in any fashion what he did or the others but I would come to see he was a victim too. When I realized we are all victims, then the anger which I had turned inward and often outward just sort of slowly melted away.

We all make poor choices, it would be wonderful if all of us were so far advanced spiritually that we could survive these horrors and not repeat any of them. When you begin to understand we are all victims you can stop judging others and you stop judging yourself. It takes time. You open the door to learning from your mistakes and allow yourself to heal and grow.

Life is hard; life is hard for everyone we just don't always see it because we do not walk in their shoes. This does not mean that you have to put up with a father that molested you, or a mother who abandoned you, or an uncle who abused you. You have choices and you can chose to let them lie in the bed they made for themselves, their acts were acts of alienation and you reap what you sow and so shall they. That old saying about you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear is applicable. How many victims keep trying to make mom or dad into some loving caring person, make them pay for the dastardly deeds they did, and what do they gain? Nothing but the continuation of being a victim by living in the past and not dealing with the reality of the now. As long as you choose to be a victim instead of being a survivor you are making the choice to live in the past and the past will continue to repeat itself

Forgiving is not something we do for some one else….forgiving is letting go so we are no longer the victim and can move on.
But again, it is natural consequence of our change in attitude/perspective of ourselves and our world and not a grace we give to our tormentors."