Forgiveness and Child Abuse ~ When Suggesting Forgiveness is AbusiveBy
When I was about 17 years old and had escaped the difficulties associated with living under the same roof as my mother, I became friends with a neighbour lady whom I eventually sought mentorship from. (Or perhaps I was actually just looking for someone who would love me and mother me.) She was a nice lady with a couple of children and she seemed to be interested in me. When I grew comfortable enough to tell her about a problem that I had with one of my mothers boyfriends, she told me to pray for him. PRAY FOR HIM! She told me that I needed to forgive him.
I got assaulted and HE got prayer. I didn’t realize at the time how much she discounted ME by telling me to pray for him. I didn’t notice that she wasn’t interested in what happened to me, or in the difficulty that I was STILL having dealing with what had happened to me but that she skipped right to concern for HIM. I didn’t even realize that the message that I was getting from her was concern for him. I was used to being discounted in that way so it was normal and familiar to me then. Today I see her directive for me to pray for him and forgive him as abusive.
Forgiveness and child abuse is a difficult combination.
I didn’t respond in any way to her suggestion at first. In my minds eye I see myself “thinking” about this suggestion; considering the best way to “go about it”. As always the compliant victim, I stayed quiet. I even agreed to let her HELP me pray for him.
I remember her praying “with” me or “for me” or maybe she prayed “over me” I can’t remember for sure which method she used. She asked God to heal my heart and to show me the way to forgiveness.
I got assaulted and he got forgiveness?
She told me that I needed to forgive my mother for not protecting me and not believing me. She didn’t even listen to the whole story before she was telling me that I had to forgive them. It was invalidating.
There was no comfort for me. There was no understanding for me. There was no permission for me to be afraid or to be in pain. There was no permission for me to talk about what happened or how I felt about it. I was invalidated once again. The abusers, even when I exposed them, were the ones who deserved the attention.
My mother didn’t love me enough to choose ME over HIM but she got prayer and I had to find a way to forgive. I was ‘encouraged’ to try and ‘understand them’. I had to try to understand the abusers.
I didn’t know how to forgive so as I was directed I prayed for God to show me a way; I prayed that he change MY heart. I prayed that he show me how to love them with HIS love. I was devastated by the events of my childhood and I was trying to find a way to forgive the people who did this damage without even having had the damage VALIDATED. I had never been heard, I had never been protected. The damage was invalidated as I was invalidated.
I did all the things I was told to do but I never quite found the real answer. I still lived in fear. I still felt dirty, disgusting, unlovable and unworthy.
Whenever I tried to re-visit the difficulties of the traumas I had suffered in life, I was advised to pray for the people who caused them and I was instructed to find a way to forgive. I was told that forgiveness was for “me”. That forgiveness would set me free from the pain. But in reality I was not allowed to HAVE the pain. I was not even supposed to talk about it. I was apparently supposed to jump straight to forgiveness. I was told that forgiveness was the only way to peace and happiness. I felt so much shame that “forgiveness” wasn’t working for me! I felt like I was the only failure in the world because I could not seem to get over the abuse in my past and I didn’t know how to forgive.
Being directed to “pray for them” and being told that “forgiveness is the only way to peace” seems really messed up to me now. There was a crime committed against me and I was told to pray for this person and all others who assisted him in getting away with it and find it in my heart to forgive them. Even the way that sounds in writing seems to indicate that since I was the one that had a problem. I had to forgive. And the message that I got was that I was the one that had done something wrong. And since that message was the same one that I had received all my life, it slipped into my belief system quite easily and comfortably.
If a seventeen year old girl (or boy) came to me today and told me that her mother’s boyfriend or anyone else sexually assaulted her, I would advise her to call the police and report him or I would ask her if she wanted me to call the police or go to the police station with her and report him. That response might scare her, but it would also validate her worth and the fact that a crime had been committed against her. If she didn’t want to report him I would support her through it and make sure that she knew that none of it was her fault. I would not advise anyone to pray for the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime. That would be discounting to the victim of that crime. I would not advocate for the abuser. I would not put the abuser ahead of the victim in this way. That would be invalidating and devaluing.
Suggesting that the victim of a child sexual abuse crime (or any other abuse crime whether legally liable or not) consider forgiveness or the salvation of the perpetrator of that crime even before the damage has been validated and even before the victim has permission to feel all the pain and anger is mean. It discounts and devalues the person who was abused. It puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It causes the victim to be stuck in shame and pain. Stuck.
This is the way that I was always treated in the old dysfunctional relationship system. I could not heal from damage that had never been validated. It wasn’t even that I was always told to forgive. I had also been told that I ‘misunderstood’ his intentions. I was told that I must have done something to cause this to happen. I was told that HE would never hurt me. But he DID hurt me. Why was it always about HIM?
Telling people to forgive as a priority and as the only path to healing also serves as a way to keep the cycle of abuse active instead of breaking the cycle of abuse. No wonder the victims are the ones hiding and crying in the dark, too afraid to admit that they are still broken from the events of years ago and the abusers are out there using their real names and puffing out their chests, continuing to bully lots of other people. In this messed up system, the abusers get prayer, understanding and forgiveness and the victim suffers in (forced) silence!
Victims of child abuse (or any type of abuse) need to be heard before they are instructed to move on or find a way to forgive the perpetrator of the damage caused to them. People need to be validated and assured that what happened to them was WRONG and that they didn’t deserve it. They need to be told that it was not their fault and that the perpetrator of that abuse is the guilty party and that person is the one who is accountable.
Until I finally saw the truth about my childhood and the trauma that I suffered, I was stuck in the prison of living as an invalid person. It was in finally being heard and being validated in my pain and my right to be angry at the injustice done to me that set me free to live.
All things healthy grew from this initial validation. I was able to heal from the pain, hurt, anger and resentment when I finally gave myself permission to justify having those feelings in the first place. It was only then that I was able to let go and eventually put it behind me.
Please share your thoughts on the subject of forgiveness and prayer for the perpetrator of child abuse or (any other abuse) verses validating the victim of that abuse and encouraging/validating emotions, fears and the anger they have at the injustice that has been done and don’t forget to put yourself and the pain your have experienced into this thought process.
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