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From Forgiven to Forgiveness

Trigger warning (for mention of God and Jesus) and a disclaimer that everyone forgives at his or her own pace. It is not a one size fits all approach and is a long process that shouldn’t be rushed and everyone will do it differently with different abusers and with different parts for those who have DID.  This past week I was part of a discussion with other survivors on the topic of forgiveness. I had the opportunity to share my voice, which is such a big part of recovery, as well as being in a safe space that offered all of us survivors the chance to be vulnerable, genuine, talk without judgment and with acceptance of each other’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs. We could collectively hear and bear witness to each other’s pain and trauma but also to learn from each other as we shared what forgiveness means to us personally. There is so much healing in that kind of a space. One of the participants in the focus group asked, “What is forgiveness?” I ended up looking up the word forgive to get a better understanding of exactly what the word meant: 1. To grant pardon for or remission of an offense, debt or to absolve. 2. To stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake. 3. Used in polite expressions as a request to excuse or regard indulgently one’s foibles, ignorance or impoliteness. Some of the synonyms for forgiveness are:Pardon, absolution, exoneration, remission, dispensation, understanding, tolerance, clemency, mercy, pity, lenience, amnesty, acquittal, vindicationAs a survivor of ritual abuse, governmental mind control that included torture, henious acts of rape and violence, medical experimentation, sex trafficking starting as a young girl, and multiple abuses, I have a problem with some of those words and if you are a survivor I’m sure you do too. The words that were the most troublesome were absolution and acquittal. Absolving means to set or declare someone free from blame, guilt or responsibility. No wonder survivors have a hard time with forgiving. It’s as if someone said the f word. Acquittal means to free someone from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty. How can a person like me who has had heinous acts of violence done to myself forgive? It’s incomprehensible on my own. Giving forgiveness to multiple people for multiple crimes some of whom would have spent a lifetime in a federal prison if they would have been arrested, charged and found guilty is a hard concept. They are guilty. Period. If I forgive, doesn’t that mean that my abusers just get away with what they’ve done or that somehow I just let them off the hook? No. No. No. No. They are guilty. They did wrong. They were responsible because I was just a child. 

I was very quick to have a part of me forgive as soon as I first had memories of my dad sexually abusing me, because of the trauma bond I had with him (and the need to deal with the complex emotions of anger, rage, hatred). It was quite a process to forgive him at a heart level because of my heart needing to change towards myself. You can’t go right into the forgiveness part. If forgiveness is the goal it may seem impossible to do that…ever.  Then it becomes a have to instead of a choice and I had enough choices taken away from me to last a lifetime. But forgiveness did become a necessity for my healing.

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Whether the other person is sorry or not, it effects us. The other person may not even be aware of the extent of what they have done to us or that they even did wrong especially if what they did was done to them and they are in denial about it all. Forgiveness lies within ourselves and is a way to release the distress that rises again and again when we continue to dwell on the bitterness of the harm that was done and it’s a way to not dwell in self pity or victimization.

Forgiveness is what most of my parts have done and continue to do as I connect with them. I think the first most important person we need to forgive is ourselves. For not being able to stop the abuse. For not being able to run away. For feeling pleasure because let’s face it our bodies were created by God to respond to sexual stimulation. For believing and thinking that we were to blame or somehow responsible or that we caused the abuse. Unforgiveness can delay our recovery, sabotage our relationships, and when we give that much power over to another person by having such deep bitterness, resentment or hatred we are physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually harming ourselves.  It’s kind of like drinking poison expecting that the other person will die.

Forgiveness is a deeply personal and complex process. It is not a one size fits all approach and different individuals and different parts may find varying strategies helpful and for others completely unhelpful. 

My parts and I  needed to realize that we were innocent of the crimes done to us and accept those parts as not bad or to blame. Some parts have been able to just let go and leave the judgment and vengeance to God knowing that He can forgive anyone of anything if they repent. We had to give ourselves a lot of compassion because we were trained and conditioned to give compassion to our abusers as a command. Unlearning that has been a process of individualization and finding our autonomy apart from our abusers and having love, acceptance, and compassion for our selves. For the parts of me who struggle with the word "forgive" which suggested forgetting I instead gave mercy to my abusers, "not getting what they deserved" from me. I can't forget what happened because we live with the effects daily. Forgiveness does not imply my abusers being absolved of the abuse or that I would forget. What they did was very wrong. Forgiving is also not the same as reconciliation. We can forgive and still not have a relationship with the other person. Some people are toxic and dangerous to be around.

I was able to forgive my abusers. I was able to forgive myself. I was able to let go of it all and put it in God’s hands. God is a just God. He is a just judge who someday every person is going to need to be accountable to and stand before Him. I’m not their judge. I’m not their jury. It’s enough for me to realize that I was not guilty of their crimes nor was I responsible for the abuse they did to me. And I wasn’t guilty for speaking up about it. God is judge and vengeance belongs to God. I didn’t need to have a desire for revenge in my heart. He is the only One who can truly absolve someone from that type of guilt if they repent. God gave me anger as an indicator that an injustice had been done.

The main reason I was able to forgive them is because I learned about God's love for me (and for them) and because I have been shown mercy, grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Also, I know it deeply grieves the heart of God when children are abused. That included my parents and the other people who abused me. 

Some of the process of what it took for me to get to be able to forgive my abusers contains the following components: 

Not necessarily in this order

1. Admitting that I was abused. Denial is such a strong thing. I had to admit that I was abused and realize that there was something to forgive. The tendency with denial is to think it really didn’t happen or minimize by thinking it wasn’t that bad or justify it away by thinking you were bad and deserved it. Until you know that there is something and someone to forgive you can’t offer forgiveness.  

2. Putting the blame somewhere other than towards myself. Until I could put the blame onto those who had abused me first, I would continue to spend the rest of my life blaming myself. I had spent decades already blaming myself and thinking I as at fault for the crimes that were done to me. Then I could let go of all blame and come to an acceptance of what happened to me.   

3. Accepting what was done to me by people who should have loved and protected me but didn't and adults who only cared about research, science, power, greed, and money by exploiting children through sex trafficking.

4. Identifying and expressing the intense emotions of rage, anger, and hatred, to release resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness because holding onto unforgiveness was like drinking poison and expecting that my abusers would die.  

5. Seeing my abusers as people created in the image of God who are loved by God who had been harmed as children like I had and who were used as tools by the same evil that touched me. 

6. Claiming my innocence as a child and reclaiming the child that I was and being adopted as a child of God who loves me saved through Jesus Christ. 

7. Knowing the true source of evil and admitting that satan is the deceiver and father of lies who is out to steal, kill, and destroy. (my abusers and me)

8. Knowing Jesus as my Savior, Healer, Protector, Provider, Friend, who has overcome the world, sin, satan, and death.

9. Knowing the hope there is because of Jesus and what He has done; the hope and assurance and the security I have for eternal life with God my Father. 

10. Knowing who I am in Christ and the identity I have because of Him as His beloved daughter.

It is a miracle that I was able to forgive all of my abusers and the only way that I was able to do so is because of my personal relationship with Jesus, knowing that God loved me (and my abusers) and that I had been forgiven of all my sins. It was a long process to get to a place of inner peace and a resolve to not hold onto the blame of the abuse that was done to me but also not to be the judge and jury to my abusers. I will leave all that in God’s hands. It’s too much of a burden for me to carry. I know that I had much freedom and a heavy weight was lifted off of me to no longer hold onto any bitterness, resentment, or anger. I had come to a place of acceptance; acceptance of what happened to me, acceptance that the things that happened to me were in the past and that I had worked through the emotions and faced the fear of what I would find underneath the rubble of yesterday since my abuse had been hidden even from me through the miracle of dissociation. We had each other now. We could smile knowing that we were loved by God and that now I love myselves and we can still love others despite what had happened to us. I still live with the effects of trauma but I realize that I could either choose to get better and recover from what happened to me or choose to stay in denial and bitterness and never face my past or reclaim the girl that I was and the woman I have become. She is me and I am her. Together we are free because we accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and we offered forgiveness to those who have hurt us.

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