Do I Need to Forgive to Heal from Sexual Abuse?
By Amy Marschak, CCASA Guest Blogger
“Healing may result in forgiveness but forgiveness does not bring healing, it only covers over the wounds allowing them to fester.”
-An Advocate for Abuse Survivors
-An Advocate for Abuse Survivors
I am frequently asked by others, “Have you forgiven your dad?” Sometimes I am even asked that question before people ask me how I am doing now? Have I healed? Am I living well? Many people equate forgiving my dad to healing. I find this way of thinking very sad.
If a stranger had raped me when I was walking home from school in first grade, would those same people ask me if I have forgiven the rapist? Or if my dad had been murdered when he was serving with the military overseas, would they ask me if I had forgiven the person who took my dad’s life during a war? I believe in those circumstances, those same people would be more concerned with how I was doing rather than if I had forgiven the perpetrators.
It is because the rape happened to me by a family member, so rather than being concerned if I am living well, the most important thing that some people think that I should do is to forgive my father. I do not believe that these people are trying to be mean, but I do believe that it is a lack of understanding that causes these questions. Also many people want the survivor to forgive and forget and immediately be fine again. But healing is a process. I do not believe that it needs to take your entire life, but it is a process.
Many survivors go straight to forgiving their perpetrator before they have even acknowledged or released their own anger. In these cases, their voices can be so full of stuck emotions, that every sentence that they speak sounds fake. When they say, “I am fine”, I can see their sadness tucked behind their fake smiles. By “forgiving” their perpetrators before feeling and releasing their memories and emotions, they can go straight back into pretending to live normal lives. But all of those stuck emotions and memories will fester below the surface, waiting to really be heard and released. Quite often those emotions and memories scream to be heard, sometimes causing survivors to turn to things such as food, drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors to push the emotions back inside.
Many survivors blame themselves for the abuse. It is very important for them to realize that the abuse is never the victim’s fault. They need to put the blame back where it belongs, blame the perpetrator. They also need to forgive themselves, for blaming themselves and the guilt that they gave carried.
As a survivor, I do have tons of compassion for my father as a little boy, because he too was sexually assaulted. I also have compassion for my mother, who was also assaulted as a little girl, though she claims to have made that up after I began to get memories back. They both deserved to heal, but it does not make it ok that my father went on to sexually assault me.
My goal as a survivor of incest is to continue to live well, be happy, be present , and to have my identity be a person who is awesome (everyone is awesome) and not a victim. I was victimized, but I am not a victim. And if emotions come up from my abuse, I acknowledge them, process them, and release them, and then I go on with my day. I am no longer being a victim to get my needs met (a behavior that I was taught as a child). My mother was always nice to me if I came home crying from school but frequently mean to me if I was happy.
Everyone can heal and have a great life, but through acknowledging what is really happening inside not pushing it away. When feelings and memories are acknowledged, they are eventually released and survivors heal. And then if they want to forgive their perpetrators, fine, if not that is also fine. But the goal is for the survivor to release the past and focus on their own life and acknowledge how awesome they really are.
Amy’s blog was originally published on her website www.healingfromsexualabuse.com. Amy is a survivor of sexual abuse and has written a one woman play “An Angel Cried A Tear Last Night” an autobiography of forgetting remembering and healing from child sexual abuse. She has toured this play coast to coast in the United States and Canada. This play has also run for four months in Los Angeles, toured universities and conferences where she has keynoted. Amy also leads a workshop “Healing from Sexual Abuse and Trauma.”