Forgiveness for abuse?

I am working now on the final section of my memoir about recovery from childhood sexual abuse. The book will end in 2001 at the time when I decided to begin writing this memoir—six years after I had first recalled the abuse.

It’s time to begin the layers of ending, bringing closure to a topic that never closes completely. I need to say how I regard my father now. Need to show the compassion I feel for my mother’s limitations, which were given to her by a life cut off at every pass—the dying father encased in the household as she grew up, no money for college, of course, in the Depression, and then the depression and anxiety.

How do I regard my father? I need to speak to him, dead though he is, and see how the relationship has changed. How does one regard a molester who acts like a little boy not grown up?

Boyishness was attractive on him. He had the enthusiasm and wonder, the love of frogs and boats and gadgets, the dreamy impracticality that made him both a wonderful father and a terrible—what? a terrible provider and protector, because he was involved in “his own little world” as my mother sourly put it. A good playmate but a poor father. But then, a fabulous teacher, setting out little problems to be solved. The back of his shop was littered with cigar boxes built into gadgets of flashing lights, taking up space just because he loved to teach any stray young person.

Part of my task is to recognize and write about the love that was there between us and still is. But forgiveness? It doesn’t feel right. I don’t absolve him; he has to bear the burden of responsibility.

What do you think, reader?

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Nancy Richards said...

Hi Jane,

Congratulations on the "home stretch" of your memoir.

Your post peaked my interest, because I went through a similar emotional journey of love, loss and the question of forgiveness.

For me, forgiveness was daunting. My attempts at forgiveness stalled my healing process and I ended up failing at both forgiving and healing. Forgiveness seemed unwise and unsafe, because at this point, forgiveness was premature for me. I hadn't healed enough to consider forgiveness.

My greatest healing growth happened when I decided NOT to forgive and I stopped seeing my abuser (my mother). During the first four years of my separation from my mother, I received the validation I never received from my mother, from other people.

Once I was unencumbered by the restraints of forgiveness, I was able to concentrate on healing. I found healthy outlets to express my anger and to mourn my losses. In these ways, I honored the depth of my injuries and healed in a way that eventually set me free to forgive.

I haven't reconciled with my mother. I don't excuse what happened to me, nor do I forget; however, I have found a place of peace.

Good luck on your journey!

the bear said...

Hi Jane,

Yes, congratulations on getting where you've gotten!

I think this quote was attributed to Jack Kornfield: "Forgiveness is letting go of the hope of a better past."

Forgiveness and absolution, are, I think, two different things. I think that forgiveness is that inner process where we can finally come to grips with what happened, and have it be integrated into our experience in a way that is much less painful, and also, at the same time, see the complexities in the person who hurt us, the good and the bad. It doesn't mean that we necessarily "get over it" - but it becomes a part of us, in a way.

Absolution perhaps is different - maybe more of an outer process - and I think one that isn't either necessary, or even a good idea. The dictionary says: "To pronounce clear of guilt or blame." Your father was responsible for his actions, as mine was. They are still responsible, and will always be.

Anonymous said...

forgiveness? Some acts are unforgiveable. I do not forgive what was done to my children.

Julie said...

Dear Jane, Nancy, Bear and Anonymous,

Jane's post and your comments have helped me SO much. THANK YOU!

Roupa Manjari said...

I am quick to want to please (I wonder why...) and forgive, absolve, release anyone who wronged me, namely mother and father and perhaps more, for any transgression. it is as if it pains me beyond imagination for THEM to feel any more pain than they already do, and yet as my husband points out time and again.....they victimized me. They deliberately harmed and manipulated me. They lied to me and turned my head all the way around until I assimilated and turned all these things on myself, loving them and hating myself instead.

I say, forgive if and when you can feel in the air itself that they, wherever they are, have come to you and made their sincere and humble amends. And if you only feel the same foul diseased energy floating around like sewage in an otherwise clean heartspace, then decline to service either of them anymore whatsoever. They do not deserve such mercy, nor would it do them any good karmically.

Patricia Singleton said...

I agree with what Nancy and the bear both said. Forgiveness didn't come for me until after the healing process, not before it.

I had to reconnect with my body and with my feelings and work though those feelings of hate for them and most importantly for myself, the feelings of hurt, anger and sadness. I had to grieve, which was major.

I had to let go of the fairy tale of a better past and a family that would love me differently than what mine called loving. All of that took over 10 years of actively working on myself and my incest issues. This process was not easy but I am worth everything that I went through to reach the other side.

I didn't plan on doing forgiveness. I quit listening to those people who wanted me to forgive and forget. I quit beating myself up because I was just too mad to forgive. I asked God to handle the forgiveness thing until I could do it for myself.

I concentrated on the work that I could do instead of forgiveness which I wasn't ready to do and didn't know if I ever would be. I was totally surprised when I realized that my dad and the incest had no control over me any longer. That is what the process that I call forgiveness is all about. I still hold each of my abusers responsible for what they did to me. They no longer control how I feel about me. That is freedom from the past. The journey isn't over.