Mothers of sexually abused children
do not need nor want to think about the concept of forgiveness soon after disclosure. Some will argue that you never have to forgive. They will say that the offender does not deserve to be forgiven. They may think that forgiveness means that you forget about what happened or that somehow you are saying that what happened was okay.
Actually, forgiveness is not about any of that. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. As long as you carry around a backpack of rage
and resentment, you will feel weighted down. It will restrict your life. Now imagine laying down that backpack and how much lighter you feel. You forgive because you care about yourself. To forgive means you allow your body to de-stress. It means you allow your immune system to do its job. To forgive opens the door to feelings of freedom and joy.
Wiklund (1995) talks about four steps in the forgiveness process: anger, hatred, reframing, and reconciliation. She explains reframing as the core process. Reframing is the transition stage from negative emotion to forgiveness. This is a mental process. Nothing in the situation has changed. However, you have changed your perspective.
When you reframe the situation in your mind, you:
- Acknowledge the things you did not know. You acknowledge your own ignorance and take responsibility for it and the decisions you made because you did not know better.
- Go below the surface and examine the emotions and expectations, both those you have towards yourself and towards another person. Then let go of them
- Let go of the belief that other people have to be who you want them to be.
- Accept others the way they are. This is reality. You do not have to understand why the person is cruel, deceptive, or emotionally ill. Only see it, name it, feel it, and let it go.
- Detach what the person did from the person. By separating the two, you can see the person's weakness and humanity. This exercise is about reality. You are seeing the person as he is, not as you want him to be.
If you feel that you do not have the ability or want the ability to forgive or if you continue to believe that the person does not deserve to be forgiven:
- Imagine what your life would be like if you could let go of the anger, rage, resentment, and hatred, and live with the peace of forgiveness.
- Imagine someone who is angry or resentful towards you reaching towards you to give you forgiveness.
- Imagine having the willingness to let go of all the unfinished business you have with people in your life.
- Imagine walking in the other person's shoes.
Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Reconciliation has to do with restoring or reestablishing a relationship. You can forgive and remain physically distant and detached. Some people may view forgiveness and reconciliation as the same. However, when a sex offender has abused your child, you can forgive the person, but you do not have to have a relationship with him.
Forgiveness is a process. It is not a one-time event. Since it is a process, be patient with yourself. Everyone is different.
Defining what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not about forgetting.
- Forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior or saying it was okay.
- Forgiveness does not mean that you have to tolerate the behavior.
- Forgiveness does not wipe away the accountability and responsibility for whatever the event is. You may forgive a perpetrator. They may still go to prison for ten years.
- Forgiveness does not create the possibility of fixing the problem. It does not mean that something can be undone.
- Forgiveness does not mean that you have to trust