My first post was all about me exploring how do you forgive someone who is totally defiant, lying and denying anything ever happened? How do you forgive someone who is defiantly unrepentant? How do you forgive someone who admits no fault or wrong? How do you forgive someone who does not validate the truth of what happened?
I was also questioning whether or not as Christians, real forgiveness is possible or even right in such circumstances.
I’d had plenty of things said to me down the years by many Christians concerning forgiveness.
Most people’s response to me when I’ve found the courage to mention/disclose being a survivor of child abuse has been “have you forgiven them? You must forgive them!”
So many times I wished I’d kept my mouth shut but there comes a time when you can’t dodge the “where/who are your family?” kind of questions any longer and have to speak the truth, otherwise you’re seen as being evasive and that just invites even more probing questions. It’s horrible really how many Christians pry into other people’s business under the guise of ‘brotherly/sisterly concern’ or even worse ‘prayerful concern’.
No one ever asked me if my abusers had asked for forgiveness or been repentant.
That didn’t seem to come into the equation just the small matter of had I – the Christian in the situation - forgiven?
Something was very wrong about that.
In Christian circles I repeatedly came across a lot of phoney forgiveness – a “forgive and forget it ever happened” kind of forgiveness which was more about implying that “you cannot have forgiven if you need to talk about it, if you’d just forgive you’d heal and not need to mention it again” it felt like a silencing order – do the right thing, forgive them, don’t mention it again (if you do you haven’t really forgiven). But all that does is push the pain and the issues firmly under the carpet. Another favourite comment I met was “do the ‘Christian’ thing and seek reconciliation with your abusers – that is the real Christian thing to do, that is true forgiveness”.
If I had a penny for every time that has been said to me I’d be a very rich woman indeed!!
But all this was sheer madness to me! It didn’t make any kind of sense. But again I was told that it did not matter that my abusers (family) were the ones who’d disowned me because I was the one who was the Christian in the situation so I should want to work towards reconciliation.
This was totally unreal to me. There was absolutely no way I was going to seek reconciliation with people who had treated me with so much deliberate cruelty and then disowned me. This was all so unrealistic and simplistic to me and didn’t address the real situation I was in.
One week after writing my first blog post I published a second one which took the issue beyond the discussion stage to drawing some conclusions.
While I was writing my posts about forgiveness I was really surprised, encouraged and helped as I came across 3 blog posts which validated my experiences and thought processes. The posts helped me understand my thoughts and feelings about the issue and gave me the courage to post my second blog post on forgiveness- http://fionanicholson.blogspot.com/2010/10/forgiveness-some-of-my-conclusions.html
The first helpful post I read can be found at the Overcoming Sexual Abuse Blog Site at -
The second appeared on the “Emerging From Broken” Blog Site – I include short excerpts from it below:-
"... As children, IF we even realize that it is wrong to be called dumb, stupid and useless, IF we even realize that being beaten on a whim or because someone else is in a bad mood is wrong; IF we somehow figure out that adults having sexual relations of any kind with children is illegal, and IF that victim child tells and is ignored, called a liar, OR anything else other than protected and validated, then the child has an extra layer of abuse to deal with. When this child grows up IF they ever disclose the abuse, they are SO OFTEN met with more invalidation and unhelpful instruction such as “you must forgive”
... Are you getting the picture about why so many people DON’T tell? Many keep the secret in the dark recesses of their minds ~ so convinced that the guilt and shame are theirs to bear and that they must have somehow deserved this kind of mistreatment and added on to that is the whole insistence that forgiveness is the only answer which makes many of us reluctant to disclose abuse least we be seen as unforgiving!
... SO let’s just say we finally DO talk about it and then we are told to jump ahead to forgiveness. HOW the heck is that supposed to be possible?”
... When we are encouraged to try to understand the abuser, it is worse. Why should we try to understand something so incomprehensible? WHY do we need to understand them when we have not been encouraged to understand our own feelings yet?”
To read the full blog post you can find it at -
That blog post on “Emerging From Broken” put into words what I was struggling to find the vocabulary for.
My worst experience of this issue was having well meaning though seriously misguided Christians force me to pray prayers of forgiveness towards my abusers out loud in their presence - and to be told to ask God to make me want to forgive – when I tried to object and refuse to do it – and when I couldn’t own up to having the right feelings I was told I was harbouring revenge and unforgiveness in my heart and was at fault and that the ‘right’ feelings would come if I pursued God for them. That caused me so much confusion because it made me feel that I was ‘bad’ or ‘deficient’ in some way because I couldn’t feel forgiving towards my abusers in spite of praying what I was made to pray.
I realise now how much that was a re-abuse of me which totally invalidated my feelings about my abusers and what they did to me.
Just as I published my second blog post I came across a very helpful biblical exploration of the issue which confirmed the conclusion I had reached that forgiveness cannot happen in the face of defiant refusal to repent or admit fault.
I include here a short excerpt from the post -
“Forgiveness and the requirement to forgive are not necessarily what we have been led to believe they are by our abusers and their enablers, or by others who are either misinformed or trying to deceive us. In the Bible, we are told to forgive as the Lord forgave us.(Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32) The Lord forgives us when we repent. (Ezekiel 33:10-20, Isaiah 55:6-7, Jeremiah 6:16-30 & 26:3, Luke 13:3 & 5, Acts 3:19) He does NOT forgive those who are 'stiff-necked', refuse to repent, and intend to continue in their sinful ways, and he does not expect us to, either. By forgiving remorseless evildoers, we are depriving them of the opportunity to repent and transform their lives... In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells us very clearly that we are to forgive someone who sins against us IF he repents. God does not want us to continue to be abused, in fact, we are told to shun evildoers... but if there is true repentance the Lord does want us to forgive.”
To read the full article go to -
I've not finished with this issue of forgiveness, if anything I'm only just beginning to explore it, trying to get past all the religious stuff and redefine it as something very different to what I've always been led to believe it was.
Real forgiveness is a process not a one-time event and is in the end something you do within your own heart and emotions in order to move on and through the pain.
I realise that forgiveness is good for the person who forgives as it sets them free from the need for revenge and the invisible ties to the person who caused the hurt.
My gut reaction to forgiveness is that it is possible to forgive things a person has done to you (although some things are harder than others) - but only God can actually forgive a person.
Where there is no repentance and no admittance of fault or wrong, only defiance and lies, forgiveness cannot happen.
In this circumstance all I can do is take my hands from around their neck - and that is excruciating to do - and work through the pain of their defiance on top of the pain and horror of what they did to me.
I will end with just one final point. Real forgiveness is a very personal thing and it is actually nobody else's business as to whether or not you've forgiven.
Sometimes, even for the person doing the forgiving, it's hard to figure out where you are on the forgiveness paradigm.