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Don’t Forgive: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

Aren’t we survivors constantly bombarded with the suggestion (or demand), “You need to forgive”? Don’t we hear that message proclaimed among therapists, preachers, teachers, and especially our friends?

They mean well; however, I have one suggestion for survivors: Don’t forgive.

Too often those helpful souls become uncomfortable around our pain and urge us to get rid of it immediately by forgiving. Instead, we need to feel our hurts.

I tell other survivors, “Wallow in your pain, feel sorry for yourself . . . for a time.” So my full advice is, “Don’t forgive until you’re ready.”

Even if it doesn’t sound that way, to delay the forgiving process may be kind and loving to ourselves. We acknowledge, “I’m hurt. I was robbed of my innocence. I was lied to and deceived. I can’t take back what was stolen from me.”

All of us have different ways of processing the hurts we received from our predator, but this much I know: We don’t truly forgive until we’ve dealt with our pain.

For example, my late friend Steve Grubmann was one of the first men to whom I spoke about my sexual assault. In 1990, we both attended a conference then called “National Organization for Men Against Sexism.” In a breakout session, one man told about his childhood abuse and spoke with anger toward his perpetrating father. He ended his remarks by saying, “Of course, he’s dead and I’ve forgiven him.” As soon as the gathering broke up, Steve said to the man, “You said you’d forgiven your father, but your language and facial expressions didn’t agree.”

There’s nothing automatic or easy about forgiving those who stole our innocence

“Oh, I forgive the bastard,” he said and walked away.

Steve and I stared at each other, aware of the man’s blindness to his own feelings.

All these years later, I often think of that day. I didn’t know the man, but it was evident that he hadn’t reached the level of forgiving. He said he’d forgiven and I understand, because many of us go through the motions. And I don’t see that as hypocrisy, but rather as something we truly want to leave behind us.

There’s nothing automatic or easy about forgiving those who stole our innocence. One of the most demanding steps in our own healing is to be able truly and totally to forgive those who damaged our childhood.

When we’ve mourned enough, when we’re ready to let it go, when we’re tired of carrying the anger, we’re ready to forgive.

With my own perpetrators, I finally realized that by remembering what they did to me I was victimizing myself—again. That awareness was the impetus for me to get serious about absolving my pain.

In time, I did forgive—when I was ready.

By Cecil Murphy

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Cecil Murphey ImageCecil Murphey wrote, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed with survivor Gary Roe. Murphey is the author or coauthor of 137 books including international best sellers, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story. His latest book is Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor, written with Katariina Rosenblatt.