This week I’m excited to welcome back to Emerging from Broken, guest writer and fellow blogger Pam Witzemann as she tackles the difficult subject of ‘forgiveness.’ In this in-depth two part article, Pam takes a look at some of the difficulties surrounding forgiveness, experienced by survivors of child abuse. Pam is a regular participant in almost all the discussions here in EFB and has her own blog; “Boomer Back-beat ~ Talking bout our generation”. As always I am looking forward to the conversation~ please contribute your thoughts and insights! ~ Darlene Ouimet
The Process of Forgiving Child Abusers by Pam Witzemann
Part I: Defining Forgiveness; for Victims of Childhood Abuse
It isn’t easy to forgive an abuser especially a child abuser. Victims of childhood abuse need to have a right concept of forgiveness because it is so often, twisted into a weapon of abuse. This causes confusion on the part of the victim and denies them access to the freedom from the past that true forgiveness can bring.
Parents who abused their children are likely to demand their adult child forgive them for the past but may never acknowledge any wrong doing or accept any responsibility for their actions. The truth is that they aren’t interested in being forgiven. People who want forgiveness are filled with remorse and though it may hurt to verbally admit to what they’ve done, they will do so because being forgiven by the person they have hurt is important to them.
What many abusers want instead of forgiveness is for the abused person to forget what was done to them, over-look it, and not hold them responsible for it. They also need their victims to remain silent and when that silence is threatened, they demand forgiveness and declare that any relational problems are due to the victim’s unwillingness to forgive. These lies cause confusion and abusive people know that causing confusion in others, works in their favor. There is nothing that confuses a childhood abuse survivor more than the forgiveness ploy.
All survivors desperately, want to be free from their past and in our culture, we are taught that forgiveness abolishes sins. This is true but as with all truth, abusers twist the truth into a self-serving lie. Therefore, it is important for child abuse survivors to arm themselves with a true understanding of what abuse is, what it is not, and to know with certainty, what they, as the victims, are responsible for. It is also, necessary to have a clear definition and concept of forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t cheap. It comes at a great price that is paid in suffering and pain. Jesus died an excruciating death, in order to obtain forgiveness from God for human beings.( I don’t want to make this post about religion but this is an important point because in Western Civilizations, the Bible is the foundation for cultural concepts of forgiveness. It is also, important because abusive people like to use religion as a club and they aren’t above twisting Biblical truth into a manipulative lie.)Though we do have some choice to forgive or to with-hold forgiveness, forgiveness isn’t a simple choice and it isn’t to be demanded of us by anyone. It comes at the end of a reckoning process and there is no way to skip that process and arrive at true, forgiveness.
Choosing to forgive doesn’t mean that a relationship can be restored by the actions of the victim alone. An abuse survivor can forgive their abuser but it is foolhardy and dangerous to continue in a relationship with a person who never acknowledges the personal damage they have caused. Abuse survivors can heal and reach the end of the reckoning-forgiveness-process without any obligation to continue in a relationship with an unremorseful, abuser. Survivors can heal, separately, from their abusers and if the abuser wants the relationship to be restored, they must apply that forgiveness to themselves by acknowledging the damage they’ve done. If this is what they truly, want, then they will demonstrate this with true remorse.
It’s simple, people who want forgiveness will say they are sorry and name specifically, what they are sorry for. People who are content to abuse and thereby, hold power over their victim, will have no remorse and will never acknowledge the pain and damage they have caused.
Abuse survivors commonly, deny themselves the freedom from the past that forgiving can bring ; This is a decision made upon the false concepts about forgiveness that so many people have. True forgiveness, isn’t given from a position of weakness but from a position of power that honors the sacrifice made, in real suffering, on the part of the survivor. It is an action that leaves past abuses in the past and denies them the power to continue to harm the survivor, in the present and in the future. Abuse isn’t a small fault to be overlooked and forgiveness doesn’t mean that traumatic, abusive events are not important enough to punish.
In fact, I believe that a survivor can prosecute an abuser for the crimes committed and still find their way to forgiving the person who committed those crimes. There are natural and legal consequences to criminal actions and forgiveness doesn’t mean that the abuser should suffer no consequences. Even though Jesus died on the cross for those who abuse God and one another, we still suffer consequences for our actions; but because of the forgiveness that He won, our relationship with God can be restored and we won’t suffer eternal, spiritual death. However, there is no way to restore that spiritual relationship without acknowledging our abuses/sins, and acknowledging the price that was paid, in order for us to receive forgiveness.
In the same way, a truly, remorseful abuser can have their relationship with their child restored by truthfully, applying the forgiveness given them, by the child they harmed, through abuse. People who are truly, remorseful are generally, resigned to pay the penalties for their actions. They will not deny those actions and try to force all who are connected to them to carry pretense and pretend the crimes they committed never took place.
A repentant abuser will seek truth and will cease from seeking cover in lies. A remorseful abuser is mortified by their behavior and will beg for forgiveness and not dare to demand it. Forgiveness is received in weakness and given in power; thereby, humbling the abuser and raising the status of the victim. In this way, a right balance of power is restored.
Equality and trust meet upon the sacred ground of life-changing, remorse and true forgiveness.
By Pam Witzemann
Please share your thoughts about this difficult subject matter. We are not saying that forgiveness is essential; this post is about understanding forgiveness and the part it may play in recovery. Stay tuned for Part II; Pam digs even deeper into the reckoning process as it unfolded for her.
Related Posts: Forgiveness; A bit of a Rant (Click Titles)
Pam Witzemann was born in Santa Fe, NM and is married, has raised two boys and has two grandsons. Pam and her husband have had their own business for over twenty years. Pam is a painter and a writer and hopes to make these pursuits more than a hobby in her later years. Pam authors the blog Boomer Back-Beat; a place where baby boomers find inspiration in the process of aging.