The importance of self-forgiveness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse
Someone commented the other day that the hardest thing for her to do was to forgive herself. For those of us that were sexually abused as children, we bear the detrimental memories of those incomprehensible moments into adulthood. The negative memories and emotions build inside until they begin to manifest in ways that cause emotional, mental and physical illness. When I learned how to stop the momentum of the shame and guilt caused by early abuse events, I eventually emerged as the healthy balanced person I am today.
When I was really young, I really didn’t even understand what was happening to me, or that it was anything unusual, because I believe that I had been conditioned from a very early age to accept sexual abuse as a normal occurrence. After trying to report to my mother what had happened to me on one occasion and wasn’t believed, then being threatened into silence another time, I quickly learned that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I continued to keep all of it a secret.
By the time I reached puberty, I was being molested by people close to me. I was so shy that I had trouble expressing any romantic interests with boys my own age, so I never had any meaningful relationships. When I had what I thought was my first sexual encounter at age 16, I was humiliated when the 21-year-old man practically laughed out loud because I had told him that I was a virgin. After that incident I was accosted and raped by several older teenagers. What I never realized throughout any of this was that all this was happening because I had been abused as a young child. It just never connected. I never knew how to fight back to stop the abuse and was still afraid to tell others, for fear of not being believed or being ostracized for being a victim.
Soon after these events, I moved away to try and start a new life. Within me was the inkling of knowledge that I would one day find harmony in my life. But there seemed to be no way to stop the pattern of abuse that I had accepted. By my mid-20’s I had become a battered woman as my life kept spiraling downward. When I reached a crisis point, I finally looked for and found help from someone who made me look at myself in a whole new perspective.
At that point I was in a similar position as the lady that prompted me to post this today. Years ago, when it was suggested that I should forgive myself, it seemed almost impossible. My approach was to review the different aspects of how the abuse had affected me. I realized that I felt great shame, loss of dignity and very little self-esteem. My shyness and lack of confidence had prevented me from having meaningful relationships. Somehow, I even felt guilty because I had allowed the abuse to continue until it was life threatening. I had to reconcile with myself in order to remove those destructive emotional memories from my being.
In order to begin to forgive myself, I had to acknowledge that I was unique, that I had purpose and that I was worthy of happiness. And I had to believe it. Then I could forgive myself for having accepted the abuse, even though I really couldn’t have prevented it as a very young child. The best way for me to fight back against that breach of my free will was to believe that I could become the person that I truly am inside, and to eliminate the fear, guilt and other negative emotions that lingered from the abuse events and their aftermath.
Once I was able to accept myself as I was at that moment, it began a ripple effect. I was then able to forgive myself, and that enabled me to start loving myself. That’s when I accepted that I could interact with my spirit (soul) and started to work with it. I have regained my dignity and, when I look in the mirror, I see my inner beauty reflected back.