Forgiveness a difficult topic

poppy to go with the blog on forgiveness, macro photograph by Agnes van der Graaf, illustratorForgiveness is a difficult subject

For many people, forgiveness is a religious term, something that you’re supposed to strive for in life. For many survivors of child sexual abuse, forgiveness doesn’t come easy.

  • What is forgiveness anyway?
  • Is it necessary to forgive in order to heal?
  • What makes a good apology?
  • Is it okay to ask forgiveness from a survivor?

What is forgiveness anyway?

Forgiveness has different definitions, depending upon which dictionary you open. I believe that forgiveness is something that is a possible, but not necessary, result of a healing process. Forgiveness, for me, has to do with letting go of all the anger from the past. To me it’s all about moving on with my life. As such it’s not even connected to the perpetrator so much as it is something that shifts inside of me, allowing me to continue with my life unburdened. Many people believe that granting forgiveness to the abuser(s) is a necessary component of healing, but I disagree. I believe whether you forgive or not is a matter of personal choice. Forgiveness is yours to grant or withhold, at your will.

What forgiveness is not

In my book, what forgiveness is not, is very important as well. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse what’s been done. It doesn’t exonerate the perpetrator. It doesn’t give the perpetrator a ‘get out of jail free’ pass. It’s doesn’t pardon the perpetrator and it certainly doesn’t justify what’s been done. It doesn’t waive any responsibility and it doesn’t acquit the perpetrator or make any punishment unnecessary. Forgiveness doesn’t make what happened okay in any way, shape or form. It’s simply the act of letting go.

Letting go of anger comes after you first grab a hold of it

In order to heal from child sexual abuse, I believe it’s not necessary to forgive the abuser(s). In fact, stressing forgiveness at the start of healing is counterproductive. Many survivors have mixed feelings about the abuser. The perpetrator may be not just the abuser, but your older brother as well. Or your father, mother, uncle or aunt, someone you look up to and admire. These mixed feelings often make it difficult to become angry about the abuse.

Is anger a necessary step in healing?

Quite often, becoming angry is a necessary step in healing. A person needs anger in order to be able to set boundaries, that’s what anger is for! It’s unsurprising that many survivors of child sexual abuse have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries as theirs have been crossed against their will and their anger about that was suppressed, by the perpetrators threats, through grooming, by fear or misplaced loyalty. Quite often, because the anger has been suppressed for a long time, people are afraid of their own anger. ‘I’m afraid that I might kill somebody if I let this anger out’ is something that I’ve heard several of my clients tell me. Getting in touch with anger is necessary in order to dissolve that fear and in order to learn to set sane boundaries and protect yourself with them.

Is it okay to ask forgiveness of a survivor?

We’ve all recently heard the pope ask for forgiveness on behalf of the errant priests that have abused children. Some survivors were very upset with that, while others took joy in this admission of guilt and attempt to ‘make good’. By and large the sentiment was ‘It’s too easy, more is needed than just an apology’. Lately the pope is starting to show some true leadership with regards to this issue, appointing commities and berating his cardinals for having allowed these gruesome things to continue under their watchful eyes. The plea for forgiveness gains a lot of credibility with his willingness to work towards prevention of this kind of thing ever happening again.

What makes a good apology?

A good apology has to have four elements in it:

  • Admitting guilt
  • Show you understand why it was wrong
  • Offer to make amends
  • Make sure it doesn’t happen again

The pope asking for forgiveness is an admission of guilt. Personally I find it a bit awkward that he asks for forgiveness for other peoples crimes, but I suppose it’s been that way since Jesus was nailed to the cross, so at least it’s consistent within his own belief system. Him setting up a committee after the apology, which included representatives who have themselves been abused shows that he understands, or is at the very least willing to learrn about why what happened was so heinous. The last component of a good apology is that you offer to make amends and work towards preventing it from ever happening again. The pope in this case does seem to be working towards that goal, making his apology all the more valuable.

When is it okay to ask for forgiveness?

My idea about forgiveness is that it’s something that should be freely given if at all. I don’t’think asking to be forgiven is a good thing to do, but if someone should ask to be forgiven, the plea needs to have all four elements in it. One more component of a good plea for forgiveness is: ‘Be prepared to have the answer be no.’ If the answer is no and your apology has been sincere, you’ll still know within your own heart that you’ve done all that you could do to make amends.

Final words on forgiveness

You can never force someone to forgive anyone. Some acts may be unforgiveable, simply because the perpetrator knowingly abused a child for his or her own sexual gratification, with complete disregard, or worse enjoyment, of the pain and suffering he or she caused with this act. In order to be granted forgiveness the minimum requirement is remorse. Without it, asking for forgiveness is an empty wordplay and an added insult to the victim of your maltreatment.


For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at

11 million British children sexually abused

11 million British children sexually abused

The latest numbers are shocking to some, old hat to others, but they do show that England is, like many European countries, full of child sexual abuse. The numbers of 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are numbers many European countries echo.

Scandals, lies and cover ups

Of late, Brittain has had quite a few scandals hit the papers, in particular (and of international infamy) surrounding the BBC. Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter, Church officials, politicians and chiefs of police: the one thread that these cases have in common is that in all of these case they were a ‘public secret’. Meaning that people were aware that it was happening and chose to look the other way.

On choosing to look away

Whether it’s a celebrity or a relative who perpetrates child sexual abuse against you, the effects are devestating. But many victims of child sexual abuse also report the effect of people looking away as at least equally devestating. When you look away from a child in trouble you’re implicitly giving permission to the perpetrator and you’re telling the child he or she is not worth bothering about.

Not guilty

Allowing child sexual abuse that you’re aware of to continue doesn’t make you guilty in the eyes of the law. There are no laws that say you have to report a crime you are aware of. But are you at the same time, not failing to protect a child? Are you not neglecting the childs needs, effectively ignoring the fact that it’s being hurt.

Finally people are getting real about child sexual abuse

In England alone, an estimated 11 million people have suffered from child sexual abuse. Those numbers are huge and they may be the tip of the iceberg. Righteous indignation is aimed squarely at public figures who perpetrated or enabled these acts. The more difficult questions for people get their heads around are:

  • Is this happening in my own environment?
  • In my street?
  • In my own home?

It’s easy to think Jimmy Saville did it. It’s much more difficult to look critically at your own husband (or wife), at your family, at your children. The number don’t lie however and more than half of those 11 million people are abused by someone they know and love. Someone within their own family. Someone you might never suspect.

We need people who choose not to look away

On behalf of the children who are, right now, living in fear right under your noses. We need you not to look away. Pay close attention to whoever as access to your child. Listen to what your children say and believe them, even if it sounds incredible to you! All of the survivors that I’ve counselled, have told me that they have tried at least once to tell somebody, but they were not heard.

Get informed about child sexual abuse

My own book is a good place to start, to begin to understand what child sexual abuse is all about. How grooming works and what tell tale signs of child sexual abuse are. My book is geared towards the adult survivor of child sexual abuse, explaining what the short and long term effects of child sexual abuse are and how to heal them. It’s a great resource for social workers, counsellors and therapists alike, wanting to know more about that it means to be sexually abused as a child.


For more information about the long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to heal from them, buy the book ‘I Thrive. Healing child sexual abuse’ at