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Are You Ready to Forgive Mother for Child Abuse?

Chalk letters on a blackboard that read: "Are You Ready to Forgive?

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Louis B. Smedes, author and theologian

Half a Century of Anger and Resentment

Leading up to my fiftieth birthday, I realized with a jolt that I had been obsessed with my mother and her parental failings for almost half a century. I was horrified and embarrassed to admit that after 50 years, I was still carrying life-long hurt, anger, and resentment. Fifty years of complaining to close friends and weeping as I told my stories for the umpteenth time. I was forever the victim of her mean, controlling nature.

I was angry, and I wanted to stay angry! I was not done resenting her. I most definitely was not ready to entertain the notion of forgiveness.

A Shift in Attitude

But when I turned 50, I admitted to myself that I was sick and tired of the hurt, sadness, anger, and depression. I wondered whether freeing myself from these negative emotions was even possible. Gradually, a shift in attitude unfolded, like a rosebud blooming.

This desire for freedom from negative feelings led to the beginning of a receptive attitude toward the concept of forgiveness.

For decades, my vision of her character was overwhelmingly negative. I was convinced I would, until the day I died, continue dragging this heavy emotional baggage like a ball and chain around my ankle. I felt stuck and doomed, but I could not imagine forgiving her.

What Is Forgiveness?

  • Forgiveness is the conscious decision to release resentment and anger after feeling wronged.1 It is moving past the pain others cause you.
  • Forgiveness is a process that does not happen in a moment or a day. It occurs over time, beginning with a shift in attitude that begins to consider the possibility.
  • Forgiveness is optional. You do not have to forgive your abuser to live a fulfilled life.

What Forgiveness Is Not

  • Frequently, abuse survivors confuse forgiveness with accepting abusive behavior. If you forgive the abuser, you are not saying the abuse was okay.
  • Forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation. You can forgive an abuser without having a relationship.
  • You can forgive but not forget the abusive behavior. You are not required to pretend abusive behavior never happened.

Holding onto Anger and Resentment

Holding on to anger and resentment can negatively impact your health. Chronic anger changes heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response. These changes increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes. The act of forgiving, however, has the opposite effect. It calms stress levels, leading to improved health.2

Research has linked the emotions of anger and resentment to health issues. A 2019 study found that the emotion of anger predicted higher levels of interleukin-6, a biomarker of chronic low-grade inflammation and chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer in old age.

Letting It Go

Letting go of anger, resentment, or bitterness benefits you, not the abuser. Remember, the abuser is not the one burdened with your negative emotions. You are.

The three primary reasons to forgive an abuser are the mental, physical, and social health benefits that accrue. These include:3

  • Healthier relationships
  • Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem

Achieving Forgiveness Using the REACH Technique

To help achieve intentional forgiveness of others, Dr. Everett Worthington, a leading forgiveness researcher, created the REACH forgiveness technique, which is a method that includes these five steps:

  1. Recall the Hurt: Acknowledge you were hurt. Identify exactly how you feel about the hurt. Do not minimize or catastrophize the experience. Consciously decide to forgive the abuser.
  2. Empathize: Pretend the abuser is sitting in front of you. Talk to the abuser. Describe how you feel. When you finish, switch roles. You are now the abuser. Explain why you, in the role of the abuser, wronged you, the victim. This step helps you see the situation from another person’s perspective.
  3. Altruistic Gift: Offer forgiveness as a healing gift to the abuser.
  4. Commit: Write a note acknowledging your commitment to forgiving the abuser. Alternatively, you can express it out loud to yourself or tell another person about your intention to forgive the one who wronged you.
  5. Hold onto Forgiveness: If, after committing to forgive, you again become angry or resentful toward the abuser, read the forgiveness note you wrote in Step 4 to remind yourself of your commitment to forgive. This step ensures long-term change.

Forgiveness provides a healing path from trauma so you can find peace. Healing the hurt within frees you to move forward in life, unencumbered.

Consider trying this technique the next time you wish to forgive a transgressor. You have nothing to lose except your emotional baggage!

Enrolling in the Stanford Forgiveness Workshop

Soon after my shift in attitude, I stumbled across an article in the local newspaper about a forgiveness workshop that was going to be offered at Stanford University by an instructor, Fred Luskin, Ph.D., who is the director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. The 4-session workshop was offered to the public. I considered taking it. At best, I thought the course might be a catalyst for forgiving Mom. At worst, it would be interesting psychological material to ponder.


The following week, another article appeared in the paper about the same course. I viewed the second article as an omen. This time, I called and registered.


Dr. Luskin’s workshop sessions were attended by a diverse group of people of various ages and backgrounds who had all manner of grudges and resentments against people, whether alive or dead. I listened attentively and took notes. Dr. Luskin was informative, entertaining, and, best of all, shared his personal story of forgiveness about his mother! The workshop was perfect for me, and I dare say, for everyone in attendance.

Speaking at Dr. Luskin’s Workshop

Eight months after completing Dr. Luskin’s workshop, I emailed him to ask if he would be interested in my visiting one of his sessions as a former student to give a speech about my forgiveness story. By return email, he agreed to the idea.


On the specified date and time, I staged a dramatic entrance by wearily dragging myself into the classroom laden with two leather suitcases from the ‘thirties engraved with my mom’s initials. On my back was a red backpack. A second trip into the classroom introduced more luggage, including a zippered, fabric hat box and a vintage, blue American Tourister cosmetic case. I set them down, dramatically wiped my brow, and began the speech.


The talk was delivered in the standard 12-step format of ‘What It Was Like, What Happened, and What It’s Like Now.” For 34 minutes, I described life as a sensitive child, adolescent, young adult, and mature adult with a critical, judgmental mother. Included in the speech were all the steps I took to recover from the abusive relationship that culminated in forgiveness.

Forgiving Mom

My father was the first parent to die. Two days after his memorial service, I confronted my mother and told her how I felt about the way she treated me for decades, citing specific instances of abuse. Sobbing, she apologized twice during my planned 10-minute oration. Abusers do not typically apologize. Regardless of whether she apologized, what was vital for me was the opportunity to tell her, face to face, how I felt about my child, teen, and young adult years with her.


I had never expressed those feelings before. Ever.


In my case, Mom and I reconciled after a 15-year estrangement. Living in different states, we enjoyed a nine-year telephone relationship before she died. Post-forgiveness, my perception of her changed. She became a whole person with positive attributes, as well as flaws.


After I forgave Mom, my emotional baggage fell to the floor. I was no longer carrying it—in my hands or on my back. Decades of anger and resentment vanished. The burden was lifted. The shackle fell away. No one could have told me that would occur if I forgave her. I had to experience it for myself. Post-forgiveness, I no longer needed to vent my victim story with close friends or relatives.


In retrospect, I acknowledged that my mother had a complicated relationship with her mother, and she never got psychotherapeutic help for it. Sadly, those dynamics were passed along to my siblings and me.

Conclusion

Survivors, I was ready, willing, and able to forgive my mother because I wanted to move forward. I felt like my regular regurgitation of the past was holding me back and draining my energy. The way for me to find inner peace, healing, and emotional growth was to let go of the hurt, anger, and resentment. If you are willing and able to forgive your mother, it is ideal.


Forgiveness is a personal choice. People forgive others at their own pace. It may take an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade, or a lifetime. Perhaps never. You are not a bad person if you don’t forgive. According to Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, moving on and healing from trauma without forgiving the perpetrator is possible.4


The critical lesson I learned was that letting go of the shackles of anger and resentment freed me emotionally, spiritually, and physically to walk, unencumbered, toward becoming the person I am meant to be.


When you’re ready, you can forgive your abuser too!

Related Blog Posts

How My 15-Year Maternal Estrangement Led to Reconciliation

How Emotional Abuse Fueled My Addictions

Resources

REACH Forgiveness Technique (.pdf)

Forgive for Good Workshop, Led by Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.

Stanford Forgiveness Project, Carl E. Thoresen, Ph.D., Principal Investigator and Professor of Education, Psychology and Psychiatry, Stanford University and Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., Project Director, Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, Stanford University.

Stanford Medicine, The Art and Science of Forgiveness, By Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.

References

1. What is Forgiveness and How Can You Release Resentment? Medically reviewed by Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST—By Sian Ferguson—Updated on October 19, 2022. PsychCentral.

2. Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It By hopkindsmedicine.org. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Health.

3. Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness.” By Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. November 22, 2022.

4. Why You Don’t Always Have to Forgive.” By Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D. August 21, 2012. Psychology Today.

Additional Reading

10 signs you’re ready to forgive someone who hurt you badly” By Gershom Mabaquiao. Ideapod.

Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. By Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. |January 21, 2003.

2 thoughts on “Are You Ready to Forgive Mother for Child Abuse?”

  1. Your blog has quickly become one of my favorites. Your writing is both insightful and thought-provoking, and I always come away from your posts feeling inspired. Keep up the phenomenal work!

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