*Editor’s note: The contents of this article may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual abuse. Please proceed mindfully.
A word I didn’t know existed when my young self was being held down and forced into unnatural positions to appease the sexual curiosities of others.
I don’t remember my exact age. I have to guess I was probably about six or seven.
While my recollections go in and out, I can remember laying there with my legs held open, confused and scared. I kept putting my hands over my face to try to hide, wishing I wasn’t there, and I felt a rush of disgusting nausea that I can now identify as shame.
What is so f*cked up is there were moments of pleasure in all of that. How confusing for a young child, experiencing an unquestionable knowing that something was wrong, yet feeling sparks of bliss move throughout every cell of my body during moments of terror.
How could something so wrong feel so good?
No child should ever experience a forced orgasm. Yet I did.
If I could talk to that little girl today, I would tell her to get up and run. I would tell her to scream and kick the sh*t out of them. I would also tell her that she isn’t at fault, there’s nothing she did that was wrong, and I would assure her that she doesn’t have to keep or carry the shame.
But I don’t know whether she would understand—or even be able to listen to me.
Because that is a part of the forgiveness cycle, and forgiveness is not something that someone else decides it’s time to do. It’s not a process that a therapist can tell us we need or a beautiful ceremony of coming together in a long-awaited embrace. For me, it didn’t even involve the other person.
We choose forgiveness in our own time and we define what it looks like for us.
I looked up the word forgiveness in the dictionary; “The action or process of forgiving or being forgiven,” “the act of forgiving,” which felt redundant.
Perhaps it’s not easy to define because no two people experience forgiveness in the same way.
It prompted me to ask my community how they define forgiveness. I was met with wise and thoughtful responses that affirmed it is different for everyone:
“I’ve tried multiple times to come up with a response or definition of forgiveness. As a kid, I would have rattled off a nice Webster’s definition. As an adult, it’s harder because I’ve been wounded, and forgiveness is really hard for me. I’m trying but it’s a slow process.” ~ Andrea R.
“For me, forgiveness (in relation to others) is recognizing their actions are defined by their own inner struggle and have nothing to do with me. It’s being graceful and compassionate while holding firm boundaries. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you allow someone to continue treating you badly, just recognizing they may be struggling. In cases of awful treatment, bless and release – they are responsible for their own healing.” ~ Emily S.
“Forgiveness is letting go, not letting bad energy pull you down.” ~ Christy V.
“Forgiveness to me is about healing my own soul. Not questioning why someone hurt me and not owning their judgment of me. It isn’t my job to forgive whoever hurt me; I leave that to God.” ~ Gwen Z.
“Release. With love. Acceptance.” ~ Cinda K.
“My fav tidbit is from you! Forgiveness isn’t about saying what they did is okay but rather letting it go for your own emotional healing.” ~ Maddie R.
“Forgiveness is growing larger than the wound to see myself with loving compassion and my counterpart as part of my soul’s journey. Always working that perspective never gets done.” ~ Noeli L.
I lived a large portion of my life under the impression that I had to find a way to forgive the person who sexually abused me, or forgive the others who knew it was going on (but didn’t defend me).
Between that and resenting the betrayals that seemed more minor, like unintentional emotional abuse, or being shamed by a teacher in front of the class, I was a big ball of blame.
It wasn’t until more than 20 years had passed for me when I realized the only person I would need to forgive in all of these situations, was first myself.
Forgiveness is a process that we have to feel and sense when we are ready to choose it.
The trauma from my early childhood lived in me like a heavy weight. Whenever I would have flashes of these violations, I would feel the heaviness from my throat to my stomach, as if I was trying to swallow a whole bag of popcorn kernels.
I felt the memories living in me like freeloading parasites, constantly sucking my life energy—only they felt like a 20-pound pile of bricks, deep inside.
And it showed. My body carried extra weight and hung onto protective layers like a knight in a battle, complete with a heavy shield, bodysuit, and head armor.
It was all so complicated and confusing. The grief, the resentment, the weight…I couldn’t carry it all anymore. And my body made sure I knew that.
While I don’t claim to be a forgiveness expert, I know that my life was stuck until I forgave. Following is what worked for me and, even if this helps one person, I am happy to share.
This process is for those triggered by a memory, person, guilt, or remorse, ready to set their hearts free, in a self-paced way. This can be done without focusing on traumatic events and is a form of support to help work through current triggers and release the past.
This is neither a “cure” nor a “treatment” for trauma, and I recommend a licensed therapist to work through life crises.
My 6-step path to Forgiveness:
Doing the following for 30 days helped me to accept and commit to myself. If you feel called and this feels right, it may help.
1. In a journal, make four columns. On one, write, “Negative feelings that I feel now,” and, in the second, write, “When I felt that as a child.” Fill these in, going as far back as you can remember. (Leave the third and fourth blank for now.)
2. Focusing on what you wrote, close your eyes and breathe deeply into the tummy. See yourself as free and innocent. If there is someone on the other side of the situation, see them as a harmless child, and remember they only act how they were taught, and it is truly all they knew.
3. Now go back to looking at what you wrote. Place your hand(s) on your heart, and affirm while visualizing your innocent self. Repeat one of the following statements.
>> “I am forgiveness. I love myself and embrace freedom now. My vitality expands in each moment.”
>> The Ho’oponopono: “I love you, I am sorry, please forgive me, and thank you.” (Important to note: hold this intention for yourself, not someone else.)
4. In the third column, write a new feeling, emotion, or circumstance you choose. As you write, feel it in every cell in your body and envision embodying that.
5. In column four, write everything good that has come to you in the past 24 hours, and breathe and feel appreciation into that list as you write it. Feel the expansion in your heart. Appreciate this experience as duality, remembering you can’t know one side without knowing the other.
6. Declutter something every day you do this exercise to make room for more to appreciate. It can be small, like a drawer, your phone contacts, or the glove box in your car, or an ample space like your closet.
If you try this, I would love to hear how it goes.
For me, there was a deep acceptance. I have not forgotten, and I never will. But I can be around the person who I once saw as such a demonic force. I have met the situation with love for myself. I feel free in my mind, my body carries less weight, and I have love in my heart.
While forgiveness is not the easiest process to move through, once done, we feel lighter, happier, and freer. And we are all worth that, lifetimes over.
May peace reign in your heart. ~ Gina Nicole