Please use discretion in reading, as this post contains content related to sexual and psychological abuse.
Editor’s Note: We would like to recognize that forgiveness looks differently for each person who is struggling with the aftermath of abuse, and is part of their own unique journey.
If anyone had asked an hour earlier that day if I had forgiven my ex, I would have said yes. After all, I had attended hours of therapy and filled pages of journals. But when I got his text asking me to forgive him, all of the things that I didn’t feel during the actual events exploded in my heart.
Ten years ago, I packed my life into a suitcase and went to study abroad. I reunited with a friend who lived there, and we were soon in a relationship. I was very young and naïve. He had been a missionary, and somehow that justified my blind trust in him. But he had “new” views about everything in our relationship. Being young and insecure, I followed his desires with little to no resistance.
He needed to change me: I could barely speak his language, was far too loud, didn’t dress well enough, had an “immodest” taste for make-up, and still had a long way to go in my studies. In all my years there, there was never something I did right - according to him. He once forced me to apologize to him for my mistakes.
He would get raving mad at me for feeling sick, especially when I had period cramps. I had to be exaggerating, he said, because he had never met girls who felt sick during their periods.
After he gained more power over me, he began to take advantage of me sexually, against my wishes. It took me years to realize that sexual coercion is abuse, and to understand that after I said no, what he did was definitely rape. Validation of this knowledge took years.
Things ended when we came home to spend Christmas with my family. He left without a word. Months later, he wrote to say he never loved me. I couldn’t even decide if the sexual or the psychological abuse had been the most painful. For years, I felt like less than a person, “someone hard to love,” as he liked to say. Eight years later, I now have a job that fulfills me, where I help girls going through similar experiences.
His text asking for forgiveness caught me off-guard. So, I asked for help.
A friend told me to simply let it go. Another friend recommended talking to a priest, but I had already tried that – the priest had told me I was being a prude. My friend recommended a different priest, and I set up an appointment.
While waiting for my appointment, I talked to a coworker who had also experienced abuse. She said she had not forgiven her abuser, and that she had not even considered it. She contented herself with not thinking about him.
Maybe all the hatred in my heart was there to stay. Maybe the things he did to me were not meant to be forgiven. So, I went to the Catechism and scanned for the word “forgiveness.” In there were the words of the Our Father: "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But that still did not explain how.
I remembered Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis’ letter on friendship and the connectedness of all people, which I had read just a few weeks before:
"Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Or better, in the face of a reality that can in no way be denied, relativized or concealed, forgiveness is still possible. In the face of an action that can never be tolerated, justified or excused, we can still forgive. In the face of something that cannot be forgotten for any reason, we can still forgive. Free and heartfelt forgiveness is something noble, a reflection of God’s own infinite ability to forgive.
Those who truly forgive do not forget. Instead, they choose not to yield to the same destructive force that caused them so much suffering. They break the vicious circle; they halt the advance of the forces of destruction. They choose not to spread in society the spirit of revenge that will sooner or later return to take its toll."
I made the decision to do everything in my power to forgive.
When I finally spoke to the priest, I surprised myself by expressing how much I hated my abuser, which is something I could not admit before. This very wise priest helped me understand that God is not a sadist who enjoys my suffering or wants me to continually "offer up" my pain. The priest talked endlessly about God’s love for me, and his desire to really heal me. I could ask God's help to forgive, even if right now I could not, because just wanting to forgive was already a great start. He even offered advice on how to write a response that guaranteed my peace and set clear boundaries.
As soon as I left the meeting and got into my car, I got out my phone and typed a response to my abuser, and then prayed before sending it. Something had really shifted in me. I cannot deny the pain my abuser caused, but my heart was filled with peace, something I did not expect. I guess that's God and His immense love for me.
I sent the message as soon as I left the chapel:
You have hurt me in ways that you ignore, with actions that should not deserve a name, but sadly they have one.
It is because of you that I can now help others who have suffered similar abuse.
Knowing I am God’s beloved daughter has healed me. He loves me, He created me to be loved and to love. If people can’t follow His commandment of love, it is never my fault.
Therefore, yes, I forgive you. I hope God enlightens your path, gives you his peace and heals your heart.
I ask you to never contact me again.