Broken bones and bruises heal, but for many victims, the emotional damage is lifelong and life altering. Experiencing abuse can affect how you feel about yourself and how you respond to other people. These effects might be easy to see if you’re observing them in someone else, but they can be nearly impossible to recognize in yourself without help.
The emotional and physical abuse that I grew up with set the stage for me to become a perpetual victim of abuse and sexual harassment as an adult. The choices she made and her interactions with others were often unwittingly self-destructive. Lifestyle changes that involve healthy choices include eliminating dysfunctional patterns, such as manipulation and abusive behavior – the things children of abusive parents learn from their role models. A healthy lifestyle comes first through recognizing unhealthy behaviors and then laying the groundwork for positive change.
That groundwork begins with forgiveness. You have to forgive. You have to forgive yourself and you have to forgive those who’ve hurt you. When you’re a victim, you’re often angry – because you have every right to be angry, right? But anger, focusing on blame and thinking of yourself as a victim only perpetuates the dysfunction and the pain it brings.
So, how does one begin to forgive oneself and others after years of abuse and sexual harassment? I started by creating a list of the people and circumstances she needed to forgive and systematically working through the process
- Identify the people who have caused you pain and why you feel that pain. This validates your pain; it was real and deserves to be acknowledged.
- Identify the pain you feel from others and consciously release it to the universe in a personal ritual that has meaning for you. You might write it down on a piece of paper and burn it. Or speak the words out loud and blow them away.
- Allow yourself to forgive those who have caused you pain as a means to your physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
- Identify the people you have caused pain and recognize why you caused them pain. It’s important to acknowledge that you, too, are capable of causing pain in order to forgive yourself and those you’ve hurt.
- Identify the pain you have caused others with your actions.
- Allow yourself forgiveness for the pain you have caused others as a means to your physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
While forgiving others for hurt caused intentionally by sexual harassment or abuse is difficult, the hardest is forgiving yourself for pain you caused. But this is vital; in order to forgive others and to open yourself to positive energy, you must forgive yourself.
From every hurtful moment, I learned something, and part of my process is to acknowledge each lesson and to be grateful for it. Forgiveness was possible when I released the hurt because it no longer served a purpose.