9 Steps to Forgiveness

Posted by in child abuse, Louise Behiel | 25 comments

Adults who grow up as abused children have many challenges  in their adult lives.  These symptoms will be discussed in detail in another post.  For victims, it is important that we face what happened to us, learn about its effects on our lives, and then begin the tedious, painful process of healing and recovering.

It’s not easy.  The journey to wholeness takes an incredible willingness to face the truth of what was and the possibilities of what might have been.  For most of us, the possibilities are almost beyond imagination.

For an abuse victim, the foundation of his or her life has been blown away.  Restoring that foundation, re-connecting to the dreams, abilities and hopes of that small child are an almost impossible challenge.

At some time in the process of healing, forgiveness will raise its head.  Some victims are eager to forgive.  I think they’re hoping that with forgiveness will come forgetting and a miraculous cure.  Not in my experience.

I think others hope that forgiveness will restore their relationship with the perpetrator of their abuse.  Sometimes victims think it is the ‘right’ thing to do.  The religiously correct thing to do.  It is important to note that for some victims, forgiveness is not an issue.  That refusal to forgive is an important part of their healing.

When recovering from trauma, there is no right way.  We each have to fight our own way out of the cage of abuse.  But for those of us who need to forgive to heal, it’s important to come to terms with that word and what it means.

The free online dictionary defines forgive as:

To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.

To renounce anger or resentment against.

To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

These simple definitions never worked for me.  I understood that I needed to renounce my anger against my father.  It was eating me up but not adding anything to my life.  So for a long time I floundered around, trying to define forgiveness in a way that would help me heal.

But how could I forgive when I wasn’t sure what it was.  So began a decades long search for answers.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I wasn’t helping myself by not forgiving.

I knew that the recurring anger (or rage), poor self-esteem, and addictive eating were the result of the abuse and my inability to move beyond it.  My instincts said that forgiveness was key.

2.  Forgiving him for his choices doesn’t make them all right.

For a while I tried to force myself to forgive by reminding myself of his hard life, the abuse he suffered.  But, I didn’t take that track with my children.  I wasn’t the perfect parent, but I’d worked hard on building parenting skills that took my children raising well beyond everything that had happened to me.

3.  Forgiveness does not put me at risk for more abuse.

I am an adult and I wouldn’t allow him to abuse me or my children again.  And I wouldn’t be blind to risks from others.  In other words, forgiveness wouldn’t make me stupid.

4.  It had to be okay to forgive my parents separately and independently.

While my father was the perpetrator I was equally angry at my mother, who was also a victim.

5.  I wasn’t doing dad any great favor by forgiving him.

Ironically, by the time I got to this step in my process, my dad had already passed away.  What did he gain by my behavior?  Nothing.  But it was as if holding on to my feelings made what happened more real.  This was important because it took me a long time to accept that I had been abused.  If he had been alive, he would have been mystified because he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.

6.  Forgiveness takes time.

It is not an immediate process.  It takes time.

7.  Forgiveness meant I had to come to terms with me – my foibles and mistakes that meant I was human.  I did those things – not because I was abused but because I’m human.

8.  Forgiveness does not make me a saint nor does it elevate me into Maslow’s self-actualization.  Rather it allows me to live my life as richly as possible.

9.  Ironically some years after I had forgiven my father and was comfortable the process was complete I heard a snippet from Oprah.  She said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “forgiveness is the acceptance that the other person did not behave in ways that met my expectations.”  Ironically, I could not have got there if I hadn’t taken the prior eight steps and had time for forgiveness to seep into my bones.

Forgiveness has moved from a spiritual tenet  to an important psychological construct.  It is being studied by many researchers.  For some insight into this work go here .

How forgiving are you?  This site has a quick test to help you decide.


In closing, remember that forgiveness is a process for personal healing.


  1. Thanks for the great post. It took me many years to figure out I needed to forgive my parents but what a weight that lifted from my spirit.

    • Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

  2. Wow. That really touched off a lot of feelings in me. Thank you for this excellent post. I really do enjoy your site.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed both the post and the site. I can’t believe how often you post. amazing. and always good to read.

      • Well, my kids are grown up, my husband works a lot, and my house can be cleaned in about two minutes. Leaves a lot of time to write.. 🙂 Thank you for coming back over and over. I really do appreciate it!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Louise. I’m not sure I have forgiven my parents for what happened to me. The danger of not forgiving is that we fall too easily into a cycle of self-pity and victimization. And being a victim in life gets us nowhere. I know I’m still angry, but at this point, that anger is really hurting me more than it’s affecting them. Maybe following your advice, I’ll get there.

    • Janelle, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Forgiveness is empowering. It puts all the energy of this experience with us and takes it from our perpetrators. good luck with your journey to being stronger

  4. I’ve never been abused and can’t imagine what you’ve gone through. But I have noticed loved ones who have suffered like this tend to react one of two ways: they either wallow in anger and never move past the bitterness and let it rule their lives; or they grow even more determined to move past the burden, and be the best spouse, parent, etc. they can be. I think forgiveness is the key ingredient that leads to the latter outcome, whether or not the survivor ever uses that word. You’re clearly one of those, and I have so much respect for sharing something so painful in hopes that it can help others (and it no doubt will).

    • Thanks Jennette. Forgiveness seems to be important to moving on. As long as I know it’s not about tolerating the abuse, I’m good. it took me a long time to learn that but I finally got it.

  5. Wow, super powerful post, Louise. Forgiveness is tricky and something I’ve been trying to figure out for awhile now. Your post has given me much to think about. Thank you for such an honest and enlightening post.

    • It is a complicated process, Tameri and for me, takes time. glad your time was well spent and that you have something to think about.

  6. August I am tearing up as I read your comment. thank you for understanding and ‘getting it’. I have dedicated my life to holding a light to those individuals who want to live richer lives in spite of their parents and their childhood. I don’t think it makes me a Star. It makes me a woman who is willing to take my experience out of the closet and share it, in the hopes of helping others.

    be well, my friend. I love you

  7. I’m tearing up, Louise. Your post insightful, heart wrenching and inspiring. I hate the thought of you suffering abuse of any kind, particularly by a parent. The fact that you use so much of your time and energy to help others… You’re a STAR.

    Close loved ones of mine were abused by their father as well. Some have forgiven and move on, others have not. The difference between the two paths is striking. You are proof that wonderfulness can happen, no matter what darkness one endures.

  8. Beautiful post Louise. I am just blown away by your strength, compassion and commitment to living your best life. You aren’t letting your upbringing define you, you aren’t just a survivor – you are thriving! That’s a beautiful thing!
    I’ve been meaning to re-post a post I did on my own story about forgiveness and you’ve just inspired me to do it sooner, rather than later!

    • Thanks Natalie. Can’t wait to read your post. Forgiveness has been very important for me. That having been said, my kids never stayed alone with my dad…I forgave him but I didn’t give him additional chances to harm me or mine.

  9. “Forgiveness is a process” I like that Louise. Great post!

    • Thanks for stopping by Coleen. Life is a journey…

  10. A beautiful and heart-felt post, Louise. Thank you so much for sharing. I just finished your other post too, on child abuse – it breaks my heart.

    • child abuse is heart breaking. Thanks for stopping by

  11. While I’ve never been abused, Louise, there have been times in my life where I’ve been deeply emotionally wounded. Although I don’t forgive easily, I’ve discovered that I cannot forget and move on until I’ve forgiven in my heart. Your post is important to anyone still struggling with past issues in their life. Thank you for a great post. 🙂

    • Sheila, the forgetting is the hard part, isn’t it? but I also think it’s important we learn from those experiences – hurt once, shame on you, hurt twice, shame on me. I need to learn to be a better judge of people so that I don’t get hurt…sounds like you’ve learned that lesson.

  12. Jill you sound as if you have overcome so many things and much pain. I’m so glad you’ve made that journey to wellness. Stay well.

    • Louise, thank you. Those were just a few of the things I dealt with. I used to think it was my fault somehow. That I was in the wrong place, wrong time. It took lots of healing and a really good man to see that unfortunately bad things happen to good people.

      • Indeed they do. I think that childhood abuse leads us to make choices that don’t work for us…and the abuse is perpetuated. I’m so glad you found a good man – that makes you more than a survivor but a recovering, healing, thriving woman who’s overcome so much. Well done!

  13. Louise, what a heart-wrenching and heartwarming post, all at the same time. I decided not to forgive my abuser. It did not hinder me from my growing wellness by realizing that not only did he steal my childhood innocence but my aunt as well. She died before he did and I never saw her again after everything that happened. I did forgive the father of my child for his abuse because to not do so made it too difficult to see him when I needed to for our child’s concern’s.


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