Article by Pam Rowe
In response to this question, I can only tell you about what happened, what I did and why.
My father, who I met for the first time when I was 15, sexually abused me. He used the fact that I was a vulnerable child who experienced being raped before I met him, to tell himself it was okay to have sex with me. To quote him, “you were having sex already.” As a result, I left home at age 16, going into a relationship for rescue, rather than one that was good for me.
After years of no contact with him, one day he turned up looking emaciated with no-one to look after him. I could not turn him away. I felt I had to find the time to ensure he had a meal, medical help and heating in the place he was staying.
On another occasion when I was alerted that he was dying, I sat watching him suffer pain without any medication for it (in a third-world country hospital). He could no longer communicate with words as there was no sound coming from his mouth that was moving. His eyes begging for something to ease the sense of torture that he felt, I could not bear it, I felt compelled to tell him, and I genuinely meant it, “I forgive you, and you can go.” He died a few hours later.
How was it possible to forgive?
As a child, I endured emotional, sexual and extreme physical abuse at the hands of family members. For me there was no option, I cannot perpetrate abuse on others including sitting by and doing nothing when there is extreme suffering, no matter who it is.
People who abuse need to be given clear ‘stop’ messages, whether it’s a discussion, prison, therapy or being temporarily ostracised. I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to stopping them.
What helped me to be able to forgive?
I got help to heal myself. Years of therapy helped me to handle the anger that I felt about my father and others who had abused me. It helped me to see that it’s okay to be angry and to be sad about the damage they caused me. It was important to tell my father that what he did was wrong in the letter I sent to him some years before he died.
The therapy also helped me see the detrimental long-term effects on me including on my relationships with men. It also damaged my self-esteem. I knew I had to heal this to have the best possible life.
When my therapist encouraged me to look at the lives of the people who abused me, I saw that they were themselves damaged and traumatised. Without any help to heal and to understand themselves, they perpetrated abuse just like they experienced.
From this realisation, I developed compassion not only for the people who abused me but for other human beings who need to stop doing harmful things. After that, there should be an effort to understand what happened to them giving them help which will stop them abusing others and themselves. The healing process taught me that compassion is a critical component of forgiveness but, in my case, it only came after my wounds healed.
What does forgiveness mean to me?
I don’t hold a view that forgiveness means I have forgotten what my father did. How could I? Look at all the things I needed to do to heal myself. Look at the lifelong impact.
The most important meaning of forgiveness or effect of forgiveness is that I am no longer wearing the badge signalling that I am wounded. Instead, I can and do use the learning to help others. The reward is a lightness, power and energy. For me, the joy of seeing others transform their lives by using my experience to coaching others is immeasurable.
Clear Water, a memoir by Pam Rowe is out now, priced £16.99 or £9.99 on Kindle,