Premature Forgiveness When You're Not Sure Who Is Responsible
I have been married for 16 years. Ten years ago my daughter (15 at the time) accused my husband (her step-father) of sexually abusing her.
It never reached court because she withdrew her statement, under pressure from family (and me). You see, my husband denied (and still does) the full extent of the abuse and my daughter still stands by her story.
We tried to put our family back together and I totally believed that I would be able to forgive and forget, but as time went on I found it harder and harder to forgive and needed to establish who was telling the truth.
After extensive arguments over the years about this and other controlling behaviours towards our children and financial worries, we have destroyed our respect in one another. We have separated after my husband met and fell in love with somebody else.
His new relationship has now fallen apart, which only tells me that he needed another's support to make the break. I truly wanted to forgive him or my daughter, but without knowing who was responsible it seemed to be an impossible task.
In my heart of hearts I have always thought that he did it, but how can you forgive somebody when you don't know who you are forgiving.
I am now angry at how it turned out, and cross that I could not achieve true forgiveness. What could I have done to achieve true forgiveness in this situation?
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello, and thanks for telling your story here. What you, your daughter, and your family have been through is extremely painful and difficult for any family. I will try to help.
First, I want to reflect some things you've said back to you:
1) You said you and family pressured your daughter to withdraw her statement that your husband abused her. You implied that this was because your husband denied the full extent of the abuse. What did he acknowledge...if it was not the full extent? It sounds to me like he partially acknowledged his guilt. In my 38 years of professional experience, I've known of very, very few perpetrators of sexual abuse who fully acknowledge the abuse they perpetrated. Almost without exception, abusers deny the abuse--this does not by any means indicate their innocence.
2) You said that to this day your daughter stands by her story. I ask you, is your daughter a person who habitually makes up things that didn't happen, and stands by her story for 10 years? Is she a compulsive liar? Have you known her to create false accusations against others and stand by her false accusations for years? If your answer to these questions (any or all of them) is no, you might want to strongly consider that your daughter was and is telling the truth. My experience is that if the accusation is a lie, it fades from memory, and the person who told the lie forgets it because they've moved on to other lies. That does not sound like your daughter, as you've described her here.
3) You said, "In my heart of hearts I have always thought that he did it." I suggest that you would not have always thought that if it were not true. Generally, it's a very good idea to trust your heart of hearts.
I want you to consider that you may need a different type of forgiveness than you've been seeking. You're wanting to know who to forgive, when it seems to me that you may need to ask your daughter's forgiveness for not believing her. As a general rule, parents should always believe children's reports of child abuse, until or unless clear evidence (besides the denial of the accused) shows otherwise.
From what you've said here, which is obviously all I have to go on, it appears that you have a wonderful opportunity for healing in front of you. If you tell your daughter that in your heart of hearts you've always thought she was telling the truth, and apologize from the bottom of your heart for not standing by her, supporting her and believing in her, the healing can begin. It probably won't be easy, however. She might be angry at you for a while. Be patient, and give her all of the time she needs.
As for forgiving your husband, I think you may have to first let yourself feel your anger towards him. You may be angry at him and at yourself for a while, but if you use these anger journaling exercises, you will be able to release it over time.
I don't pretend to know what happened in your family. I'm only giving you my perception from what you've written here. You may want to seek professional counseling to help you through this.
Just don't give up on yourself or your daughter. Make up your mind that you're going to heal and get through this, and you can do it.
My very best to you,
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