The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Should I forgive my grandfather and my family for abusing me?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)

Dr. Kenner: Here is a question, a very sad question I got from Maxine. See what your gut response is. Should you forgive or not forgive? That is the question. “Dear Dr. Kenner. My grandpa molested me until I was 11 years old. I told my parents when I was 7 and they did nothing since we lived with my grandpa. We eventually moved away and then returned to live with him a year later. He continued to molest me and again, my parents knew about it and did nothing. My mother was concerned that my grandpa would go to jail. She told me not to call the cops. She was on his side. I also had two older brothers who hit me regularly. Their physical abuse was serious and excessive. I recall one Christmas, my dad and my brothers were playing together with my Easy Bake Oven. I was peeking into the room, wishing I could join them. I felt so left out. My mother used to call me fat and told me I could never become a cheerleader. Now I’m older and my family still disrespects me and treats me unfairly. Are they wrong? They tell me I’m psycho and that I need help, but I think they’re the ones needing help. Should I disown them and have no contact? Or do they deserve me to forgive them and act as if nothing happened and still go on associating with them? I’m broken inside. Do I have the right to feel sad and sorry and wish that this didn’t happen? I’m dating a guy who tells me I should forgive my family. He says everybody makes mistakes and that I should get over it. He said I should stop bringing up the past because it doesn’t matter. Is he right? Or do I have a right to ask my boyfriend to be supportive, to love and comfort me? I never had a normal, happy childhood. Can I recover from the sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse? Thanks, Maxine.”


Maxine, you are so right. You have every right to feel sad, to cry, to feel hurt and to feel angry. And if you can get some supportive therapy, maybe with a cognitive therapist who is skilled at working with abuse issues, I think you would benefit tremendously. And you also may want to work with a therapist and consider some legal action against your grandfather. I don’t know if that’s still feasible, if he’s still alive, and you may want to go that route. For some people who have been abused, sexually abused, it gives them a sense of long overdue well-deserved justice. And for other people, they just want to move on in their lives. They want to rebuild their lives. They don’t want to revisit the horrors which would actually happen by bringing a perpetrator to court. You have to revisit the past. 


So it is true that some people make mistakes. I know your boyfriend said some people make mistakes and you need to forgive them. It is true, if they properly make amends. But sexual abuse, and your parents concealing that fact, is not in the category. That is not a mistake, such as forgetting a lunch date with a good friend who could make amends. Physical and sexual abuse, but your grandfather, was deliberately chosen and perpetrated over many years, and it was done with your parents’ knowledge. There’s no forgiveness for the type of horror that robbed you of your childhood. Your grandfather should be in jail. You have no duty to fake a love for him. You have no duty to fake a love for your parents or for your brothers. You have no duty to live a pretense that you had a normal childhood. You have a duty, a responsibility, to yourself to be honest and accurate with what happened in your past and to find a way to heal.


The question you now face is, is your boyfriend giving you good advice, and is he the type of person who can help you mend? His advice to you to tell you to move on is dismissive of your pain, because to pretend that your family was good, when you actually lived a nightmare, is a warning sign about his character. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, those who grant sympathy to the guilty grant none to the innocent. So you deserve to heal, to value yourself, and to eventually find someone who sees the best in you. You deserve to discover the tools to give yourself a healthy figure with a loving partner. Anybody who tells you that you need to forgive or forget is wrong. They do not have you as a value at heart. What they have is destruction at heart. They are supporting your enemies. So it’s so important for you to get some good skills, get some guidance. You don’t want to make your grandfather the focus of your life or your mother or father. You want to be able to get some good standards, some good moral standards, but which to judge them. Not the forgiveness one. There’s no forgiveness in this case. And to find better people. You want such great, supportive friends. And people around you who are unlike the people in your past.