Healing from sexual abuse, shame, and pretenses of forgiveness

Intro: Hope Johnson has been an acquaintance of mine for several years by way of Facebook. I occasionally dialogue with her and she just put the following on her public facebook “wall.” I’ll even leave some links in here for those interested in contacting her.

Also, a few words are in bold in her comments. I did that to highlight some of things I referenced in my reply.


Hope Johnson
12 hours ago near Waipio, HI (Hawaii, USA)

When I was 15, I broke the news to my mom that I’d been having sexual contact with her partner since I was 10.

To me, it wasn’t like I was having an affair…just the thought of him made me feel gross…but offering myself in this way seemed like it kept this man from busting my head open again, or otherwise becoming violent with me or my younger siblings. It also appeared to buy me some relief from what seemed like unending cooking, cleaning and childcare.

My mom took the news very hard, she expressed how I betrayed her and that she couldn’t believe I didn’t tell her earlier..even though she had witnessed how much trouble telling her just about anything got me into.

Telling my mom felt more shameful to me than anything in my life, but I thought that I needed her help to put an end to what this man had come to expect from me. Long story short, the sexual contact did end, he became more violent and demanding of me in other ways…I didn’t accept the treatment, and to my relief, that got me kicked out of the house.

Walking down the street in Rohnert Park, a suburban town in Northern California, with a pink rolling suitcase and whatever money I had from my job as a maid, I felt more freedom than ever before.

A kind single mom with two boys of her own took me in and let me sleep on her couch for $100 per month including food. I felt very grateful for this arrangement because I could get to school and work from there, and nobody in her home was ever violent or demanding of me.

Plus, this lady knew my story, and she was the first person to show me that I had nothing to be ashamed about. My experience of her led me to project the shame that I felt onto my mom and her partner…which was useful for many years to come.

It wasn’t until I found myself experiencing relentlessly violent feelings toward both of them in my early 30’s, that I realized there had to be a better way.

I had an idea that I needed to forgive, but it didn’t seem possible given the facts involved. No matter how hard I tried to feel differently, there was a burning in my gut that was becoming more intense with the desire for revenge.

It wasn’t until it was proven to my mind that just like me, both of them were making the best choice they could at the time…that forgiveness finally happened for me.

Such living proof occurred to me spontaneously through feeling and experiencing all the painful sensations as they happened without running to the mind for comfort, advice or analysis.

Throughout this process, there has also been a burning sensation, but the quality has been different…instead of making me feel hard, calloused and vengeful, this burning makes me feel soft, feminine and compassionate.

The final trigger into the pain of the memories described above was within the past year, when a man expressed in no uncertain terms how shameful I am, what a threat I am to this world, and how I deserve to be punished for my “ideology”.

I noticed how violent I felt toward him for telling me these things, and I used that as an inroad to feeling and experiencing the deep pain that I was holding.

Even though it seemed challenging to stop projecting, I could feel that I was on the right track and kept going. Now that the aptitude for forgiveness has been developed in me, I’m convinced that there’s nothing of this world that can stop me from forgiving every so-called sin that’s brought to my attention.



Thanks for sharing, Hope. I enjoyed your recollection and I am confident that you are open to exploring some ways to re-interpret labels like “sin.” People experience stress, and some of it can be extreme. So, I can forgive others of feeling stress as well as the actions they took or did not take (“their sins”).

The idea of “they did the best they could” can seem useful, but I consider it a band-aid like to “apologize for them” so as to subdue / suppress my own sense of grief / concerns. If an old condemnation is totally withdrawn, then apologies are irrelevant. I do not need to apologize for them by saying “they did their best” once I have forgiven someone in that way.

Further, I can embrace the possibility of aggression toward others and the “persecution” of others (like lawsuits claiming a legally-enforceable injury and debt, then collection of debts, and so on). I can be wide open to stress and relaxation, to fear and courage, to rage and gratitude, to grief and greed and envy and so on.

If I perceive someone as a threat to me, there are consequences for them. If I perceive someone as a threat to my child or kin, there are still consequences for them. (Of course, however I respond to perceived threats also has consequences for me- including distrating myself from them.)

There can be a huge amount of guilt around the issue of violence and aggression. Lots of people that I know pour shame “generously” on references to violence and aggression. They may justify “non-interventionism” with constant repitition of certain mantras of “passivist” groupthink. (FYI, note that I am a *former* Quaker.)

As a child, I wanted my parents to step in and protect me from violence. If they used violence to effectively protect me, that would have been welcome. (Actually, the details of the method of protection would have been quite trivial to me). If I could go back and put a loaded gun in my own hand to end certain abuses, of course I would.

As for those who would say, “oh, no we prefer to be complicit with abuse over promoting the safety of children,” I suppose I simply find that perspective irrevelant. That used to piss me off though.

“Well, have you tried teaching the abused child some positive thinking skills?” No, you bag of useless guilt (wink), but I have tried fighting back to protect myself from people much stronger than me and I may even do it again.

Hope, one part that really resonated with me is the “you betrayed ME” response. I have been accused of being a traitor to many forms of idealism.

“You betray our pretense of unanimity by saying that you disagree. You betray our pretense of tolerance by rasising questions in public that embarass us and expose our lack of clarity.” There are a lot of frightened pretenses and, for protecting each of them, a lot of arrogant paranoias.

As I recall, Hope, you also have referenced “religious extremism” as part of your personal history. In cults, the guilt directed toward “traitors” can be intense. Even amongst allegedly “enlightened groups” (like in the “primal diet” groups), “deviant” questions can be seen as betrayal and thus interpreted as justification for various kinds of abuse.

Humans can be very creative. The ability to rationalize and justify is well-developed in some of us.

There are times for passivity (like when the “abuses” are relatively minor or the military imbalance is too extreme for resisting). However, there are times for screaming, kicking, scratching, biting, shooting, and so on.

I am okay with having been the target of huge amounts of guilt and condemnation. I forgive it in the sense that I do not invest time in condemning it verbally. I do not need other people to validate that I was afraid or angry etc. I may conserve my energy instead of voicing unproductive complaints.

If someone is perceived as a threat, I might voice condemnation of them as an experiment. However, there are many other forms of aggression besides such verbal “passive aggression.”

Passive aggression (AKA “guilt-tripping” and the moralistic shaming of so many new agers) has it’s function and relevance. So do the more direct forms of aggression.

I am cautious about getting stuck in condemning others or stuck in apologizing for them. Sexuality is one of the most volatile (sacred) issues. People tend to keep secrets and even create pretenses to divert from the truth.

As a young man around lots of young women, diversions and pretense came to be a huge investment of energy for me. The “character” of the “feminine” guy is an adaption, like a skill or a role or a karmic momentum.

When you wrote “stop projecting” in regard to “feeling violent toward” someone, I invite you to consider that another way to say it would be to stop pretending. You felt repulsed. You felt disrespected and threatened. You felt “violent.”

Good for you. If you prefer to hide your repulsion or aggression from a perceived threat, so be it. If you prefer to display it, may you do it well.

Some women are very experienced at “being verbally abusive.” Some men are easily manipulated by “emotional abuse.” Abuse implies a frustrated, even “out of control” form of aggression.

I can relate to feeling frustated and out of control. I can forgive it. Further, I can respond to neutralize the perceived threat.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring a perceived threat. That is some guilt-laden new age idealism at it’s worst.

If a dog was even just scaring your toddler (not even buiting or clawing yet), then you would take immediate action to intervene / interfere. You would not just stand around and condemn the dog for it’s inferior spiritual development.

Do not mindlessly draw one little sword against a whole squadron of Roman soldiers. Be mindful.


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