Forgiving a bully: Hard but necessary

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My half-brother was a cruel bully to me and molested me when I was young. He was 17. He went into the military.

Now that I’m 17, I am still haunted and angry by what he did to me. He’s become Mr. Perfect Family Man.

My mom says that I need to forgive him, that he’s changed.

As soon as I think I have forgiven him, I get enraged all over again.

I have never had a boyfriend or even tried to have one, although guys have been interested.

Unhappy girl

Dear Girl,

We are very sad for your horrible pain. We’re sorry it has impinged on your happiness and dating life. We know forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do in life.

We hope the following thoughts may help you to get a start on ridding yourself of the poison that is inflicting you:

1. Put your pain in a safe mental lockbox. Seek professional help to handle your pain. Remembering these agonizing events over and over only serves to hurt you. It’s common to think that if something so awful isn’t remembered forever, the abuse is negated, along with the effect that it had on you. However, holding onto your pain thwarts your ability to enjoy your present and your future.

2. Forgiving the person who caused you pain does not mean you condone his offense. It means you can grab your power back and he cannot hurt you anymore. You cannot change anyone but you. If there is an appropriate time, you can have a conversation with him to hold him accountable for his betrayal (arrange a time away from his wife and family), with the intent of reassuring you he has changed and is safe to others.

3. You can forgive and still not want your perpetrator in your life. You do not have to pretend with open arms that you were not hurt. You may excuse yourself or not join in festivities that you are not comfortable with. Talk with your mom and therapist about how to achieve this goal, event by event. You do not have to trust him to forgive him.

4. Letting it go is the gift you give yourself that no one can take away. When you learn to forgive him, in your own time and own way, you may have true peace and comfort. You will have an emotional scar to remind you that your hurt is real, but you chose to not let it destroy you.

Please let us know how you are doing and show this article to your mom.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri