For many abuse survivors, the traditional forgiveness advice doesn’t ring true. For it is not hate and resentment that is holding many survivors back; it is fear.

When a child’s body, heart, and soul are routinely violated, their life is constructed in the absence of boundaries.

Forgiveness can be a scary concept. As an abuse survivor myself, I was afraid to forgive my abusers, because forgiving meant that I could be hurt again. At the time, I was right. My attempts at forced forgiveness left me open to re-injury. I hadn't healed enough to protect myself.

Deciding whether to forgive my abusers was a spiritual question for me; the choice to forgive was a spiritual commitment. However, forgiveness can be premature. In order to achieve forgiveness we must first perform the necessary psychological work. Forgiveness and boundaries go hand in hand.

We all know that exercise is good for us. Exercise provides many of the same health benefits experts suggest is offered by forgiveness; decreases in heart rates, blood pressure, chronic pain, cardiovascular problems, anxiety and depression. Yet, given certain circumstances, exercise can be harmful. If an avid runner is recovering from an injury – say post-op from surgery – the doctor warns the patient to give themselves time to heal before they exercise so they don’t re-injure themselves. By the same token, if someone tries to forgive before they have healed enough to protect themselves; they are open to re-injury.

Abuse survivors often need to understand the skills that they didn’t learn as children. They must discover how to set and maintain clear, respectful boundaries; to honor their feelings and to nurture themselves with the self-love and self-compassion that they didn’t receive as they grew.

Healing requires a great deal of time, self-examination, and hard work. Yet once an adequate amount of healing has been accomplished and we are free from the anxiety of re-injury, forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we “excuse” offensive behavior; it doesn’t mean forgetting; nor does it require us to “let go” of our safety. Rather, forgiveness means to find peace.

Copyright © 2008 Nancy Richards.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Richards is the author of “Heal and Forgive: Forgiveness in the Face of Abuse,” and “Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation.” Richards is an adult survivor of childhood abuse. Visit .