#MeToo: This is About Honoring the Women Coming Forward With Their Truths, Not About Forgiving the Abusers
By Dr. Patti Feuereisen
With all the #MeToo stories and the recent news on sex abusers from Hollywood to National TV anchors the conversation of sex abuse is finally in the forefront. In the three decades I have focused my work as a psychotherapist with sex abuse survivors I have heard these stories and the stories of fathers brutally molesting their daughters year after year only to be told by their mothers to leave once they revealed their incest.
The stories of date rape and girls blaming themselves for years because they were told it was their fault. Now that the conversation is beginning from the survivors there is a lot of talk about how to heal. I can count the times that clients have come to me having been told by a well-intentioned therapist or clergy person to forgive their abuser. They are told that if they can forgive, then they can heal and move forward. I say NO.
You don’t have to forgive your abuser
The only person a survivor needs to forgive is herself. She needs to forgive herself for not being able to stop the abuse, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for not being willing or able to speak out against her boss, her rabbi, her coach—whoever her perpetrator might be. When you are not ready to forgive, when your anger gives you strength, then be angry. As far as I am concerned, forgiveness is a gift to your abuser. He is 100 percent responsible and you do not owe him a thing.
The #MeToo movement, and the dialogue around disclosure and confrontation, is causing us to lose sight of the fact that the survivors of abuse feel shame and guilt and responsibility. We are forgetting that these women in most cases are still afraid of their abusers. Women are often still triggered just by talking about the abuse. They can even be triggered hearing about other people’s abuse.
#MeToo- Breaking Down Walls
#MeToo is helping to tear down the protective walls around abusers, and exposing the truth around the prevalence of what all women have experienced at some level in their lives. There is conversation now where before there may not have been.
While #MeToo is creating community, it’s a virtual community that may still leave many who have disclosed feeling alone afterward. It’s important to note that disclosing abuse you may have held as a secret for years is a step toward healing, and the next steps are to surround yourself with supportive people and to express your emotions to people you can trust. Maybe find a therapist, attend a survivors group, journal, take a yoga class, create.
Disclosing may feel powerful at the moment, but then it’s possible—even probable—to feel more isolated afterward. Feelings of fear, guilt, and responsibility often arise. Some survivors may even feel physically ill, or experience body memories in the wake of disclosure. We as a culture can help these survivors by embracing them, believing them, and supporting them by accepting their truths.
Do you have to heal?
Should you confront your abuser? You do not have to to heal. You need to know your truth and share it with a trusted person. If somehow you end up in the court system, either by choice or by the police, you could be forced to see your abuser in the court room. Survivors may have been told that confronting their abuser in person—in a letter, in a phone call—will help you heal. In fact, confronting your abuser may have nothing to do with your healing. The only reason to confront an abuser is if you want to. Never confront expecting an apology. Do not confront for a response from your abuser. You will be disappointed. Healing comes from you, not from your abuser. I have worked with hundreds of girls who have healed without ever seeing or speaking to their abusers again.
Do you have to name your abuser?
Should you name your abuser? There is healing in naming your abuser when you are protecting others from abuse. The only time girls and women ought to feel compelled to name their abuser is if they’re protecting a younger sister from abuse of a family member, a colleague from abuse from an employer, or a friend protecting a friend from her rapist. So many of my clients were only ready to tell when they knew their younger sister was in danger. In the present climate with actual consequences I applaud the women revealing the abusers who are well known executives, anchors and politicians. There is deep healing in knowing you are protecting other young women from these predatory men.
Hearing The Stories
We are at the beginning of a long process. Everyone is starting to hear the stories. Look how deeply misogynistic our culture really is—where girls and women are treated as commodities, where men make laws that do not protect women. We live in a culture where male politicians are trying to control women’s reproductive rights. Many of those same men are sexually abusing girls and women. Even worse, some of the men who write the laws to protect women are abusing them. Meanwhile, sexual abuse of girls and women has gone on for centuries. One in Four girls will be sexually abused by her sixteenth birthday.
It is time to help heal the survivors. Let us honor girls, women and children. Now, it is time to believe and speak out. Let’s not focus on whether to report the abuse, confront the abuser, or forgive the abuser. Most of the abuse is going on behind closed doors in homes across our country. Let’s focus on how to help our young daughters grow up without having to declare #MeToo.
About Dr. Patti Feuereisen
Dr. Patti Feuereisen is the author of Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse and founder of Girlthrive, Inc., the only organization to honor teen girls and young women incest and sex abuse survivors through scholarships, opportunity and eduction. For more information, please visit, www.girlthrive.org.