Forgiveness isn’t something to work towards, rather it is something that happens naturally in the process of healing. Once you are no longer suffering from the effects of what has happened, you find yourself no longer angry at your abuser. You may never want to see or speak to this person, but you do them (and ultimately yourself) the ‘favor’ of no longer seeing them as a monster. Once your rage has gone you find yourself seeing your abuser as a human being, perhaps very flawed, but human none the less. Getting to this point is good for your body and your health. This is no way implies you are condoning what happened to you, but it is forgiveness. If you try to get to the point of forgiveness instead of letting it happen naturally, you can’t help but miss essential stages in your healing.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean: (1) A husband or wife is hurt and hateful after a difficult divorce. Time passes and (s)he has found a new love. Anger at the ex-spouse seems to evaporate. Sometimes the two previously married people become friends. (2) A women discovers she has been sexually abused by her father. In therapy she realizes that her difficulty trusting, fear in new situations, low self esteem, sexual dysfunction, and poor choice of men all go back to what her father did to her. She is initially full of intense black rage. After therapy and a lot of effort on her part, she finds her life different. She chooses a loving partner, she is no longer so fearful, etc. She is clearly no longer suffering from the effects of the abuse. She notices, after a period of grief and change, that she is no longer going about feeling so angry at her father. She is involved in life and living.
It is true that staying angry is staying stuck, but the answer to being stuck in anger is to finish getting over the effects of what was done to you, not to push yourself to an artificial place of forgiveness. Going for forgiveness before it happens naturally has serious drawbacks. It robs you of completing your healing, especially of developing real self esteem.
Let me explain: Feeling the rage about what happened is a powerful validation that you were NOT the problem, you were NOT some how deserving of what happened to you. You were a child, the abuser was responsible and the abuse occurred because of his deficiency, NOT yours. It is all very well to understand this intellectually, but the deep feelings of inferiority will not change until you go through the experience of putting the fault where it belongs. During the healing process the anger will come spontaneously – it does not have to come from suggestion from the therapist, and should not. Experiencing this anger coming up inside yourself is inherently your own,very personal, proof that you were innocent. Abused children, at a different ages and developmental stages, will assume they are the source of the badness in the abuse situation. Now, as an adult, you can know through out your entire being these negative beliefs about your self are not true. This is when self esteem really improves.
As a therapist I have been with people who feel that they should forgive whoever wronged them. Often their religious beliefs, or their family members, have held up forgiveness as a virtue in itself. Since the person in therapy has had their self esteem damaged, they feel unworthy as they are; they want to be a ‘better’ person. They are vulnerable to making themselves second and are exactly the people most in need of experiencing that natural anger and the resulting clarity of their innate goodness.