Family, Abuse, and Forgiveness

In 2020, there were over 21,000 homicides in the United States. Of this number, fewer than ten percent of these crimes were committed by a stranger. This means that more than nine out of every ten instances of murder occur at the hands of a friend, neighbor, or family member.

When it comes to sexual violence among juveniles, 93% of victims knew the person who was abusing them, and 34% of the perpetrators were family members of the victim.

Aside from violent crime and sexual abuse, we know that the verbal and emotional trauma that people suffer is usually experienced first in the “safety” of their homes. More often than not, it is our own fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers who are most likely to hurt us.

In the Bible, the first story about two siblings, Cain and Abel, ends in murder, and the stories of physical, sexual, and emotional violence against family members continue throughout its pages. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. King David’s son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Some scholars even suggest that one of Noah’s sons slept with his own mother while his father was drunk.

Traumas experienced in families can have devastating long-term consequences on the emotional and physical health of victims. For instance, some studies suggest that eating disorders such as anorexia may be linked to family secrets concerning trauma and abuse.

When we are born into families, we have no choice but to accept our experiences of abuse as “normal.” Children of parents who yell and scream at each other may not realize that these are not acceptable behaviors in other homes. Likewise, children who grow up in environments where sexual abuse, drug addiction, and poverty are everyday realities are likely to carry the echoes of these experiences into future relationships.

Often, we think of sins as things that we do. However, another way to think about sin–and especially original sin–is to think of it as the negative, abusive, and harmful experiences of life into which we are born. Nobody is perfect, and even though a father or a mother may love their children very much, it is very likely that parents will be the first to harm their children, physically, emotionally, verbally, and even sexually. Sometimes, we are not even aware of the things that we do or say that have devastating long-term consequences.

The Bible says that we need to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other so that we can be healed. Yes, part of this involves confessing things that we have done to hurt others, but another part of this involves unburdening ourselves of the hurtful things that we experienced at the hands of our closest friends and family. Too often we try to cover up the abuses we experience from our moms, dads, and siblings and make excuses for them. However, this does not resolve the pain and long-term consequences of those experiences.

There’s an old expression that “hurt people hurt people.” This means that when people are hurt by others, they are likely to hurt others in the same way. For instance, a child who is pinched by an older sibling may begin pinching a younger sibling. We learn our bad behaviors from others, and then we pass them along.

However, we can also accept the saying that “healed people heal people.” When we have experienced healing from the injuries we have received from others, we are better equipped to be able to bring healing to others.

If you are hurting, it is important to find someone trustworthy with whom you can share your suffering. Christians are commanded to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” People who have been healed by Christ have learned how to help others heal.

The goal of confession is healing. An important step in that process involves forgiving the people who have caused you pain. However, it is impossible to fully forgive someone until you have fully experienced your pain. If you try to forgive others before you have acknowledged the pain they have caused, your healing will be incomplete.

[If you need to talk to someone about abuse you have experienced from friends or family members, click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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