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Dear Dr Saltzman,

I wrote to you on Facebook, asking if I could tell you about something that happened to me. 

When I was 12 years old, my dad began touching himself in front of me. It would happen in the living room after dinner. He would ask me to come in and tell him about how things were at school. I could see what he was doing and he would look at me in a creepy way. He always was drunk around dinner time and I could never tell if that's why he was doing this. I usually would say I had to go and do homework and would leave the room. This happened on and off for several years. He then started touching himself under the table while we were eating dinner. He would look at me, creepily, and then avert his eyes downward, like he wanted me to see. It was disgusting! I've always suffered from indigestion. He once accused ME of masturbating under the table. I was doing nothing of the sort! I felt disgusted by him. Sometimes after eating he'd come upstairs and into the room where my mom and me would watch television. He'd rub my neck and I'd move away and he'd get ticked off. My mom was right there, but she wouldn't say anything. I didn't know how to tell anyone about it. I thought I was making him do it-that it was someone something I had done. My mom and him argued a lot and he would make her have sex with him. She's always been afraid of him. I finally told her when I was 21 years old. She laughed. I was angry and alarmed. She suggested I move to another seat at the table - that was the way she thought she could solve it all. I started having bad bouts of anxiety and bad dreams about my dad. I went to seek out therapy and saw one for almost 5 years. I went to a counsellor, a psychotherapist and a psychologist. I moved out of my parent's house when I was twenty-four. 

I never eat dinner with them. I don't want to be subjected to such things, and I live in my own place. I lived in the UK for almost 5 years and I'd say a little prayer each day thanking that I didn't have to be in that situation. I think I'm still angry at my dad and a bit at my mom. I felt so horrible that she laughed and didn't take me seriously. She has even said recently that she's glad dad never did anything creepy to me. I was like, 'WHAT?' He DID do something creepy to me. I guess she forgets. 

I find it a bit painful talking and thinking about this still. I was just talking about it with my boyfriend last night. I was saying that I pretend it never happened, but I can only trick myself into thinking that so far. 

I keep thinking that my dad would do these things after he had a lot of alcohol. During the day, when he didn't drink (he started drinking every night at 5:00pm), he was ok and I wouldn't see a glint of creepiness in his eyes. I sometimes do wonder if he touched me as a baby. I remember as a young child, my sister and mom going out and he had me on the changing table and I kept saying, 'no' and crying. That's one of the earliest memories I have. It freaks me out thinking about it. 

I want to know how to feel at peace with things. I want to know too, if it is necessary to forgive in order to be at peace? I still find myself getting angry about this and wishing my dad was dead. I know that sounds horrible, and I'd never do that to him, I just wish it sometimes. I haven't lost all ties with them. If I'm talking to my dad on the phone, I never let on about anything. I don't think I could ever approach him about all this. I would fear the repercussions that would be in store for my mom. She's quite a passive woman and I've never once seen her stand up for herself in front of my dad. She always raves how nice he is to her, even though it's clear he's a bully to her, emotionally and once, awhile back, physically. 

I thought I'd feel better writing this all down, but I feel jittery, afraid and anxious. 


Hello, Elizabeth--

I am sorry for your suffering.

Yes, in order to be at peace, it is necessary to forgive, but forgiveness does not require changing the way you feel about what your father did to you. The way you feel is the way you feel, and your feelings seem completely understandable under the circumstances. A child expects love and protection from its caregivers, not molestation. Your expectations were disappointed by this man, who, unhappy with his wife and his station in life, had to look to a child—his own daughter—for some kind of twisted sexual gratification. Your expectations of protection were disappointed by your mother too. She was afraid of her husband, and so gave into him while probably knowing, or at least suspecting, that his treatment of you was not normal. When early expectations are disappointed, one naturally feels anger, and your particular anger is typical of one who has been molested by a parent.

Forgiveness does not mean that now everything is forgotten, or that now everything between you and your father is back to normal and just fine. In my view, forgiveness simply means that you understand that a man whose mental state was normal, and whose life was more or less satisfactory, would not have done such things. Therefore, comprehending that his violations of you were the actions of a disturbed person, and realizing that no one asks to be disturbed or as unhappy as your father obviously was, you excuse his behavior as the conduct of an unhealthy and defective human personality. This excusing is in the same realm as finding a criminal not guilty by reason of insanity. It does not condone the behavior, but sees the behavior as the conduct of someone who was out of control, and therefore less than normally responsible.

To be clear, your father hurt you badly, and, through no fault of your own, the hurt still continues, as you wrote. Therefore, forgiveness requires neither forgetting what he did to you, nor acquitting him of what he did to you. Nor does forgiveness mean absolving him of his guilt or continuing a relationship with him in the future. It means none of those things.

As I understand it, forgiveness simply occurs, arising automatically on its own, as soon as understanding, comprehension, and insight outweigh resentment.

Be well.

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