How To Forge Meaning And Build Identity After Bad Experiences

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” – Katherine Ponder “Remember, you don’t forgive someone for his or her sake – you forgive them for your sake.…


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“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” – Katherine Ponder

“Remember, you don’t forgive someone for his or her sake – you forgive them for your sake. (On a side note, I just read that as “sake”, the drink. I think that means it’s time for me to get some sushi.)”

“Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, nor does it mean that you’ve given the message that what someone did was okay. It just means that you’ve let go of the anger or guilt towards someone, or towards yourself. But that can be easier said than done. If forgiveness was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

There are many quotes online about forgiveness that would make you think, annoy you depending on the state of your mind at that moment, or sound plain ridiculous. But all are saying the same thing, forgiveness is for the benefit of the offended or wounded, it’s not just important, it’s crucial, but as one of the quotes above indicates – if forgiveness was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I have a very difficult relationship with forgiveness, for a long time I refused to entertain the possibility of forgiving because I felt that I would be betraying myself and excusing the bad things that were done to me should I choose to forgive. I love Nelson Mandela, I would have loved to have met him in person and not only watch him on TV, but the first time I heard about him, I think I was 19, we all know the story, I was awed by his heroic deeds, but the part of his story that said he left the prison without any bitter feelings toward the men who jailed him was the part I couldn’t quite stomach. So I wondered how he would suffer so much and so needlessly in the hands of some cruel men, be given freedom, and then proceed to go make peace, who does that? But I lacked understanding, and I hadn’t developed the ability to absorb human flaws, I still haven’t actually but I think I’m beginning to gain understanding.

Mine has been a series of bad sexual experience with men. For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me that attracted or invited such experiences, so I learnt to fear men and avoided them at all cost, I’m yet to have that beautiful experience that people talk about in relationships. I was abused by 2 people when I was a little girl – from when I was 6 to when I was 10, I was almost raped at 17 in my first year at Uni when I went with my cousin to visit a friend of hers who had an accident at her hostel, then I travelled to one of the neighbouring countries for a 3 months program with my fellow students in my fourth year, got convinced by my roommate to visit a guy she met and had started dating, they went upstairs to his room after a lil chitchat in the sitting room and I was left with his friend who was playing video game, well…I got raped that day, according to him he thought I liked it rough with some beating, Nigerian girls are supposed to be fun, why was I proving stubborn? I left my roommate and ran back to our lodge, she started avoiding me from that day, and I left not too long after.

I started searching for answers, because I needed to understand why these things were happening. They say that victims of child sexual abuse are likely to be raped in adulthood, it seemed to follow me everywhere (trust me, I wasn’t putting myself in harm’s way), up to a point that I was almost raped in the bishop’s office at my home church by a bishop because I was a church worker, I would have killed him that day and I think he saw it in my eyes and left me. But no book or online material could answer my questions, what most pointed to was to look for meaning, a higher purpose to the experience – therefore, I began to search for meaning to the experience and every other thing about my life. I wrote to a therapist last year and I said: “I wish I can remember the girl I was before it all began, maybe then I would know what normal feels like and what to look forward to”, but I don’t remember, and even though I used to wish that none of it ever happened, I’m learning to accept it and appreciate who I turned to be and who I’m becoming. I’m still working on forgiving, it’s especially difficult because life doesn’t know when to give someone a break and take a time out, it seems like it just keeps piling up. So I’ve come find meaning when I write and work through stuff as I write, I find meaning as a volunteer, I find meaning as a worker in church (yes, I still serve in church), and I find meaning in my relationship with God which is a little complicated but He’s a patient lover, and for that I’m grateful.

I want to share a TED talk by Mr Andrew Solomon that helped me a lot, it was one of the first I ever saw about 2 years ago, and maybe it’ll help someone too.

Forge meaning, build identity.

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    1. Cavey
      I think so.
      Afterall, it’s ‘forgiveness’ not ‘folly’. But only if the avoidance is truly to ‘avoid future grievances’ and not because interaction with those offenders still stirs those feelings of anger/pain.
      1. Priscilla Joy
        Nice one Cavey, forgiveness and not folly. You’re also right, if thinking about them or talking to them still stirs up pain and anger, then they’ve not been forgiven. Sigh
    2. Priscilla Joy
      I’m not an expert on the subject, but I believe it’s your choice to set the terms of the relationship with the person(s) moving forward. If avoiding them is what you want, then it’s fine.
  1. Cavey
    “If forgiveness was easy, everyone would be doing it”

    The truth in this words!
    A couple of years ago, i spoke about forgiveness at a gathering and i started building by saying if forgiveness was ‘earned’ or ‘deserved’, it no longer IS forgiveness. I agree with Priscilla and every other person that pointed out that forgiveness is for the benefit of the offended, not offender. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult as hell to just let go of your hurt/pain/anger, i would know because I’m struggling to forgive my mother, but those feelings would only rob you off feelings of pure elation and joy.

    Lovely article, Ms. Joy

    1. Priscilla Joy
      “If forgiveness was ‘earned’ or ‘deserved’, it no longer IS forgiveness.”. You’re so right, I learnt that one doesn’t even need to receive an apology before forgiving. Another thing is, you don’t have to say you’ve forgiven too. You just do, and let it go.

      Thanks Cavey.

        1. Uju Ayalogu
          Murder can be forgiven sure. But if someone a person loved was murdered, whether he walks free or is in prison undergoing torture, how likely would that loved one be to pray for the murderer?
          I don’t need a reply. I need you to think about it.
    1. Priscilla Joy
      Lol Uju, I think murder is a strong word to use in connection with trust cos trust can be regained, it can work out depending on the individuals and circumstance involved. Infidelity is pretty serious for some people, it all depends of the individual.
      1. Uju Ayalogu
        Hi Priscilla,
        1. Nice article. I’m sorry you went through so much. And a bishop?
        2. When you stop having faith in a person, when you lose the trust, what exactly do you say? Are you not more likely to say, You’ve killed my trust? Rather than, you’ve sent my trust in abeyance and you need to regain it?
        I’m not being sarcastic, but this is semantics really.
        Killing = Murder = Dead and needing to be revived.
        Hugs. You’ve been through so much.
  2. Od
    Hi Priscilla. Nice name you got. 🙂

    On a certain level it feels like something I can understand. I definitely know that need or strong urge to get away from myself because I can’t stand my history. But the sense of violation you much feel? That I don’t know that I can honestly say that I share. I’m sorry about your experience.

    Because you say that you belong in the Church and have a personal relationship with God, I think that should be where you keep your eyes until your feelings about yourself, your past and men change.

    I started a program toward the end of last year. It was after a most harrowing experience with love and betrayal and in the midst of very powerful psychological pressures. In short, it was at a time that my feeling about myself was that at best I was a phony and would very likely end up losing everything that I could ever have as a normal person. I was terrified of my future, unsure of my place in God’s heart, sure that I would never be attractive enough for any woman, worried that every decision I’d made up to that point was wrong and I was going to end up a bum who would be a tragic story my relatives and friends would tell their kids to get them to behave and go to school.

    It’s hard to experience other people’s pains. You can only interpret them through yours as I have done. For someone else, they would probably be certain that if they were me it wouldn’t be the same. I’ve had a friend tell me once that if he had my brains he’d be rich and powerful. I wondered if he thought my brains were a gift separate from the rest of me.

    The program I started was a read-through of the Bible. It’s not the first time I tried. Other times I had to pick and read different books in no order because I lost interest and focus whenever I tried to read through in the order the books are arranged in the Bible. This time I decided to do it using The Message translation. I’m pretty good with 17th century English but I needed to hear God in a language that I thought in.

    I’d previously tried the Amplified but this time it just didn’t appeal. The Message worked out far better than I expected. I finished the letter to the Ephesians today. It was an incredible experience as always. I made a point of reading each book like a whole document making a central point that I needed to understand and appreciate to fully appreciate the central point of the Bible as a whole.

    Today, as I write this, my experience is that my appreciation of myself and life and love and my history has drastically changed. I still have difficult, cloudy days because I’m engaged in a very tough project for which I’ve staked my very dignity as a man. But there is a sense of steel in my backbone, the feeling that I’m much tougher than the challenge and a growing strength that makes me less and less afraid of what’s going to happen. And my place with God? Suffice to say that I have no doubt that I’m not a phony or one of the sons of Sceva.

    He did say that when we call upon him he will show us great and mighty things which we do not know. Will you try that? Forget about learning some new doctrine or revelation or figuring anything out. Just read it with all the same ease and relaxation that you would read something you enjoy. So pick a translation that does not stress your brain needlessly. The goal is to immerse yourself in God’s psychology, to swim in his thoughts, to simply cruise in him. If something puzzles you, it will stimulate you to pray. If something captures your imagination, it might give you fresh ideas that will revolutionize your life.

    In other words, to deal with this, you need to get away to God. Be as natural and unforced as you can manage. When you’re stressed, don’t forget to pray or cry or do whatever comes naturally before God. When he has healed your mind, forgiving will not be as much a trial as it is now, nor will getting past all of the history. It will all be like a shadowy dream that you only half-remember.

    Cheers, dear Priscilla. 🙂

  3. Priscilla Joy
    Wow thanks OD, firstly- I think we need an article in this community from you. That said, I can totally relate with what you said about committing to reading the bible from start to finish and abandoning it after reading for a while, so this year I started reading differently. Last month, I read the book of James – Jude and this month I’m on Romans to Hebrews, then I intend to continue from there and God is helping me and teaching me stuffs too. One thing i’m learning is how to be vulnerable with the way I feel or think with Him, there really is no condemnation.

    Thank you for your kind words.

    1. Od
      article, I just started commenting here, what, two days ago or so. Lol. We’ll see though.

      Your model will work. I’ve used it before. I decided to go straight this time to form a well – jointed idea of the central thrust of the Bible as a single document. I only broke off from 2 Chronicles to connect with Isaiah and Jeremiah because I wanted a continuous picture of the history of Israel. I looped back to Ezra after Lamentations and continued straight from there. Typically, I tried to read a book through unless it was too long. If it was, I’d take it twelve chapters at at time. But that often means that I spend some time at prayer. 🙂

      Reading a book through in as little time as possible has given me pretty solid insights about parts of the picture the Bible is painting.

      Romans was tough. Paul really did a number on me. It was pretty easy to get confused about whether we should have opinions about one another’s conduct or not. It wasn’t really Paul though, it was me. Since childhood, I’ve had inner conflicts about whether it was right to correct others or simply mind my own business. Has a lot to do with other people’s reaction to me though.

      Lovely to know that God is teaching you. He’s the most reliable at that. Keep at it. Don’t worry about obedience and all that. If he works it into you, it’ll come out naturally.

  4. Miss James
    Wow, thank you OD and Priscilla Joy, you guys have inspired me this evening, I guess i’ve just learnt a different way to go about my Bible study.

    About forgiveness, sometime last year, I was beginning to get worried about how hard I took some things to heart, like I literally told myself I could no longer continue friendship with a few people, they hurt me real bad. I can say emotionally I can be both fragile and strong, I dunno how that works but it’s just how I am but there are certain things I can’t take, e.g someone raising their voice at me. I disagreed with a friend of mine and she shouted at me and even raised her hands to slap me, boy, I left her that day and I’ve never called her till date. At first I was so hurt, I went to talk to our Pastor about it, he talked to me and asked me to forgive her, I told him I would eventually but right at that moment, I wasn’t feeling that forgiveness thing, right now when I think of her, I still remember the incident but without any anger. When she calls, I talk to her without resentment but I can’t bring myself to being friends with her anymore. I told myself it’s because I don’t want her to hurt me anymore. I dunno if i’m lying to myself about that or not…

    1. Priscilla Joy
      I know what you mean about being emotionally strong and fragile. I make allowance for people most of the time, I try to be conscious about extending grace. But I discovered something about myself recently, I tend to extend grace to women more than I do to men and i’m more generous to women more than I am to men. It’s not a decision I made, I didn’t even know I behave this way until recently. But men aren’t the enemy here, what happened did and it’s just what it is. I just have to learn to let it work for me and not against me.
    2. Od
      As much as it is in your power, live at peace with all men. To be at peace with Lot, Abraham had to ask him to separate from him. Sometimes, I think that is all you can do: separate from some people. In my thinking, forgiveness is less about how you feel toward someone and more about how you actually behave toward them. If you feel angry and act lovingly, it isn’t hypocrisy, it is beating the flesh or the old nature.
  5. Fikayomi
    I don’t even know what to write.. But I learnt alot from this and the comments above. Let me add this “Forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die”. If you’re on Facebook, you can search for “Single but not stupid” and get a contact of how you can get this book by Tekena Ikoko “Dinah- The Untold Story”. It goes a long way in overcoming sexual abuse.

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