I am twenty-two years old. When I was a little girl, I was the victim of sexual abuse for several years. My abuser was my parent’s best friend, who would threaten me so that I wouldn’t tell anyone. The abuse made me feel dirty and worthless. I asked God to help me to forgive and to take all those thoughts out of my mind.

I have had a boyfriend for about a year, but there are times in which those memories come to mind and cause me to be very fearful. I suffer a lot on the inside and don’t know what to do about it. I really love him, but he says that I sometimes seem very detached, and that bothers him. I don’t know how to handle the situation. I’m not sure if I really forgave my abuser or not. What can I do?

Dear Friend,

We are so sorry to hear of what you went through as a little girl and of what you are going through now! But we believe that you will heal much faster if you can join a therapy group for survivors of sexual abuse. Hospitals and community centers sometimes offer these services at no cost. Surviving sexual abuse is a long-term process, not the result of following a few quick steps, so you need to take advantage of any help that you can get.

You say that you often suffer from flashbacks or recurring bad memories and that you’re not sure if you have forgiven your abuser. Unfortunately forgiveness does not erase memories, so constantly remembering what your abuser did to you has nothing to do with whether or not you have forgiven him.

You also say that you asked God to help you forgive your abuser and to take away the bad memories, but even so the memories still plague you.

The years of abuse caused chemical changes in your brain that have not stopped affecting your emotions. As a child you had reason to feel an excessive amount of fear and anxiety as well as other negative emotions, so your brain chemicals adjusted to your reality. Now, even though you are no longer being abused, your brain is still producing the chemicals for those emotions. When you feel fear, the memories come back, and when you have a memory, it causes the fear. It works both ways. The fact that it continues to happen is an indication that you have not completely recovered from what happened to you. You have a wound that needs to be healed.

God is full of compassion for His children, so He understands your pain.(1) Ask Him to give you strength and wisdom so that you can seek the professional help that you need. We recommend that you work on healing before you pursue a serious relationship with any guy.

We wish you well,

1 Ps 116:5; 145:8-9; Jas 5:11b