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Fatherly Advice: PTSD and Relationships


A listener, preferring to remain anonymous, sends Father Dave an email asking for some Fatherly Advice: “I was abused for many years as a child, and due to that abuse, it caused me to suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Thank God, I’ve beaten that battle and won the war, but through the battle and before my conversion to the Catholic Church this past Easter, I made some horrible decisions, which in return hurt my boyfriend in a terrible way. I’ve been working on mending the broken pieces and trying to fix where I went wrong. I have since changed who I am. I can’t believe who I used to be. But my boyfriend is having a very hard time with this whole situation. He can’t wrap his head around why I did what I did, and though it’s been stated by many doctors that it was because of the PTSD, my boyfriend still doesn’t really grasp it. I’ve been struggling with forgiving myself for what I’ve done because he’s still struggling to forgive me. I’m asking for prayer and guidance as to what you would suggest to help me help him through this. I’m at a loss.”

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Father Dave starts by saying, “For the sake of yourself, you’ll have to separate those two things. So, your own forgiveness of yourself can’t hinge on whether or not [your boyfriend] forgives you. And that’s also the teaching of the Church. Reconciliation, meaning the parties come back together and begin to work things out, is not the same as forgiveness. Sometimes one happens without the other. The same goes for yourself … I honestly believe that it is one of the most difficult parts of being a person of faith — this thing called forgiveness … [Forgiveness] is not giving the person who I need to forgive, even if that person is myself, some sort of a pass on whatever wrong that was done.”

Father Dave explains that forgiveness is not the same as giving tacit approval to someone’s hurtful actions, so perhaps the struggle in this person’s relationship partly come from a misunderstanding about what forgiveness would entail.

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At the same time, Father Dave says, “One of the things she’s saying is essentially, ‘Help me to find a way to make him forgive me.’ And you can’t. You can’t make him forgive you. … You can continue doing all the work, and doing the positive and charitable things, and expressing love, and demonstrating that [the act in question] is not who you are, and indicating that you’re taking steps to never be sucked back into that again — though obviously, you can’t guarantee it with a condition like PTSD — but you also can’t make him forgive you.” (Original Air 09-05-17)