“The true therapy that set me free”: Letting go of anger against an abusive father
Trigger warning: This story contains mention of abuse and suicide ideation that some readers may find disturbing.
Fong Yihui // March 1, 2022, 3:34 pm
Letting go of anger safely was Step 1 in a long healing journey for missionary Sharon Khoo. Photo by Razvan Narcis on Unsplash.
A bit of pencil lead lodged in Sharon Khoo’s palm is a tell-tale sign of the trauma she suffered almost three decades ago.
When she was eight, Sharon, her mother and their domestic workers bore the brunt of her father’s violent temper and foul words.
In an attempt to cope with the pain caused by years of physical and emotional trauma, Sharon ran away from home and cut her wrists.
At age 14, she and attempted to jump off the top floor of her block.
At age 22, she got married and left her parents’ house, thinking that setting up her own family would allow her to escape the horrors of her past.
However, the combination of stress from work and the transition to married life soon led her to fall back into her old emotional rut. Sharon attempted to take her life again.
As she stood on the edge of the window of her flat, she had a supernatural encounter. (Read about it below.)
This incident was a turning point in her life.
Sharon’s pride and lack of a deeper understanding of the true function of counselling had stood in the way of getting help for many years. She had thought that only people who were weak, unsound and insane would do so.
As she stood on the edge of the window of her flat, she had a supernatural encounter.
“Is ‘face’ (reputation) really worth more than life?” she asked herself.
The awakening prompted her to seek counselling and subsequently see a psychiatrist.
At the age of 26, Sharon was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having clinical depression and complex trauma. She started taking anti-depressants, which significantly elevated her mood and put her on the path to recovery.
Now 37, Sharon is a pastoral counsellor, the co-founder of Forerunners Ministry, and has been serving as a missionary with her family in Thailand since 2010.
In her book, Hope in Despair, A Memoir about Overcoming Abuse, Trauma & Depression, Sharon shares the process of her healing journey and what she has described as “the true therapy that set me completely free”.
Step 1: Releasing anger safely
Address and acknowledge your anger, rather than pretending it isn’t there.
Mapping out things that had hurt her helped her begin to grieve.
As a start, Sharon would vent her anger at God mindfully, in the privacy of her own room at home, when her kids were out in school.
She struggled to understand how a good God could allow her to experience such pain and trauma, and allow her father to live scot-free without any punishment for the years of abuse she suffered.
In a fit of rage, she cried out: “How is that justice and fair on Your part as God? How can you claim to be loving, just merciful?!”
Her husband, Joshua Khoo, who witnessed these episodes tried to intervene at times. He would tell Sharon not to become like Miriam who fell ill (Numbers 12:1-12).
Nevertheless, Sharon felt that mapping out things that had hurt her helped her begin to grieve.
Step 2: Grieving over loss and suffering
Sharon’s hate and anger turned to powerlessness and grief.
As she let out the anger, she could feel God close and knew that He understood what she was feeling.
“At the same time, I also wondered if He, too, felt helpless while He was dying on the cross,” she wrote.
“This helped some of my anger melt away, as I thought of Jesus identifying with me.”
“I didn’t want to wallow in grief at the expense of my family’s joy.”
She gained more clarity on the cause of the pain and what she was grieving. One was the reality that her parents may never change for the better.
Sharon grieved for nearly four years before she could accept it.
Amid all this grief, she threw at both God and her husband the perennial question: “What is the point of it all?”
Her husband’s answered: “So that you can see you still have us – your own family to love, enjoy and be with.” The Khoos have two daughters.
His words gave her a new perspective and snapped Sharon out of her deep fog of grief.
“I didn’t want to wallow in grief at the expense of my family’s joy, however valid I thought it was, and inflict on my children the same wounds that I had suffered at their age.”
Step 3: Choosing to move beyond anger
Sharon started researching ways to help her move beyond anger.
She found Gary Chapman’s Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion particularly helpful. It stated that there are two kinds of anger: Definitive anger (suffering a genuine wrong) and distorted anger (based on a perception of wrong).
Joseph and Jesus’ stories provided her with a breakthrough.
She identified hers as definitive anger.
“Knowing this truth helped me accept that what I felt was valid,” Sharon wrote.
Sharon also dug into God’s word to find truths that would help her respond in a godly way to her suffering.
Joseph and Jesus’ stories provided her with a breakthrough.
“The true therapy that set me completely free was Jesus Christ and God’s Word, the Bible,” she told Salt&Light in a previous interview.
Step 4: Changing her view of God
Sharon turned to God’s Word for counsel and comfort against depressive thoughts about why she suffered. “Being desperate caused me to be dependent on God,” she wrote.
“Although my father and my mother have abandoned me, yet the Lord will take me up (and adopt me as His child)” (Psalm 27:10) was especially reassuring.
“I found great comfort from God here, in a way I never could with my parents.”
As she felt herself “compassionately ‘re-parented'”, her view of God started changing.
“Although my father and my mother have abandoned me, yet the Lord will take me up.”
She had projected her own earthly father’s image on God, and mistakenly perceived Him as “harsh, cold, cruel and unkind, a real hypocrite really”.
When she returned to the memory of sitting and crying by the side of a road in the darkness as a teen, after running out of her parents’ home, “I would see Jesus put His arms around my shoulders, with compassion in His eyes, embracing me and telling me I wasn’t alone”.
“I understand your pain,” she would hear Him say. “I know this pain. I was there too, when I was on the cross, abandoned by Father God asking Him why had He forsaken me. But He took the pain away in the end, and I will do the same for you too.”
Sharon also started to see how God had been good to her; He brought people to help her. She began to feel sorry for the blame she hurled at Him.
“I knew I needed to receive His forgiveness, to free me from my own guilt at not just wrongly accusing Him, but also for hurting my children and husband in my anger,” she wrote.
“And I knew I was finally ready to forgive my parents.”
Step 5: Receiving and giving forgiveness
Sharon asked God for forgiveness and received it like a healing balm for her mind and soul.
Bible verses affirming God’s love and forgiveness were part of her “tool kit” to turn a negative mindset into a hopeful one.
“I chose to forgive myself for hurting my husband and kids, and then humbly asked for their forgiveness.”
Psalm 103:8, 12; 1 John 1:9; and Daniel 9:9 were especially helpful whenever she felt she didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness.
“I chose to forgive myself for hurting my husband and kids, and then humbly asked for their forgiveness,” she wrote. On the path of repentance, she told herself “to be slow to anger, be more patient, willing to look at their point of views, regain trust”.
As her relationship with her own family grew stronger, she started longing to see the same with her parents.
“Forgiving someone especially your family, for causing you pain and trauma is not an easy thing to do. Especially if your perpetrator has not yet acknowledged that they had abused you, much less apologised for doing so,” Sharon wrote. Her parents had not yet changed.
“I truly empathise with those of us who have been hurt and unable to forgive. I was stuck there for years.”
On some days, Sharon would be in tears, telling God she forgave her father. In the next minute, she would be furious for everything that he had done. She often felt that it was beyond her human capacity to release forgiveness to her parents.
“In Christian or biblical terms, forgiveness is releasing someone from having to pay the penalty for their own sin.
“I could then depend on Him to heal me and restore what had been taken from me.”
“This is done in light … that through His crucifixion, God’s son, Jesus, has already paid for their and my sins in full. I could then depend on Him to heal me and restore what had been taken from me, something that my parents would realistically not be able to do anyway.
“I had been holding a grudge against my parents because I wanted them to pay for what they had done. But because of the cross, my parents’ debt towards me had already been ‘settled’ by God. They didn’t ‘owe’ me anything.”
The journey to forgive was tough. It didn’t happen in an instant.
“Forgiving them would really be for my sake, to set me free from the bitterness and hate that was poisoning me.”
Sharon found that forgiving her father allowed her to keep the effects of the abuse from controlling her own life.
“It prevents one from being toxic like the abuser.”
Step 6: Attempting reconciliation with healthy boundaries
The more Sharon began to heal, the more she wanted to attempt another reconciliation with her parents.
She thought carefully about how she wanted to relate to each of them, and what she would not tolerate.
“I saw that Jesus did not tolerate abuse … He did not let anyone hurt him against His will.”
“I wanted to keep myself safe, not just for my sake, but also for my family, who would have to bear the brunt of my negative spirals if I was triggered,” she wrote.
The Bible was especially helpful as she thought about the boundaries.
“I saw that Jesus did not tolerate abuse. When the crowd was trying to throw Him off a cliff for claiming to be the Messiah, He fought His way through the crowd to get to a safe place (Luke 4:28-30). He did not let anyone hurt him against His will. It was only until the time was right when He surrendered Himself to be crucified on the cross,” she wrote.
Sharon’s mother has apologised to her. She thinks Sharon’s book is a great testimony of how God healed her from depression.
While Sharon’s relationship with her father has yet to be restored, she adds, “I do still love my parents and have fully forgiven them.”
Step 7: Acceptance
Sharon came to understand that it is never the responsibility of the child (adult or otherwise), to control or change their parents.
“We are not responsible for their sins or wrongs,” she wrote.
“I can count on Him, instead, to be the perfect father figure for me.”
It is not right either, for the child to be whatever the abusive parent wishes him to be.
“Finally, at the end of a long journey, I could come to a place of peace with these truths.
“Though I can’t control or change my father, though I may never be able to have the ‘perfect’ parent-child relationship I’ve yearned for my whole life, I know God is watching. He knows and understands me. And I can count on Him, instead, to be the perfect father figure for me; He will never fail in His love for me or anyone.
“I can also count on Him to look after my father. God loves him more than I ever could. I’ve learnt to surrender and let go of my need to fix him, so that I can move on and let God do the work that I can’t.”
Disclaimer: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding your condition.
Where to get help for abuse or trauma
Call 999 if there is an immediate threat to life or if there is a risk of bodily harm (relatives and friends of victims can call as well).
- Fountaingate Ministries Website: www.fountaingateministries.net
- Adam Road Medical Centre Tel: 6466 7777. Website: www.pachealthholdings.com/adam-road-medical-centre-armc/
- Psycare Consultants Tel: 6735 5612. Website: www.psycare.com.sg
- Institute of Mental Health’s (IMH) Mental Health Helpline Tel: 6389 2222. Website: www.imh.com.sg
- Samaritans of Singapore Tel: 1-767. Website: www.sos.org.sg
- PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Tel: 6555 0390. Website: www.pave.org.sg
- TRANS Family Services & Safe Centre Tel: 6449 9088. Website: www.transfamilyservices.org.sg
- Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre Tel: 6445 0400. Website: www.biglove.org.sg
- HEART @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre Tel: 6819 9170. Website: www.fycs.org
- Fei Yue Online Counselling Service: www.ec2.sg
- Tinkle Friend Tel: 1800-274-4788. Website: www.tinklefriend.sg
- The National CARE hotline Tel: 1800-202-6868. Website: www.msf.gov.sg
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