How do I forgive my abuser?
Have you been badly hurt by someone important to the point where there really is no conceivable way you will ever be able to forgive that person? Has the crime against you been so heinous that it seems foolish to even consider forgiveness? Do you feel conflicted, wondering if you have to forgive in order to heal yourself? Or do you wonder if forgiveness is just a way of letting him/her “get away with it?”
Forgiveness is not easy, but no matter how badly you have been hurt, the ability to forgive definitely brings a healing balm to your own woundedness, regardless of how it impacts your abuser. Before I go on, let me reiterate a few facts about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is not a statement that the crime was not that bad.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
- Forgiveness is not something you have to feel like doing in order to do.
- Forgiveness is not a step you take in order to avoid feeling the impact of the damage.
- Forgiveness is not lip service.
- Forgiveness is not something anyone can force upon you.
- Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. You may never forget what happened to you. Just because you forgive someone, that does not mean you gain amnesia.
- Forgiveness has nothing to do with fairness.
Here are some truths about forgiveness:
- It brings healing to the person doing the forgiving.
- It is more a decision than a feeling.
- It is a willingness of the mind and an attitude of the heart.
- It is a process, just as grief is a process.
- It is a surrendering of your right to have the other person pay for what he/she did to you.
One of the problems people have with forgiveness is that they feel that it isn’t fair to ignore the fact that someone hurt them. People who have been hurt feel a need to advocate for themselves by being angry at the perpetrator for the injustice he/she has committed against them. It feels empowering to hold on to anger. It is scary to lay down one’s anger and “let go.”
Why is forgiveness necessary for healing? Some people cringe at the idea. They see no benefits in forgiving someone who has wronged them deeply.
There are many benefits in forgiveness, but the primary one is freedom. Once you have “worked through” the steps of healing from abuse, the final frontier involves laying down your right for justice, fairness, and restitution. In a nutshell, forgiveness is giving yourself the gift of freedom; the freedom of letting go.
Forgiveness is the freedom of letting go.
Here are the steps to forgiveness:
- Face the violation committed against you.Do not rationalize it away or minimize its impact on your life. Write a list of everything your abuser did to hurt you. Look at it squarely “in the eyes.”
- Feel the emotions surrounding the infraction and its impact on your life.Be willing to look at your rage, hatred, humiliation, shame, and all of the emotions you have regarding what happened to you. Write about your feelings. Talk about them. Scream in your car alone if that helps. Whatever works for you, find ways to get “in touch” with your feelings regarding the infraction. Look at your feelings of resentment, resistance, and anger regarding the idea of forgiving your abuser as well.Writing is a good way to process your emotions; so is talking, or non-violent physical expression. Find ways to release your emotions.
- Make a decision to surrender your right to hold your offender accountable forever.It’s one thing to prosecute a criminal and require the offender to face the consequences for his/her crime, which is fair; but, it’s life-draining to require your abuser to be held accountable by you forever.
- Let go.Hold your hands open and let your abuser go. Stop needing him/her to change. Stop needing others to see. Stop nursing your wounds.
One major benefit for your life in forgiveness is that it stops the “superhighway in your mind” of negativity. When you choose to forgive, you no longer need to rehearse the crimes committed against you over and over in your head. Your abuser does not occupy your primary thoughts. You stop needing to assume the worse about your abuser because you have let it go. You give yourself the ability to live free from the captivity of needing to hold another person accountable forever.
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Stines, S. (2017). How do I forgive my abuser?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2018, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2017/07/how-do-i-forgive-my-abuser/