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Is Forgiveness Really Necessary for Victims of Betrayal
Is Forgiveness Helpful for Victims of Betrayal?

Forgiveness is a polarizing topic for victims of intimate betrayal. But can it provide relief & healing? Dr. Debi Silber is on the podcast.

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Is Forgiveness Really Necessary for Victims of Betrayal

Dr. Debi Silber and Anne discuss the concept of forgiveness in relation to emotional abuse and intimate betrayal. Forgiveness is a word we try to avoid at BTR because it’s so often weaponized against victims, but can it help victims of intimate betrayal on their journey to healing?

This episode is Part Two of Anne’s interview with Dr. Debi Silber.
Part One: Healing From Betrayal Trauma With Dr. Debi Silber
Part Two: Is Forgiveness Helpful For Victims of Betrayal? (this episode)

Forgiveness Is, Forgiveness Is Not

Forgiveness is an oft-weaponized concept, used to silence and blame victims. Here at BTR, we choose to see forgiveness as another tool that victims can use to establish emotional safety. As you work toward healing and peace, remember that you’re not alone.

The Power of Forgiveness

I study the Bible, I’m Christian, and if you don’t or you’re agnostic, all the listeners out there just keep listening.

I’m not going to give a religious lecture or anything, but just for my own personal experience, it really struck me that in so many scriptures about forgiveness, it’s actually about debt. Talking about you’re forgiving someone of their debt, and it’s really true of abusers.

They really do owe you a lot, right? They owe you justice. And they owe you not just an apology, but a living amends because of the damage that they’ve done for years and years.

They could owe you financially, they could owe you in relation to other relationships with family members or children, and that’s part of what hurts is that they owe you this great debt and they are not paying it back.

Forgiveness Should Not Be Required When You  Are a Victim of Betrayal Trauma

The More You Try to Get Them to Pay it Back, the More Control They Have Over You

(03:44): And the more you try to get them to pay it back, the more control they have over you. They actually love that, right? Because they’re like, cool. She is still attached to me. She still wants something from me, and so they can hold it over your head.

And I find it interesting that clergy generally sees forgiveness as a way to reconcile. Forgive, and then you can talk and you can have peace. And I’ve started seeing forgiveness as a way to actually move farther away from the person.

Because once you forgive them of that debt and say, okay, I know you do owe me all this. As a woman of faith just for myself, I think, well, I could try to get it from you and you are not healthy and not safe.

Or I can turn to God who will give me what I need and he loves me and he wants to give it to me, and he’s not going to hold anything over my head. Turning away from the person who is literally indebted to me and releasing that debt and saying, okay, you might not pay it.

Anne’s Understanding of Forgiveness

(04:50): I’m going to turn to God and hope that he pays it. And from my Christian perspective, from my savior. Now, other people can think of it in different ways, but I just thought that was a really interesting idea that forgiveness can actually move you farther away from abuse and farther away because you’re not expecting anything from them anymore.

You can consider what they owe you. If it’s money, if it’s a relationship, whatever it is, you can consider it to be cursed, right? Even if they gave you that thing that they owe you alimony, I don’t know what it would be, right? A car payment.

If you consider that to be cursed as a way that they can use to get their hooks in you, then it’s a little bit easier to say, you know what? You don’t owe me anything. I am going to turn to healthy people myself, my faith, something else not for justice, but I’m going to forgive that debt and I’m going to look elsewhere for that thing that I need.

Forgiveness May or May Not Be Helpful for Victims of Betrayal

Is this Worth My Health? My Sanity?

Dr. Debi Silber (05:49): And I look at this really from a, I’m in health for 30 plus years, and when you are banging your head against the wall trying to get someone to understand and to see. You’re proving and you’re explaining and you’re not getting anywhere.

This person at this point in their life and their current level of consciousness, they’re either incapable or unwilling to do anything different. Then you want to take a look and say, is this worth my health? Is this worth my sanity?

Is this worth me really compromising every other aspect of life because it’s tainting everything? When you look at the widespread effect of really how it’s affecting you physically, mentally, emotionally. How it’s affecting how you show up at work and at home and with your family in all these places, here’s where I really look at the motivation to forgive.

Again, having nothing to do with the other person, but we’re giving them so much power and if we’re giving them so much power, well what’s left for ourselves and our own growth. Looking at it like that and knowing what the body is physically doing when we’re expecting and hoping and waiting on anything external, that’s always a recipe for disaster.

Instead of knowing I can only control myself, any attachment I have is, and any expectation is potential for me being really let down, really disappointed and really sick, and that’s just not worth it.

National Forgiveness Day

Anne (07:38): We have strategies to do this in The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop, and Dr. Silber has strategies that help with reframing things like this in your mind so that you can feel peace regardless of where he is, which is the point.

For us, it’s specifically in the relationship usually while you’re still trying to make your way to safety. So you founded National Forgiveness Day. Can you talk about how that happened?

Dr. Debi Silber (08:13): There were so many people that were struggling in so many ways from things that happened throughout their lives, and it was actually a social experiment. I wanted to see is it possible to move to more forgiving and free with intention? That was the intention.

Then when we were kicking off this 21 day forgiveness journey, I thought what would really amp this up? I thought of the idea of this National Forgiveness day a day to really do this.

Just today I got an email from somebody, she’s in her late eighties, and for 70 plus years, she’s had digestive issues because of a family betrayal. And through forgiveness, through this 21 day experience, the gut issues are gone.

You don’t want to think you have to be in your late eighties to do this work. I mean, I’m so impressed with her that she did, but that’s what can happen.

Intentional & Deliberate Forgiveness

(09:17): So we had example after example of people who forgave themselves for being too hard on themselves. Or always making choices that weren’t in their best interest or choosing that person or sticking around too long or forgiving the hurt that they caused someone else.

Everybody has their own thing and it didn’t have to be the most triggering of their experiences. I actually encouraged them to start with something a little smaller like the coworker who snubbed you, something like that.

The idea of intentionally and deliberately working on this for our sake, it made such a difference and it was just so great to see.

Betrayal Trauma and Forgiveness

The Treatment Really is Safety

Anne (10:02): That’s awesome. I have such a hard time sometimes I don’t even want to say the word forgiveness on the podcast because there was so long where even if someone mentioned it, it was just like a knife to my heart. And so if that is where you are at, it’s okay.

It’s okay. And there will never be a time, at least at BTR where we say you have to forgive because the treatment really is safety. We talk about this a lot in BTR.ORG Group Sessions.

I have found so many times that part of the reason why women are having a hard time with forgiveness is because they are not yet safe. They’re still currently incurring an injury. If somebody is hitting you on the head, that’s not really the time to even think about forgiveness, right?

You need to make sure that you’re not getting hit on the head first, at least listeners here to BTR. If that is hard to hear and difficult, it’s probably because you’re still being actively injured and you need to make your way to safety. That’s a really good indicator that safety has not been established in so many cases.

Can Forgiveness Be Helpful for Victims of Betrayal?

Safe & Valued

Dr. Debi Silber (11:14): We are totally on the same page with that. I remember when I was doing my research. There was a study I read, and it’s said, if you feel safe and valued and you forgive, you feel better. If you do not feel safe and valued and you forgive, you feel worse.

Then in my research, I kicked it up a notch and I said, well, what would happen if we changed the word forgive to rebuild or reconcile? And it would sound like this, if you feel safe and valued and you reconcile, you feel better.

If you do not feel safe and valued and you reconcile, you feel worse. I think that’s really what we’re both speaking about. This has everything to do with our sense of safety and security and forgiveness. The way I’m suggesting it is having zero to do with that other person. That doesn’t mean you’re rebuilding, you’re reconciling.

No, it is only for your own freedom. Rebuilding though, however, has everything to do so much to do with that other person. If that person is unwilling and capable of doing anything different and you are just rebuilding or reconciling just to make things easier.

Even forgiving to make things easier, I would say check the reasons why you’re doing that. If you do feel safe and valued, that’s a whole different thing.

Forgiveness Is Not Necessary When You  Are a Victim of Betrayal Trauma

Dealing with False Narratives and Seeking Peace

Anne (12:44): For women who are dealing with post-divorce abuse from not just the abuser, but also other people who believe his story. They are struggling because when he’s telling this false narrative, the people listening to him and believing him, they don’t realize that she’s currently being abused.

This act of lying about her, false witness, basically is an act of abuse, and they just think he’s telling his side of the story.

(13:51): They don’t see that as an act of abuse. Maybe if it just was from him, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I mean, it’s always going to be a big deal, but you can see the abuse coming from him, but then it’s coming from other people.

Family members or neighbors or other acquaintances. And I think this kind of goes back to that debt I was talking about.

You would think that he owes you a debt of telling people the truth about what happened, and he’s not repaying that debt. He’s actually incurring more debt in lying continually.

For women who are experiencing that now, do you have any thoughts for them about how to maybe reframe that so they can have a feeling of peace if that’s occurring in their lives?

Navigating Through Misinformation

Dr. Debi Silber (14:30): Yeah, I totally do because this is an experience that I experienced myself. So recently I just did on a podcast episode, and it was with one of our members who moved through all five stages from betrayal to breakthrough.

When she first came in, she could barely function. She tells the story I brought her on because of her transformation. She was with such an abuser.

That was exactly the scenario. So much so that all these women, he was telling all these women about her in the most negative way, and none of it was true. When I posted her podcast episode to share it, because I was so proud of the changes she made and everything, people were responding a few people from the community.

They said what a liar she is, and I can’t believe it, the hatred. It was purely because exactly what you said, they all believed him.

The Power of Resilience Amid Adversity

(15:35): I was deleting comments, and then they were even coming after me. Why do you believe her? All this stuff. And I had a conversation with her. I said, wow, this must be so hard for you. You’ve done such tremendous work to heal from such craziness just with him, and now you have to deal with it from all of these other people.

But the healing she did was so, it really was so tremendous that she saw them differently. It’s not that it didn’t hurt, but it didn’t take her down the same way it did earlier. And that was a testament to all of her healing. But they were coming after me. They were coming after her. I mean, it was exactly what you’re talking about. I had never experienced that.

The Abuser’s Contradiction

Anne (16:22): We actually experienced that all the time. Here at BTR, it’s a very familiar thing. I get so many messages from angry husbands who think that it’s BTR’s fault that their wife has finally set boundaries and started making their way to safety. I think it’s really interesting because they always say two simultaneous opposite things at the same time.

When they write, they say, number one, that it’s my fault that I have caused this and that I’m such a bad person. And number two, they want to convince me that she is the bad one, right? So she’s a liar, she’s abusive, she’s terrible. You don’t know that kind of stuff.

I think, wait a minute, abuser, if she really is like this, if she really is abusive and terrible and hurtful, and all the things that you’re claiming, you should be thanking me. Your letter should be thanks to BTR, this awful, terrible, lying, crazy woman, she finally stepped away.

Dynamics of Emotional Abuse

(17:28): I’m so grateful. Thank you. They don’t say that it’s my fault that the marriage fell apart and all this stuff, and that she’s terrible, and I’m thinking, you are not making sense. You should be thanking me. And that’s part of the clue that it wasn’t her. And also that it’s not BTR, that it’s your abuse that caused this problem.

It’s your abuse that made her want to get to safety because she felt terrible due to your behavior and due to your character. Any woman who’s been through it has felt that where this person wants to control you with coercion, control, emotional and psychological abuse. So they act like they hate you, but they also don’t want you to leave. It’s very confusing.

If They’re Blaming, They’re not Taking any Responsibility for Their Behavior

Dr. Debi Silber (18:18): That’s the type of betrayer, by the way, and who has zero intention of doing anything differently. You can tell because if they’re blaming, they’re not taking any responsibility for any of their behaviors. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

It’s just such a shame because there’s such an opportunity for that person to wake up and say, what the heck have I been doing? Why am I acting like this? Let me just let me do the work and become someone I’m proud of.

Anne (18:50): Debi, thank you so much for spending time talking with us today.

Dr. Debi Silber (18:53): Thank you so much.

3 Comments

  1. foreverdone

    I also am still going through the divorce and I did have friends who believed him and then were back and forth trying to pretend to care and help me and mine is connected in to the community, state, and possibly higher up, and I have no closure or answers bc he lies and the court and the da and the probation and the perpetrator and NO one will tell me the truth rt things that had gone on behind the scenes such as betrayal and substances all of which I feel for sure went on.
    Because of their A”rights” to privacy I am never allowed to know anything such as drug test results, the mental health evaluation, however I already know what it is because I am the one who lived with him the closest for years on end and have ability to figure it out most likely the best.
    I have been abused all around even by some in the community and am far away in a different state.
    He also has ability or connections most likely to use technology and there are things I can’t write in the post related to his most likely background or abilities or how high up connected in my abuser is.
    As well as after being convicted of a crime and having to admit to it and offered a plea and then charges of false imprisonment dropped and him offered a deferred sentence even with clear and solid evidence plus his own text messages and emails where (i feel the spirit of God) had him incriminate himself so much that it is more than obvious the situation happened as well as the abuse and lies and betrayal was for years on end and there was lack of intimacy the entire marriage which he lied to me and I could have left years ago bc he was most likely having his need met some way other than the marriage and all this was covered and kept from me and possibly by others who knew all along exactly what was going on.

    There comes a time you wonder if some of these men are offered favors as part of a reward in their career is how sick the place and town I was in.
    All kinds of low and base things going on in that town, as well as some good people.

    I have a very lack of basic trust in humanity at large as well as our own higher up people who are supposed to be in positions of trust and responsibility. I could write a book on the even further issues rt even the family court until some realized there was a no contact and he was made to admit to the crime.

    There has been no apology from him because I told them I want no apology as would be a slap in the face as I want and need the truth which I evidently will never get.
    He is a pathological liar as far as I am concerned. I left and almost divorced but went back after being a signature away I did stand up more to him and also expressed normal anger in the home, of which he probably has used against me.
    He also abused me physically and mentally and verbally and emotionally and for my faith a hate crime also against my beliefs the last assault.

    I am so thankful to be done with him and the entire town and I will eventually move forward emotionally.
    I already recognize our world is changing and never to totally expect justice because at times it seems fallen in the streets.
    I do not feel a long term perpetuator of abuse should have their situation expunged so others cannot see.
    I do not feel it should be hidden under cover.
    I also was sent a letter from the probation that he was to be sent for an evaluation for DV as if they still do not believe me after physical evidence and myself going to the ER plus his own admission of things in a round about way.
    I will never understand our justice system of what has happened to this country and trust God alone for justice.
    He incriminated himself in his text messages back to me because they took 12 whole days to arrest him all the while myself not having my things from our property.

    It ends up it gave time for him to send a litany of texts and emails supporting what I had reported.
    I do not lie. He Does.
    This world is fast fading away and I look for a “New Heaven, and a New Earth” Where the only and all wise judge and creator of the universe dwells and where sin and sinners and all lies and profane will be done away with FOREVER!

    Reply
    • Georgia

      I just wanted to thank you for speaking your truth. Thank you for not giving up on yourself. At times it seems so hard just want to put a quick end to it all… but I agree that putting
      ourselves in God’s hands is the best place to be.

      Reply
  2. Tina

    I have been a betrayal trauma victim. I’ve boxed this time into 4 “events”. Each “event” is essentially years of consistent trauma events involving 1 man for each event. The 4 “events” span majorly but intermittently over 50 years.

    As I moved through life working constantly on myself, because trauma recovery IS a life-long journey, I kept being confronted with new trauma “events”… again with a man behind each.
    I was able with time and a lot of hard work, to navigate, escape, and heal at least to a peaceful place of acceptance, self love and forgiveness at some level (for either them or myself) from event 1, 2, and 3.

    Number 4 tho…..
    This one has been so much harder. It’s the longest standing (22 years) and the most benign in comparison… if you can even assign “levels of trauma”. This event for some reason is the most impactful, the HARDEST to accept (because recovery involves a lot of acceptance) and feels like it has been the most damaging of the 4 from MY perspective.

    I have my theory as to why that is the case… 1, 2, and 3 were events with men who DID have been diagnosed (identified/realized after the escapes) MHD of one sort or another that made acceptance dare I say easier to rationalize?

    #4 is different. I’m simply dealing with an ego (he’s a good guy for the most part). I’ve always treated our relationship with fairness to him, and he is aware of my entire past, triggers, and I’ve made loving a trauma survivor as uncomplicated as a person could, by giving him all the knowledge HE would need to navigate life with me, and communicated always what my expectations are. We’ve often discussed all of this, and he understands when it involves “memories” of 1,2,3, but absolutely WILL not recognize or acknowledge anything that HE contributes to my pain, fear, uncertainty, and ultimately my MH safety because he “is not them.”

    He’s right….

    And that is why this is destroying me… #4 is CHOOSING to be my monster because loving a survivor is hard, and this is my problem, and not really his.

    But my heart, soul, and ambition is absolutely broken. He can’t understand why these repeat mostly benign things are so harmful.

    And for me, the fact that his ego prevents him from loving me enough to understand that his lack of willingness to hear me, learn, understand, and respect that to love me…. HE HAS TO!!! Things have snowballed into the biggest monster of my life and the only one that I have actually felt utterly defeated from.

    My mind is BLOWN.

    This week, I got to “that”place…. you know… decision time. Is my mental health worth sacrificing for someone who isn’t going to recognize the damage or love me ENOUGH to understand.

    THANK GOD I stumbled onto the BTR page.

    I know all this stuff… lived it learned it, worked it a hundred times.

    But I NEEDED to hear it from somewhere other than my own head and heart.

    Getting stronger every day!

    Thank you!

    Reply

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