Countless victims of betrayal and emotional abuse have been counseled by clergy, therapists, family, and friends to forgive their abuser.
While the intention may be good, forgiveness is a choice that women can make, but victims should never be shamed or forced into offering forgiveness to their abusers.
Why Do I Feel Guilty For Not Forgiving Him?
Victims of betrayal and abuse are conditioned by both society and their abusers to immediately offer forgiveness to the abuser, regardless of their own trauma and need for safety.
Many times, when women do not trust their spouse or partner who has betrayed and abused them, they may feel a degree of guilt or shame for not offering forgiveness.
This may come from their religious background, family of origin, or simply their own value of forgiving others. However, women can trust themselves that if they cannot or will not forgive, they can give themselves time to heal instead of forcing it.
Forgiveness And Trust Are Not The Same Thing
When an abuser betrays and harms his the victim, it is wise and safe for her to withhold trust. Trust is earned.
Forgiveness is different than trust: women have the right to choose when they forgive and how they forgive their abuser. While some victims say that forgiving their abuser cleared the way for healing, there are many others who have not offered forgiveness and are also on a healthy path to healing.
Forgiveness Is A Personal Decision
You get to choose when and if you forgive your abuser. No one else can or should direct or counsel you to offer forgiveness when you are not ready, or have chosen not to forgive.
Women can still live peaceful lives, even if they choose not to offer forgiveness to their abuser.
How Can I Respond When Someone Urges Me to Forgive Him?
Here are some ideas of responses when others tell you to forgive your abuser:
- I will forgive on my own timeline.
- My decision to forgive or not forgive is personal.
- Please help me process my own trauma: urging me to forgive is not helpful to my recovery.
- I am in trauma: please do not talk to me about forgiveness right now.
- You can ask me how I am doing, but please don’t tell me how to navigate this painful journey.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
At BTR, we understand the emotional pain and confusion that accompanies the concept of forgiveness. Women deserve support and empowerment as they navigate the bumpy road of healing and peace.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women the support and community that they need and deserve. Join today and process your trauma with safe, loving women from all over the world.
Anne: I’ve been reading Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and I really like it. There was one part that really helped me, on page 140. It’s titled, “Forgive the Aggressor.” It says: “Nothing clarifies boundaries more than forgiveness. To forgive someone means to let him off the hook, or to cancel the debt he owes you. When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person. It keeps you tied to him forever.
“Refusing to forgive a family member is one of the main reasons people are stuck for years, unable to separate from their dysfunctional families. They still want something from them. It is much better to receive grace from God, who has something to give, and to forgive those who have no money to pay their debt with. This ends your suffering, because it ends the wish for repayment that is never forthcoming, and that makes your heart sick, because there’s no hope.
What Does It Mean To Forgive?
“If you do not forgive, you are demanding something your offender does not choose to give. Even if it is only a confession of what he did, this ties him to you and ruins boundaries. Let the dysfunctional family you came from go. Cut it loose, and you will be free.”
The reason I think this is so interesting is because, with a lot of clergy, there’s tons of talk about forgiveness, and they think that that’s going to keep families together. But, in this book, it’s suggesting that forgiveness is a really important step in learning to set boundaries.
Once you think, this person is not capable of giving me what I need. I’m going to forgive them and wipe the slate clean, and not expect anything else from them. Then it enables you to set a boundary, and know that: If I’m not going to expect anything else from him, that he’s not capable of giving, or he’s not choosing to give, then I don’t really want to talk to him anymore or we need to separate or whatever it may be.
Why Is Forgiveness Important?
This is an interesting way to think about forgiveness. The clergy calls you in, and you’re talking to them, and they say, “This is an issue of forgiveness,” you could bring this up, and say, “True forgiveness means that I’ve wiped the slate clean, and I don’t think he owes me anything. So, I’m going to now set a boundary that says, ‘ I’m letting you go. You don’t owe me anything. I wish you luck in your choices. I wish you luck in your life. Goodbye, and I will freely forgive you, now that I can set these boundaries to be safe from you.’”
I’m just mulling it over in my head. I’m not 100 percent sure about it yet. If you guys own a copy of Boundaries, you can look at that section on page 140. Explore your own thoughts on this issue.
How Forgiveness Can Be Helpful
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is confidential and private and gives you access to group sessions every single day. You’ll get to know all of the coaches that way. Then, if you want to schedule individual sessions as needed on specific topics with specific coaches, then you can do that through individual sessions.
There are moments, still, where I lose hope. Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t go to sleep, because I thought, “What is going to happen? How am I going to do this? I never wanted to be a single mom. I didn’t sign up to be a single mom. This is not the life that I wanted.” When I woke up this morning, I felt a little bit better.
There’s just so many stages of recovering from this. I think I’m doing better, and then I take a step back.
Until next week, stay safe out there.