When They Say “Forgive Your Abuser”

"Forgive your abuser" can be deeply invalidating counsel. Anne breaks down the relationship between boundaries and forgiveness.

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.

On The BTR.ORG Podcast, Anne shares her own perspective on how forgiveness can help women establish boundaries.

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 counsel you to forgive the 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.

Tune in to The BTR.ORG Podcast for more episodes on the topic of forgiveness.

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

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.

Find the support you deserve in a BTR.ORG Group Session today.

Full Transcript:

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.


  1. Diane

    How or where do I sign up for group sessions?

  2. Beth mcgrath

    2 years into my recovery….my discovery was on mother’s day of 2016.

    Your podcast brings my soul rest. Thank you.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad! Peace be with you!

  3. Ruth A Dyck

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I don’t know what the next step is exactly. I have a copy of Boundaries. I have tried for 30 years to walk with a husband who, to use his words “struggles with occasional porn”. I know I am not a perfect person, but I just don’t want to live like this anymore. I have asked myself over and over if forgiveness really means I allow myself to be continually wounded or do I have a choice? I really needed to hear that again about what true forgiveness looks like. Both my husband and I have a lot to loose if we continue as is and we really would wish to heal and change. At least I’d like to believe him when he say’s that….usually it ends the same. So, I am looking forward to a few sessions to see how I can continue in trauma recovery and see where my life will go from there. Sorry this is so long winded, but one more thought….almost 20 years ago I began thinking, “How come God hates me so much or what is so wrong with me that I have to be in this marriage where I am repeatedly wounded.That I have to be beaten down emotionally, Does this bring God glory” Jesus said the truth set’s us free I am sooo glad I found you tonight! I am sleeping at my mothers.

    • Anne Blythe

      Ruth, welcome. You’re in the right place. God doesn’t want you to be continually wounded. He loves you and we do to:). Welcome.

      • Mona Teclaw

        Amen! I can echo so much of what you have experienced. I never questioned God’s love for me but I didn’t understand how staying in the abuse was honoring Him in any way. I struggled daily with that thought. Then one day God told me to “pay attention” He would begin to reveal to me a way out. He didn’t want me to stay in that bondage, but until then I wasn’t ready to listen. I had to start trusting Him to make a way instead of fearing that I couldn’t get out. 4 months later I am separated and learning as much as I can about abuse, porn addiction, recovery. what forgiveness looks like and who I am in Christ. I have a long way to go, but I don’t doubt His direction. The one thing I have come to believe is that nothing is wasted..not one excruciating moment. This is the 4th time I have left my abuser, and the final time.I needed to establish the pattern of abuse and God’s timing is perfect. I could go on and on about how He has ‘saved’ me, but I will just say God is faithful!!

        • Anne Blythe

          Your comments ring so true! I felt the same way! Thanks for sharing:).

  4. Mona Teclaw

    Anne I have been listening to your podcasts. I so appreciate your topics and the guest much good information. Today’s was especially pertinent for where I am at on my journey. It puts a real and honest light on forgiveness. I do have Henry Cloud’s book- thank you for sharing that and breaking it down (my copy has that excerpt on page 136) It helped me to wrap my head around the subject in a new way that is also Biblical ! I think it was the missing piece to my puzzle 🙂

    God Bless ~ Mona

    • Anne Blythe

      Mona, I’m so glad it’s helpful to you! Hugs!

  5. Josephine

    Anne, Thank you for your work and I love your heart for helping stop violence against women and helping women heal from it. My thoughts on forgiveness though are different. It is for the offender not the offended. God is not in the habit of forgiving without repentance. We can let go of the debt and the revenge but forgiveness requires something from the sinner. This seems counterintuitive to what we have been taught(in the church)but I think if we look back to the 1st century church the onus for repentance for forgiveness was on the offender. Maybe a way to think about it is; a person can “let go of vengeance and a debt they can not pay” without forgiving the person or the offense. Forgiveness is not emotional it is something we do in response to something from the offener.

    • Anne Blythe

      Josephine, I actually agree with you! Sorry if that didn’t come across. I feel like forgiveness is for me:). I can feel peaceful and safe. Trust is something different:). Thanks for sharing!

  6. MB

    Josephine, I agree with you–though I am secular and do not believe in concepts of Godly repentance or sin. I love the work of Janice Abrams Spring who writes “How Can I Forgive You.” A Summary: Forgiveness has been held up as the gold standard of recovery from interpersonal injuries. We have been taught that forgiveness is good for us and that good people forgive. In real life, however, hurt parties often find that they can’t or won’t forgive, particularly when the offender is unrepentant or dead.In How Can I Forgive You?, Genuine Forgiveness is reframed as an intimate dance, a hard-won transaction, which asks as much of the offender as it does of the hurt party. Offenders will learn how to perform bold, humble, heartfelt acts of repair to earn forgiveness, such as bearing witness to the pain they caused, delivering a meaningful apology, and taking responsibility for their offense. Hurt parties will learn to release their obsessive preoccupation with the injury, accept a fair share of responsibility for what went wrong, and create opportunities for the offender to make good.
    When the offender can’t or won’t make meaningful repairs for the damaged caused, Dr. Spring proposes a radical, new alternative to forgiveness – a profound, life-affirming, healing process called Acceptance.”

    • Anne Blythe

      Monica, thank you for these in depth thoughts on forgiveness – it’s so important in this context!

    • Barbara

      MB thank you for sharing this- I struggle with the manipulation that comes along with spiritual abuse and forgiveness/restoration church-ese that gets thrown at me. I realize this is several years down the road, but your words rang true, and I look forward to trying to find this source and seeing if it fits more.

  7. Katherine

    Thank you for this insight. It has totally validated my actions. I did the right thing. I needed to hear it from someone else.

    • Anne Blythe

      Forgiveness isn’t possible without boundaries. And forgiveness is for YOU and does not require you to trust the perpetrator. I’m so glad this validated you:). Hugs.


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