“Do you need to forgive yourself?”

by Annie Kaszina on November 19, 2013

goodquestionsmallHow do you forgive yourself, when you’ve said things, or done things, that put you on the same level as your emotionally abusive partner?” That’s what one lovely client asked me this week.

It’s a good question isn’t it?

If you’ve ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship, that one little question signposts two of your key concerns:

  • the obsession about whether you are better, or worse, than your emotionally abusive husband. (No prizes will be given for guessing his opinion on the matter.)
  • the issue of forgiveness which all emotionally abused women struggle with

My client’s question came as one of those throwaway questions, at the end of a dialogue about something different. Important questions often do. It’s something I learned from the wasband. (He was a physician who knew to listen for the real problem – which the patient would only mention when he/she had a hand on the door handle, and was just opening the door to leave.)

A throwaway answer to a throwaway question does more harm than it ever does good. So, let’s start at the beginning with this one.

In what circumstances does an emotionally abused woman behave on the same level as her abusive partner? The circumstances are crucial.

You see, I’m guessing it does NOT happen because:

a) she is looking to reassert her power and control over the situation (she doesn’t have any)

b) it is something she does deliberately and consciously with a view to causing maximum damage – just because…

Rather, I’m guessing it happens because:

a) she was pushed to her absolute limits, and beyond

b) she was trying to communicate with him – in his language – because she has failed, so consistently, to communicate with him, effectively, in hers

I’m also guessing that her emotional state was one of utter desperation, and that this is NOT something she did very often. When you take a leaf out of the Nasty Handbook, you do so purely because you are at your wits’ end.

That’s not why Mr Nasty does it.    

Also, if and when you do that, you feel sincere, lasting shame. 

That’s a bit different from his insincere, short term apologies, is it not?


If you end up behaving badly by your own standards, you aren’t going to turn around 3 hours, or 3 days, or 3 weeks later, and say:

“I only behaved that badly because you…. Besides, it wasn’t really that bad, anyway. It’s just that you’re hypersensitive, and you’re getting things out of perspective…”

You are much more likely to admit to yourself, and him, that you were totally out of order.

When you live with a Crazy-maker, you may just end up doing the odd crazy thing. That doesn’t make it right, that’s for sure. But crazy things serve a purpose.  Crazy things should serve as a very big wake-up call. They’re a sign that your mental health and well being are seriously under attack.

Which means it’s time to call time on the toxic relationship.

You didn’t actually sign up for a toxic relationship, remember?

Unless you’re totally different from every woman I have worked with over the last 10+ years, you didn’t say:

“Hooray!! I’ve finally found someone mean and horrible who will humiliate me that I can humiliate and treat badly in return.”

That was NOT you, right?

What really happened was that you adjusted, as best you could, to the laws of his jungle.

Would you like to forgive him for being who he is, and doing what he does?

Feel free – if that’s what you want to do.

But, please remember that your emotional resources are not infinite.

Anything but.

Living with Mr Nasty has done a lot to drain your resources for the time being. (Think of him as the holes in your bath tub – or the puncture in your tires (UK tyres), or the moths in your woolly sweater drawer! Your resources can ONLY be replenished when you dispense with what is destroying them.)

Forgiving your emotionally abusive partner is an ambitious enterprise – and a fairly pointless one. Bearing in mind that you do have the rest of your life in which to do that – should you so desire – there’s no earthly need to make forgiving him a top priority. (Whether you do, or whether you don’t, he’s not bothered. It’s not going to make him better – or stop him being bitter.)

Forgiving yourself, on the other hand, sounds like a good idea to me.

Chances are, you did the best you could most of the time.

You tried your socks off.

Your best efforts failed, but your intentions were good.

(Shame he can’t – H-O-N-E-S-T-L-Y – say as much!)

forgiveyourself,lifestooshortsmallYou were never really on his level.

You may have slummed it for a while, but that’s not your level.

End of…

Time to consign Mr Nasty to the recycling pile.  

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

S Jean November 19, 2013 at 10:54 am

Thankyou so much for sending me this latest inpiring email. You are so right! We do try and communicate in a respectful manner, however they just don’t respond to normalcy. They only get it, when we blow a gasket and stoop to their level. this just happened to me three days ago. I yelled back and said things in his language, only to feel horrible afterward. He knows it bothers me and keeps pushing buttons to get me to blow. I think he enjoys seeing me miserable. Not any more! i have stood my ground these last two days and will not allow him to run my life anylonger. If he wants a part of it, he’ll have to live respectfully and lovingly.

thanks again for your continued support and encouragement. We may not reply, but wow is it empowering!


Annie November 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

So pleased to hear that – and it’s always lovely to get a response, so that I know what resonates most with readers.

Of course Mr Nasty wants you to blow. Then he can say: “You’re the crazy one, with the anger management issues.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to live respectfully, and lovingly.

Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,



Emilia November 19, 2013 at 11:56 am

Annie, your articles just get better and better. More importantly, they are timely! I was beginning to question my behavior and really being hard on myself as to how I reacted under the circumstances of being attacked. I hated reacting that way but you said a key thing, “I was pushed to the limit” and I truly felt that way and know that for a fact it’s not who I was or am but I reacted. I never thought I would treat him that way but then I thought, he thrives on treating me the way he did and still does to shape, mode, ‘whip’ me into submission of his sick and cruel actions until I become what or who he wants me to be not who I was created to be. Thank you for all your insight. Emilia


janet November 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

So true Emilia…these types of men choose women with compassionate hearts which is why we have stayed with them as long as we have. Thankfully after 4 1/2 years of separation and rebuilding my life we are entering the phase of the divorce….regardless of conversations in my head I keep reinforcing to myself that I will not “spin” his mindset. There is no way to make sense of their behaviours and it is I feel this need to figure them out that holds one in the clutches of these relationships……only they can determine that their lives are worth changing but alas we all know that means taking responsibility for themselves which is what they will never do. Their need to project blame on others so the finger is not pointed on them is their early life with their mothers playing out. As the wives we have been punished for what they suffered in their early years and beyond with their mothers and other family caregivers. They disown the impact of their mothers behaviours on them along with needs and from my perspective the need for real love. We deserve emotionally healthy loving relationships. In many ways they see themselves as Lord and Master with us being their puppy dogs who will concede to everything they desire. I’m glad I asked my husband to leave 4 1/2 years ago…it was very difficult but I am an entirely different woman because of it now. I have secured a job and more importantly I have secured my self respect and self confidence. All of this has also made me aware of those in my life who are also passive aggressive. This has allowed me to remove them from my life also as I realize they were not true friends. These types of people live their life in “façade” never revealing much of who they are…they are never openly vulnerable but interestingly you will find these people trying to attach themselves to people like us who are caring and compassionate people. So thank you Annie for your articles that teach and remind us about emotional abusive behaviour. It can take years I have found to step away from this twisted mindset but it can be done. Stay strong!


Annie November 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Yes, he does thrive on being beastly – it’s the nature of the beast. That being the case, you have to think what you are going to do about it. Staying in the situation and telling yourself what a beast he is, is really not healthy for you – or the boys.

Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,



Deborah November 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thank-you, Annie. Reading this gave me such peace!


Annie November 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

So pleased:-)


The silent abuse November 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I did this! I tried to give another chance and the emotional abuse stated again! Physically I could hit harder! I tried to cave his chest in! And I moved because I was scared of going to jail. He did the “maybe I shouldn’t have done but YOU did this and that.. I tried to let him back but I hated myself! I prayed to The Lord to just give me one excuse to stop the emotional abuse and HE DID! When an emotional abuser is trying to isolate you he goes to your family and friends and talk about how bad you are and tell them not to tell you he said it. Know that he has to go to your friends and family because his family is supporting his actions but notice he has no friends!


Kate November 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I hate that my partner always accused me of being jealous. One night, even when we weren’t dating, I arrived to a restaurant and he was there with 2 friends of ours. They all asked me to join and I did. Later on, when the other couple were leaving. He said, for a moment when you sat down, I felt like I didn’t know where to look, that you were going to start being jealous again. (The restaurant was empty, with a 15 waitress, who is in school with my daughter). He said I was always on edge with you. So he kept this up till we fell out. And as I left, he said, there you are storming off jealous again. This after being Mr Perfect, Mr Wonderful and Amazing Host all night while the other couple was there. I find the act, the playing everyone, knowing how to cod them all with charm, that’s hard to take. Especially when he is very different with me. Causes confusion, hard to move on for some reason.


Annie November 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I’m guessing you still want him to see things your way, and recognise the injustice he is doing you. That is not going to happen.

He’s entitled to make whatever accusations he likes- no matter how unfair they are. You, unfortunately, give credence to them by staying to listen.

Life will be so much better without him. Honestly.

Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,



Bobbie November 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I think that anyone coming from an abusive relationship spends day after day trying to analyze what is happening. However, none of it makes any sense to a rational person. When you are rational you are not able to think irrationally no matter how hard you try. I have tried all the tactics you and others have mentioned – being extra sweet, being quiet, cleaning, giving space, buying gifts, making sure he had everything he needed, yellling back (thinking he could see how I was treated and would change) I finally figured it out – It wasn’t me! It was nothing I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t how I talked or didn’t talk – it was the sheer pleasure he got out of overpowering me in every way. Like it was a fetish. You cannot go into someone’s brain and turn off the trigger for his fetish of power. I wish I could. I sensed love in there somewhere, however, it seemed to show up just before I had taken my last blow, last harsh word, last degrading description of myself. And we wives of abuse will be so happy for that little crumb we are given. It makes me angry at myself. I don’t need to be forgiven. I need to go out and live. I struggle so hard with this whole scenerio. Yesterday I went on a walk and thought about being physicially out of the relationship, yet I am emotionally bound by it. All my thinking repeats his words and questions my own. I don’t need to forgive, I forgave for 18 years. Someone said – hand him the key of the jail cell you have put him in to punish him and set him free. I thought – Oh ya sure, he is in a jail cell – I would give him the wrong key and say “good luck with that” If we need help it is to LET GO of Responsibility for everything he does or doesn’t do. I am working on it but it is PTSD – Thoughts, words, and memories trigger it. I need help with PTSD. Domestic Abuse PTSD – and childhood PTSD that I have carried with me for all these years. I don’t think I will ever be completely over this, however I can live with support and some new words I tell myself. That would help the most – some optimistic words – some encouragement – some people telling me I am doing a good job, and not encouraging guilt because my Master Manipulator sure can use my guilt to control me. I am no longer physically trapped, however I am emotionally trapped and struggling to set myself free from the jail cell he used to lock me away. Even if that cell is no longer there – visibly, it is still haunting me.


Leona November 19, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Once I came to understand the twisted dynamic of the relationship, with your help, I was finally able to forgive and accept myself. It is a process and one well worth taking on. Just like Kate’s comment below my master manipulator was the perfect husband when others were around and quickly reverted back to his usual self once the front door closed and the cars pulled away. I don’t worry about forgiving or understanding him anymore. It is not a good use of my time and his emotional abusive behaviour is not worth understanding. Getting on with my life is not about him. Thanks for writing this Annie. The work you do is life altering!


janet November 20, 2013 at 11:31 pm

It’s quite the process to forgive yourself but in reality we were all doing the best we could with what we knew. Once we realize there is no way to rationalize their behaviour, step back and stop “spinning” in their behaviours we will be better for it. They are not close to anyone …they wear masks and armour when around others and the reality is that they don’t care if anyone knows them…they live in their own prison and will never be truly happy….so free yourselves is the solution.


Yvonne November 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

This article is dead-on. I even had a counselor tell me I was probably abusive as well…that “like attracts like”, then I started questioning myself, because I was already beat down, and I carried such shame when I responded totally at my wits end, so at that time I tried to not let him get to me, so I dont “act out” or respond like the very environment I was in, but it didn’t last long, he would hook me again. But I am out of the relationship now.


Annie November 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Shocking! That’s what happens when people can’t – or won’t – think clearly. Just because that person had a counsellor label – and qualification – it doesn’t mean they knew diddly squat about the nature of abuse.

Glad to hear you’ve moved on:-)

Warm wishes for your happiness and healing,



EA November 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I really needed to read this. I wish I could afford to work with you….I need the help!


rose November 27, 2013 at 11:46 am

EA, you don’t have to ‘wish’ you could afford to work with Annie. You can. Read each and every one of her articles and watch her videos for a start. Right there, you are working with her. This is exactly what I did and I am now free of the toxic threads that were still tied to me.

There’s your help right there. You now have to make helping yourself a priority. I wish you all the best.


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