Do you have a problem forgiving an emotionally abusive partner?
Do you have a problem forgiving? Have you, too, been told that you need to forgive a partner – or other, key emotionally abusive figure in your life – before you can move on? Have other people – that most tiresome of gangs – dived in (where angels fear to tread) to tell you the state of forgiveness you have to reach before you can be A Good Person?
According to these Know-It-Alls, until you can say a heartfelt “I forgive you.” to the person who has caused you so much pain – and likely never apologised – you cannot hope to be good enough (to have a half-way decent life).
Because they say not!
Now, when you stop to think about it, the position they take is a really interesting one. These people are passing opinion on your life, and foisting their “Shoulds” on you. How caring and compassionate is that?
The “Shoulds” always point to a clear lack of compassion
In my book, any time someone dumps a “Should” at your door, they are manifesting a clear lack of compassion. They are not walking in your shoes. Even if they have once been where you are now, they are no longer there. I say that with confidence, knowing that those who judge do not care – and those who care do not judge.
One of the easiest things in the world is to be clever for someone else. (That is why an emotional abuser is so much wiser than you are – allegedly.) However, when someone tells you what you should do, who actually benefits?
Do you, on the receiving end of that good advice, experience the proverbial light-bulb moment and say?
“Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I am SO grateful to you. I would never have thought that out for myself.”
Or do you think to yourself, “A fat lot of help that is. It is not as if you are telling me something I don’t already know?”
Judging from what I hear from clients, all the time, everyone knows that forgiveness is the Holy Grail of recovery from emotional abuse. The Should folk are, likely, better at talking about forgiveness than they are at performing it. At any rate, they don’t appear to know that,
Forgiveness is the final step of a process
Forgiveness is the final step of an entire process.
When you are still focused on the horrendous injustice of what you have been through, of course you have a problem forgiving your abuser.
Besides, what do you need to forgive him for? Being an a****le? Trashing the relationship? Repeatedly causing you massive pain?
In reality, victims of emotional abuse have a problem with forgiveness on two counts
- They have a problem forgiving their emotional abuser for all the pain he has caused.
- They have a problem forgiving themselves for not forgiving all the misery their emotional abuser has caused them.
My exceedingly tiresome ex-father-in-law had a favorite phrase, “You are trying to run before you can walk.” Admittedly, he never actually said it about forgiveness. But then, he was one of the least forgiving men on the planet. Few people could nurture a feeble little grudge to epic proportions the way he could. Plus, he always remained true to his grudges. Still, even he occasionally got things right – albeit by luck rather than judgement.
Trying to forgive an emotional abuser before you have successfully processed your own feelings is very much like trying to run before you can. Acceptance comes before forgiveness. Acceptance requires you to acknowledge that what happened, happened, but it was NOT your fault.
Until you can accept, you will have a problem with forgiving an emotional abuser.
However, that brings us to the much more important question,
“What is so important about forgiving an emotional abuser, anyway?”
The importance of forgiving
You could argue that your peace of mind depends on it. That might not be quite true. The truth is that you might not feel too good about yourself if you are filled with fury towards your abuser.
When you walk around carrying a load of resentments, it tends NOT to make you feel good. (Only people like my ex-father-in-law thrive on resentments.) But here’s the thing, the resentments you feel towards an abuser are highly unlikely to harm that abuser. It’s not as if you are going to act on them and commit a criminal act. So, the only person they harm is you. You really don’t need any more harm in your life than you have already experienced.
That means that you have to deal with your own feelings. When you have a problem with forgiveness that is because you still have a lot of awkward feelings – that you experience as ugly – whirling around in your brain.
As you already know, bad feelings don’t go away just because you ask them to. They don’t go away when you fight them, either. That doesn’t mean you are wedded to them for ever. It means that you have to do something different.
That different thing is acceptance. If you have a problem with forgiveness that is because you struggle to accept the feelings that you have. First you have to accept those feelings – and respect that they came about for a good reason. Then, you can work through the process of forgiving yourself. Once you have done that, you can address the problem of forgiving your abuser – if you choose to do so – for being the objectionable creature that he is. Or not.
Forgiving an abuser is optional. Forgiving yourself is essential.
If you have a problem with forgiving – or with listening to other people’s “Shoulds” – it will only stand in the way of your healing and happiness. You cannot enjoy the peace of mind you seek if you are still struggling with the old bad feelings. There comes a point when you reach the end of your own resources and know you need help. At that point, you are ready to make changes and likely to respond well to coaching – even if you have plateaued or reached a dead end with counselling or therapy. If that is where you are now, and you are looking for the help that will take you through to healing and happiness, get in touch.