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The Power of Forgiving

Updated on July 12, 2012

What if the offender does not, will not, or cannot repent? Do I forgive anyway?

The woman who has experienced domestic abuse walks away from her abuser filled with anger, resentment, and bitterness of soul toward her abuser. She is certain her abuser will never admit to his wrong and will never say, "I am sorry." Indeed most abusers cling to their right to continue to abuse and consider their partners to be harsh and unyielding when they finally make their escape.

Patricia recounts a conversation she had with her former abuser on their 20th wedding anniversary. He expressed hope that they would be able to reconcile after a one year separation. In response Patricia outlined her expectations that there would be no more abuse. His response? He attempted to negotiate how much abuse he might continue to inflict upon her. He did not look for strategies of how he might be held accountable or how he might grow into a tender, nurturing husband. Instead he wanted to be clear that he could not be "abuse free" and she needed to accept that. The conversation soon regressed into a bartering for abuse of sorts. If his abuse was less severe then he could abuse her 3-4 times in a week but if it was more severe then only 1-2 times a week. Less severe abuse would be defined as...

She asked for a divorce one week later.

Patricia's abuser never asked for forgiveness and never repented of his evil treatment of her. Instead he quickly latched on to another victim.

Patricia enjoyed her freedom immensely but was plagued for years by waves of anger and bitterness toward her abuser. She said that her post-divorce life evolved into repeated cycles of bitterness that eventually led to another layer of forgiveness.

She would forgive all of his known offenses and would then be presented with more evidence of past treachery including affairs and money laundering techniques to fund his double life. "Would it never end?" she asked.

One might clearly argue that Patricia is justified in her anger and that her abuser does not deserve forgiveness. Not only has he not apologized for abusing his first wife but rumor has it he has brought his past treachery into his new marriage!

Patricia understands that she is justified in her anger but she also understands that forgiveness is not for the benefit of the abuser. Forgiveness is for her benefit. Most women who escape domestic abuse journey through a similar wilderness of anger, resentment, bitterness, and a general feeling of "unfairness." Patricia said it helped her to first define forgiveness and then outline the benefits to her of forgiving her abuser.

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge; to choose to no longer hold the offender accountable for his misdeeds. Domestic abuse will always remain a part of the victim's past, but forgiveness can lessen the abuser's grip on her heart and help her focus on healing and building new, fruitful relationships. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the abuser.

Forgiveness does not, however, mean that the victim should deny the other person's responsibility for hurting her, and it does not minimize or justify the wrong. She can forgive the abuser without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps her go on with her life.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

So long as the recipient of domestic violence holds onto resentment and an unforgiving spirit then she will bring anger and bitterness into every new relationship and experience. Her life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that she cannot enjoy the present. She will likely suffer from depression and anxiety along with a host of physical ailments ranging from headaches and intestinal problems to sore joints and backaches. She will feel that her life lacks meaning or purpose, and that she is at odds with her faith. Bitterness stemming from an unforgiving spirit will make future relationships and connectedness with others very difficult. If she does not deal with her anger then she will bring it into her new relationships and blame him for her abuser's misbehavior.

Forgiveness has proven to be a lifetime challenge for Patricia. She works through one layer of forgiveness only to discover yet another layer to work through. Her latest? She discovered that her abuser defied the divorce decree and made off with a good portion of the settlement. "It's complicated," she said. She has hired an attorney and will soon subpoena tax and bank records. Patricia is sober when she contemplates the felony charges she will soon bring against him. The hold up? She is convinced that she must forgive completely before she hears the handcuffs click around his wrists.


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    • Mary Stuart profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Washington

      Thank you for your kind comments. I think that forgiving is a key step in healing from domestic abuse. You can't move on in strength until you walk through the forgiveness process. I wish you well.

    • Ebonny profile image

      Ebonny 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge on forgiveness. I am sure it will be of interest and a great help to those who are struggling with the idea of forgiveness. Great hub. Voted up etc.

    • Mary Stuart profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Washington

      Hi Peggy. Yes, I stayed for a full 20 years. I thought that if I only... then I could make the relationship better. I really, really tried but to no avail. I finally saw the futility of it all and recognized that I was so beat down that I had to make my escape right away or I would lose the strength to escape. I left plagued by nightmares, depression, anxiety, wave up wave of migraines. Aah. The list goes on and on. I encourage women to escape before it is too late. A beautiful life is theirs for the taking. Go for it! Forgiving the abuser is key to grabbing the beautiful life in the horizon.

    • Mary Stuart profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Washington

      I agree, tirelesstraveler! . I am not so sure that we have the power within us to forgive. It is easy to say the words but the deep in the soul, peace giving forgiveness that is so needed is not so easy. My forgiveness toward my own abuser has been a supernatural thing. Still, it has been a long, hard process. I have fought to refrain from glibly speaking the words and pretending that all is well. I won't say the words until I know they are true. Forgiveness, for me, has come one layer at a time.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 5 years ago from Austin, TX

      Forgiveness is not the sign of weakness, as it is popularly perceived. It is the characteristic of the strong and the brave.

      If God forgives us all for our sins, can't we mortals too? I know it's easy to say but it's difficult to do. However, if you forgive, you do not only free your wrong doers from the hurt they committed to you, but you also free yourself from bitterness and hatred.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Not forgiving someone who has done you wrong is like trying to cover up an open wound without doing what is necessary to cleanse it and get rid of the infection first. Forgiveness allows for healing of the emotional and spiritual wounds of the soul. Only then, can peace be experienced.

    • MikeSyrSutton profile image

      MikeSyrSutton 5 years ago from An uncharted galaxy

      Very nice. Spiritual principles like forgiveness can carry tremendous power.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Forgiveness is a great deed, that not many can do. It takes a lot of courage to forgive and let go. Harboring anger and grudge will scar longterm. Great hub. Voted up,

    • Felina Margetty profile image

      Felina Margetty 5 years ago from New York, New York

      What a great question and one so easy to answer, I always try to remember that god loves me and cares for me and gives me all good things. Compassion is the key to happiness.

    • profile image

      susanm23b 5 years ago

      To able to forgive such cruel treatment is surely something God enables us to do--we could never do it ourselves. I am so thankful that this kind of suffering and pain has not been part of my life experience. I have daughters and have told them many times--never let anyone strike you--no matter who it is.

      Thank you for sharing this touching story. I'm sure it will be a comfort to someone in a similar situation.

      Voted up!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I see from the comment section that this is written from a personal perspective. Very sorry that you sustained abuse in your marriage but at least you have moved on and gotten out of that relationship which is not always the easiest thing to do depending upon circumstances. Some people stay always hoping it will get better, or are beaten down so much that they actually start believing that they deserve the abuse.

      Working on the forgiving part...I can see that it would take time and as you described "come one layer at a time." Bless you and your days ahead!

    • Mary Stuart profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Washington

      I totally agree. I do not have the power to forgive on my own. I needed Jesus!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      To harbor bitterness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness needs a power higher than myself. This is an excellent hub

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Forgiveness is a great power, however, everyone cannot forgive the wrong doers. We must learn the art of forgiving from Jesus who said: father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing.