The Power of Forgiving
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.
- Physical Abuse: The Battered Wife Inside and Out
- The Many Faces of an Emotional Abuser Part 1
- The Many Faces of an Emotional Abuser Part 2
Emotional abuse leaves no visible scars but it takes a lifetime to heal the wounds.
- The Many Faces of an Emotional Abuser Part 3
The best abusers never bruise the body. They aim for the heart and soul of their victim, instead.