Forgiveness has many positive effects. But forgiving someone who abused you is a personal decision and one you make for your health — not your abuser’s.
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Recovering from abuse can be a long and complex process, but resources and support are available to help you during this process. You’re not alone.
At some point, many people going through this process will ask whether they should forgive their abuser. But how do you forgive someone who abused you?
Feelings of possible betrayal, pain, humiliation, and helplessness can be impossible to forget, let alone forgive.
But what most people don’t understand is forgiveness isn’t for or about the abuser — it’s for the survivor and may be a helpful step in their healing journey.
Abusive relationships can affect self-esteem and confidence. Survivors may often be left feeling unsafe and incapable of trusting not only others but themselves as well.
Experiencing abuse may also lead survivors to practice negative self-talk, such as:
- “I can’t.”
- “I don’t deserve (love, caring, kindness, support).”
- “I’m (useless, stupid, unattractive, a waste of space).”
- “I need someone else to do things for me, take care of me, help me exist.”
But letting go of abuse doesn’t mean forgetting about it or pretending it never happened.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Letting go of abuse means breaking these patterns of thought and dispelling such beliefs. In order to do that, those thoughts and feelings must be confronted, disproven, and replaced. It can take time to change and challenge the beliefs and thoughts you may be experiencing.
If you feel safe and comfortable, consider seeking support from trusted loved ones, a mental health professional, or join a local support group to help you during this time. You don’t have to go through this alone.
Much like letting go doesn’t equate to forgetting, neither does forgiveness. Forgiving your abuser isn’t the same as reconciling.
Choosing to forgive your abuser is solely for you and your health — both mental and physical — when you feel ready.
A 2015 study indicates that the process of forgiving can help with recovery from abuse by reducing the stress and anxiety associated with it. In other words, it may help you in your journey of letting go.
Learning to forgive your abuser can mean:
- trying to release negativity rather than dwelling on it
- using your experience to fuel positive changes in yourself
- taking your power back
- neutralizing the emotional control the abuse may have over you
By doing these things, you pave the road for your own:
Abusive relationships come in several forms, and the path to healing can differ for each person.
Many abusive relationships can have lasting effects, abusers who take advantage of vulnerability and unconditional trust may be present in the following types of relationships:
- parent/child relationships
- relationships with family members
- intimate relationships, such as romantic partners
Abuse can also occur in:
- working relationships
- coach/team relationships
Those who experience abuse in these relationships often sense something is “not right,” or “off,” but may not know how to identify it. This abuse may often be disguised as:
- helping you be your best
- this is just the way it works
Abuse can occur in many forms, and some can be hard to discern. It can occur in ways that are:
Even within these, there are a number of different incarnations.
Isolating and exclusionary behavior, for instance, can be a form of psychological and emotional abuse. The abuser gains control by manipulating social engagement and relationships so that the survivor begins to feel self-doubt and dependence.
It’s very common for those who have experienced abuse to ask if they should forgive their abuser. The only person who can answer that is the person who’s had the experience. And there’s no rush to answer this question.
Consider the following reminders as you journey through the process of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is for you — not the person who abused you.
- Abuse can come in many forms, and just because it doesn’t seem typical doesn’t mean it’s not abuse.
- By forgiving your abuser, you’re not reconciling or saying in any way that the abuse was OK or acceptable.
- The process of forgiving can help you move forward and let go of the stress and anxiety that can linger.
- There is a link between forgiveness, and your mental and physical health, according to 2017 research.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself that allows you to leave the emotional baggage from abuse where it should be — in your past.
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence, you can:
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day at 800-799-7233
- Contact loveisrespect.org by texting LOVEIS to 22522 or calling 866-331-9474
- Visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for a list of resources