FORGIVENESS MAY NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS
Among abuse survivors, I hear a lot of debate over whether we should forgive our abuser or not. In fact, this is often a heated topic. Some victims think that the only way to heal is through forgiving your abuser. Then you can let go and move forward. Others think that forgiveness is letting the abuser off the hook and not standing up for yourself. They believe that holding on to the pain and anger makes them stronger and more willing to fight for what is right.
I do think forgiveness is key, but it might not quite be what you think it is. Forgiveness is everything, but I’m not talking about forgiving your narcissistic abuser. I’m talking about forgiving yourself.
Carrying the Blame
In these relationships, we often carry blame for a lot of things that we shouldn’t. A narcissistic abuser is very happy to let you carry all the blame. In fact, they will remind you that everything is your fault again and again. One of the strengths of a narcissistic abuser is to make you feel responsible for everything, not only for all the problems but also for cleaning them up. I made a list one day of all the things that I was carrying self-blame for. Here is a small portion of that lengthy list.
I blamed myself:
- For allowing him to treat me in an abusive way
- For not being able to get him to stop
- For not being able to connect with him with genuineness and compassion
- For bringing 2 beautiful boys into that abusive environment
- For not stopping the abuse that he directed at our boys
- For not being able to help him build a healthy relationship with our boys
- For not being the savior of our home
As I made this list, I realized that I was carrying the blame for things that truly were not my fault and were not within my control even. I didn’t bring this abuse into the home, and I tried everything I knew to stop it. While I could not get it stopped, it wasn’t my fault that it was there in the first place. I didn’t bring it into the home. I didn’t bring it into my boys’ lives.
My oldest son once said to me,
“Mom, you did ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY and Z, while he wouldn’t even do A. How can this possibly be your fault?”
The Savior of the Home
After all, who made me the therapist of the home? Who decided I was the one with all the answers for everyone? Who all of sudden blessed me with all the gifts necessary to clean up his mess? Who died and made me God that I was the one now responsible for fixing all of this?
The answer is no one! This was not my fault, not my responsibility, and not my blame to carry anymore. So I forgave myself. And all of a sudden, things looked different. Changing your perspective changes everything!
Don’t carry the blame for all the garbage that they bring on. With the way they treat others, they cause a lot of hurt feelings around them. When they wallow around in the mud pit that they created, don’t make it your job to fix their mess. It is okay to feel compassion for them. But it is not okay to make it your responsibility to clean up for them. My husband was a full-grown adult and could not figure out how to talk nicely to his family. When I found myself trying to explain to a grown man how to talk kindly, then I realized the absolute craziness of all this.
Not my Fault
One evening, on the way home from their school, the boys and I stopped at Sonic for drinks. It is right down the street from our house, and they like to get limeade drinks from time to time. One particular evening, my husband was furious that we had stopped without him. I found myself being lectured about it, like a child. I pointed out to my husband that he doesn’t even like Sonic. He said that wasn’t the point, so I asked what was the point? He accused me of doing all the “fun” stuff without him. I said, “If it’s so important to you, then you take them to Sonic.” He snapped back, “They don’t ever want to go with me.” I looked him straight in the face and firmly responded, “That’s not my fault.”
He was right. These boys never wanted to spend time with him because he treated them so meanly over and over again. It was no longer my job to “persuade” them to go spend time with their dad. It took me a lot of years to truly realize that it wasn’t my job to fix this. Trying to fix it had completely exhausted me! I was bailing water out of a busted up boat with a small bucket while he was pouring water in with a fire hose.
Forgiveness is crucial for healing! Forgiveness of yourself! You are allowed to be you. You are not a superhero. You are not the savior. You are simply you. You have however much patience you have, however much strength and energy you have. When it is time to walk away, then walk away. Forgive yourself as you go! Let each piece blow away like the petals of a dandelion.
You hit the nail on the head–even AFTER I exposed my husband’s cheating–I was the one counseling him toward a reconciliation…I was so used to being used by him that I took it as MY responsibility to heal WHAT HE HAD DONE (moved away to take a job, and taking his GF to be his “Campus Wife”) I found out six months ago. When I found out last week that he was still talking to HER “several times” (I take that as EVERY DAY) a week. Then I found out that he had intentionally terrorized me by claiming his health insurance no longer covered me.
I speak to my Atty tomorrow. He has a LOT to lose, and I will make it my job to take it from him–to repay ME. I also have two children with him–girls–and they are also wise beyond their years.
Thank you for sharing–the best is yet to come!
I hear strength in your words! I wish you and your girls much peace on this journey of healing and thriving!
I’m a Christian so forgiveness for me means I must forgive the abuser, it doesn’t mean I will forget what they did to me it just means I set my soul free from hate, I do that for myself because there can be no hate in heaven, if I carry hate in my heart I cannot enter the Gates of heaven because I can’t carry hate into heaven there is no hate in heaven if there were it would not be heaven, I must forgive them so I can be forgiven for my sins and I don’t mean my sins against them, I committed no sin against them, I mean my sins in general as a human being throughout my life, I want to be forgiven for my sins and I want everyone else to be forgiven for their sins because I want every soul for the kingdom of heaven and if they have sinned and they are not forgiven for their sins they cannot get into heaven so I pray for their sins to be forgiven by God but I also must forgive them for my own self to be forgiven of my sins. but as I said I do not forget what they did to me and I never will, I will never allow that in my life again by anyone not them or anyone, I will protect myself from ever letting these kind of people into my life and my children’s lives.
WOW! I almost cried reading this! I am a Christian as well and believe in forgiving someone when they have wronged me. After all, we are all sinful human beings, and each and every one of us is as deserving of forgiveness as another. Forgiving someone, though, isn’t to let THEM off the hook but to set myself free. To be honest, I never thought about forgiving myself. Until recently I hadn’t even realized that I was blaming myself. It was brought to my attention by a close friend. I still find it difficult to see how when I explain things is in fact putting blame on myself. I’ve been told on several occasions from those closest to me that it’s not my fault, that I had no control over any of it. How do I break free from this kind of thinking?😪
It makes me very happy to be able to help others, so thank you so much for sharing this with me. I wish you so much peace on your journey of healing! Finding forgiveness inside your own heart has been so crucial to my healing path. It takes time, effort, and much patience. There will be days that you make a significant amount of progress, and there will be other days you feel like you have made no progress. This is normal and expected. You will have to forgive yourself many times, over and over. It gets easier each time.
One things that really helped me was to make that list of the things I believed I needed to forgive myself for. Each day, I read through that list. I found one thing on the list that I was feeling ready to start tackling, something that felt easier to forgive. The tough ones stayed on that list a long time. As I got better with the easier things, the harder ones got more and more within my reach. You can do this!! You are stronger than you realize. I send you much love and peace!!