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.