Forgiving abusers. Is it even possible? Someone asked about forgiving the person who abused their child. This comes up often so I want to discuss steps to forgiving abusers.
I had a series of posts on Forgiving the Unforgiveable that you might want to reference. I go into more detail about forgiving there. Today I just want to lay out a map for people to see the big picture of what it takes to forgive an extreme offense like abuse, rape or betrayal.
I recently reflected on situations where I forgave someone in the past. It dawned on me that the hardest things for me to forgive where offenses against my children. So when someone said they had trouble forgiving the person that molested their child I understood the intensity of that situation. Let me outline a few things involved in forgiving abusers.
Eight Steps to Forgiving Abusers
- Keep your distance. I initially wrote seven steps assuming that people would already be separated from their abuser, maybe for years. But I don’t want to assume anything. Forgiving doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship. If you are in any danger or if your abuser has shown no remorse for past behavior then you need to get to a safe place and remain separate. Remember, forgiving abusers doesn’t mean excusing their behavior.
- Appreciate how hard it is to forgive. Don’t minimize what’s happened to you. Understand that you’ve incurred a MAJOR loss. You don’t just say a prayer and pronounce forgiveness. Damage was done to your heart. There are deep emotional wounds. It’s like the person who barely survives a car wreck. At first they might think they won’t make it. They may be on life support. It’s touch and go. But then there is a good day. And another. And then there is an upward trend. Recovery is taking place, although slowly. You will recover but it takes time.
- Give yourself permission to take small steps. Next week I’ll be taking a cross-country trip; from Florida to Arizona. A family adventure. We won’t make it in a day. It will take six long days. Sounds like they will be hot days too. But we’ll make it, one mile at a time. Forgiveness seems daunting because we expect too much too soon. Start small. If you are even considering forgiveness after a major offense you should be happy. Celebrate that. Think in terms of months, maybe years to forgive. That will take the pressure off you.
- Invite God into the process. Forgiveness is bigger than you are. You need a power greater than yourself to tackle something of this size.
- Understand that you need forgiveness too. Then receive it. I wrote an earlier post about “The Nazi in You”. The point was that when you understand your own need for forgiveness and receive it from God then you are more inclined to forgive others.
- Deal with your shame issues first. People often can’t forgive because they have too many shame/self-worth issues. They’ve got nothing to give others because they feel so empty. My book (Healing the Hurts of Your Past) is a good place to start with this. Once you feel whole inside it’s easier to forgive.
- Share your story. There’s something “crazy-making” about hiding your story. Find safe people, a support group and/or a counselor to share your story. It gets it out of your mind and makes if more familiar and not so hidden.
- Read books about forgiveness. I’ve read many books on forgiveness and each one seems to help me in a different way. Forgiving an abuser is one of the toughest things to do on the planet. You need a continual influx of encouragement. Starting in May I posted three or four times a week on forgiveness here at readingremy.com. You might want to back track through the posts: especially the one about what forgiveness is NOT. Forgiveness is not excusing your abuser.
These are just a few ideas. My overall point is that forgiving abusers is a long, long journey but if you start today you’ll get their quicker than if you start next year. When it finally happens you’ll enjoy the freedom of getting this off your back. Abuse is bad enough. Don’t let it rob from you the rest of your life.
Question for you; if you’ve been able to forgive abuse, rape, severe betrayal (what some might call the unforgiveable) what helped? People need to know it’s possible. Share your comment below.
Learn more about how to forgive in my book, STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.