Domestic violence forgiveness

Should I Forgive My Abuser?

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Forgiveness can be difficult, and yet many people manage to do this every day with friends, family and coworkers. The path to forgiveness typically involves a wrongdoing, perhaps an apology, and some form of accountability or behavioral change. After this, the person who has been wronged decides that moving forward and “letting it go” is in everyone’s best interest, thereby forgiving the initial transgression.

Well, what about forgiving abuse? Usually the script sounds nothing like what is described above, so those same steps cannot be followed. When abuse takes place, the abusive person steps outside of the rules of civility in order to coerce, humiliate, physically harm, and sometimes even kill a victim. This level of wrongdoing can be so damaging and life-altering that abuse can seem unforgivable.

While it is true that abuse is never okay or justifiable, it is possible to forgive abuse.  

With all of that said, a survivor is not going to be in a place to forgive abuse if they are still in danger. If the risk of harm is a concern for you or your family, consider making a safety plan first; once you’re safe and ready to work on healing, you can explore forgiveness. If you need help or support while developing a safety plan, reach out to one of our advocates via phone or online chat.


Here are some questions you may have:

Ok, I'm what?

The idea of forgiving someone who has abused you might seem daunting at first. While many people who have been in an abusive relationship are not ready to work on forgiving, learning about what forgiveness means and laying some groundwork could still be helpful and perhaps eventually lead to it feeling more doable. Try not to pressure yourself to hurrying this process; finding your own authentic pace with this is what will lead you there.

Why should I consider forgiveness?

That’s a valid question, and the answer lies in the research. Studies have shown that forgiveness can result in huge health benefits like reducing the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels, increasing quality of sleep, reducing pain, lowering blood pressure, and reducing levels of anxiety, depression and stress. With that in mind, even if you aren’t ready for this yet, the mental and physical health benefits alone make forgiveness worth considering.

Won't forgiveness let the abuser off the hook?

The short answer is, no. An abuser will have to deal with the ramifications of their actions whether you forgive them or not. Forgiveness is not declaring that what has happened to you is ok, nor does it mean that the abuse was your fault. It is also doesn’t involve an apology from the abuser that you can then forgive. Forgiveness is the personal process of deciding to not continue to hold on to your anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge.

Letting go of the anger does not change the fact that the abusive behaviors were wrong, but rather, it can create an enormous positive shift for you, mentally and emotionally. Consider allowing these two concepts to exist at the same time: the abuse was wrong, unfair, and not something you deserved, AND you have the power to forgive, allowing yourself to prioritize your healing. As you’ll read below, it is not recommended that you discuss or confront your ex abusive partner with your decision to forgive, which means that they will not know that you’re forgiving them; this leaves them largely unaffected by the forgiveness.

Does forgiveness mean I have to see the abuser or reconcile with them?

No, it does not. Since forgiveness is a personal journey, it does not involve showing up at someone’s doorstep and letting them know they are forgiven. In situations that do not involve abuse, it’s totally reasonable and safe to discuss forgiveness in person. When abuse is involved, though, a face-to-face reconciliation is likely NOT safe, would very likely provide no benefit, and may result in the abuser trying to manipulate the situation for their gain. This process is done on your own (or perhaps with help from your counselor) and does not require a conversation with the person who abused you. Forgiveness is a situation in which you release the abuser’s control by yourself.

In a non-abusive situation, the hope is that the person who wronged you sees the error of their ways, apologizes, and changes for the better. Many healthy people can do this. However, an abusive person is unhealthy and uninterested in fairness or equality. This means that your abusive ex-partner is completely broke of the currency that you would like to be paid back in. They are, in a sense, morally bankrupt and unable to refund you. An abusive person is not someone who accesses empathy in their relationship, and due to this lack of empathy, it is unrealistic to expect that they can “pay you back” in a way that would be meaningful to you. Part of the journey towards forgiveness is facing what is realistic and accepting that reality, which then allows you to move forward.

What does the forgiveness process look like?

The first steps in this process involve finding a safe place and some time to process anger and blame.   These crucial steps are necessary for healing after abuse. Some abuse survivors find safety, do some processing, and never move on much after that.  However, others may find a turning point after this processing period and begin seeking the next positive outcome. If you have reached these milestones and have begun seeking understanding, you might be ready to start the forgiveness process. Below is a loose framework that you might use. Find where you currently are in this sequence, then take a look at the steps that come afterward.

  • Procure safety (or return later if not safe)
  • Process acute emotional and physical pain
  • If necessary, process anger
  • Process blame (pro-tip: abuse is the abuser’s fault)
  • Seek understanding
  • Become realistic
  • Ask yourself what it would take
  • Open yourself up to the idea
  • Consider seeking ritual
  • Invite forgiveness
  • Stay open
  • Let it visit you
  • If it doesn’t, seek further ritual
  • Accept forgiveness when it becomes real to you

Wherever you are at in this process, know that our advocates are available 24/7 to support you. Our advocates are able to help you create a safety plan, locate a local counselor, or just provide a listening ear via phone (1-800-799-7233) and online chat.


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Into the Light – Core issues of abuse: forgiveness

Core issue: forgiveness

For many people the idea of forgiving someone who has abused them and devastated their life is totally unacceptable – even repulsive. Why forgive someone who has deliberately caused you untold amounts of pain and suffering? Surely forgiving means you will loose even more power to your abuser?


What is Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not about denial. Forgiveness is admitting it was that bad – that abusive. Many people think forgiveness over looks and forgets the harm done. This is not the case – we have to fully acknowledge the atrocities against us. Forgiveness is also not forgetting. We do not “forgive and forget”.

We always remember, but the pain in time can diminish.


Forgiveness Is A Process

Forgiveness is a much more complex process than many people think it is. It takes time. Getting in touch with the pain, anger, grief and loss is all part of the process of forgiveness. All these stages are not to be rushed. To the extent you have been abused will be equal to your pain and anger. Walking towards forgiveness is a long road and some events are so traumatic you could not possibly forgive them in one go. David Ausburger in his book “Caring Enough To Forgive” says:“Forgiveness is a journey of many steps, each of which can be extremely difficult, all of which are to be taken carefully, thoughtfully, and with deep reflection”. (Source: “Caring Enough to forgive” – David Ausburger – Regal Books – Published 1981 page 30)


Who We Forgive

We have to forgive several people or groups of people:

  • The abuser
  • The other members of the family who allowed the abuse
  • The society/church/community that allowed the abuse to happen
  • Ourselves – for the actions we took because of being abused


Why Forgive

The most important phpect of forgiveness you need to remember is – it is for you. Rev Desmond Tutu who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa says “Holding onto your resentment means you are locked into your victimhood – and you allow your perpetrator to have a hold over your life. When you forgive, you let go, it sets you free.” (Source BBC News website: 27/2/2006)

  • Unforgiveness hurts us because when we are consumed by hate and unforgiveness for someone – they become our focus and we remain tied to them and remain their victims
  • Forgiveness releases us from that person
  • Forgiveness separates us from bitterness and anger
  • Forgiveness stops us from projecting anger and bitterness onto others who remind us of the person who has hurt us


Forgiving Ourselves

We never have to forgive ourselves because of the abuse. The abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. However we do have to forgive ourselves for the negative choices we may have made because we were abused. This could be destructive relationships, addiction problems or negative behaviour patterns.

Letting go of the angry feelings you may be holding against your self and getting support to deal with difficult issues is a way of forgiving and caring for yourself.


Forgiveness Does Not Mean Being Re-Abused

We fear forgiveness because when we have anger and unforgiveness it acts as a wall of defence. When we forgive it leaves us open and vulnerable again. However forgiving someone does not mean being re-abused by them – or anyone else. We can forgive but we do not let that person carry on harming us. John Townsend calls this “helpful hiding.” He says we need to “set appropriate limits on the irresponsibility or selfishness of others … hiding can be the most caring and responsible thing to do in many situations”. He describes hiding as: “Setting both verbal and physical boundaries which may involve saying no or geographically leaving the room or house and calling for help”. (Source: “Hiding From Love” – John Townsend – Nav Press – Published 1991 – pages 143)

We need to build up healthy boundaries that let the good in and keep the bad out. This may well mean keeping the abuser – and other unhealthy people out of your life. If the abuser is a close family member you may need help and support in this. This is especially true if your family is unlikely to believe you. If you are under sixteen you must get help in this area from either your school, social worker or contact Childline as a first step – their number is 0800 1111.



If you are thinking of confronting your abuser you have to think carefully about how you will cope afterwards. Confrontation rarely leads to acknowledgement of the abuse. Nearly all abusers deny the abuse. Confrontation should only be done with extreme caution and a lot of outside support before and after.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

There is a big difference between forgiving someone and being reconciled to them. The only real chance of restoration of relationship with the abuser is if they have truly shown signs of accountability and change.

The abuser must do the following:

  • Agree the abuse happened
  • Accept responsibility for the abuse
  • Show grief and acknowledge the harm done
  • Get professional help
  • Be accountable to a professional body – e.g. Social Worker or Probation Officer


Unburdening Instead of Forgiveness

Forgiveness could be a word that has too many negative connotations or seems too pressurising. Perhaps another way to look at letting go/forgiveness would be to consider the world “unburdening”. This may fit better with coming to terms with so much pain and damage. This word unburdening was quoted in in Richard Schwartz’s book Internal Family Systems Therapy.

This is a letting go process:
Letting go of the power the trauma has over a person, expressing and releasing anger and other strong emotions about what happened without criticism or expectation of what needs to come next. This includes allowing a person to have as much time as is needed to feel whatever he or she is feeling. This may include rage, hate, and resentment, among other emotions.

It is equally important for others to refrain from pushing someone into forgiving a perpetrator. Even if the intention is coming from a good place, trying to get someone who has been violated to forgive can feel like being victimized all over again. Instead, it is more helpful to validate that the person is entitled to his or her feelings. Being a listening ear instead of trying to fix the issue is much more supportive and healing. The person needs to be able to have a voice and express what he or she is feeling and thinking without the fear of judgment. The brain and body are so intelligent. It is important to allow the natural process of working through trauma to happen and to remove any barriers that may get in the way. This includes the belief we aren’t supposed to feel “negative” emotions or that we have to forgive. Once we remove that expectation, the natural process moves through. Even if someone doesn’t get to a place of forgiveness, he or she can still move on, unburden themselves, and thrive.

Source: Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, Posttraumatic Stress / Trauma Topic Expert Contributor “Why I don’t use the word “Forgiveness in Trauma Therapy” Good Therapy Website


Things to think about:
  • Have you ever hated someone because they remind you of someone who has hurt you?
  • Do you feel that you have forgiven too easily?
  • Have you felt pressurised into forgiving when you did not feel ready?
  • How did that feel?
  • Are you afraid to forgive?
  • Do you think it is because it will leave you vulnerable to hurt again?
  • How could you protect yourself against abuse from others and still be open to relationships?

Domestic violence questions and answers

Why are women more likely to suffer from domestic violence?

International organizations such as the UN consider violence against women precisely as a manifestation of gender inequality in society.

Whether physical, psychological or sexualized, it is a consequence of traditional patriarchal views on the place of women in society and the family. That is why the vast majority of offenders are men. It is often objected: "Men themselves are subjected to violence no less." But at the same time, crimes against men are extremely rarely committed because of their gender. For comparison, 80% of crimes against women occur only because she is a woman. According to statistics, in 70% of cases, an incident of violence is repeated if it happened once.

Can the aggressor be reined in, for example, by the woman's father or brother, or by herself?

It is important to remember that men who are aggressors are dangerous. In a state of anger and rage, they can even kill - and this is evidenced by statistics (36,000 women a year are subjected to domestic violence). Therefore, in such a situation, first of all, you need to remember about your own safety. As for the relatives of a woman who lives in a situation of violence, they can also suffer from the actions of the aggressor.

Why don't Russian women turn to the police or take the application back at the court stage?

Perhaps because the police do not pay attention to cases of domestic violence. Women do not turn to the police, because often they really do not want the aggressor to be put in jail. They just want the violence to stop. But within the framework of our legislation, there are no measures of restraint for the aggressor - for example, there is no such measure as protection orders. In the initial stages of violence, such a measure would be effective.

In addition, even if a woman decides to file a complaint and is ready to initiate a criminal case, then, since such cases are private charges, the woman has to make great efforts to collect the necessary materials to prove the violence committed, and at the same time without any support. It is extremely difficult to go through all this, being in a situation of psychological trauma. And police representatives are in any case obliged to accept applications from women victims of violence, regardless of whether they are taken away or not. This is part of their job responsibilities.

Why do women endure for so long and not leave? Maybe they like it?

What kind of person would like to be beaten? Of course, no one wants to endure beatings and insults against them. Most often, victims of domestic violence depend on the aggressors: common children, common property, material dependence do not allow them to simply pick up and leave. And sometimes for women to break off such relationships without serious support is simply dangerous. Cases when aggressors pursue their ex-wives are not uncommon. Finding the support of others is not easy. Offenders behave aggressively not with everyone. Among friends, colleagues and relatives, he can be considered a respected person and a good family man. That is why victims of domestic violence very often simply do not believe. Sometimes they cannot find support even among their friends and relatives. This is largely due to stereotypes common in society.

Victims of domestic violence often hear such phrases as: “It's probably your fault” or “You should have thought about who to marry”. At the same time, the aggressor was not always like this; women remember that he was once kind and loving. After the violence, the aggressors, as a rule, apologize, ask for forgiveness and assure that this will never happen again. And you always want to believe in good things. In families with children, the situation is even more complicated, often the aggressors threaten to take the children away. Some women want their children to grow up in a complete family, and for the sake of the children they continue to live with the offender. Yes, children need both mother and father. But they also need their love and care, support and understanding. And if instead the child lives in a situation of stress and tension, aggression and violence, all this is reflected in his mental health.

That is why victims of domestic violence need professional protection and assistance: access to free psychological and legal assistance, crisis centers where they could stay with their children for a while, measures of state protection from the aggressor himself. That's why we need a special law against domestic violence.

Whose side is the law in our country today?

Unfortunately, our law does not allow the offender to be punished to the fullest extent, unless it is a fatal outcome. Currently, even suspended sentences in cases of minor bodily harm have been canceled - only penalties are applied. This, of course, leads to the realization by men who beat their loved ones of their impunity, and by no means leads to a decrease in the number of cases of domestic violence.

What role do public organizations play in eliminating gaps in Russian legislation in this area?

The lack of a system for responding to cases of domestic violence really “frees” the hands of those men who are abusers. They sometimes feel unpunished and often become even more cruel towards their wives. Educational social programs inform society about the scale of violence, its consequences for women, children and society as a whole. International experience shows that large-scale educational campaigns and the activities of public women's organizations gradually lead to the creation of an atmosphere of intolerance towards domestic violence in society, and, accordingly, have a certain impact on the government so that measures are finally taken to counteract violence.

why it is impossible to “forgive and pity the offender” — Stop the violence

“The position of “be higher and forgive the one who hurts you” is very beneficial in a situation of domestic violence. She shifts the responsibility for what she has done to the victim” — journalist and blogger Alina Farkash on why abusers should not be pitied.

Why the attitude “you must forgive!” in a situation of domestic violence - toxic? When such comments are found on blogs, in posts about parents beating their children, it can be attributed to Stockholm syndrome or the commentator's fear that his children will also come with questions about their childhood. And so he wants to spread straws in advance. But when you read this under the post of a woman who was beaten by her husband for many years? Both her and the little children. And he kicked me out into the street, and generally did what husbands do in horror films.

And to her immediately: you will forgive him and take pity on him!

So, why is it impossible: firstly, in such a situation, you need to feel sorry for the victim, not the rapist. Demanding that the victim feel sorry for the rapist is some kind of hellish upside-down world. Secondly, for forgiveness and pity, a huge resource is needed, which the victim would also be better off spending on himself or on his relatives, and not on the rapist.

And, most importantly, you cannot forgive someone who does not consider himself guilty and does not ask for forgiveness. You can survive the situation, forget, let go, but not forgive. Otherwise, it is quite easy to find yourself in the same codependence and in a situation of serial violence. You in the face, and you forgave. You are again in the face, and you worked on yourself so much - and again forgave.

As a matter of fact, the story with “be above and forgive the one who hurts you” is very beneficial for rapists. She shifts responsibility for what she has done to the victim.

Victims are generally quite nasty - they cry, complain, cause unpleasant feelings. May they soon forgive, forget, become cheerful and contented, and stop torturing us with their suffering!

In addition, it is very convenient to always have an all-forgiving person at hand. No matter what you did to him, he took you - and forgave you! He doesn't want to be offended by an evil beech, does he?

In order to actually forgive a person, he must (himself - the first one!) take quite a few steps.

1. Recognize what happened. Usually rapists already at this stage say that they don’t remember anything, you are confusing something, you are inventing something, I couldn’t do this, you are generally some kind of crazy, you need to see a doctor.

2. Take full responsibility for what you have done. Not "you got me". Not "I have had a hard life." Not "everyone did it". And yes, I did it.

3. Apologize and repent. Sincerely. No: you twisted my arms, well, sorry. Often an apology fails because the perpetrator thinks about how to maintain self-esteem in the process, and not about the feelings of the victim.

4. Probably the most difficult point. We must be very clearly aware that once with explanations and apologies is often not enough. That one "sorry" does not cross out years of trauma. That the victim will return to those events over and over again and will have to repeat points 1–3 over and over again in order for her to believe that you are sincere. You really are. Her feelings are more important to you than your feelings of self-importance.

Because it usually happens that the rapist thinks that after an apology the history is reset, everyone forgot everything and started from scratch. And only this nasty victim does not want to take everything right away and forget it.

A wants to discuss and make sure over and over again that the one who apologized has really changed. (By the way, this often happens during adultery. The cheating party is frustrated and offended by the fact that the one who was cheated on cannot forget everything right away after being apologized to him.)

5. Try to compensate with something important for yourself and necessary for the victim. Well, like how Germany paid money to the affected countries and peoples. Yes, that money will not return the dead, but it will help the survivors to make their lives better.

Compensation is not always material or money. It could be physical help. It may be some kind of emotional complicity.

It is important that the person who asks for forgiveness should be determined to make amends in some way.

Even if you break something that a friend lent you, you don't just say, "I'm sorry." You say: “Excuse me, please, can I buy you the same one?” And the lost years, the psyche, health, faith in people are much more than a broken thing.

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