Then comes the question, “Are you ready to forgive them?” All the work, all the healing comes down to this moment and you sit there, wondering how to answer.
What forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is many things. It is a loving, humble choice that often comes with great relief, but there are some things that forgiveness is not.
- Allowing abuse to continue.
- Putting yourself or others in harm’s way.
- Trusting people who have proven themselves untrustworthy.
- Expecting someone to change.
- Staying because you hope they will change.
Recovering from the trauma of an abusive relationship is complicated. You may have to learn new attachment styles, create healthy independence, and learn how to trust yourself. The practice of setting boundaries and recognizing triggers is important to the healing journey.
Forgiving your abuser is a part of your journey as well. To be very clear, it is for you, not for them. It is a personal decision you make for your mental well-being.
Forgiveness is healing.
When you hold bitterness, anger, or fear, your body and mind are not able to fully recover from the trauma. Panic attacks, stress, and anxiety are your mind and body processing whether you are safe. Your bitterness and fear could trigger this fight-or-flight defense mechanism. When you forgive, you signal safety to your mind and body.
The practice of forgiving your abuser takes the power away from them. You are now the one in charge of this situation. Listening to your mental, physical, and emotional cues, you can learn to let go of the fear that your abuser triggered in you.
For you to experience freedom, you need to be able to put the past behind you. You are not forgetting what happened. Rather you are choosing not to let it be the thing that defines your life.
You don’t need to announce your forgiveness to others unless you so choose. Talking with your counselor can help you determine who needs to know about it outside of yourself.
Examples of abuse and forgiveness in the bible.
Forgiveness from the cross.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” – Luke 23:33-35, NIV
In the ultimate act of humility, Jesus asks God to forgive those who have inflicted physical and social pain on him. Living in a society where he is among the oppressed people, betrayed and abandoned by friends, hunted by religious leaders, and killed by the political leaders as a criminal of the worst sort. In his death, he asks for them to be forgiven, for doing things in ignorance.
The people watching do not understand this forgiveness. The Romans did not understand his forgiveness. There is no question about what they deserve. It is a story about what Jesus did for all.
You are not Jesus, but those who desire to be Christians can learn from the model Jesus offers. Forgiving the ones who intend harm is hard and healing.
Forgiveness sees the big picture.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. – Genesis 50:15-21, NIV
Hindsight can sometimes teach us things, even if the experience was horrible. Joseph was able to look at the abuse from his brothers, and many others in Egypt in light of the bigger picture. Could there have been a less violent and dramatic way for the story to unfold? Probably. However, that is not the story we have.
You may wish that you had not had to go through an abusive relationship. But that does not mean that nothing good can come out of it. As you have gone on the journey of healing and recovery you have likely learned some valuable lessons. It would be nice if you didn’t have to go through something so awful to learn the lessons. Forgiving your abuser allows you to look at the past through a more gracious and grateful lens.
Learning how to see the goodness of God amid awful situations requires growth. When you can see it, you can marvel and celebrate in ways you never would have imagined.
Forgiveness is human.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Matthew 5:43-45, NIV
Alexander Pope is attributed with saying, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Since humans bear the image of God, humans can forgive. This does not mean it is easy to do. Forgiving those who have hurt you requires practice and patience.
However, holding on to hate and bitterness will only create more problems than it solves. You do not need to take revenge nor should you put yourself in danger. Negative thinking is a dark habit to get stuck in.
If you are constantly thinking about how angry you are at your abuser you are hurting yourself. When you believe that you should not be abused or harmed, then you can free yourself from negative thoughts. By releasing negative thoughts about your abuser you open the door to respecting other humans.
This a journey, not a destination.
The practice of forgiveness is not one-and-done. In your healing, you may find that many layers of forgiveness need to happen. Working with a counselor is much like working with a physical therapist after an injury or surgery. For every three steps forward there is one step back. Just as broken bones take time to heal, your emotional and mental health will need time to recover.
As you heal and mature, forgiveness will become more natural. You may always have scars, but they will be less visible over time. Sometimes triggers will still occur but you will recover more quickly than after the initial injury. Like so many things in life, forgiveness becomes easier the more often you do it.
If you have experienced trauma from abuse, call our offices today to schedule a conversation with a counselor. Let the healing journey begin now.
“In the Road”, Courtesy of Mateusz Syta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Samuel Martins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cross at Sunrise”, Courtesy of Cdoncel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Free”, Courtesy of Zac Durant, Unsplash.com; CC0 License
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