The Forgiveness Conundrum: Why I Can’t Forgive My Abuser, Even Though I Know I Should

Forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiver, but I still can't bring myself to do

Forgiveness. That noble condition of the human mind which allows us to reconcile our past pains with our survival instinct. Some believe forgiveness brings us closer to the divine by allowing us the opportunity to rise above those who have hurt us. Others think of it as a way to absolve ourselves from pain and trauma.

Me? I’m a grudge bearer. I’m not exactly proud of this. I believe that forgiveness is an admirable ability. But it’s pointless to try to pretend away a quality of mine which is so very obviously real. Betrayal embitters me. Even small slights, those I can eventually forgive, keep their teeth in me much longer than for most.

When I was in grad school, a roommate, driven by weird jealousy and social isolation, made a false accusation against me. Nothing came of it. It didn’t leave a mark on my record, and nobody believed her; what she did was petty and stupid and everyone knew it, but I was furious. I raged at her. I called her a “cunt” to her face even though I am a feminist. It was vengeance, pure and simple; even if only vengeance enacted as cruel language and glaring. My husband once told me that if I could forgive Betsy, the roommate, I could probably obtain enlightenment.

The Forgiveness Conundrum

Why I Can’t Forgive My Abuser Even Though I Know I Should

An abuse survivor examines the case for forgiveness, and discusses why she still can't forgive the man who assaulted her on

I don’t have any claims on enlightenment, but I suppose I have come to forgive Betsy. I don’t think that what she did was okay, mature, or reasonable in any sense. I still see red a little when I think back to how things could have gone, if people had believed her. There is no way I’ll ever trust her in this lifetime, but I no longer wish evil things for her. If I ran into her, I wouldn’t call her a cunt. I suppose that’s forgiveness.

It took me almost four years to forgive this woman for something that affected my life very little when it occurred, and ultimately not at all. Imagine, then, how hard it is for me to forgive someone whose actions still affect my life everyday.

I know I should forgive my abuser. I’ve read all the quotes and platitudes…”forgiveness is divine;” “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies;” “forgiveness is about relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim.” I know that my heart would be freer, my happiness more available, if I could forgive this man.

And not just The Ex, but also my father, who accused me of “scamming” him when I told him about the time I was almost raped; or my mother, who has been trying to unburden herself of my emotions since I was fourteen; or my aunts, who blamed me for staying. I know that all of my resentment is a fucking poison shutting down my life supports one by one. I know I’d be better forgiving.

I thought about not posting this today. It’s on my blog calendar; one of the many steps I’ve taken toward getting my life and mind more organized, but switching it with another post would be an easy adjustment. The reason I considered not posting it is because my ex and his new lawyer are trying to use my blog, and the fact that I discuss my difficulties and triumphs while healing from abuse, to paint me as an obsessive, conflict-prone woman. It’s a bully’s tactic, and I can’t let bullies take my healing outlet away. Not all posts are about my abuser, but due to the current circumstances, forgiveness is a heavy thought on my mind.

The heart is a stubborn beast and mine is more stubborn than most. Given everything I am currently facing, forgiveness would be a balm for my anxiety. I’m trying to teach myself to forgive. I’m trying to talk my heart into feeling differently. These are the arguments I’m using:

Determinism and the Case for Forgiveness

I was first introduced to determinism by my middle school boyfriend. When he told me about it, I laughed it off. I shot it to shreds. It was abhorrent to my freedom coveting, budding-teenage mind.

Determinism is the belief that everything is predetermined. There is theological determinism, which is based on the Abrahamic God and states that if God is Omniscient, then all things are known. If all things are known, there is no freedom of will. Hence: determinism. We all live our lives trapped by God’s foreknowledge of our actions.

I don’t believe in theological determinism because I don’t believe in that God, but now that I am older and less attached to the idea of my own freedom, I do believe in scientific determinism. Essentially, scientific determinism is the hypothesis that because everything has a traceable cause and effect, we are not actually free to determine our own actions. Everything we think, say, do, or even feel can be attributed to something (or, to be more accurate, an accumulation of somethings) which came before it, and that also can be attributed to a past causation, which can be attributed to a past causation and…you get the picture. We are, according to determinism, organic machines. Human robots. Frankly, studies of human development support the idea that we are biological robots. If you stop to think about it, so does common sense.

The case for forgiveness as according to determinism should be clear. If we are simply biological robots enacting effects in reaction to a series of causations that date back to before our own births, how can we be held accountable for our mistakes? And if a person can’t be held accountable for his mistakes, how can be not be forgiven them?

I am an Imperfect Being

Does it shock you? It’s true! I am flawed! I have gross, jealous desires. I feel lust, and not only for my husband (gasp). My motivations are sometimes selfish. I act in anger…often. My mind has been injured to the point that I have a mental illness. Because of my mental illness, the result of unfair trauma, I expect a measure of compassion, kindness, and leniency. Even forgiveness.

If I expect forgiveness, how can I not grant forgiveness? I mean, I haven’t beaten or raped numerous vulnerable people. I’ve never kicked a dog just for being in my way, or held a child hostage in a motel or garage. But theoretically, the logic works.

We are all just flawed people, acting in our animal ways and pretending, haughty andThe Forgiveness Conundrum on human as we are, that we are more than animals. In the end though, we all make mistakes, and we all rely on forgiveness to move forward in our lives.

My ex, The Ex, is a sociopath. I truly believe that. Not just believe it. I know it. He has evidenced it to me enough times, even now during these court proceedings. Psychopathy. Sociopath. Antisocial Personality Disorder. It’s a mental illness. It’s out of his control. If I expect empathy for my PTSD; if I expect forgiveness for the angry outbursts that result from my PTSD, does he not also deserve empathy and forgiveness for his total lack of caring about the feelings of any person besides himself? After all, that is a symptom of his mental illness.

 We’re All Just a Bunch of Hurting People Hurting People

I really believe that. I believe that all people who hurt other people are hurt themselves. And all people hurt other people.

The junkie who stole my money is just an aching man acting on an impulse he can’t control. My three-year-old daughter’s bully at daycare is mirroring the behavior she experiences at home. The well dressed man at the store who rudely moans that I’m holding up the line with my WIC checks doesn’t know anything different than wealth and the belief that poor people are lazy leeches.

When we view humanity through this lens, through the lens of empathic compassion, it becomes hard not invite forgiveness into our hearts.


So Why Not?

Given all this, why am I still so stingy with forgiveness? Why, when I know better?

Truth is, I’m beginning to understand that there is a difference between forgiving someone and trusting them.

Maybe I can forgive my dad, without allowing him back into my life to hurt me again. He is just a bumbling old man, made foolish by selfishness and pride. Too blinded by his self-professed liberalism to see he’s a bigot. Just a human, after all. And a good grandfather to my son. Maybe he I can forgive.

My mom may not be the mom I need, but she is the caretaker my son needs, and that is huge. I will always live with a pebble lodged in my heart, a forever-bruise in the place where my mom pulled her love from me, but I watch her with my son, and I see the good life he has, and I see the strict schedule she keeps for his benefit, and these are good things. Maybe she I can forgive.

My aunts, I can forgive them too.

But not The Ex. Not him. Not the man who derailed my life. Who set out to use me and hurt me when I was only a child. Who is plotting to hurt and control me now. I can’t forgive the man who is endangering my son.

-Even though we are all robots, we also all function under the guise of free will. Whether it’s real or not, we play that game twenty four hours a day, every day. Choice and free-will are the rules by which we play. And in the world of that game, he made his choices. He deserves no absolution.

-Even though he is sociopath, who doesn’t have a moral compass or emotions which can guide him to behave well, other sociopaths make names for themselves, or become cunning businessmen, or just live quiet lives of pleasure or even of pain. Whatever. They don’t all do the things he did. Lacking compassion does not drive you to violence. His violence is his and his alone.

-Even if he was abused or traumatized in some way, so was I. My husband was traumatized. Many, many people I know and love have undergone severe traumas. They don’t rape. They don’t abuse. They don’t beat and kidnap and torture both physically and emotionally. Those acts were his choices; no amount of abuse forces an adult person to behave that way.

For a while, I stopped wishing harm on him. I had no plans to try to get him arrested again. No intentions to seek him out and meddle with his life. Even when I heard he was dating a woman with thirteen and sixteen year old daughters. I knew there was a good chance he was doing something terrible, but I had no evidence so I left him alone. It was the closest to forgiveness I got.

And look where it got me. Re-traumatized, near death twice, experiencing symptoms I had  thought healed years ago, being forced to compromise my son’s safety because he wouldn’t leave me alone.

The Requisite Forgiveness Post on bettysbattleground.comI know I should forgive my abuser. Not because he deserves it-he doesn’t. Not because it would be healthy for my son to see him-it wouldn’t; I have no evidence to believe he has changed or is safe. I should forgive him because I deserve it. I deserve to feel better. I deserve to heal and move on from the toxicity of spite and anger and grief over the life he robbed from me. But how??

How do I forgive this person? Even with everything I understand? Even given my much expanded capacity for compassion? Knowing that not forgiving him is more poisonous to myself than to him…still…I can’t bring myself to that feeling. Tell me, if you know, if you would forgive him in my shoes, how?

Teach me to forgive a man with no apologies in his soul.

47 thoughts on “The Forgiveness Conundrum: Why I Can’t Forgive My Abuser, Even Though I Know I Should

  1. What a heartfelt post! If asked me, I can never forget & forgive a person who has abused and doesn’t have any remorse.. They ought to be punished rather than forgiveness!

  2. What a very touching post! I myself find it very hard to forgive, so instead I try to forget (also hard but prob easier)…I don’t know; difficult either way. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Fuck!!!!!! This post is so fucking powerful it almost brought me to tears. I THOUGHT I had forgiven my abuser when we were still together but when I got the courage and strength to break up with him, the hate in my heart began to grow as I realized I had been his hostage and that my family knew and blamed it on both of us, as if my temper (I used to have one), was a good enough reason for him to choke me and throw me across the room when I had been trying to hand him his phone—not even a hostile gesture? I still don’t understand? And I don’t talk about it much at all because no one seems to think it’s a big deal!!! No one fucking cares. No one wants to hear about it. People raise their eyes at my schizophrenia, but being abused by my boyfriend? Oh no I must be exaggerating about the countless times I tried to break up with him and he pinned me to the wall and threatened me, forced me to have sex with him, and manipulated me, hid in my closet to spy on me and just ugh I could go on forever. I think this post made me realize I still have a LOT to process about what happened. It is not altogether behind and I do NOT forgive him but I don’t really think about him at all unless something reminds me of it. In some way I’ve willfully buried but it’s coming back up and I need to address it-I will talk to my counselor about it next week. Thank yo so much for this post. You are incredibly brave and kind and smart.

    • AGGGH I’m so sorry you’ve been through all the shit too. Sometimes it almost hurts worse when your own family doesn’t care or doesn’t validate your experience, or blames you for it. Well it WASN’T your fault August. Of course it wasn’t, even if you were angry. It sounds like you had good reason to be, quite frankly. And even if you didn’t, even if were mad and yelling for no reason, that STILL doesn’t excuse pushing you, pinning you, forcing you to have anything else. He could have left. It was his choice to stay and do those things and you had nothing to do with it. Leaving an abuser is really hard because part of doing it stops the abuse, but part of it means facing that it happened at all. And that is so incredibly hard. You are incredibly brave and kind and smart too <3

  4. Thanks for once again an honest post. Few could imagine forgiveness considering what evil acts were done to you. I would want to know everything there was to know about forgiveness before committing, other peoples experiences, different theories ( not just determinism). I hope you forgive yourself first as many still have feelings of self blame after abuse.

    • That’s true Michelle-self forgiveness is as important, and maybe even moreso, than forgiveness of others. I often think I have forgiven myself, and then catch myself in a thought that implies otherwise. Thank you for your suggestions-they’re good ones! I will try looking into some other theories and philosophies on forgiveness <3

  5. It hurts me to see you suffering through so much pain and the fact that they are trying to paint you to be the bad party is beyond my comprehension. What he did to you, what many people did to you is wrong and learning how to forgive those that hurt us does not necessarily mean letting them back into our lives. I forgave my stepmum who abused me, my father who watched and did nothing and all the people who bullied me or were sexually inappropriate to me because it helped me heal and move on with my life. Obviously that is easier said than done considering your current situation but I just want you to know that you have our support x

    • Thank you Ana. You are such a kind lovely person. I linked to your post-I don’t know if you realized that or not, because I do think it is beautiful and noble and impressive that you have forgiven all of these people that have committed these grievous acts against you. It must have been really difficult. Maybe someday, but it’s so hard with his constant lies about me and what he did and just taking no culpability whatsoever. Even when he sort of takes responsibility, he finds other ways to pass his lies onto someone else. He just can’t bring himself to admit he’s kind of a bad guy. My lawyer thinks he’s just weak; too weak to admit his faults, but my lawyer doesn’t know him. He is weak, I agree with that, but it’s not the problem here!

  6. forgiveness is divine;” “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies;” “forgiveness is about relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim.
    This is true but your battle is the one God chose for you .Probably so that your Ex Darenth hurt another human.My prayers with you .You are a very brave woman and a survivor .Some evils need to be destroyed .Even God does that .
    Here forgiveness doesn’t come

    • Well I don’t claim to be a god or capable of assigning divine retribution, but I appreciate what you’re saying

  7. Sometimes it’s hard to forgive, especially when you can’t forget. Therefore you must do your best to forget and you’ll forgive eventually, as it won’t be haunting you anymore.

    • Well with this kind of abuse forgetting is impossible and even dangerous. I have PTSD from it so there’s no “trying to forget.”

  8. I really struggle with this, too. My father was emotionally abusive my whole life (he’s a classic narcissist), and my sister and mom have both “forgiven” him (and continue to allow his rage to spill into their lives). I’ve finally walked away from relationships with all three of them because the toxicity is just too much.

    I was raised in a faith of forgiveness (while being treated horribly at home) , and it’s hard to define healthy boundaries (especially for the sake of my children) without coming across as sinful to all of my parents’ pious friends. I finally decided that my mental health is more important that what “others” who haven’t lived my life think about me.

    • Thank you for sharing your story Melissa. It helps to know others are making similar choices. Sometimes cutting abusive people out is the only way to keep safe. Not everyone can be forgiven. Although I do think it is possible to both forgive and still set boundaries; I just don’t know how to do that with this person, especially because he is still abusing me, if only emotionally now (because that’s all he’s able to do).

  9. I don’t think it is always about forgiveness. I think it is about understanding first. Like “why” and then think of it. Of course nothing justifies lies, murder or any other things awful but sometimes, knowing why can help move on and prevent other so suffer I guess. Forgiveness is really hard to give

    • I wish there was a way to know why someone commits rape and attempted murder..but I really don’t. Besides that he’s a psychopath obsessed with control. But that doesn’t really help? Should it help? I guess I don’t see how, maybe you can explain more?

  10. The “secret” to forgiveness is not just in the act alone but in the knowing that the time is ripe for it. Until we feel that deep shift within, we will simply be going through the motions.
    There is no deadline on forgiveness, do it when it speaks to you. If it never does, move forward with living your best life. That is your only worthwhile revenge. Stay strong! 🙂

    • Thank you Elizabeth. This is a really poignant comment. “There is no deadline on forgiveness-” definitely resonates with me. I also appreciate you saying that it’s okay if forgiveness never speaks to you. I don’t consider myself a spiteful person; it can be hard for me to forgive people who hurt me intentionally but I am actually incredibly compassionate and understanding when it comes to mistakes and flaws. And eventually I do forgive most people..just this one particular person, I think may be like a living incarnation of evil.

  11. It is very difficult to forgive those who have caused you harm. You can also forgive, but still once in a while feel hatred for the person. I once was told to “Forgive, but never forget”. It has helped me to forgive so that I’m no longer harming myself by harboring such negative feelings, but I won’t ever forget what they did or let myself in that situation again.

    • That’s an interesting thing to think about Shannon,thank you; “you can also forgive, but still once in a while feel hatred for the person.”

    • Thanks Abigail. That’s a good point. In order to forgive someone you probably cannot still be suffering because of them. I have PTSD, so I suffer regularly because of his past actions, plus he has been lying about me, denigrating me, threatening my son’s safety and development, and generally harassing in me in court for the past year

  12. In my mind there is no doubt that forgiveness is absolutely a key part of the recovery process. For yourself, if for no one else. Ultimately I believe this must be done, however difficult, in order for us to properly move on with our lives and be happy and content. Really wonderful and open post, thank you.

  13. WOW! This was so sad to read yet I couldn’t stop reading it. I also could feel your pain, your frustration, your anger. Here’s the thing: forgiving him isn’t about him. It’s about YOU! He never has to know that you’ve forgiven him to do so, but you state it yourself: forgiving him would make your life much better. I guess the question you should ask yourself if you want a better life then what’s really hold you back from forgiving him is NOT that he’s not apologetic but is more so you like being able to hold grudges, unforgiveness, etc. It seems like a badge of honor you hold on to and to be honest you know it’s not healthy. Hope what I said is received as intended: to help!

    • It’s not a badge of all…but I have PTSD from what he did to I’m still affected by it every day. Having PTSD has made me suicidal numerous times, it’s hard to forgive someone whose actions STILL threaten my life. On top of that, he’s harassing me again in court. Yes, I think forgiveness is healthy but how do I forgive someone who’s still hurting me? Like seriously, how?

  14. It’s understandable that forgiveness would be harder to find in your heart when it’s been broken time and time again. There are things that you must heal from before you’ll be able to freely forgive. This takes time, but you seem to be on the right path and in the right space. Your husband seem to be a good source of positivity.

  15. WoWow!!! I just don’t know what to say here but wow. And this is only because I have experienced a variant of his personality disorder in my ex. I truly believe my daughter is in a dangerous situation for her, and I do know that her anger will eventually get the better of her. Thankfully she has always lived with roommates since the breakup so that she has always had someone else to place her vitriol rather than my daughter. I was that person she leveled anger and blame on before we split.

    But my daughter knows her mother. She has to walk on eggshells every day because she knows she has no other choice. And because she is effective in the court of convincing people that she is never to blame for anything she gets away with everything. And so she does. And so my daughter suffers constantly and needlessly.

    I remember my marriage. I remember having all the anger leveled at me. I remember the spite. I remember withholding affection. I remember her conspiring to make issues that happened my fault rather than her own. And I was too blind to see it. I remember being gaslighted and being told that I must have been crazy because I never lost my keys as they were in my computer bag the whole time. All this I remember.

    And then being told to forgive is a bitter pill. Being told that this person who has done me harm and continues to do me hard is a hard pill to swallow. And you are right. You don’t forgive for them. You forgive for you.

    The one thing that gets me past all of this. The one thing that makes me realize the importance of forgiveness . . . ironically . . . is that very ex who has done me harm. She is a woman embittered by all that she perceives the slights of the world are. She has become a toxic person to all around because ultimately she can only trust herself. She splits so she sees people as all negative or all positive. But eventually, everyone becomes all negative. It is her inability to forgive others that necessitates me to be able to forgive her. Because I don’t want to become her. Because my daughter deserves something different than her.

    I know I have heard that we become the thing we fixate on. The more I fixate on my ex, the more I become her . . . the conniving, double-crossing, contemptuous blowhard who will run over everyone if it means feeling better about herself. I won’t be that person. I deserve better. My daughter deserves better.

    I know that you haven’t done the things your ex did. Nor are you likely to in any way. And I know that you are getting help for your struggles in a way that your ex is not. There is no hope for him. But there is so much better for you. I would never suggest about getting to a point of trust with The Ex. I would only suggest getting to a point of not caring. Because when you no longer care what he does . . that is when you have moved on. I wish you all the best in your journey towards it. And I’m here for you as a friend any time to talk or vent. And you have a great husband who is there for you too. It sounds like he has a great head on his shoulders. Anyway… I suppose this is payback for your rambling message in mine.. lol. Have a wonderful Monday!!!

    • Payback well deserved 😉 And also appreciated…I had no idea that things were so bad in your wife’s home. Obviously you divorced so there were marriage problems, but a marriage can have problems without it being toxic to the children too (at least once it ends). I’m SO sorry that you daughter continues to live this way. There aren’t really words for that…I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to know she is suffering and not really being able to do anything about it because of the way the court functions. I’ll give you that; courts, at least in custody cases, often favor women and not always within reason.
      You’ve given me a lot to think about and I really appreciate the thorough reply. I mean, yes, you’re right: I don’t want to become my ex. And I won’t. I mean I can’t see myself, or most humans, doing the things he’s done, ever. But for a long time I lived with untempered rage and it leaked onto everything and all of my relationships. People with acute PTSD-PTSD that’s not being treated, which mine now is, but wasn’t always-are often misdiagnosed with your ex-wife’s disorder if the provider doesn’t realize the trauma history. Untreated PTSD often manifests in similar was as BPD, and I can recognize some of my own past behaviors in the way you describe your ex…which does motivate me to work toward forgiveness. If I can’t forgive my ex, then at least a more forgiving heart in general, which I am doing, if slowly.
      I was at a point of not caring what he did, until he returned to my life. That is what has made this so damn difficult!
      Has your ex ever gone to treatment? Does she care to? Does she realize she needs to?? BPD doesn’t *have* to harm everyone. Like PTSD, like any mental health disorder really, it can have detrimental effects of the people around the person…but it doesn’t have to. If it’s treated, things can be fine.
      I hope your daughter and you especially, and also your ex if she’s able, find peace and wholeness. And thank you-likewise, you can always message me too

  16. We’re All Just a Bunch of Hurting People Hurting People stands out to me. I have heard this saying before, but until I read this post I didn’t feel so strongly about this. This is such a great post. I admire your courage in writing this. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we as humans have to come to terms with.

    • Thank you Brandi. I do strongly believe that, but I also don’t think it is an excuse. And this person definitely tried to use it as an excuse.

  17. I love how honest and real this post is. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to forgive and it’s totally okay that you’re not there yet.

  18. If I were in your shoes I could not forgive him. First, because to forgive someone means that the person who wronged you takes responsibility for what he did and expresses a heartfelt sorry. If he told me how much he regrets and wants others to forgive him, if he really meant that, I would forgive him.
    However, he has an anti-social personality disorder and from my experience, (mom has similar traits) people with APD don’t have empathy. They do not see others as people but more like objects that could satisfy an unmet need from their traumatic childhood.
    Forgiveness may be good for you personally as long as you forgive the abuser without having any input from them. You can forgive this person in a letter and burn every object that reminds you of him. Being in no contact with the one who abused you makes it sooo much easier to forgive.
    I’m still not ready to forgive mom for the trauma she inflicted on me and my aunt last year but, after maybe 2 years of NC it will get better. I will be more at peace with the world and would focus on my happiness 100% instead of focusing on my abuser. It takes so long time to forgive.
    I do believe you are doing a good job to cope with trauma. And don’t let anyone tell you how important forgiveness is. It has to come from you if you want and if you are ready.

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