Whether and when to forgive an abuser

Wednesday night, All-Merciful Saviour Monastery posted a link on Facebook: The Morning Offering.  They were referring to the blog for Tuesday, February 28, 2012, “Rejected: When People Don’t Forgive.”  [Also on their new site here.] 

I need to print this out because it refers to abusive people who live their lives with a chip on their shoulders, taking it out on you–but neither do they forgive you for your “offenses” against them, whether real or imagined, but they refuse to apologize themselves.

Apparently three of the things I did were correct according to the Church, even though counselors may disagree:

  1. apologizing for what offended Tracy, even though it was only in her own head and she was the actual abuser
  2. walking away when she not only did not forgive (at least, not without an ultimatum that required me to submit to even more of her abuse and control), but did not apologize for her own abusive behavior
  3. and praying that she come to repentance.

The thing I haven’t done yet is forgive.  It’s a lot harder to do that without an apology, and I’ve still been using anger to distance myself from her and Richard so it doesn’t hurt as much to give up Richard’s friendship.

I still keep wishing he would apologize and we would be friends again, and this disturbs me because I know very well now that he has a violent, scary side.

I don’t intend to go forever without forgiving.  But I have also come across blogs and blog commenters who have been abused, and say that forgiveness is impossible until you’ve healed; otherwise, it’s premature and false forgiveness.  But I do want to come to forgiveness eventually.

This monk’s blog says that if I forgive the abuser, I will be justified before God, and I am only responsible for my own response, not the abuser’s.  It also says that forgiveness is only possible through Christ: It’s not something humans just naturally do.

Reconciliation is a different thing from forgiveness, and is only possible if Richard and Tracy apologize and end their abusive and violent ways–not just to me, but to each other, the children and other people as well.

Currently, I’m going through this blog and its many comments, when I have time: Forgive the Abusers: A Bit of a Rant

I keep going back and forth about whether or not to blog about these things publicly.  But I see all sorts of other blogs on the Net about personal abuse stories.  It’s one way people are using these days to deal with it.  It’s part of that “if you’re silent, the abusers will get away with it” way of thinking.

And songwriters and poets have always done this in their own way as well (i.e., Linkin Park, Adele, Eminem, Carly Simon, Alannis Morissette, etc.).

I do like reading such blogs and finding I’m not alone, whether it’s reading a story of a narcissistic friend, or a note about how hard it is to forgive any kind of abuser, or forum posts about seeing the abuser again at a restaurant or in family get-togethers.  It’s far more real than, say, reading some magazine article about what you’re supposed to do to forgive/get over abuse.

And if such a writer can talk about some horrible abuse story and how she was able to get through the pain and forgive her abuser, then I know it’s possible for anyone.

Because while the anger is necessary for a time, if you hold onto it for too long, it can begin to twist you into an abuser yourself.

There’s no way I want to be like Tracy.  I DO NOT WANT TO BE ANOTHER TRACY.  I must not let her poison work its way through my system until I become like her. 

I want to continue keeping my husband happy, and help my son grow up healthy and happy. 

And I want that salvation that leads to eternity going from one level of bliss to another, getting ever closer to God–not an eternity of self-imposed darkness as the bitterness consumes me.

As you can see from reading my posts on Richard and Tracy, I have a lot of crap to get out of my system and deal with.

It’s a lot harder when the perpetrators act like their treatment of you was somehow deserved by you, that you just need to “GROW UP” and “stop feeling hurt over the consequences of YOUR behavior.”

When one of the perpetrators even posted on her Facebook wall that she was having a “GREAT day” because she was yelling and screaming at you.

When these perpetrators occasionally show up at your church and, instead of trying to make peace with you and apologize as you had hoped, they freeze you out as if you were scum who still needs to “GROW UP” and apologize to them, and then leave without saying a word of kindness or apology to you.

When one of them was a very close, very dear friend whom you trusted with your darkest secrets.

It doesn’t just go away, and I fear the pain that would grip me if I let go of the anger too soon.

Certain religions, cults and spiritual practices encourage you to avoid emotions, particularly anger. They stress forgiveness and are not likely to support you in confronting your abuser.

These attitudes do not promote healing. If you are involved in a practice that denies your needs as a survivor in an active healing process, you are not helping yourself. —What AA Does for Survivors of Abuse or Trauma

Therapy for abuse survivors will guide them to experience feelings which are 180 degrees the opposite of the ones promoted by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. (namely anger & rage to name a few) As an example, here’s a checklist of healing stages for survivors of sexual abuse. Note how many feelings run counter to the AA way!

  • anger
  • rage
  • discarding the wrongful belief that the abuse was somehow the survivors fault (instead of “looking at one’s part! -which is entirely inappropriate!)
  • confronting the abuser (if the survivor wishes to); holding the abuser accountable for his/her behavior
  • forgiveness at the END of the healing process (NOT the beginning!), and as an option rather than a requirement! Note that forgiveness makes sense in cases where perpetrators have made restitution, have expressed remorse and have demonstrated rehabilitation, otherwise, forgiveness simply excuses perpetrators for harms done. An exception, in the absence of these criteria, is if s/he is dead.

For battered women (or men) who need to break the cycle of domestic violence, counselors will advise them to feel these “forbidden” feelings, which will impel them to leave the dangerous scenario.  Acceptance is the WORST advice they could be getting.

They will be guided to feel angry at the abuse and to work toward “rebellion” which will be the motivator for leaving. These feelings and behaviors are temporary, and they serve to HEAL FROM OR TO GET THE INDIVIDUAL OUT OF THE PATTERN OF ABUSE.

Only after s/he has worked through the abuse, or has gotten out of the pattern itself, can a more relaxed personality can be adopted.

It is those individuals who do not respond to mistreatment with the “forbidden feelings” that act in a psychologically unsound way. Sadly, this is the ideal set before the recovering alcoholic by the program itself.  Deviation from this ideal is regarded as “not working the program”. —Anger, Rebelliousness and Other Forbidden Feelings

I don’t think those people who tried to sell me forgiveness were trying to hurt me. I’m sure they were only trying to help and were speaking from their own fears. They may not have intended harm, but it was harmful.

Forgiveness is a personal issue and one of the most sensitive in dealing with abuse. Forgiving my parents was one product of my healing, not the means to it. –Christina Enevoldsen, What About Forgiveness?

This post is about discussing the issues of forgiveness within the context of abuse. There is no need to define the type of abuse because all forms of abuse cause the same issues and damage.

It also discusses forgiveness within the contexts of no confession; no repentance; no admission of fault; betrayal; defiance; lies; denials and injustice….

As a victim of crime and a survivor of the most appalling sexual, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and religious abuse I find myself grappling with issues to do with deliberate cruelty, betrayal, lies, denial, play-acting, justice, injustice, defiance and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard at the best of times, but is certainly easier if the person admits their fault, confesses and repents, maybe even apologises.

Forgiveness becomes virtually impossible when the guilty are faced with the truth, faced with the legal consequences, but do not respond with humility but with defiance, denials, play-acting and lies.

By doing so they evaded justice. By doing so they evaded exposure of their crimes. By doing so they stuck 2-fingers in front of my face and in front of the face of God. By doing so they showed no comprehension of the way their actions, lies and denials when confronted with the truth tore my life apart.

I’m left wondering how on earth can I forgive when my abusers deny any wrongdoing, carry on their lives hard faced, glorying in their win, going about as if cruelty is normal and as if it is normal to have nothing to do with your daughter?

I’m left wondering how God who hates injustice can allow such injustice to happen on top of all the injustices of all the other abuses. I’m left feeling that my life is just injustice piled on injustice until there is nothing left but injustice and devastation….

Speaking the truth of what they did helps to put the blame and guilt where it lies and that is on the shoulders of the person who did the wrong not on the person who is struggling to forgive and honestly grappling with the hurt and lack of closure. …

It’s very hard when people are deliberately and defiantly non repentant and hard faced – turning up in church as if nothing is wrong and nothing has happened.

Having to cope with your abusers turning up in church whilst deliberately sticking 2 fingers up at God is beyond the capacity of describe.

Having to cope with your abusers continuing to use the church as their cover story is beyond awful and beyond hypocrisy. Having them do all of that on that back of having lied and denied to prevent justice and to prevent exposure is disgusting and distasteful at the very least.

It is utterly appalling for me as a victim, for those who gave evidence against them to the police and for the church leadership who now know the truth about them. It’s totally ghastly and repulsive to be brutally honest.

It is as if they have no conscience at all. Sometimes when people have lied and denied for long enough they actually believe their lies and denials to be absolute truth regardless of evidence to the contrary. Thus they worm their way out of it and can be incredibly and frighteningly convincing in their true lies…

Without confession, repentance, admission of guilt or other things which lead to closure surely it will always be there at the back of your mind.

Having to watch your abusers behaving as if nothing untoward happened and all is normal fuels the fire. When people have been so deliberately cruel to you and are so defiant when faced with the truth where can you go?

How can such defiance be coped with, processed and gotten out of your mind. It is in reality and in all truth extremely difficult.

It’s almost impossible to forgive cruel people who lie, pretend all is normal and do all they can legally to silence you and keep their evil deeds secret. –Princess Fi, BETRAYAL, DEFIANCE, LIES, DENIAL, INJUSTICE, FORGIVENESS ISSUES

Why is it that so many Christians don’t get that you can be a Christian and be in such a mess. Why is that?

Instead of coming alongside me, giving me space to tell my story and helping, it was oh just forgive, forget, move on, it happened so long ago, stop harping on about it, stop dragging it up from the past. WHY IS THAT?

How can I ever forget 20 years of abuse and torture? It may have happened a long time ago, but I live with it every minute I’m awake and then in my nightmares when I do sleep. For me it’s not in the past but very much in the present.

How can I forgive when my abusers deny anything ever happened? How can I forgive when my abusers say anything bad that ‘might’ have happened was because I such a bad person, they did nothing wrong?

Why are churches and so many Christians so closed minded about the realities of living with past sexual abuse? Why are churches and so many Christians so closed minded about the realities of the deep damage of childhood abuse and the complexities of the healing processes?

Why do so many churches have systems in place to prevent abuse happening, but provide little or no support to REALLY help victims heal? Why is it that so many Christians tell you that as you are a Christian, you are a new person so your past is gone, so all the stuff from your past abuse should be gone too?

Why is it that so many Christians tell you that you are doing something wrong if you aren’t healing from the damage of the abuse or if you don’t have joy etc?

Why do so many Christians tell you that if you read your bible enough and pray enough you should be fine? Thereby implying that you cannot be reading your bible or praying enough because you are a screwed up mess!

Why is it that so many Christians think you don’t need counseling or anything; you just need to get over it, forgive your abusers and forget it? WHY IS THAT?” –Princess Fi, Spiritual + Religious Abuse

Also see: What About Forgiveness?
Forgiveness: Some of My Conclusions
Blogs That Helped Me As I’ve Grappled With Forgiveness
A Thought On Forgiveness

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Losing Your Best Friend?–Or, Narcissistic Webs (Original Version)

[Originally a Facebook note, meant to explain to my friends (including mutual ones with my abusers) why it was so hard for me to just forget Richard and move on.  It turned into a much larger blog post when I began adding more and more to the note.  At that time, my blog did not have the details of my story publicly posted, as it does now.  Written Tuesday, December 27, 2011.]

Some friends just drift in and out of your life.  Some hurt when they drift away, but you deal with it and move on.  Some may anger you so much that losing them doesn’t bother you.  Losing a friend is not easy in any case, but it’s far more difficult when it was that one extra-special friend, the kind that’s so rare.

All my life I had wanted the elusive bosom friend that Anne Shirley spoke of.  The friend who sticks with you for life, not a romance, not sex or marriage, which I already have, but a platonic friend.  Frodo/Sam.

I’ve made close friends, but then somebody would move away, or classes/lunch periods would change.  I wanted such a friend right here in my own town, not many miles away, separated for so many years that the friendship remains, but the closeness inevitably suffers.

I thought I finally found that friend when this one moved to my town.  I had just prayed for a friend a few months before.  Jeff and I both liked him and I thought he was that friend, an answer to prayer.

I considered him my best and closest friend.  He’s the one who helped light my way when I searched for the True Church, the original doctrines.  He had already found it before I did.

We had similar backgrounds, and similar views of the various churches.  We could sympathize with each other about going through contemporary church services.

We could discuss Orthodox theology with a similar base knowledge and interest; we could discuss the meaning of original sin, or whether River of Fire is a good source of Orthodox doctrine;

we could discuss what it means to experience the Holy Spirit;

I could ask him about various things, such as why the English translations of the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed are so different, even the parts that come from the original Ecumenical Council that produced them;

I could share with him Orthodox writings, and give him Orthodox books and icons for Christmas or birthdays.

I could tell him what led me away from Western doctrines, without feeling judged for turning to “heresies.”  I simply don’t have another friend with whom I can discuss all these things, at least not from the same background, baseline knowledge, amount of interest and same denomination.

I asked him about difficult points of Orthodox doctrine or practices; I asked him how to forgive people who had hurt me years before; I lamented to him about Net Orthodoxy and its legalism.

He was my spiritual mentor.  He was the one I always wrote to with details of church meetings or services which had been especially interesting.  Who else can I write these things to, who has the same level of interest?  I wrote to him about my church because he was the one who led me there.  And these things led to sharing about our life experiences and troubles.

I told him my secrets, and he told me his.  He was my counselor, as I poured out my heart to him about various issues I was dealing with, and details of how I’d been bullied growing up, and how I’d been used and abused by college exes, including private details which I did not normally tell anyone, because of their nature.  I told him these things because I trusted him completely, was comfortable with telling him.

I told him funny stories of things that happened day-to-day, or dreams.  I shared with him thoughts about movies I watched, books I read, life stories.  We talked for hours at a time.

He lived with us for a time, so became like part of the family, like an adopted brother, so I could tell him things I didn’t tell other people.  We could joke back and forth with each other and play off each other so easily that one guy once said, “I love it when you guys are here!”

He and I went on religious websites together and defended Orthodoxy.  And he and I also had similar tastes in music, both loving the obscure Goth genres, 80s, New Wave–and yet knowing some of the same Christian artists as well.  He had actually been a Goth, while I was interested in Goth culture, did as much “Gothyness” as I could do in a small city in the Midwest.

Because of our similar backgrounds, we both knew about the Thief in the Night series, Left Behind, and other such things.  We were even the same age, so had the same nostalgia for TV shows or movies we grew up with.  We both liked watching EWTN.  We were both interested in paranormal investigations.

It just seems impossible to replace him.  These were elements of our friendship which I found especially valuable and important, especially appealing, and these were the reasons I was so attached to his friendship.

Every time something comes up that before I would write in a quick e-mail to him, I wonder, Is there anyone I can tell this to?  Sometimes I can, but many times, I can’t.  So I start wishing I could write that e-mail to him, because nobody else would understand, or nobody else is privy to those things.

Where else am I to find someone like this?  I try to remind myself of all the violence, the self-seeking, the betrayal, yet I’m left with this gaping hole that it’s impossible to fill with anyone else, as if he were a car or a computer that can just be exchanged for something new and better.

And that, more than anything, is why I just have not been able to get over our friendship.

That’s why I still haven’t let go of the hope that one day, somehow, some way, he will repent and come back to my husband and me, ready to abandon the violence and arrogance that pushed Jeff and me away, ready to start anew.

That’s why I’m filled anew with grief every time I see him at church, he says not a word to me, and I feel I must avoid him, push him away, because of his violence and betrayal, because I can’t trust him.

I barely make it through the service without collapsing in a puddle of tears.  Trying to keep in Orthodoxy, also, has become very difficult, because everything about it reminds me of him.  Sometimes I’m tempted to just give all of it up.

Nobody can help me because the friendship I had was so rare, so hard to find again, and not something you ever get over.  You can’t just go out and find another one just like it; it takes time and coming across just the right person at just the right time.

And I don’t even know if he misses us or regrets what happened, if he only keeps away because he’s (justifiably) afraid of my husband’s anger at him over all the things he did, or if he just doesn’t care.  If he truly misses us, or just misses playing D&D with Jeff.  If he remembers all the kind things we did for him.

And the most tragic thing is, I have no clue what happened.  The winter of 2009-2010, everything was fine between us all.  I don’t recall much bullying of me going on at that time, I was led to believe that the wife had long since stopped holding her inexplicable and irrational grudges against me, and everything was fine. 

But somehow, over the spring of 2010, for no reason I ever knew, they just both started being mean to me.

But as for him–I don’t know that I’ll ever get over what he did, unless he stops justifying his behavior and comes to me, and repents.  Forgive perhaps, eventually, but lose the hurt feelings?  Stop feeling betrayed by my best friend?  Stop wishing that he would do the right thing?  Probably never.

For the time being, I feel like I’ve gone back into the shell which I had been emerging from, afraid to share too much, afraid that I’ll make new friends and love them only to find that they’re abusive as well, afraid about every move I make because maybe they’ll think I’m horrible for being so quiet, or they’ll accuse me of stalking or being annoying or some other horrible thing.  I didn’t use to be so scared of these things.

And I’m also afraid every week of seeing Richard and/or his wife at church, because they do show up on occasion, leaving me nervous, shaken and afraid of what rumors they might try to spread, or of them wanting to make some sort of confrontation. 

Church used to be my refuge, but because they are so close to it, I fear they will show up in my life again some time in the future in some way.  I stay away from their church, and wish they would stay away from mine.

Every day, I’m haunted by the memory of how they bullied me, how a trusted and beloved friend betrayed me, the abuses that I witnessed.

[This blog post eventually turned into this, the version which my abusers saw when they discovered my blog.  Because of the length of the new version, and because my 2010/2011 blog archives now contain the full story, I moved it to a page instead of a post.]

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

 

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Fighting the Darkness: Stockholm Syndrome?

Part of my trouble dealing with this issue is wondering how my best friend could turn on me like Richard did.

Stockholm Syndrome can explain it.  From a blog by Jennifer Kesler about the Hillary Adams video:

If you’re wondering how a woman could get to the point of helping her husband beat their child, you need to understand this: when you’re living with someone who gets that violent anytime anyone stands up to him, you don’t stand up to him.

You either become very passive, or you become his collaborator in hopes of mitigating the damage. That’s what we’re seeing here – a mitigating collaborator.

The mother calmly agrees with every argument the judge makes, because arguing with him would only escalate his temper. She takes over the beating not because she enjoys it – that’s clear from her demeanor – but because she’s hoping it will lessen his anger and protect Hilary from his more painful lashes.

Several times she says “That’s en…” and stops herself because that constitutes standing up to him. As hard as it is to stomach, this is clearly a woman doing the best she can under circumstances that are as FUBAR as any war situation. —Hillary Adams: child abuse on film

There’s also the FOG (Fear, Obligation and Guilt) in which spouses of abusers are often kept.  Richard’s betrayal of me, even his intimidation of my husband for sticking up for me, could be seen as all part of trying to pacify his raging wife.

So I do hope that one day, he’ll come out of that FOG and realize just what he did, and come to us to make amends.  But there would still be the separate issues of threatening my husband several days earlier, which had nothing to do with Tracy, and nearly killing his daughter.

Hubby and I don’t know what we’ll do if he does come to us trying to make amends.  We decided we would just play it by ear.

There has been no church for a couple of weeks as my priest has been on vacation, so there have been no more surprises, no anxieties.  But this weekend, church starts up again, and as I do every time I go to church, I’ll be checking the parking lot for Richard and Tracy’s vehicle.

The initial shock, dismay and sadness stirred by seeing Richard again, has dissipated, and once again I feel anger at him for his abusive behaviors.  I want him far from me; I feel calmer.

I want to fight for the end of abuse of all kinds, of child abuse, of domestic violence; I read articles on people who did far less to their kids, but still ended up with jail time, or five years probation, and wonder, Why isn’t Richard in jail???!!!

I don’t want him to show up again like he did a couple of weeks ago and put me back in that dark place of depression and missing him.  I don’t want to miss him.

I want to remember him as a narcissist, Svengali and child abuser who duped me into believing all sorts of things that weren’t true, not as my BFF and spiritual mentor.

Seeing him brings it all back again and rips open the wound.  And if he had any sensitivity at all, he’d realize this.

The simple fact of the matter is, vaguely saying he blames himself for everything does not count as an apology for his violence or his betrayal, especially since right after he said this, he blamed me for Tracy’s verbal abuse, and lied to me, twice.

There are many who say that forgiveness is for when the offender asks for it.  When has he ever asked for it?  When has Tracy ever asked for it?  If they do not seek forgiveness from me, then I want them out of my life completely, leaving me in peace.

It is often easier for outsiders to see what’s going on because they’re not caught in the disorienting and invalidating mists of an emotional FOG.

To a mom, dad, sister, brother or best friend, it can be as clear as day, but when you have your mouth wrapped around the exhaust pipe of the Crazy Fogger 3000 night and day, it’s no wonder you can’t see the forest for the trees.

For anyone who’s ever walked or driven in atmospheric fogs, you know that being in a fog can play perceptual tricks on you. –Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, More Thoughts on FOG, Hoovers and No Contact When Ending a Relationship with a Narcissist, Borderline, Histrionic and/or Sociopath

The combination of “Stockholm Syndrome” and “cognitive dissonance” produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended.

In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and placed “all their eggs in one basket”. The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.

For reasons described above, the victim feels family and friends are a threat to the relationship and eventually to their personal health and existence.

The more family/friends protest the controlling and abusive nature of the relationship, the more the victim develops cognitive dissonance and becomes defensive.

At this point, family and friends become victims of the abusive and controlling individual. From “Love and Stockholm Syndrome” by Dr. Joseph M. Carver, PhD

 

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