I was talking to some friends the other day, one who thinks she might be dealing with a narcissistic husband and is counseling with him, and the subject of forgiveness came up.
“The counselor told me that I needed to forgive him for my own benefit.”
The counselor told her she should forgive her husband while her husband was in the room. When I hear things like this something in me rises up like the Incredible Hulk and wants to bust things to pieces. I am totally in agreement that forgiveness is important to our healing, but I dislike the way it is presented.
The Responsibility for Action Should Not Be On the Victim
Moe often than not society places the responsibility for action is placed on the victim of narcissism. It may sound very rational and helpful to remind the victim to forgive but in some ways that can make her feel like the healing of the relationship is her responsibility. Keep in mind that she has been made to feel responsible for everything the narcissist does for years. Now she is being told that the ball is in her court and to heal and move ahead she must actively forgive.
In truth, the responsibility for action should be on the narcissist if there is to be restoration in the relationship.
What Forgiveness Is Not
- Forgiveness does not mean that you put everything in the past, forget about it, and go on like nothing ever happened. There is another word for that, stupidity. When I caught my ex-husband lying about money yet again he turned to me and spat out, “You always bring up the past!” My answer has always been the same. If you’ve repented for an action you won’t repeat it. If you repeat it then it isn’t in the past, it’s just one more board in your gallows.
- Forgiveness does not mean that you accept the abuse that you have been living with. It does not mean that the next time he tries to intimidate you with his anger or manipulate you with your emotions that you will accept it. Just say “no” and walk away.
- Forgiveness does not dismiss or diminish what happened to you. Sometimes when the narcissist tosses off an I’m sorry we say things like, It’s OK, I forgive you, We are all human and all make mistakes, Don’t worry about it. It’s not OK. He should worry about it. He needs to understand that he caused pain and he needs to acknowledge that pain. When you forgive him you aren’t saying that what he did was OK, not at all!
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation. This one is the bane of my existence. I was always counseled to forgive and reconcile, but I finally realized the while there can be forgiveness without true repentance there cannot be reconciliation.
- Forgiveness does not mean that you continue to enable the narcissist to continue in his behavior. Forgiving him doesn’t mean that you go back to covering for him, that you go back to accepting his abuse, or that you stop checking out his stories to make sure they aren’t lies.
- Forgiveness does not take away the action. I have been accused of not forgiving my ex-husband because I write these articles in hopes that they will help someone else to identify what they are dealing with and realize that they are not alone. I have certainly forgiven his actions – he is human and we all do things at times that hurt other people. Forgiving him does not mean that I will cease to talk about it. Forgiving him does not mean that I will not use everything in my power to make sure that he fulfills his responsibilities and obligations to our children to the very best of his ability. If you’ve committed a crime I can forgive you and still testify against you in court – your actions have consequences that have nothing to do with me.
- Forgiveness is not trust. How stupid would I be to trust my ex to tell me the truth about his finances knowing that he lied to me about finances for 30 years? How stupid would it be for someone who was sexually abused by a relative to trust that relative around her children just because they had asked for forgiveness? Trust, once lost, is very difficult to regain. Narcissists tend to break our trust, get us to trust them again, and repeat the action. Trust and respect are earned.
- Forgiveness does not mean that the hurt immediately goes away!
What Forgiveness Is
Defining forgiveness is actually pretty easy. Forgiveness is letting go of the desire to get someone back, the bitterness that goes along with that, and the resentment you feel against that person.
It isn’t an immediate change but an ongoing process. Sometimes something will happen that will jerk me back into a past situation with the ex. My heart will race, I will get sick to my stomach, and I will want to hurt him somehow because the pain of his betrayal is so overwhelming. I have to choose to calm myself down and focus on the favor he did for me. His leaving allowed another man to step in and take over – one who takes incredible care of the kids and I. Our lives are infinitely better now.
Forgiveness releases you from the other person. It doesn’t protect the narcissist from the consequences of their actions it just states that you are not requiring compensation of any sort in return for what they did. Forgiveness is why you haven’t taken a sledgehammer to his car – that and the fear of jail time.
The Constant Chirping of the Harpies
There seems to be a constant chorus of voices telling you to forgive your ex-husband and yet those same voices fall silent when he comes into the room. You’d think they would chirp repent, repent, repent in the same way they had been telling you to forgive, forgive, forgive but they don’t. It’s just easier to put the action on the victim rather than the abuser.
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Lead Image, painting by Pakayla Biehn