Abusive spouses employ a multitude of tactics to maintain power and control over their partners. Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal, financial and sexual. It tends to escalate over time, with the period of separation potentially being the most dangerous. Victims of domestic violence opt to remain in or leave their batterers for a variety of reasons. Whether ending or continuing the relationship, forgiveness can be beneficial for the victim during the healing process.
Forgiveness is often misinterpreted as an act in which the injured party excuses the offensive actions of another. Forgiveness does not mean the victim should forget injuries or give permission for similar incidents in the future. Instead, forgiveness means acknowledging and working through the feelings of hurt, anger and resentment that hinder the ability to nurture yourself.
Benefits of Counseling and Therapy
If you've been abused, you've suffered trauma. Effects of trauma include depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, decreased self-esteem, sleep disturbances and physical illness. A qualified counselor or therapist can help you learn tools to manage the effects of abuse and prepare for forgiveness.
Expect an Apology
Since abusive people rarely take genuine responsibility for their actions, there is no guarantee that you will receive a true apology. Also, since artificial apologies can be used to keep the victim in the relationship, it may be difficult to accept one or know it is sincere. Your partner should specify the actions for which he is remorseful, acknowledge how they have affected you, identify the ways in which he will do things differently in the future -- and follow through with these intentions.
Whether you decide to forgive or not, and whether you decide to stay with your spouse or to leave, planning for your safety is critical to your well-being. Contact your local battered women's agency for assistance with creating and reviewing a plan on a regular basis. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally helps you stay safe as well. Exercise, eat well, see your doctor when necessary and maintain a solid system of support consisting of trustworthy friends, family members and even peers from a domestic violence support group.
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- Baylor University: Forgiveness for Intimate Partner Violence: The Influence of Victim and Offender Variables: Jo Ann Tsang, Ph.D. and Matthew S. Stanford, Ph.D.
- National Network to End Domestic Violence: If You are Being Abused
- Sidran Institute: What Is Psychological Trauma?: Esther Giller
- MayoClinic.com: Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.