Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

Before I start on today’s essay topic, the “F word”, I have to add a little chuckle.

Shortly after reading yesterday’s essay, a member of EASN (Emotional Abuse Survivors Network) sent me a message that her abuser used to play “the wedding ring game”, too. She said it was a popular tactic. I was shocked! So I looked on some abuse recovery message boards and, sure enough, it’s in the worldwide edition of the Universal Abuser’s Playbook. Here all this time I thought MPP was doing at least one thing that was original. Do they have meetings for these people somewhere to teach them this stuff?


Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on.
– Alice Deur Miller

How Survivors Understand Forgiveness

Today I’m going to begin discussing the concept of forgiveness. The “F word” that all well-meaning non-survivors like to remind us about, as though learning to forgive would suddenly make everything heal nicely. It doesn’t. Not the forgiveness we know, anyway. See, those who have lived in an abusive relationship do forgive… over and over and over. Otherwise, we wouldn’t stay. We forgive in such a way that we equate the idea of forgiveness with acceptance of abusive treatment. By staying and trying to “fix” things repeatedly, we learn a type of twisted forgiveness of our abuser that says, “I forgive you for treating me like a piece of trash, again, because I love you and I want to make this work. Plus, you have convinced me that this is my fault anyway.”

I definitely have forgiven my ex-husband’s treatment of me in the sense that I understand why he is the way he is and how he was shaped as a child. I saw it firsthand. I saw his father incredibly drunk, cursing, throwing things, yelling at people, calling his family members names. I saw him get drunk and run the car into the screened enclosure MPP had just spent the day installing on the porch for his mother. He sometimes couldn’t even get my name right, even after I had dated his son for a year. No child who grows up in that kind of environment, even though treated like the “Chosen One”, can escape the screwed-up programming that results. I feel profoundly sorry for him in many ways. He doesn’t understand what love is supposed to be like or how a man should treat his wife and children. It’s like foreign language learning. If you grow up in a household speaking only one language, then go out into the world and most of them speak a different language, you either have to learn the new language or struggle. Your choice.

Survivors of abusive relationships really don’t have a hard time forgiving their abuser because they’ve done it, in some form or another, many times. It’s ourselves we can’t forgive!

The Hardest Part About Forgiveness

One of the hardest parts of the healing journey has been to learn to forgive myself. Why didn’t I stand up for myself more? Why didn’t I leave sooner? Why in the world did I have children with this man and then stay when he began treating them so badly? Why did I allow this to go on? I’ll bet this sounds familiar to every survivor. I had forgiven his affairs, his harsh words, his passive-aggressive threats, and his refusals to talk to me for days more times than I cared to remember. So, what of that? Now I had trouble forgiving myself for forgiving him.

This particular step on the road to recovery is both the most trying and the simplest. Simple in the fact that it’s a “just do it” step. There’s not a lot of special learning that has to come before you can do it. It is the most trying step because you are trained to forgive your abuser, but you have been taught that you are unforgiveable. You believed it. So hear this from me now: your abuser’s behavior was not, is not, never has been and never will be your fault. Your abuser’s behavior is his or her responsibility and choice. No matter how messed up a person is, he or she can choose to get help and change. I’ve seen some of the most damaged people completely re-focus their lives. If the person refuses to acknowledge the problem and address it, it does not give that person a free pass to act however they wish and consequences be damned. You have to learn to be honest with yourself as to why you stayed and why you accepted certain behaviors, then forgive yourself!
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One Other Thing About Abusers

One other thing about abusers: they are great to hang out with as friends because they only show their fun side, so you’ll keep coming back. They’re very insecure people and need their ego stroked as much as possible. They are terrific to date, too, because they show you all the things you want to see, like manners, humor and the little niceties you see in women’s magazines. This is what makes abusers so powerful in many ways. They use a false self to lure you in and perpetuate the positive image to others even when they are being horrendous to those who love them most. Many people don’t see or give heed to the warning signs or the little voice telling them something’s not right, or we would not have such high rates of domestic abuse in this country (and around the world).

The next time you hear or read how important it is to forgive in order to heal, start with yourself. It is the hardest forgiveness lesson, but I promise you that when you are finally able to do it, it will be a major turning point in your recovery.

Really, haven’t you accepted enough blame and shame and anger in your life? By refusing to forgive yourself, you are heaping the abuse on all over again.

For once, love yourself enough to give yourself “the F word”.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

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