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Do You Need to Forgive Your Abuser to Heal?

When former child actor Jenette McCurdy released her autobiography, I’m Glad My Mom Died, it sold out at every major retailer in less than 24 hours. The book tells McCurdy’s experiences with a physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive mother. Many readers related to McCurdy through her raw and dark-humored retelling. The book raised an important question for many abuse survivors: do you need to forgive your abuser to heal? I’m Glad My Mom Died challenged the common notion that forgiveness is necessary. In this blog, we’ll explore why the book came to the correct conclusion about forgiveness.

Forgiveness Isn’t Necessary

Many people will tell you that you must forgive your abuser to heal. The reality of this is more complex than a simple yes or no. Forgiving an abuser can actually put your safety at risk if you’re still active in the abuser’s life. A four-year longitudinal study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that forgiveness when still in an abusive relationship resulted in continued or increased incidents of abuse. Less expressed forgiveness resulted in decreased physical and psychological abuse.

If you’re no longer in contact with the abuser, forgiveness can help some people feel more at ease with their past. On the contrary, it can make the trauma worse for others. Forgiveness can feel like letting go of autonomy. Many individuals who’ve survived abuse never felt autonomy in the abusive environment. Given the different experiences, the decision to forgive should remain in your hands—entirely separate from the choice to heal.

In trauma-specific psychotherapies, a therapist can help you process your trauma, emotions, and grief without focusing on forgiveness. They can help you come to terms with your past and build coping skills for your lingering symptoms. You may find yourself in other types of therapy that also address your trauma. All of these occur separately from the decision to forgive.

Deciding Whether to Forgive Your Abuser

Ultimately, it’s a deeply personal decision whether you should forgive your abuser. Very likely, either decision is going to come with complex emotions. You might flip-flop on the decision as you work through your trauma. That’s okay. You get to choose what is best for you, and your needs may change depending on where you are in the healing process.

The most important thing is that you focus on yourself. Your abuser likely dictated your life and how people viewed you for some time. Most likely, you didn’t feel power or control in that environment. You are in control now. You’re putting yourself first by reaching out for help. You don’t need to give your abuser any more of your time, focus, or attention.

Healing from abuse can feel impossible at times. You may find yourself wondering whether you’ll ever get better. The road to recovery includes processing and working through your traumatic experiences. This should be done with a qualified medical team. At The Guest House, we provide trauma-specific treatment plans that comprehensively address your mental health needs. We offer various levels of care which can accommodate your unique needs. Through traditional and holistic therapies, we’ll help you feel empowered in your healing journey. When you need help, please reach out to The Guest House at (855) 483-7800.