Do the Abused Need to Forgive Their Abuser? About Boundaries for the Traumatized


Everyone loves the idea of love and forgiveness—but do the abused need to “love and forgive” their abuser?

Here’s my quick take on boundaries and self-care for the abused and traumatized.

A romanticized culture of hyper-compassion easily leads to fatigue, disillusionment, and secondhand trauma, especially when we attempt to love those beyond our limits. I also share on trying to help those with mental illness, and the ugly reality that many of us are in over our heads and need to refer to professional help.

My post on love, abuse, and trauma is here.

My book on fighting depression and empathizing with those who have depression:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360/
Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB/

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

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18 thoughts on “Do the Abused Need to Forgive Their Abuser? About Boundaries for the Traumatized

  1. Why must you make it so blasted complicated? You take the very real world of abuse, trauma, and the like and how we are supposed to live with the starting point being the problem, the abuse, the trauma. That is NEVER the starting point! You have to start with God, with what He has revealed in Scripture. It is crystal clear from the Bible that God wants us to forgive those who have sinned against us, who have hurt us, who have abused us. Our role is to forgive. Don’t equate forgiveness with sweeping the crap under the rug, hugs and kisses to your rapist, and buddy buddy with the person who beat you incessantly growing up. Forgiveness is none of those. Forgiveness is letting go of the crap and not letting the hurt, the anger, the pain overwhelm you for the rest of your life. Forgiveness frees the VICTIM, not the PERP! If you are going to offer advice, get it right!! You are not carefully giving out the full counsel of God. You are giving out your own opinion which is not carefully sourced, bathed in Scripture. People who are hurting, who are abused, whose life sucks need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, bathed in compassion and love. Don’t just give them compassion and love without the whole truth!!!

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  2. J.S.,

    I apologize. I was way too harsh. I overreacted. Life is messy. It is hard. It is filled with sin, abuse, trauma, pain. The way out of the hell of past trauma, abuse, pain is forgiveness. That is exactly why God is very clear about our need to forgive. In real time in 2017 forgiveness frees us from being held prisoner after the fact by those who have hurt us. What happened never goes away. Forgiveness frees me from having to dwell on it incessantly, making me a prisoner of the past.

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    1. Not to step on JS’ toes, but he’s a Christian and a writer. He never said his writings and videos are to replace scripture, but he’s trying to help people where they are at. As Christians, we deal with real people and real issues, and JS believes in the gospel and it’s obvious in what he does and says. I’ve read two of his books, and read his blog and it’s been helpful to me. Each person is accountable to know what they believe and why, and you certainly don’t have to agree with everything he said. I’m glad you apologized for being so harsh, because we as Christians need to love and support each other. We get plenty of hate and opposition from the world, and when someone is putting themself out there to help someone else, that should be appreciated. Of course we won’t all agree on everything, but hopefully we can agree that we’ve been loved by God, so we can now love each other.

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      1. Thank you, Nina, for your very clear gracious response! You’re totally right: I care less that any of us agree, but that we can still build bridges somehow to meet and move forward. Thanks for your encouragement.

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  3. Thank you for your comment Nina. I believe Mr. Park’s motivation is to help others. I also believe his comments on love and forgiveness relative to those who have been abused do nothing to help anyone. Quite the contrary, when a victim of abuse is counseled to not love and not forgive their abuser, the pain, trauma, hurt of the abuse continues to infect and poison the victim long after the abuse ended. Love and forgiveness is God’s remedy for moving on with life and not letting an abusive situation define us for the rest of our lives. For a pastor to say otherwise is not wise. It is NEVER right, it is NEVER okay to not love and not forgive. The next person who says so, be they a Christian and writer, or pastor, professor at a Bible college, or friend, or coworker or whomever – I will call them on it. What is more important to defend Nina – someone you respect and have learned from who says something in error or The God of the Bible who has revealed His will to us, a big part of which is LOVE and FORGIVENESS toward everyone without any caveats whatsoever?

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    1. Tim, I appreciate your comments here and on other posts. Despite your tone and whether we agree or not, you always say insightful things. However, I have not and will never advocate not forgiving someone. A small part of my chaplain role is to help patients in the hospital to reconcile with their loved ones before they die. It’s a painful, brutal task, and some won’t do it. It’s heartbreaking every time. I wish they would know the freedom of forgiveness, the sweet healing it brings. I believe that’s partially why God commands forgiveness, as a gift for us. I also empathize with how difficult it is. But it is part of my God-given task. It is heavy.

      So please don’t misrepresent what I’ve said. The video wasn’t saying “It’s okay not to forgive someone.” Not even close. If you want to engage with what was actually said, I’m more than happy to discuss. Otherwise, I’m not sure how to respond to you, because it’s not a conversation, but only assumptions. I’d kindly ask you to take some time before commenting again. I’m sure you can’t wait to blast me again (haha), but your “iron sharpens iron” stuff seems like an excuse to talk tough, and I hear very little patience or grace in your online voice these days.

      I do agree a lot with what you said about forgiveness. I’ve written many of the same things. What you said also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
      “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
      — Lewis B. Smedes

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      1. At the very end you say,
        “It will mean reframing their religious obligations to forgive.” Forgiveness is biblical; it’s commanded. We agree on that. What I struggle with is your seeming starting point for addressing life’s messiness. It seems to me that the starting point is your personal experience and those whom you serve as a chaplain and pastor. Because of your experiences of abuse, trauma, neglect, etc. and similar awful, painful, real experiences of those to whom you seek to minister,

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        1. So you took 13 minutes to think about it, I was hoping for hours or days 🙂

          Again, I’m okay with discussion, but not misrepresenting or presuming what I’ve said, which you’re still doing. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to start marking some of your comments as spam, which I’ve never had to do before to anyone, but you continue to spam this blog with the same things over and over with many (wrong) assumptions of what I believe. It’s fine to tackle what I said, but not what I didn’t say. It seems your mind is already made up about what I think, say, or do. Why not ask? And I’d love to engage in actual dialogue with you. Or maybe your thoughts can be written on your own blog, which you can feel free to link here. Regardless, your thoughts are appreciated.

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      2. Sorry, my fat fingers got in the way. It seems to me, and I ver well could be wrong, that experience weighs out over clear commands of Scripture. You get so deep into the very real experiential chaos, trauma, and hellishness that people often go through that you come up with comments like what I quoted at the beginning. I understand your point. It is not right to be bullied into forgiving an abuser. I agree. But make the counterpoint with crystsl clarity, i.e. “Even though it is incredibly difficult to love and forgive someone who has violated you, abused you, tormented you, you must ask God to help you love and forgive them. Why? Because Jesus loved and forgave His violaters, His abusers, His tormentors. He set the example. It is for our best to follow His example and to let love and forgiveness that we extend to the unlovely heal US.” If someone doesn’t read the rest of your material in your books where you presumably discuss love and forgiveness in more detail, might they be confused by your “one-side-of-the-coin comments?”

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  4. I am not a counselor. I have great respect for what individuals called to that line of work do. I have personal experience with the good work they do. Forgiveness is tricky. When someone whom you believe loves or cares for you violates that trust thru abuse, it cannot be expected that forgiveness will come immediately or ever. Saying I am sorry is not enough. Actions always speak louder than words. I watch my mom be devastated by the verbal abuse my father heaped on her until she physically ceased to be. The tongue can kill. Your points are valid and as a pastor you have the ability to see that forgiveness is not easy. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Thank you for sharing, and I’m very sorry to hear about what your mother went through. When you say she physically ceased to be, is that what I think it means? I’m so deeply sorry.

      I tend to think that forgiveness is always recommended, but friendship is not mandatory. In other words, the abused person should forgive (if anything, for their own health), but if the abuser hasn’t changed, there’s no mandate to stay near the abuser. Again, all that is tricky, and I’m sure it’s different case by case.

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      1. Yes you are so correct. My father was verbally and emotionally abusive to my late mother. She stayed because of lack of financial resources. He had good income and I was a sick child. However abuse can attack a person’s soul to the point the body becomes physically sick. Depression sets in an one may tend to eat more or engage in other risky. I my mom’s case her weight didn’t help and there was no real incentive to become healthy. I thank you for your condolences. Your blog speaks truth. It’s a resource to help others.

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  5. Maybe I need help with this? A young girl dear to me was abused sexually, together with her brother, over at least several years starting about age five. (No one knew while it was happening.) I certainly can’t embrace her abuser; the human part of me imagines him staked out over a fire ant hill in the blazing sun!
    I know this isn’t God’s way and I know “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” In one respect it’s not my place to forgive or not. God will look after it. Really I don’t want to see him suffer, but justice is a valid concern. I don’t want t hate him, but I dread the thought that he’s been free to abuse other young children.
    Even though she wasn’t my daughter, I do struggle to be free of anger, especially when the girl’s reproductive system was discovered to be full of cancer when she was twelve — very likely started as cervical cancer and spread for some years. She fought long and hard, but succumbed to her disease at age 16.
    I don’t want to dwell on this, nor let the anger take control of me. Paul, in Philippians, tells us to think on things that are good and pure and right. But I trust God knows how human I am and forgives me if total forgiveness is rather elusive. Is that enough?

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    1. Hey Christine, I’m very sorry this happened. I’m both heartbroken and infuriated. I work with many patients who have endured similar stories, and my gut instinct is always to 1) ask for a photo of the abuser, and 2) find out where the abuser lives. Fill in the rest.

      I think we need to balance out some of these verses with each other. Paul had a lot of other things to say about this. In Ephesians 4:26, he says, “Be angry, and do not sin.” He says be angry as a command, as long as it’s not leading to sin. Regarding an “immoral brother,” Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:5 says, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Paul is saying that some people need to spend themselves dry until they realize how awful they’ve been; Paul is also advocating for boundaries with destructive people. Jesus practically says the same thing in Matthew 18:17. I think it’s worth looking at all the imprecatory verses in the Old Testament. And the book of Nahum is essentially one long rant against the Ninevites; at one point Nahum says he’s going to fling his poo at them.

      Now some of these verses might be talking about people in “emotional transition,” not endorsing these states of anger, but rather showing the process from anger to forgiveness. But I think that’s exactly the point. It’s a process. People have a right to be angry. The Bible, in fact, might have more of a problem with people who are not angry about injustice and who let it slide. And James gives us a final boundary: “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

      When we take all these verses in context across the overarching message of the Gospel, then yes, anger is a proper response, so long as it’s not the ultimate decision-maker or endpoint. And yes, forgiveness is where we want to land, but that journey is complicated, never a straight line, and will be mixed with all kinds of emotional states that we literally can’t control day to day.

      The thing is, too many Christians demand forgiving someone like it’s a “nirvana” goal-post, and my suspicion is that they’re endorsing a kind of feeling, a sort of psychological state in which the sin/crime no longer bothers you. But in the same breath, Christians will say that the feeling of anger shouldn’t control you. So which is it? We must feel forgiveness but not feel angry? Can anyone actually feel total forgiveness? And wouldn’t that cheapen the crime that actually happened? Why must someone have competing emotional states in order to be a “good Christian”? At exactly which point does the “feeling of forgiveness” hit some kind of GPA that says you passed? These illogical demands that not only rush the abused person towards a hollow emotional state, but also give more rights to the abuser than the abused. If anything, the impetus should be on the abuser to feel remorse and repent, not for the abused to just gloss over their own very legitimate trauma.

      In the end, it’s no one else’s business if you’ve spiritually reached forgiveness or not. That’s between you and God. And I tend to think that forgiveness is a daily process over a lifetime, not some one-shot moment where all the hate is gone in a flash. One might feel angry still, but I think the response is important too, and that a response of love in itself is a kind of forgiving heart that Jesus wants for us.

      Feel free to agree or disagree or add your thoughts!

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      1. I agree, especially with the last part. Now, if I see a Christian brother or sister bound by bitterness, seething with an unforgiveness that is spoiling their own relationships, or living in dread of possible future abuse, I think it’s my obligation to draw that to their attention when and how the Lord directs me. But basically it’s between us and God. His Spirit will urge us to leave it in God’s hands and trust him.
        But if every day we see the empty chair of one who was there and should still be, it may well take daily letting go and letting God take care of it. And He never asks us to accept the sin itself. I don’t hate this man, but I do hate what he did! Just like God hates some of the things I’ve done.

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  6. I loved this J.S. I would say love/forgiveness without wisdom and boundaries is not really love or forgiveness in some cases. The work of forgiveness is completed when we have both acknowledged and let go of the need for control or recompense over an individual who has harmed us. It frees us to live in joy and freedom from fear of being harmed again (that second part being a very important key) and it frees them to live however they are going to live in light of their revelation of God. Forgiveness and love are absolutely necessary but I think you are right our culture has given us a sometimes skewed view of what love and forgiveness actually are.

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