Minimizing Abuse is a Roadblock to Forgiveness
In my last article I wrote about betrayal blindness and how, under extreme trauma, a person can actually forget abusive episodes.
Rather than an abnormal reaction indicating a person is inherently flawed and perhaps even crazy, betrayal blindness is a psychological defense mechanism that prevents an individual from drowning in trauma overload. It’s the way our brains protect us from further suffering, or the threat of losing someone important in our lives.
While betrayal blindness can be useful in the moment, it’s not healthy to maintain. It acts as a roadblock on the path toward healing.
The same is true for abuse minimization. Not as extreme as truly blanking out and forgetting an event actually occurred, abuse minimization is far more common.
Of the hundreds of domestic abuse survivors I’ve spoken with over the years, nearly all of them eventually came to realize they’d minimized their situations. As I wrote in a previous article, this minimization isn’t a deliberate effort to excuse the behavior of the abuser. Instead, it’s a subconscious attempt to make sense of the nonsensical.
It’s often too painful for a person to believe they’re a victim of abuse, especially if that abuse is of a passive-aggressive, covert nature.
When talking to friends or family, a victim of domestic violence will often minimize what’s happening in her relationship. This is due to a variety of reasons, some personal and some general. The more general reasons may include:
Shame to admit her situation or what she mistakenly perceives to be her role in “allowing” abuse to continue
Fear that her loved ones will judge or condemn her partner
Not wanting her family to worry about her
Hesitation in revealing the truth out of fear that her loved ones will pressure her into leaving the relationship
However, abuse minimization isn’t limited to external relationships. Often a victim will minimize her partner’s behavior even to herself. Again, this isn’t done intentionally—it’s a psychological reaction born of shock and disbelief.
She simply cannot believe he’d act this way—particularly during the “remorse” stage of the abuse cycle.
When he’s acting sweet and loving, buying flowers and saying all the right words of appeasement, it’s very difficult not to minimize the horror of toxic maltreatment. After all, someone so charming and sweet couldn’t possibly be so cruel …
A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself … He who troubles his household will inherit wind.
But as with betrayal blindness, at some point the minimization must stop. We have to face our trauma by traveling through it. Avoiding pain will create more pain, as well as barriers in self-growth.
Facing the damage is the only way to fix the damage.
Minimization and Forgiveness
One of the crucial stages of healing is that of forgiving your offender.
Before I write more about this stage of healing, I need to be clear about a few things.
First, forgiveness is an advanced stage of healing, and will come in its own time. Rushing forgiveness because of feelings of guilt or obligation serves no purpose, except to create further wounds.
If the idea of forgiveness isn’t something you can cope with yet, that’s fine. Set it aside. Pray. Ask our Lord to give you the willingness to want to forgive, when the time is right for you. Then leave it in His hands.
Lord, I don’t want to forgive [N__]. I know You commanded us to forgive, but what this person did was too much for me to bear. I just can’t imagine forgiveness right now. I don’t even want to forgive. When the time is right, please give me the grace to want to forgive. Please help me to be patient with myself until I’m ready to move forward. Forgiveness brings me closer to You, and I need to be closer to You.
Help me, Lord. I am in Your hands.
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
It's also crucial to remember exactly what forgiveness is:
A release from past hurts so we can move forward in life
Letting go of all anger and resentment, giving these emotions to God so He can heal our hearts (Ps. 51:10)
A full recognition of all the wrongdoings perpetrated against us
Admitting the guilt of our offender(s), and still deciding to move forward in peace and without the need for revenge
And what forgiveness isn’t:
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what happened
It is not reconciliation
Both parties don’t have to be involved in forgiveness—often forgiveness is one-sided
Forgiveness isn’t a weakness, nor does it mean you’re giving in—it means you’re moving forward and becoming your true, beautiful self once again
Minimization Blocks the Ability to Forgive
When we minimize abuse, we’re impeding our path to forgiveness. We can’t forgive what we can’t see. We can’t forgive what we refuse to admit.
If you’re having trouble coming to terms with the enormity of your trauma, don’t worry—you’re not alone! That’s why Catholic support groups such as Hope’s Garden exist, or spiritual directors and coaches such as Imago Dei Spiritual Direction or You Are Made New coaching.
And, as always, please feel free to contact me.
There’s also something you can do on your own that’s ultimately the most powerful tool you have:
Ask God to renew your memories. Bring Him with you during the times when you’re remembering your past. Sit at His feet and ask Him for the gift of Himself. Pray for His love, His mercy, His arms to wrap around you. Sit with Him in Adoration. Ask Him to reveal His presence to you.
Adore Him. Because He adores you.
Let the tears come. Allow Jesus to wipe them dry, because He will.
Ask Him to repair your shattered heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God …
Renounce fear so that fear has no more power over you.
Fear not; be not dismayed. Take heart, it is I—have no fear. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let then be afraid. In Me you may have peace … Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Perfect love casts out fear. Be still, and know that I Am God.
(1 Chron. 22:13; Matt. 14:27; John 14:27; John 16:33; 1 John 4:18; Ps. 46:10)
Renounce the fear of remembering, the fear of more pain, the fear of toxic shame. Renounce and reject it all, so Jesus can come in and heal you.
Create the soul space necessary for Him to enter into your heart, to fully dwell there.
Jesus, I’m shattered. I’m broken. Help me. Take my heart, destroyed as it is. Take my mind, numb with grief. Take my entire body into Your healing Hands. Mold me, shape me, reform me. Create in me a clean heart, a heart resembling Your own. Help me to quiet and silence myself so I can hear Your voice within. I know you’re speaking to me, calling me forward—toward You. I just can’t hear You, because of the clamor within my broken heart. Help me to remember all past offenses committed against me, and all offenses I may have committed against others. Help me to remember, help me to forgive. Help me to no longer fear, but instead to trust in You.
In Your precious name, Jesus, I pray. Amen.