An Inverse Relationship: Shame and Self-forgiveness

“Just get over it and move on with your life.”

“In order to be truly free, you need to offer your forgiveness.”

While typically meant to be helpful, statements like these typically aren’t. How do you forgive someone who continues to abuse you?

If you have survived relationship abuse and were able to escape, your healing journey is just beginning.  The perception is now that you have left, you are safe and can do all the things you need to do to heal.  But this is not the reality for a huge number of survivors. The abuse escalates and morphs into something different, something yet to be experienced.  This is post-separation abuse.

Post-separation abuse usually starts off with a thorough smear campaign with the goal of continued isolation and control of where and from whom you are able to get support.  Family, friends, social media connections, children’s teachers, parents of children’s friends, really anyone that will listen will receive an inaccurate picture and downright lies to maintain a sense of control.  It may be followed by long divorce and custody battles, counter-parenting, continued financial abuse, and stalking.

So, I will ask again, how is one to forgive or to just get over it when the abuse continues?  And is forgiveness required for your healing?

There are a lot of beliefs about the importance of forgiveness out there.  I am not here to debate those beliefs or to say what is true or not true.  What I would like to share is what I have seen to be important for survivors to truly heal from their experiences with abuse over the last decade, and that is the importance of self-forgiveness.

The levels of shame are extremely high with most victims of relational trauma.  Survivors of sexual abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence share this in common. Shame permeates these survivors to their core, and when these ideas have been yelled at you over and over by the person who is supposed to love you more than anyone, it can feel cemented and permanent.

This feeling of permanency of shame is just that, a feeling…not truth.  Shame can decrease and dissipate over time and with intention.  And how can one take control over the timeline of this process…by practicing self-forgiveness.

Shame and self-forgiveness are inversely related to one another.  As you offer yourself more compassion and self-forgiveness, your levels of shame will decrease.  This will allow you to offer yourself more compassion and grace, which will again decrease your levels of shame.  So, no, your shame does not have to be a permanent fixture in your life.

What is your first step…acknowledging when shame is taking over?  When is your heart pinged and triggered to reaffirm the belief that you are not good enough, a horrible parent, incapable, or unworthy?  While this is extremely difficult to sit with, it’s the only way we will learn enough to dismantle it.  Look at these thoughts and beliefs with a sense of curiosity and compassion.  You may learn that you did the things you did to survive and that without them, you might not be here.

What do you know now that you did not know then?  Can you give that version of you that did not have enough knowledge of how abuse worked to make different decisions some grace?

So, while I do not believe that all survivors need to forgive their abusers, I do believe that to truly heal, you do need to forgive yourself.


Sybil Cummin
Sybil Cummin
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor who has specialized in working with victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse and domestic violence for the last decade, including the child victims in these families. Trained as a child and family therapist, I did not initially have any idea that I would be working with this population and wanted to focus on working with kids. Just kids. In every work environment I found myself working in, a hospital setting, an agency contracted with child protective services, and then in private practice, I ran into families affected by domestic violence and narcissistic abuse over and over again. My goal is to close the gaps in support for victims and survivors by training other mental health professionals and have recently created a community for survivors. When I am not being a squeaky wheel, sharing my passion for supporting this population, you can find me trying to wrangle up my two boys, beating up a bag in kickboxing, watching Harry Potter, or meeting up with family and friends.

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