Some people believe that forgiving means wrongdoers don’t have to face the consequences of their actions, or have to make amends, but neither of these has to be part of forgiveness. Forgiving is not about letting the wrongdoer off the hook, it’s about freeing yourself from the destructive torment of hate and resentment. Not forgiving can condemn yourself to a life of misery; of being battered in a stormy sea while the wrongdoer goes sailing on in calm waters, happily unaware of the hate that threatens to drag you down.
It can be quite foolish for a woman in a domestic violence situation to ‘forget’ this man is likely to react violently in certain circumstances. It can be foolish because the same thing is likely to happen next time he is faced with the same circumstances. It can be irresponsible because it fails to protect other people from being affected by his actions. It also fails to help the perpetrator, and that can sometimes be the most serious failing because helping the perpetrator face up and make amends helps all those he will have dealings with in the future.
Forgive and forget’ can contribute to continued violence, to the extent that forgiveness becomes just another part of the ‘cycle of violence.’ When that happens, forgiveness is still necessary for your own sake, but there should be conditions attached to any reconciliation. This is important in domestic violence. Many people find it difficult to understand why a woman remains in a violent relationship being beaten by her partner, especially if she has opportunities to leave. However, the emotional and psychological forces involved can make it very difficult for her to leave, especially if the man is well aware of those forces and uses them to trap her in a power game he may actually believe is love. He is partly right in that belief but it is his love of power, rather than love for his partner.
Women in domestic violence situations can mistake feelings of dependency as love, which can be made more complex by cultural or religious beliefs about a woman’s role in regard to sex and love. When she does muster the courage to leave, her partner may be devastated and crumble into a broken, sobbing mess pleading for forgiveness and making all sorts of promises to be good. This part of the game is an attempt to hook the woman’s compassion and her need to be wanted, which often works. So she forgives him and after a blissful few weeks he slowly returns to his old habits, and the cycle of violence continues.
Reconciliation does not have to be part of forgiveness. Before reconciliation can be successful, the cycle of violence needs to be broken by the abuser successfully completing an attitude-changing course on establishing and maintaining a relationship based on equality. Ideally, the woman should also successfully complete such a course before considering reconciliation. Forgiveness, forgetting and reconciliation are three distinct and independent concepts that may or may not be tied together.