Forgiveness for Abusive Parents

When is it wise to forgive abusive parents for their past neglect and abuse?  When is it wise to mend these painful relationships from our past?  When is it not?  These are the questions adult children who are the products of an abusive, neglectful childhood have to examine.  These questions are made even more important when you have to decide whether or not your parents, the grandparents to your own children, are safe to leave the children alone with.  Daunting questions and decisions, to be sure.

When is forgiveness not an option, or poses a greater challenge?

  • Their past abusive behaviors were severely violent
  • Their abusive behaviors are evident today
  • Their abusive behaviors are not a thing of the past
  • They do not admit how their past behavior was damaging and hurtful to you
  • They tell you their abuse of you, the innocent child, was all your fault…I HATE this excuse!!
  • They do not accept ownership of how they mistreated you
  • They apologize, but it seems insincere
  • Their apologies carry with them big fat excuses for why they treated you like they did
  • They pretend it never happened
  • They tell you you’re just making it all up
  • They tell you you’re exaggerating how bad it was
  • They haven’t worked hard to heal their own inner demons that caused them to react in abusive, neglectful ways

Do dysfunctional parents change with time?

My research tells me that, unless they admit that they were abusive and spend focused time working toward personal change, sadly, they do not.  Their negative ways of relating to their adult children don’t change.  It also carries over to how they interact with their grandchildren.  Even though some of their volatile, dysfunctional behaviors settle down and mellow with age, if your dysfunctional parents haven’t done the hard work in counseling or though other means of change, their nasty, abusive behaviors will persist. Their nasty way of relating will slow down but will persist throughout their lifetime.

How can you have any relationship if they haven’t changed?

First and foremost, if they were severely violent and abusive in the past, DO NOT leave your children alone with them, even if signs of change are evident.  Reconciling with a violent abuser is a special challenge and I suggest the help of a professional, licensed counselor who can help you decide if reconciling is even an option.  That said, what you can do is fashion a new type of relationship. You may be able to move forward with your own brand of relationship that is more superficial, less involved and less frequent.  Plan your get-togethers with the thought that you have an “easy escape plan” if things get weird or creepy or make you or your children uncomfortable.  Certainly, don’t tolerate any more abuse.  That’s your cue to walk away and deploy the safety hatch.

Listen to my Podcast on Forgive your Parents-Or Not and please post your comments if you have something to share.  We learn from each other.

A note on forgiveness…

Yes, we’ve all heard about how forgiveness is not about the other person, but about healing our own personal woundedness, but in the context of this blog I’m looking at forgiveness from the perspective or reconciling, rekindling or repairing a past hurtful relationship.  Yes, certainly, work to forgive, but be cautious about moving forward with your relationship with a past abuser.  I sympathize and wish you the best…Joan

Joan Jerkovich, BCC Joan Jerkovich, BCC
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