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Forgiving the Narcissist vs. Abuse Amnesia

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Forgiveness.  It’s all over the media.  If we want to live a stress-free life, clear our energy channels, and obtain forgiveness from our Creator, we must learn to forgive.  In the words of the Buddha, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  The Bible tells us in Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven”.

By all accounts, forgiveness is the path to true harmony.

However, there is a big difference between forgiving someone and allowing them to continue their wrong-doing without any consequences or repercussions.  Forgiveness does not imply that we should step aside while a rabid dog repeatedly tears up the neighborhood and move in quietly afterwards to clean up the chaos.

True forgiveness is indeed a loving, healthy act that assumes both parties will learn and grow.  Abuse amnesia is unhealthy in that it’s not really an act of forgiveness, but an act of enabling.  Below is a side-by-side comparison of forgiveness and abuse amnesia.


Abuse Amnesia

The person who made a mistake typically tries not to repeat the offense. The abuser who made the mistake doesn’t intend to change because they keep getting away with it.
The person who made a mistake generally feels remorse when they realize they’ve hurt another person. The abuser couldn’t care less about how their actions affect other people, including their parents and children.
Changes made by extending forgiveness often lead to a more stable environment in the home. Practicing abuse amnesia doesn’t produce any positive changes and in fact, creates MORE instability, especially for any children that may be present.
Extending forgiveness often leads to a happier future for all involved. Practicing abuse amnesia leads to worsening behaviors which sometimes lead to physical assault.

Next, let’s look at some examples of forgiveness vs. abuse amnesia:

1) Forgiveness:  A partner or spouse has an affair.  It only happens once and they are truly remorseful.  They promise to stop the affair and go to counseling.

Abuse amnesia:  A partner or spouse has several extra-marital affairs, including prostitutes.  They’ve been confronted but don’t plan to change.  These behaviors continue as their partner normalizes the infidelity.

2) Forgiveness:  A partner or spouse is going through stressful times and loses their cool, shouting and raging for several minutes.  This isn’t normal behavior.  They come back later and apologize, admitting they were wrong.

Abuse amnesia:  The shouting episodes are a common occurrence.  Their partner never knows when it might happen and lives in a state of high anxiety, as do the kids if there are any in the home.

3) Forgiveness:  A partner or spouse makes an insensitive remark during a disagreement.  They immediately regret it and attempt to make amends.

Abuse Amnesia:  A partner engages in frequent character attacks.  If anything is said to them about it, they leave for a few days to teach their partner a lesson.  Later, the victim lets their abuser back in as though nothing happened.

In short, forgiveness is forgiveness, whereas abuse amnesia is denial.  There are many factors at play in abuse amnesia, but it perpetuates the abuse because the abuser never suffers any consequences for their actions.  There’s no motivation to change, and further they don’t care to change because there will always be someone else they can run to after a good stint of love-bombing.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you are doing a good deed by “forgiving” your Narcissistic partner.  Once you start overlooking abusive behaviors, it becomes a pattern…a toxic pattern that will lead to your downfall, and that of your children.

Bored Young Woman Stirring Coffee

While there shouldn’t be an expectation to receive anything in return for a genuine extension of forgiveness, it usually leads to a sense of personal fulfillment once the other party begins to makes amends.   Abuse amnesia will never be acknowledged or appreciated.  In fact, in some cases it leads to long-lasting damage, such as when an adult witnesses their spouse abusing their children, but does nothing to stop it, nor report it.

Forgiveness is a chance to correct past mistakes.  Abuse amnesia is unhealthy, inappropriate, and only leads to more of the offending behaviors.  If you’ve been practicing abuse amnesia, you may be suffering from Learned Helplessness.  According to Wikipedia, Learned Helplessness is “a mental state in which an organism forced to endure stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are escapable, presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation”.

If you are familiar with the “Seligman Dog” experiments, the dogs were shocked repeatedly both when they completed a task correctly and also when they did not.  The “dogs were so confused that they layed down depressed and GAVE UP and even whined–and this was Learned Helplessness that the dogs were experiencing”. The Narcissist instills this in his or her victim through behaviors including systematic brainwashing, inconsistent actions and words, blame-shifting, gas lighting, and more which also result in Trauma Bonding.

Or, you may simply be in a state of denial because you want the relationship to continue and you’re still holding out hope that things might eventually improve.

What to Do

  • If you practice abuse amnesia because you want to continue the relationship, please visit loveisrespect.org.  They have lots of cool resources, including live chat under the “Get Help” tab.

Are you staying in your relationship for the right reasons?  Download the self-empowering questions below and gain instant clarity!

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Helen says September 25, 2016

Kim, What do I tell people who tell me I need to forgive my husband, especially when they don’t know everything that went on? I was married to him for 22 years, I moved to a different state 1000 miles away so he could be closer to his family, I left everyone I knew. He told that if I wasn’t happy in 2 years we would move back, when I brought that up to him he said I was crazy. I tracked the infidelity back to 4 months but over time since the divorce I found out it went on the entire marriage. He blames me for breaking up the family because I was the one who filed for divorce. When I told him I was leaving and asked about counseling, I hoped he would wake up but all he did was say “I want the living room suit and bedroom suit”. I asked for the divorce because I found out that he had taken thousands of $ out of out joint account within a 4 month time period and was setting up his gf in an apt. He did this at the same time we needed things done around our house. We went without water in the bathroom sink for 2 weeks. He told me that we didn’t have the money to get it fixed. He took care of the bill paying in the house. He constantly put me down, in front of people, I would joke it off because I didn’t want to upset our son. He would “blackmail” me – if you don’t do this, then I will or won’t do ?? No matter what I did it wasn’t enough, no matter how much I made, it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do anything right and he wasn’t bashful about telling me The bedroom was the same way. Everyone else saw the perfect man. Always at home, very involved in the church and the youth group. After he was forced into retirement, he started taking trip out of state to see his son. But what would take the normal person 1 day to get there, it took him 2 and 3 days. He is now “blackmailing” our son into giving him money. How do I forgive him? He says he has forgiven himself and that God has forgiven him. My son says”dad make a mistake” He doesn’t know the mistake went on for 20 years. Should I tell him? This is probably more than what you wanted to know but how do you trust after all that?

    Kim Saeed says October 2, 2016

    Hi Helen, the answer to your question is more than I can provide in a simple comment, but what you tell people who say you need to forgive your husband is…nothing. You don’t owe anyone an explanation because they haven’t walked in your shoes. If you’re confiding in people who don’t get it or who don’t understand, stop talking to them about the situation and find the one person who does understand.

    Regarding forgiveness and trust, that will take time and commitment. Your son will likely eventually find out who his dad is. It might require letting him make this discovery on his own. Whether you tell him or not is up to you, but you’d want to be careful in how you present it should you decide to tell him. Wishing you the best.

Kaya50 says January 30, 2016

Forgiveness. I will never forgive my ex husband /sociopath:narcissist. What he put me thorough before I divorced him is unspeakable. The hurt and pain he inflicted on me during my 20 years marriage. He will have to answer to God and ask did forgiveness He was and is pure evil. I personally think that if someone is not willing to repent they should not be forgiving. I moved on with my life and will never talk to him again. I do not communicate with the devil. Period .

    Chauntelle says December 14, 2016

    Wow, ur comment sounds like u were married to my husband. Lol. I hear myself all too often ranting the same chant. Im getting better at getting a grasp on myself as to turn myself in the other direction bc the pure Anger was eating me alive. Im glad u escaped that evil. 2 Timothy describes the narcissist in detail & says “and stay away from these people.” at the end. I call it the Zombie Apocolypse. They have no heart, no brain, no spine, no soul, and they feed off of ppl until theres nothing left, including our brains. Is that a description of a Zombie or what?

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Kelli says March 16, 2015

i was disappointed that this article didn’t have any information on forgiving the wicked. He was never sorry for the lies and the cheating. Only that I caught him doing it. Repeatedly. After 3 years of begging him to change, I gave up and filed for divorce. There will be no apology forthcoming and I’m the bitch for filing for divorce and putting our family through this. As a matter of fact, all of the lies and cheating were my fault because I didn’t keep the house clean enough or I wasn’t active enough or I wasn’t, well, I wasn’t ever enough. So it’s all my fault. How do I forgive someone like that?

    Kim Saeed says March 16, 2015

    Kelli, typically, before one forgives the Narcissist, they often first need to forgive anyone in their childhood for emotional trauma inflicted upon them, and then forgive themselves for staying with their toxic partner (there is often a long period of self-loathing after leaving a toxic relationship). Also, forgiveness is a process, not an event. Some people never get to the point of forgiving the Narcissist, while others discover they’re glad for the experience because it forces them to heal wounds they’ve carried around since before they met the Narcissist.

Jen says March 16, 2015

Thank you! Your posts are so helpful! Now I have a word for my seemingly irrational (even to myself) behavior in having stayed so long. I had imagined myself as being a “forgiving” person. That is not at all what it was! It was denial and learned helplessness. I am intelligent, well educated, and look like I should have my act together, and yet I struggle so much with this. Thanks for another step in the process of seeing and understanding what happened.

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Roxanne says March 7, 2014

Hi Kim, Thanks so much for linking to my site in this post-this dog analogy is so helpful to us survivors of emotional abuse as children to gain clarity on the extent of our deep-seated fears and self-doubt! Please know that it wasn’t Pavlov’s dogs that were shocked incessantly but the dogs in the “Seligman” experiments–Pavlov’s experiments were about classical conditioning and measuring the salivary responses of the dogs with food and the use of a bell–he didn’t shock them. Just wanted to clarify that fact which may have been unclear in my post. Thanks again! Love your blog–wonderful to connect with you! With love and light, Roxanne

    Kim Saeed says March 7, 2014

    Hi Roxanne! I thought Pavlov’s dogs had been conditioned to salivate…but it’s been so long since I took abnormal psych, I didn’t want to interject and then be wrong 😉

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Kim Saeed says March 8, 2014

    I’ve gone in and changed the info in my blog post to reflect the correct information. It’s actually very clear in your post, it was I that overlooked it. Thank you so much for pointing it out 🙂


      Roxanne says March 8, 2014

      You are very welcome! Thanks for letting me know. 😀 Roxanne

Lee says February 25, 2014

Hi Kim,

Thanks for another great post. I do get tired of hearing people–especially when they are perpetrators–saying “forgive, forgive, forgive,” without seeing the other side of the equation. In more traditional religious language, as good as it is to forgive, for it to be a two way street there must be repentance (a genuine change of mind and heart) on the part of the person who did the damage. In the Gospels, forgiveness is regularly paired with repentance. Without repentance on the part of the abuser or perpetrator, forgiving him or her will indeed help to heal one’s own soul (we won’t be holding onto those hot coals of anger and bitterness for the rest of our lives), but it will not heal the relationship. We can forgive someone while still terminating our relationship with them. And if they are not sorry for what they have done, and will continue to do it, then getting away is the only real solution. It is possible to forgive perpetrators even while working to ensure that they spend time behind bars, or suffer other legal and social consequences for their actions, in order to deter them from further offenses and protect future victims and ourselves.

    Lee says February 25, 2014

    If you don’t mind a link, here’s an article I wrote last spring along these lines:

    Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness

    Though it’s not written as a personal story, it was fueled by my own experience with my ex, who kept preaching the virtues of “Christian forgiveness” at me while refusing to admit to or apologize for her past mistreatment or cease her ongoing interference in my life. Shortly before I wrote that article I had finally cut off all contact with her because nothing else worked. My life is much more peaceful now.

KarinKateriKei says February 24, 2014

Silkred, your observations are right on target for me too.

silkred says February 24, 2014

At times however in keeping a mindful awareness of the abuse can result in what feels like an extension of it.. you can feel that you are the one continuing the abuse.. in my case it feels like the loser narcissist has made his investment and affected my ostrasisation from the once shared group and can now sit back and watch it facilitated by all the enabling others – they enable either because the loser has invested in them to denigrate their perception of my character or they fear to be a target or they are so enamoured by his charming face they cannot imagine life outside his circle – I write in these places in a way to write out my feelings but in a way also to not suffer from this amnesia you describe – I have felt it happen – at times I have felt some sense to let go of my thoughts about the episodes of abuse – to be the adult and attempt adult objective relations but when I have the loser just makes another attack – each time it looks like things return he makes sure it wont – he even described this ones in his writing as a sense that people were gathering “…on my side..” the resulting sense of being trapped is palpable – I am unlikely to forget – but keeping healthy and not descending into some sort of PTSD background cancer of the soul is difficult in the extreme so in this respect some form of amnesia could be therapeutic – it is a complex web they weave…

    Kim Saeed says February 24, 2014

    Silkred, I am sorry you are still suffering from this person.

    Abuse amnesia is a form of denial that happens while still in the relationship with a Narc (or other disordered person). What is happening to you is a form of triangulation and abuse by proxy. Or, it could be that the other people just don’t see the Narc for who he really is. This sort of thing is quite common, although hurtful. The other reasons you gave are right on spot, “they enable either because the loser has invested in them to denigrate their perception of my character or they fear to be a target or they are so enamoured by his charming face they cannot imagine life outside his circle”…

    Since you are out of the relationship with this person, attempting to forget the abuse is healthy. The Narc doesn’t deserve the energy you might expend in ruminating over the situation, and the other people involved either just don’t get it, or fear being his target, as you said. It’s similar to the bully in kindergarten who has lackeys and minions following him around. From what I can see, you are way above these sort of people.

    Have you considered perhaps forgetting the whole lot of them? Maybe venturing out on your own? Building a new social circle?

      silkred says February 24, 2014

      Building a new social circle was muted by one of the others I saw recently, it was his grasping at straws sort of way forward for me.

      Seeing one of the “others” was interesting as he initiated our conversation by admonishing me for being so aggressive and forgave himself and the group from ostracising me.

      I was then forced to explain to him what really happened which made had me access the anger inside me via the words I had to utter – but he did grasp the reality a little, but on gaining this traction then steeled himself to tell me that it would make no difference – he would continue to be friends with the loser narcissist no matter.

      I only know these people via Hang Gliding – I am a pilot, and they are too, because its a gliding sport it means the hill we launch from is defined by the weather and common to us all, building a new social group – walking away from them would mean I would have to leave the sport or commit to drive a long way to alternative other sites, neither I am prepared to do, so I grapple with coming to terms with this and moving on at the cost of it persisting longer than it would if I walked away.

      In a sense this is why it is still an issue – the group he has engineered my exclusion from is also the place where all the pilots chat day to day and its this that I am missing. At this exact same moment I realise it is also the place where he has his stage and almost half of all the utterances there are him telling everyone how EPIC he is.

      So my not being there is both an abuse of my freedom and a gift.. right now I prefer the gift part and am learning to get over the abuse part.

      There is a weak analogy between my situation and a relationship – in the sense that escaping the loser narcissist is not so simple and has costs on both sides of the choice.

      Its the exclusion – how well its respected and the things I find I have missed that piss me off the most now – but I find that largely the depression of the actual direct abuse is going – I am getting better feeling healthily normal or more normal that I have been for a long time.

      Its a bloody hard slog.

Teela Hart says February 24, 2014

I had abuse amnesia far too long. Kept me paralyzed. Another great post thank you for the insight.

    Kim Saeed says February 24, 2014

    🙂 Thanks to you for reading!

      Anonymous says July 19, 2014

      wow..I am 60 years old. Abused by my father until I could talk..Mother never left him. He was an alcoholic. My brothers have since passed, as my father, all tragically. My mother continues to live with me and my husband fro eight years. I have 3 beautiful adult children who have been just as confused as me; by the charmer;the intellect; and then the verbal abuse, and financial abuse..they watched. I had a gut feeling all of our 28 year marriage.Thank you for your articles. And Thank God for you, Blessings to you and yours.

      Jeanie says July 14, 2016

      I have been reading about narcissistic abuse for 3 years…I was with the X for 32 years of horrible abuse…He was with the OW for 5 years before he disguaurded me….He was putting stuff in my water at night so they could meet..He also rigged my motorcycle and I had a awful accident but couldn’t prove it….I am still working on my heart and soul every second I am awake…He lived with the OW and married her right away…I lost everything including my older daughter to him..He thru away our younger daughter and has never seen our 2 grandsons…There are so many things that happen that the flashbacks,sweats,crying uncontrollable, sadness,anxiety, ect…that acurres dsily….I take yoga,exercise daily to be able to think…I read & listen to the Bible daily to help guide my day…I hope I will make it out of this horrible soul pain one day…I have everything that you write about..I have seen many different counselors….Thank you for your readings…I still think the OW must be better then me…Hope that feeling goes away one day….

        Chauntelle says December 15, 2016

        Jeanie, Ill pray for you. Ive been there many times on that ugly sick roller coaster to a point I really worried about commiting suicide. And doing it alone, without any support at all is deathly painstakingly tormenting. I have worked on my inner strength with strides but i now am having symptoms leading to a stroke. NPD’s are Satans spawn. They are not of God. Read 2 Timothy 3.

alm383 says February 23, 2014

كيم تحدثي قليلان عن المرئة النرجسية انا كا شاب اريد ان اعرف كيف اتجنب النساء النرجسيات

alm383 says February 23, 2014

كيم بالتوفيق خلي بالك من النرجسيين

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