A burning question for so many victims of psychopathic abuse is whether the perpetrator should ever be forgiven. Are psychopaths ever deserving of forgiveness, no matter the evil they committed against the person?
We argue that fully understanding the nature and motives of the psychopathic person often makes the answer fairly obvious.
Once we realize the wilfull, intentional aspect of a psychopath’s behavior, we see that they are not deserving of sympathy or forgiveness. They are the “bad apples” of humanity and should be rejected and avoided as such.
We do not have reliable statistics to hand on this, but this does appear to be the consensus among most people who push through the recovery process and fully educate themselves on the nature of the psychopath. These toxic characters know full well what they are doing and so don’t need any forgiveness for the damage they cause, and neither would they care to accept it.
The issue is somewhat confused by the fact different people mean different things by the terms “forgiveness” and “acceptance”. What some people describe as forgiveness, others would describe as acceptance, and vice versa. As such it is useful to drill down into these two terms a little more, as we will do below.
Forgiveness & The Psychopath/Narcissist
Forgiveness is something that will often come up in any relationship in which there has been some kind of bad breakup or fallout, often stemming from some kind of betrayal of trust or other serious transgression. It is generally considered to involve the person who was wronged actively reaching out to the person who wronged them, offering their forgiveness for what the person did.
It can however also be a purely mental process if the person is no longer around, where the mental attitude of the aggrieved person towards the other person shifts from negative ones to more positive ones. They are saying “I forgive you for what you did to me; I will no longer resent it or hold it against you. It’s water under the bridge”.
There are however a number of glaring problems with attempting to make these kind of amends with a psychopathic abuser. As we have made clear on this website many times, psychopaths are not like normal people and psychopathic relationships are not like normal relationships between two human beings, however flawed. The same rules do not apply.
The fundamental problem here is that the psychopath does not have any guilt, conscience or remorse and so never even admits they have done anything wrong. Any kind of forgiveness extended to them is just a waste of time and will likely be thrown back in your face.
As Dr Ramani points out in the above video, when we take the bold step of handing over our forgiveness to another person who wronged us, we expect them to treasure it. We hope that it will lift a weight off their shoulders, ease a burden of guilt and shame they have been carrying about what they did to us. We hope it may move the relationship back into positive rather than negative territory.
This expectation carries within it the assumptions that the other person a) believes they have done something wrong to begin with; and b) has a capacity to feel guilt, shame and remorse for the way they have treated others.
Both these assumptions are false when you are dealing with a psychopath and so our advice on this is that they do not deserve to have any forgiveness extended to them. They couldn’t care less about the damage they inflict on others. It is entertainment to them.
Once we realize this then it becomes more about finding some kind of internal peace personally with what the psychopath did to us, rather than extending anything out to them. This is where we move more towards what is more commonly called acceptance, to which we will now turn.
“Do not give second chances to people who express no remorse for their mistreatment of you. Do not give second chances to people who express remorse but continue with their same harmful behavior. Do not accept another person forgiving you for crimes you did not commit”
Jackson Mackenzie – Whole Again – see here.
Be Wary of “Hoovering” From the Psychopath or Narcissist
Another thing to be very wary of is the fact that disordered personalities like psychopaths and narcissists will very often try to lure back in people who have finally discarded them after getting fed up with all the toxic behavior. This is sometimes called “hoovering” in the recovery space.
It is very commonly reported among victims who have cut them off that they will send texts, emails or make some other form of contact, trying to draw the person back in to give them one more chance and promising they’ll be different this time.
Here are some promises they can try and “hook you in” with:
- They’ll promise to not abuse you if they abused you.
- They’ll promise not to cheat on you if they did this before.
- They’ll promise to work harder to be a better person, or will claim they really have changed.
- They’ll promise to go to therapy if you wanted them to go before because of their behaviour.
- Basically, they’ll latch onto anything they know was really important to you before, anything you really wanted them to do or say but they never did, and offer up a small breadcrumb of it, or promise they’ll do it this time if you’ll give them another chance.
- See the excellent short video just below for an excellent example of this hoovering behaviour from a toxic personality.
A Perfect Example of Hoovering From the Psychopath/Narcissist
It is important to stand firm and not be taken in by any of this nonsense from the psychopath or narcissist. As we’ve covered in this article and extensively elsewhere on this site, full blown psychopaths and narcisssist do not ever change their fundamental character or behaviors.
They remain manipulative, deceitful and exploitative right the way through their lives and any attempts to try and convince you otherwise are just attempts to draw you back into the exact same abusive dynamic that existed before.
The reasons they try to draw you back in differ – some psychopaths/narcissists get addicted to the buzz they get off certain people; others just like the challenge and thrill of duping someone into trusting them one more time.
In the end, the reasons are not important; what is important is to stand firm and not be drawn in by these attempts to play on your kind and forgiving nature and draw you back in one more time. It won’t be different this time, or any other time, with the psychopathic or narcissistic personality.
Acceptance vs Forgiveness With Psychopaths & Narcissists
Acceptance is generally considered a more personal and internal process and does not so much involve the other person. It is when the person accepts that what happened to them was real and cannot be changed or undone. They make peace with it as best they can.
It does not mean we forgive the psychopath for what they did to us, nor extend warm feelings of making amends towards them. Rather it simply means we acknowledge the evil they inflicted on us and are ready to accept it as part of our life as best we can.
Drs Jane and Tim McGregor sum up the role of acceptance in relation to toxic relationships in their excellent book, The Empathy Trap, available on Amazon. This quote gets to the nub of the difference between forgiveness and acceptance:
“Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being ‘all right’ or ‘OK’ about a given situation, or of finding a place where one is able to forgive the other person…. for what has happened. This is not what we mean by the term acceptance here. Most people never reach a point of feeling all right about the losses and traumas they have experienced.
What this stage is about is accepting the reality of the situation and recognizing that this new reality is permanent.; in other words arriving at a point where we learn to live with it and living with it becomes the new norm. In resisting the new norm, people cling to the hope of maintaining life as it was before.
In time however, we come to see that we can’t maintain the past in the present. It has been changed and we must adjust. Hence we learn to accept new roles for ourselves and others.”
The Empathy Trap, p.53
Thus acceptance is more an internal process not concerned with the psychopath which involves accepting that all the horrible things happened and sadly cannot be undone. They are part of our life history, for better or worse. We have to own them and move on.
The Semantics of Acceptance & Forgiveness
The issue of forgiveness vs acceptance is further confused by the fact they can mean different things to different people. This difference is exemplified in the discussion in the video above, and what we are defining as acceptance is what other people would call forgiveness. Other similar terms like “making peace” and “letting go” may come into the picture, meaning slightly different things to each person.
With this topic then it is therefore important to not so much focus on terms but rather on the process that is going on inside the person. It is important to move away from any belief that you must be “OK” with what the psychopath did to you, or extend any kind of gestures of friendship or reconciliation towards them.
This is futile since the psychopath will not admit any guilt in the first place and will not value any gestures of “forgiveness” in the sense we have defined that are extended to them. It is much more useful to focus on making peace with the toxic abuse inside oneself, totally independent of the psychopath.
Work on Forgiving Oneself
Indeed the best strategy long term in general in recovering from psychopathic abuse is to focus on developing and strengthening oneself and cutting the psychopath completely off, both physically and psychologically. This means accepting the psychopath’s incurable nature and letting go of any idea of reconciliation and forgiveness, however hard it may be at first.
The process of being validated in what happened to you is a crucial first step in recovery, and a good therapist trained in personality disorders along with the growing body of resources on psychopaths will help you do this. After this it is important to drop all focus on the psychopath as best you can and focus on yourself.
See also our new article on self-forgiveness, which offers some tips and actionable steps to help get you to a point of self-forgiveness instead of focusing on past abusers.
This can be a tough thing to do since victims want to see some kind of justice and recompense for the psychopath for what they did to us. We want to see them get their comeuppance and many of us don’t. Cutting them out of our lives can be difficult because we lose the chance for any kind of retribution or revenge. See our article on evil carrying the seeds of it’s own destruction.
However consuming as many resources on the topic as possible and having proper validation helps with the process of letting go and moving on. We will sum up the issue with another good quote from The Empathy Trap. The word sociopath is interchangeable with psychopath in this context:
“…the crux of the matter is that under normal circumstances if a betrayal has occured, the wrongdoer would be expected to admit that he or she has inflicted a deep hurt.
For people who have been traumatized by a sociopath, this circumstance is denied them. An apology will never be forthcoming, not a genuine one at any rate. So the person in recovery must contend with an inadeqaute ending to whole sorry saga. With a sociopath there is no satisfying end point or sense of closure to the situation.
The end stage of recovery is a lone journey, but it is not one to be taken waring a badge of shame. You must learn to walk tall, to cast off the stigma and social disapproval of experiencing trauma at the hands of another human being”
The Empathy Trap, p.104
Click here to view the Empathy Trap on Amazon. See our Resources page for more good books on recovery from psychopathic abuse – Jackson Mackenzie’s Whole Again in particular has a very detailed and nuanced treatment of the entire topic of forgiveness in relation to abusive relaionships.