Forgiveness and Trust

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” – C. S. Lewis


Narcissists can be cruel.

Okay, I know that’s an understatement! Narcissists can tear your life apart. They can affect you for years, even long after they are “out” of your life. Betrayal, criticism, manipulation, theft, abuse, destructive acts, lies, and so much more. These things hurt for a long time.

It shouldn’t be any wonder that victims of narcissists find it difficult to forgive. I know that I have written on this before, more than once in fact. It needs to be said often. There is no doubt that we, as Christians, are called to forgive. But we must understand what that means.

Sometimes the church has the tendency to push things to ridiculous lengths. (Yeah, I know, another understatement.) Since the times of the Pharisees, church leaders have had the philosophy that if a little is good, a lot is better. The Pharisees built rules upon rules and made things far more restrictive than the Scriptures did. Many of today’s preachers and traditions do the same thing.

One of the things some have taken far beyond what is reasonable is this idea of forgiveness. The abuser is supposed to be “rehabilitated” and welcomed back, they say. Predators should be “dealt with” and then brought back into fellowship. “If he/she is sorry, then we are called to forgive,” they say.

I know pastors who were “forgiven” for their infidelity and welcomed back to ministry only to do the same thing again. We know abusers who are allowed to come back to the family under this idea of forgiveness only to abuse again. Many have forgiven their narcissistic friends and have felt their betrayal again. We all could tell such stories.

Bear with a little repetition. Forgiveness is not saying that nothing happened. Forgiveness is not saying that everything is now okay in the relationship. Forgiveness is not deciding that punishment is unnecessary. Forgiveness is not being silent about the offense. Forgiveness is not opening yourself to the abuser again. And forgiveness is not trusting again.

For some reason, the church has expected people to trust again. If you really forgive, people say, you will give the person another chance to hurt you and others. I’m sorry, but that sounds foolish to me.

Forgiveness is continuing to love, even when it must be from a distance. Forgiveness is moving forward with your life and not keeping the other person in a prison you carry around with you. Forgiveness is understanding who your offender is and, perhaps, deciding to move forward with him/her anyway. Forgiveness is releasing the pain of the abuse to the Lord who loves and comforts you. Forgiveness is moving on.

It is one thing to let someone hurt you. You can choose that. It is far different—and wrong—to try to convince yourself that they won’t hurt you when you know they will. In other words, forgiveness does not mean you should be dishonest with yourself or others. You may, as part of your forgiveness, decide to open yourself to more abuse. That’s up to you. But you can’t lie to yourself and say that no more abuse will ever happen. That’s different. You can decide to put the offender in a position of trust again, but you can’t take the risk of convincing yourself that your trust will not be broken again. Love risks, but it does not lie. Love may be blind, but it is not stupid.

But, but, but… Can you be loving when you don’t trust someone? Are you really forgiving when you don’t open yourself to that person again?

In John 2:24-25 we are told that many people saw the signs and wonders Jesus did. They were impressed with Him. They wanted to be with Him. But, the Scripture says, He did not entrust Himself to them. In other words, He didn’t trust them. Why? Because, the text goes on, He knew what was in their hearts. He loved all of them and came to forgive them, but He knew better than to trust them.

Now, people do change. Some are deeply grieved because of their past actions. Some. But the “Dear Abby” columns are full of letters from women who seem shocked that the men who left their wives for them are now cheating again. Betrayal and abuse becomes easier the more it is done. And narcissists who are trusted again will almost certainly abuse again.

If you think someone has changed and you want to risk again, go ahead. Just do it with your eyes open. That’s different than trusting.


Filed under Narcissism

20 responses to “Forgiveness and Trust

  1. The One

    It’s very, very hard to allow someone back into your life and “forgive” without really knowing if that person is going to hurt and deceive you again or not. Nothing worse than having to be on guard with someone you’re in a relationship with. It’s an exhausting effort 😞

    • Yes, it is. But I have found it much harder, or at least I have found the next betrayal or abuse much harder, when I have tried to convince myself that I should trust again. My thought today is not meant to be fatalistic or even discouraging. Honesty, especially honesty in personal relationships and honesty in our own minds, has a strength and goodness that brings ultimate benefits. That’s why forgiveness cannot be the same as trusting.

      I pray for those who have to continue relationships with narcissists, especially in marriage or extended family. Divorce isn’t always the option, nor is no contact. How much better, if you have to continue the relationship, to be honest with yourself and -yes- keep a guard, especially on your heart.

      No, it isn’t easy. Hang in there! I pray for you.

  2. Patty

    You have no idea how much I needed to hear this concept of “Forgiveness” and “Trusting” being two different animals, I’ve been condemning and guilting myself to no end because of this misunderstanding (from church). What a load off of my heart/soul, now I can heal that last part without condemnation, because I have forgiven, but after over 20 years of this hell, trust has definitely been severed.

    God Bless you for these posts!

  3. Abigail

    I wasn’t surprised when the narcissist in-law lied. I was dismayed when my sibling, the spouse of said narcissist, demanded an apology for things I did not say and called me abusive. I was devastated when my remaining siblings did not believe me. The fact I am expected to simultaneously apologize and forgive seems like a theological conundrum.
    I have very much appreciated your articles over the years; they have encouraged me and helped me establish appropriate boundaries for my own mental health and emotional well-being. Blessings!

  4. I’m glad that you continue to clarify what forgiveness is not, Pastor Dave. There is indeed so much misunderstanding about this. I learned a long time ago that forgiveness is for me, to relieve me of the bitterness of soul that would destroy me. And that most assuredly does not mean trusting again. I am trying now to reconcile with my ex, who exhibits an extremely passive and dependent narcissistic personality. At 72 and 75, there really are no other options for either of us. But I know who he is and have had to grieve all that never was and never will be. I’ve had to give up the false hope that had been a character defect in my life. While the ex has exhibited some changes, I fully realize that they could be no more than the manipulative love bombing we know narcissists are so capable of since he is very aware of his need for me as a caregiver at this point in his life. Even if it is finally some real change, it is at such a slow pace that he will not live long enough to make much progress. I am protecting my heart. There is more than one kind of distance. I am learning to be still, because the Lord will fight for me. No, it’s not easy. Not much in this life is. But there is not some magical “better” option out there. The Lord is my help and my salvation, my comforter and the lifter of my head. I feel that the Lord led me to reconcile with my ex at this time because He knows where my heart is with Him, and He has something else to show me that I can use to share with others. The Lord Himself will deal with the ex if need be. I am finally at peace.

  5. Missing me no more

    Great insight that” there is more than one kind of distance.” Happily I felt little sadness(after 5 ‘restarts’ which he initiated) when the guy I dated decided(again) I was not worthy of his greatness,(no 1 woman has been)Each time I was told as a Christian it was my “duty to forgive and start over”.His relationships have a revolving door aspect-out with old in with the new.He thought I would always be waiting,it was hard to trust again. I now have a person in my life who accepts me and we bring value to each other’s lives.It feels like I’ve been set free.Peace be with you 🙂

    • When it’s been a dating relationship, then cut all ties and run. Go no contact! It was a tough lesson but you can move on. In my case, I’d been married for decades already, family raised and grandkids on board before the last-straw event made me divorce him. So it’s a different story for me. But if you have not married the guy, run!

  6. Terri Collins

    Many Christians confuse “forgiveness” with “restoration.” You can forgive whole-heartedly a person who has hurt you and still not restore him/her to their former position of trust in your life.
    Forgiveness is simply giving up your right to see that person punished. Restoration is making the person right before God again, and that is something only God can do.

    • Amen to that! If they are not right with God, they won’t be interested in, or able to truly make things right with others.

      • Missing me no more

        The scary thing is the guy I dated firmly believed everything he did was directed by God.He’d been a church goer all his life(I’d started as an adult),could quote scripture better than I, and was a Christian peer counsellor-who was I to question him? He exhibited what I now know is classic narcissistic behavior in the guise of showing people the ‘right’ way. He often talked about how God rewarded his faith with material things(big boy toys),who he would or would not see in heaven and how he had the “gift of discernment”.The marks from grabbing have long faded yet I still deal with echo of his words. I’ve learned a lot and this blog has helped show me I’m not alone. Thank you Pastor Dave and all those who share here.

  7. Jeannie

    Is it even possible to truly love someone that you have zero trust for?

    • That’s a good question, Jeannie. I have wondered the same thing.

      Praying for the person helps me feel more love for him or her. When I pray, I ask the Lord to help me see that person the way God sees them, and to help me love them with God’s love. But yes, it is very hard to love someone you cannot trust.

    • I finally heard a definition of unconditional love, just this morning at church, that I can get my head around. I’ve wondered about this for ages. It is this: “There is no condition that can ever exist where I will not love you, where I will not seek to see you through the eyes of Christ. I will never despise you as a human being because Jesus will never do that.” So this is my obedience to the Father. It has nothing to do with the behavior of another person. Trusting, reconciling, or any of that are other matters. Like forgiveness, this is my obedience to Christ. And that is enough. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that. The nature of my relationship with another person, however, by definition, is impacted by their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors as well as my own. I am responsible for obedience, not outcomes when it comes to relationship because I can only control me, not them.

  8. Sara

    Dear Pastor Dave

    I have just found your blog and wish I had found it sooner! Just reading it validates me as a person and knowing that God loves me no matter what my husband has done is so comforting. I think my husband fits the category of people you describe on your blog. I did not even know he had abusive and manipulative tendencies until 2 years ago and we have been married for over 20 years. He isolated me from my family by getting me to accept a job offer in another country. And once we got there he started his constant criticism and arguments with me. I did not realize then what he was up to but it was a ploy to gain control. I was also foolish enough to give him control of the finances by having a joint account even though I am the only breadwinner in our family.

    He also neglected me as a wife and was addicted to porn. He refused to get help or counseling. He blamed his addiction on me by saying that I was too fat and not appealing enough for him. Two years ago I caught him having an affair. He blamed me for his affair and this time it was because I was too cold and distant and failed to understand that men needed sexy wives.

    I discovered that he is still keeping in touch with his girlfriend although she has returned to her country. I believe he has been using my income to send her money on and off as chunks of money leaves the account and we have had no identifiable expense. I am afraid to confront him as he can fly into a rage when he is confronted and he will take out his anger on our child by criticizing and belittling her.

    In spite of the damage my husband has inflicted, he has some better moments like even though he has chose to be unemployed, he has used that time to see to our child’s school, sporting and music activities and takes care of our meals, tax forms and he drives me when I have to go interstate for work. Somehow this makes me obligated to him and I feel I owe him and that I have to bring in the income for him. If we had a normal marriage, I would not feel resentful of this arrangement as I would have treated it as both of us fulfilling different roles. But I feel that he has manipulated our relationship and maybe he has been manipulative all along, even before marriage and that he may have gotten into this marriage as a survival tactic, as he used to struggle for a living as a single. Ours is not a marriage but more like a living arrangement.

    I cannot trust him at all now as he has lied a lot to cover his activities and I suspect he has even stolen my jewellery. I have started putting aside money as savings and he does not know this. I have a house which he wants to be put under our joint names. I am not keen on this idea and want to keep it as my own. I will never know if my husband will have another affair in the future. When I spoke to my pastor, he hinted that wives are always submissive to their husbands and that God will take care of the outcome. When I asked him what happens when a husband abuses the finances he actually said God will work out all things for our good! What kind of teaching is this? If I follow it, I will surely land in a deeper ditch. Would God be displeased with what I am doing?


    • Patty Desmarais

      Sara the answer that your pastor gave you, is what kept me in he same kind of marriage you have for 20 years now. My husband would always have a job, but as soon as he had been in the job for a year, he’d find some way to get fired or just quit. Why I believed him all those years, I’ll never know.

      After one of his firings he couldn’t find another job nor would he apply for unemployment, so after four months of that, he decided to start his own business. You guessed it, it failed, because the business didn’t make money without any effort on his part. All the money we made on the sale of the house we had sold together was gone in a few years, after he had promised it couldn’t fail and he’d pay it all back.

      The verbal abuse was so bad and frequent, my son and I were suicidal. Also I’ve never had a real marriage either due to porn, it was like I raised 3 teenagers and he was one of them.

      Then after finally selling off what was left of the business, God answered my prayer and my husband got a job as a cross country truck driver. He was hardly ever home for a whole year, so you might as well say that we were separated for a year. It was the best year I spent in 20 years of marriage, my son and I are now healed by the grace of God.
      The foggy brain, panick attacks and exteme health issues that my son and I experienced, are almost a thing of the past. I even look 10 years younger.

      If I were you Sara, I’d find anyway I could to separate from him for a time, if for nothing else, to find clarity through Holy Spirit. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary and it’s worth it.

      Hope my story helps you a little.

      • My heart breaks for you and Sara, because my story is a lot like yours except that my husband held a good job for thirty years. By the time he took early retirement and after a too long and half-hearted search took a job at one-third his former pay, I was making enough to cover the difference. Still, I never felt I could make it financially on my own and felt trapped in the marriage for that reason. It took me until I was nearly 70 years old to make my exit after a last straw cheating event (he cheated the whole marriage and blamed me).
        All I want to share with you guys is that if you can find way to separate or divorce (you get legal protection in a divorce from any financial foolishness he may commit) then do it sooner rather than later if you can. There is a national organization called Second Saturday that will help you a lot with your strategy. Google them to see if they are in your area.
        After we’d been separated and then divorced for a couple of years, he did come around on a couple of key issues and we are now trying to reconcile. I do feel I am following the Lord’s leading in this, although it’s still pretty heavily financial — neither one of us can live on our separate retirement incomes, and even together I am going to have to work some while he is not able to work at all and needs care-giving.
        You just have so many more options for caring for yourself and your kids when you are still younger. I thought I was doing the right thing by staying, but my kids have a different opinion. No matter what you do, some pastor or people in the Christian community are going to criticize you. Like Patty said, talk to Jesus and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and follow that. I’ve been comforted by 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 where Paul is not concerned about the judgement of others, and says he doesn’t even judge himself but it is the Lord who judges him. It is the same for us, and when we are sure that we have been obedient we can ignore everyone else.

      • Patty

        Thank you Marylee your words of wisdom mean a lot to me. What I need to do right now is to find a job, I haven’t worked outside of my home for 18 years and I just need to get past my fears of knowing absolutely nothing about the new software stuff that people are using in offices now. I just need to pray for guidance from Holy Spirit again, for what type of job he wants me in. In hindsight I know I never should’ve quit my job to stay home with my son, I’m not a huge fan of daycare, but he would’ve been better off in daycare and me keeping my job. I would’ve been able to leave this so much sooner if I had stayed working. Then I was afraid to work, because I couldn’t leave my son and my husband alone together because of the raging. Now that my son is bigger than my husband, he doesn’t rage at him anymore. Which is a good thing. Thank you again.

      • Patty, I’m glad that helps you. One of the early lessons I learned is that I don’t have to change a thing on my outsides while I am changing my insides. You don’t have to tip him off that you are changing at all if it would put you at any kind of risk. But when you know you will ultimately overcome this, and you no longer do what you do out of fear but out of self-protective strategy and knowing that God is your source of love and comfort and help, it changes you a lot. It will start to heal your heart and you will become stronger to do what you need to do. It will start to clear your mind. There is another group you might want to look for, and it is called Unintended Journey. I am just starting to associate with these ladies. May God bless and protect you, my friend.

  9. God bless ..THANK SO MUCH I have also desame related topic FORGIVE AND FORGET!

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