I saw this meme on Facebook today and one of the responses was “70 times 7”, which is a quote from Scripture (Matthew 18:22). This is one of those verses, taken by itself, which is a reason Christians stay in abusive relationships longer than non-Christians.
I have, in the past, seen comments that say Narcissists don’t apologize, abusers never say they are sorry… this isn’t true. There is such a thing as an abusive apology. Abusers often apologize after the abuse, during the honeymoon stage of the cycle. They’ll buy elaborate gifts to go with their apologies, and then as the cycle moves around, they’ll repeat their abuse (often worse) and then apologize again. And those expensive gifts given in remorse? They are held against the victims: “You accepted that gift, you forgave me, you can’t hold my actions against me anymore.” “Why can’t you let that go? I said I was sorry and you claimed to forgive me.”
My ex often included horrible self-recrimination in his apologies. He would self-flagellate so I would end up reassuring him, it took the focus off his actions and turned it around so I was comforting him.
“It wasn’t that bad, you’re not a horrible person, it’s okay.”
The apology became something completely different. His apologies always seemed sincere. It was after years of repeated behavior before I recognized that his apologies were just empty words. Those empty words stopped having any value or importance because his actions never matched his words. He could apologize in one breath, blame me in the next and repeat the action mere hours later. He was not truly remorseful, he was only speaking words to shut me up.
His words had another affect. He convinced others that he was remorseful, that he wanted to change. His “regret” was an act to convince others he wasn’t what he appeared to be or, more precisely, who I said he was. Before I even spoke about the abuse to others, he had painted a picture of me being unforgiving, resentful and set against him. Then they came to me and did his work for him – they tried to talk me into returning to the relationship, into giving him a “second” chance.
A falsely sorrowful person looks just like a regular one on the surface. We have to look past the apology, past the regret to see the sincerity.
And the original verse, to forgive 70×7? That’s true too, but we don’t forgive for them, we forgive for us. The abuser isn’t going to stop because we want them to, or because we leave. It’s still on us to forgive, because when we forgive, we begin to heal.