We must forgive because Jesus told us to. He said we need to forgive if we want to be forgiven (oooooooh, never thought about it that way, huh?) Not only does He command us to forgive, but He modeled forgiveness towards His enemies as He hung on the cross. Spiritually and psychologically, forgiveness is what makes reconciliation and healing possible in relationships.
Is forgiveness the first thing the victim should do? No! The first thing that needs to be done is for the victim to find a safe place away from the abuser, mourn the loss of the relationship that has been severed and start rebuilding their lives. A lot of times the person is counseled too quickly to forgive and the victim has never really healed nor ever truly forgiven the abuser. They forgive the abuser just because they are told to, not because they really have forgiven them. That is a dangerous place to be as someone who has experienced that. I thought I had forgiven my abuser years ago and come to find out, it was just another lie I told myself to mask the pain and not have to think about it. The problem with that is, I found myself always turning to earthly things to mask the pain of my past from the abuser I never really ever forgave.
You must realize that forgiveness is a process, it is not quick and it is not easy. It grows you as a person and makes you stronger - if it were quick and easy, it would not transform and change you. Another thing to remember in your process of forgiveness, is that just because you forgive your abuser does not mean you accept that behavior, excusing a wrong or reconciling with the abuser.
In an abuse situation, forgiveness and reconciliation can't come first. What comes first is, truth. Naming the abuser for what it is without excuses or cover-ups. Another top priority is safety - doing whatever it takes to stop the abuse and break the cycle. So is seeking help from God and others and accepting help in whatever form it takes. There will always need to be a period of healing and restoration for the victim, a time when the abuser works through old ways and learns how to live with others. And forgiveness will almost always play a part in this healing, but it may take a while and forgiveness won't necessarily mean restoring the relationship. Reconciliation can only follow true repentance - which involves real change over a period of time and a slow rebuilding of trust.
Remember, repentance is not the same thing as remorse. An abuser can feel remorse and still go back and continue to abuse. The process involves true repentance and a deep commitment to stop all abusive behavior. It also requires the help and support of other people, the establishment of new patterns and habits. Only time will will confirm whether change is both real and lasting. Only time will show whether reconciliation is really possible. But even if an abuser never repents, God's grace can still work at transforming an abusive situation.
If abuse is part of your life, please know there is hope for you too. It has taken 34 years for me to experience the abuse, years and years of experiencing things to cover up the pain and ramifications of the abuse, and who knows how long it will take for me to heal and forgive the abuser for it all. But I know it won't happen automatically - it may not happen in my time or the way I think it should happen. I have to seek help and make hard choices that I don't want to make. But there is a future for me as well as for you. There is safety and freedom when you see the God who sees you.