So I grew up in a church. Yeah. There is a massive emphasis on forgiveness in churches, and from a young child I was taught it was important to forgive everyone… for everything. But now as an adult I understand that there are a lot of myths around forgiveness, how exactly we are supposed to forgive, what it feels like when we have forgiven and when it’s better not to forgive.
As a child I felt tremendous stress trying to work out how to forgive and when I needed to “turn the other cheek”. I realise I have gotten it so wrong for so many years, because forgiveness does not mean you need to be a doormat. Nor is it always helpful and healing.
Let me explain why.
What Is Forgiveness Actually?
I think personally our long term Christian heritage in the West (whether you practice it or not) certainly has made forgiveness very desireable. It’s in a lot of religions actually and is seen as the path to healing and moving forward. I definitely agree, but only when you use it in place with good Boundaries.
By forgiving, you let go of your grievances and judgments and allow yourself to heal… you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process—and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the person who wronged you; it’s something you do for you.
The Doormat Effect And Narcissists
This is where I went wrong and I know lots of people do this. In an article by Peg Streep, she talks about four studies being conducted in marital relationships (one study was done over 5 years) that supported the researchers hypothesis that,
…found that with partners who demonstrated negative behavior infrequently, forgiveness was beneficial, but for those for whom negative behavior was frequent, countering with forgiveness was downright harmful.
Peg talks about staying in a relationship with someone who continues with their hurtful behaviour and that,
You can’t reap the fruits of forgiveness alone; you need the cooperation, loyalty, and intent of the porcupine who stabbed you in the first place. On the other hand, forgiving someone whom you’re showing the door will most probably set you free.
Narcissism seems to be the in thing to call people in our lives who years ago we simple labelled “Self-centred Ars*****s”. I don’t care a real lot for these psychiatric labels personally. I believe we are in control of our behaviour and that labeling someone a “narcissist” is almost a bit of psychological diagnosing (in a situation where there is no treatment being applied by a psychologist for this person) and making it sound like that person can’t change or choose what they do. It’s in their nature.
I also think it’s more satisfying calling someone an Ars**** than a narcissist.
We choose our actions and words. Don’t take that away from them, making them seem like it’s simply in their nature when they can choose and DON’T indirectly make yourself a victim by using that label on them.
Psychiatric labels were created to treat people with a certain set of symptoms, not so that we can use them for identities for ourselves and others.
… Just think about whether it’s empowering you to say that. That’s all I ask and want for you.
This book changed my life and I know it can change a lot of people who struggle with this in their lives. I urge you, if you have people walking all over you, whether it’s your family, spouse, kids, colleagues… mother in law… anyone! Pick up a copy and spend the time reading it.
It’s called Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend. Click here to go to their website… or you can google around to see where you can get a copy cheapest.
I believe that for forgiveness to be beneficial it needs to be infused with proper boundaries, and that’s what Peg was talking about above in marital situations.
Letting someone back into your life who is going to keep hurting you over and over, and you keep forgiving them over and over…. it’s not helping you at all gorgeous lady. You deserve to be treated beautifully.
When Not To Forgive
So obviously not forgiving in situations where you are continuously going to be hurt again is better for your self-esteem. I also talk about in This Post how in situations where there is sexual assault and/or child abuse, anger can actually be healing and drive the victim (yes, that’s what you were at that time) towards empowerment and even fighting an incredible injustice.
Either the person who behaved in a certain way needs to be helpful and sorry so that you can forgive them, or there needs to be some form of separation there (even just in certain situations, not complete) so that you can heal from it.
So How Do We Actually Forgive?
Dr Wayne Dyer has a great blog article called, “How To Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You: In 15 Steps” which I think is pretty helpful (Click here to read it).
Myself, I heard years ago about simply skipping to Step 15, which is to send that person love in your mind. And that’s what I try to do (when I’ve left the place of anger).
So what I do is picture that person having everything they desire. Happiness, money, a great relationship etc. I don’t remember where I saw that first… probably on The Abundance Factor Movie or The Secret I’m guessing. But that’s really hard to do, and you have to be out of that place of grief and away from that person. I actually do this to a few people a lot. It challenges that part of you that wants revenge and for me, it puts the focus back onto me finding my own peace and happiness – they are on their own journey and it’s not your or my responsibility to enlighten, hurt or even care for them. It helps you let go.
I think this works for me personally because I’ve come to a place to accept that Karma doesn’t always happen and life isn’t fair. Sometimes bad people die happy, and you would know that everyone makes up their own stories about why something happened. People who do the wrong thing always have an excuse for it and often don’t think they’ve done the wrong thing.
What is important is YOU and YOUR peace. I know wanting bad things to happen to bad people is about justice, but it’s also about revenge and it can just make you more miserable – I’ve felt this! It’s so awful, but so many times justice doesn’t happen – I hate it! But we have to find peace or it will tear us up forever!
Letting someone go and wishing them well puts your focus back on your own happiness and story because then it doesn’t matter whether good or bad things happen to them – that is their story and this is yours!
Forgiveness can be really hard and I think there are so many misconceptions out there. You need to talk with someone wise and/or reflect in yourself whether this is the right time and situation to forgive someone. If you are in an abusive situation (even at work) then forgiving them will only keep you in it.
All I want is for you to look into your unique self and ask, “Is this right for me in this situation? Will I be empowered and better for it?” and your intuition will tell you, but you have to trust it, not fight it and be brave enough to love yourself to do right by you!
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