Just reading that word probably brings up a lot of different feelings and ideas about what it entails.
For many people, forgiveness is loaded with pressure:
“…you must forgive people”
“…you should forgive your parents, they were just doing their best”
“…forgive and forget”
This post is not about defining forgiveness or talking about if, when, and how to forgive. Instead,
A problematic narrative is a harmful story that is told over and over again, in this case, about what forgiveness means.
The problematic narrative that gets told about forgiveness is that forgiving someone means that you have to allow the relationship to be what it was before they hurt you, that you have to forget and go back to “normal.” However, this is problematic because it can create dangerous situations for yourself and for others.
Usually, if there is a desire to forgive someone, there is a need to evaluate boundaries within the relationship.
Is the person who hurt me a trusted friend or partner and this is the first time they’ve hurt me in this way?
If the answer is yes, then it could be that a conversation expressing how they have hurt you and what they can do to make amends is sufficient.
Is this a person who has hurt me multiple times in the same way, even after numerous conversations letting them know?
If the answer is yes, then your process of forgiveness will likely involve setting up some boundaries within the relationship.
Has the person who has hurt me crossed a line and abused me physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially?
In this case if the answer is yes, boundaries are crucial in order to protect your physical and emotional well-being and safety.
Do I trust that this person won’t do it again?
If the answer is no to this question, boundaries are needed.
“I am working through my feelings of forgiveness towards this person but in this process, I cannot be in an intimate relationship with them right now.”
“I have forgiven this person; however, I can’t talk to them on the phone or spend time one-on-one with them. I only feel comfortable seeing them at family holidays once or twice per year where other safe people are present.”
“As I work through my desire to forgive this person, I am not going to tell them personal/vulnerable information about myself or my family.”
“I have forgiven my wife/mother of my children for the physical and verbal abuse towards me and I still have genuine feelings of love and care towards her. However, I want to get a divorce because I no longer believe I am safe, and I know these patterns of abuse will continue to happen and/or escalate.”
We hear quotes like, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” – Marianne Williamson and, “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” – Alexander Pope.
In addition, there are numerous verses in the Bible encouraging the importance of forgiveness. For example, Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” (English Standard Version)
Maya Angelou encapsulates the idea of forgiveness and boundaries when she says:
“But you can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, “I forgive. I’m finished with it.”
As she demonstrates, forgiveness includes boundaries.
Forgiveness, like many things, is a process.
It is a process that is deeply personal and unique for each person and situation. If you are in the process of forgiving someone, consider whether boundaries need to be established or re-evaluated within the relationship. Often times setting those boundaries can aid in your process of forgiveness.
If there’s any way we can help you shift your narrative about forgiveness or set boundaries, please feel free to Contact Us.