When I Don’t Recommend Forgiveness
By Z Zoccolante
For those of us who were raised in some type of religious setting we probably got a lot of mixed messages. Some of those are around forgiveness and this taboo idea of being selfish.
As a therapist who works with trauma I hear many stories from people whose protecting parties in childhood (or the adults who were supposed to have protected them) have failed them resulting in lots of confusion and pain.
As we grow up the world tends to preach this idea of forgiveness. Now, I am for this concept, but only in it’s pure form. There are a few misconceptions about forgiveness so first I want to set them right.
Incorrect ideas about forgiveness say:
- I have to forgive the terrible thing you did and make it ok.
- I have to have a relationship with you because I forgave you.
- I must allow you to do the same thing and just keep forgiving you.
Real forgiveness says:
- I choose to forgive and what you did was/is still wrong.
- I choose to forgive and I choose not to have contact or a relationship with you.
- I choose to forgive and I get to set boundaries that keep me safe.
With that being said I’ve found that life at some point will push on co-dependent tendencies or deep insecure wounds. When this happens, we often become involved in a relationship (friendship or intimate) that has toxic elements.
Since I specialize in addiction let’s use an example from this. Let’s take the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship of Jill and Jack. Jill is a caretaker and Jack abuses alcohol. They both have great qualities and at the same time they both have these behavior patterns that make them puzzle pieces that fit into the other persons puzzle in just the right ways.
Any toxic cycle is like a dance that requires both puzzle pieces to participate. People stay in toxic cycles or even in abusive relationships because there is some type of love there or the pull towards what we think is love.
Let’s say Jack gets triggered, acts out, gets wasted, starts a fight with Jill, says terrible things and takes her keys away throwing them over the balcony so she can’t leave the apartment. The next day, or when Jack comes down he might be all sob story and I’m such a terrible shame filled person. He may cry and say how sorry he is and how much he really loves of needs Jill.
Jill who had a part of her that’s pulled to care take, desires to be needed. This aftermath is the perfect storm to pull her towards the part of Jack that she fell in love with – because she feels connected to him and thinks this is intimacy.
We know how this cycle goes – like a merry go round until both parties seek outside support.
The point is that Jill has an almost obsession with forgiving Jack. We are taught to forgive and if Jill doesn’t forgive often she will have her critical voice (the ones in our head that mentally beat us up) tell her that she is selfish, or a bad person, or that it’s loving and kind to forgive and so she must.
Jill will “forgive” Jack and tell herself some version of, “Well I should be loving and kind.” The problem is that this type of forgiveness blinds Jill to her own needs and boundaries that keep her emotionally safe.
This cycle keeps Jill “forgiving” Jack and in essence this “forgiveness” ropes her back in to the toxic dynamic. In this dynamic Jill thinks more about Jack’s needs than her own and makes Jack’s needs a priority.
For example, Jack may have said or done some shitty, hurtful things but yet Jill feels like she “should” forgive him and more on because it will hurt Jack’s feelings and fill Jack with more shame to set up a boundary such as, “That situation felt really bad and so right now I won’t be spending time at your place on the weekend.”
Most of the time Jill won’t set this boundary because she might make Jack mad, upset, sad, whatever (fill in the blank emotion). Jill will give up her need for safety or peace in order to be needed (or loved, not feeling abandoned, etc. or whatever need she feels is getting met).
In my opinion, forgiveness can often be a trap. I do advocate to forgive but I have learned that sometimes it’s ok not to forgive the person right now. It’s ok not to forgive so that you can set up a boundary that takes care of you, or get out of s situation or relationship that is toxic, and so that you can work on yourself.
It’s ok not to forgive. It’s sort of like not talking loving to the fire when it’s burning your house down with you in it. Get the heck out of the house and then later, if the house is burned to ash you can cry and process and find a new perspective on the fire. Sometimes only after this, when you are safe emotionally, do I then bring the real idea of forgiveness back.
Because the real forgiveness, after the person has time or distance says something like this:
I know the fire didn’t mean to harm me. That’s what that part of a fire does. Now that the land is cleared what is there for me to learn or appreciate. How can I grow? What happened that my kitchen caught on fire in the first place so that I might avoid that in the future?
With people we might say, I choose to believe that Jack might have been doing his best. Although he had parts that I liked (or loved), there are behavior patterns on his puzzle piece that did not serve the ones on mine. Yet there is something for me to learn because obviously we attracted each other. What can I appreciate. How can I learn more about myself and grow so that my vibration shifts and I can attract something different in the future?
So remember, every situation is an opportunity to learn about ourselves. And sometimes it’s advisable NOT TO FORGIVE (right now). This can help the person set and hold better boundaries for themselves and to stop the cycle of getting roped back into the toxic dance.
And if you find yourself realizing that you, or your relationship may need some support to bring out the best parts in both of you, I highly recommend seeing a licensed therapist. Check out the suggested article below by yours truly.
Here’s to a life of setting good boundaries and real forgiveness that makes us better.