One of the biggest fallacies of forgiveness is the idea that forgiving means reconnecting with the other person. It is one of the barriers that block our ability to forgive.
We think that when we forgive the offender, we are supposed to continue the relationship, pick up from where we left off, and live peacefully and harmoniously. And if this doesn’t happen, we haven’t truly and completely forgiven.
Well, guess what? We can be at peace with them but we may not necessarily have to be with them. We may live at peace with everyone but we don’t necessarily live with everyone.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Neither does reconciliation mean forgiveness has taken place.
In fact, reconciliation is not advisable when there has been an abusive behavior or any form of abuse. We need to learn to set boundaries and teach others to respect us and our boundaries.
When a person is abusive or poses a threat or danger to you (physically, mentally, verbally, or emotionally), common sense tells you to stay away from the individual. When you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel supported or nurtured, you don’t feel respected, what reason do you have in continuing to interact with the person?
We may forgive them for the offense they committed but we don’t have to hang out with them. Especially when the behavior is repetitive. Doing so makes us a masochist.
And regardless if the individual is a family member or a close friend. In fact, especially if they are a member of your family or someone close to you. Because ironically, these are the very people who are supposed to defend you from abusers. These are the people whom you’re supposed to run to when you’ve been abused. Not the other way around.
And seldom does an abusive behavior happen only once. It is usually a pattern. A pattern that needs to be broken.
Forgive seventy-seven times
Another misconception related to this which also blocks our ability to forgive is the idea of “forgiving seventy seven times”. This does not apply to a single offense or to the same offender. Yet we take this to mean literally.
It doesn’t mean that if the person offended you seventy-seven times, you will literally continue to pardon him seventy-seven times. It means that there can be no limit to our ability, capacity, and desire for forgiveness.
We are to strive for a limitless capacity to forgive. The only way we can master a skill is to continue practicing it. There is no end to whom, when, what to forgive.
But there is a limit to the kind of behavior or treatment that we allow in our lives. We are to allow only those that are loving, healthy, supportive, nurturing, respectful, uplifting and empowering. Those that allow our light to shine brighter, instead of dim them.
Sometimes, situations or circumstances call for us to practice tough love. Sometimes, we need to be very strong in our resolve and be tough in our conviction and say no, enough. In order to not continue being an enabler.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an enabler as “one that enables another to achieve an end; especially: one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse [but not limited to]) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior”.
When we give an excuse for the offender’s behavior or justify the offense, we are depriving the offender of the opportunity to reform their ways and realize their wrongdoing. There are always reasons for a misbehavior. But not all reasons render them acceptable, allowable or permissible. We always have a choice in anything and everything — including what behavior and treatment we will put up with and allow and accept in our lives.
When we continue to make ourselves available to the abuser or offending party, especially when they haven’t quite realized yet their offense, we are enabling the individual’s behavior and perpetuating it, instead of teaching them the lesson that they need to learn.
When we continue to be in their lives or let them be in our lives, in the absence of true remorse, we are giving the message that what they did is acceptable. Unknowingly, we are giving them the opportunity to commit the offense again. And that’s when it becomes a vicious cycle.
When we distance ourselves, we give them the chance and the space to reflect and to see the light. And we can distance ourselves with love and compassion. That is a crucial step in the process of forgiveness. We need to hold the offender in light and think positive thoughts about them, as we also go through our own healing process.
The reason there continues to be abusers in society is because there continues to be individuals who allow themselves to be abused.
For every abuser, there is a corresponding abused party. To break the pattern of abuse and offense, the abused individual needs to toughen up, learn to step up, and set the boundaries. The offended party needs to gain the skill and courage to say no to the abuse or offense, and stop the pattern of being treated with less respect and dignity. And seek support.
When we allow others to continue to abuse us, when we continue to allow ourselves to be stepped upon, to be taken for granted and disrespected by the offender, we continue to give our power away. Unless we take back our power, we continue to fuel the offender or abuser to continue their offensive or abusive behavior. To us and to others.
Taking back our power means asserting ourselves and gathering enough courage and strength to fight for our honor and dignity. In other words, love ourselves enough to say no.
“Today: I will reflect upon situations in my life when I have allowed abuse or have become an enabler. I am willing to release people and relationships that are not healthy for me. I will think of ways that I can practice tough love and journal my realizations.”
To be continued
64 Ways in 64 Days Nonviolence Daily Reflections Day 29 – Feb. 27, 2012
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