Is it really possible, or practical, to forgive and forget if someone is only going to repeat abusive and harmful behaviors? It is, but it requires a little more clarity on the entire process of boundary setting in conjunction with forgiveness.
In the past several years I have become even more savvy on the dynamics of abuse. I have also become aware of how abusers pretty much count on people forgiving them and forgetting about the harm they cause as a way to escape from the consequences of their destructive behaviors.
Which is why I want to draw upon the Christian teachings I was raised on. Because to me Jesus is a major example of forgiveness. Yet, when Jesus famously forgave those around him, at one point he also proclaimed, “Go and sin no more.” In other words, all of us, when we are given the blessing of forgiveness, have at the same time a responsibility to become more conscious of our destructive patterns. And, once aware of them, we need to actively move to change our behaviors so we sin (or harm ourselves and others) no more.
What about forgetting then? Though I have no idea what the roots are of the words forgiving and forgetting, it has not passed by me that the words can easily be broken into “for – giving” and “for – getting.” Looked at this way I can almost imagine acient folks looking at two people who have harmed each other, and then telling them to both step into the center of the room for the purpose of “giving” and “getting.” Or, to put it more simply for the sake of apologizing and making restitution with each other so the scales of justice (or karma) are set right.
Yet, sadly forgiving and forgetting has often turned into, “Ok, I’ll be a nice person and let you off the hook entirely. You don’t have to get conscious. You don’t have to change your behaviors. I’ll just let the whole thing go. And, you can go on being hurtful like you were before.” Quite frankly this is the fundamental reason why abusive relationships continue. Abusive people never have to suffer any consequences for their destructive behaviors. And, their forgiving spouses (who continue to ignore the abuse) end up getting hurt again and again and again.
So, what is the better way to forgive? First, it is true, when you don’t forgive you remain stuck in the past. Your thoughts spin negative. You are not able to create a more positive future for yourself. In many respects you continue the abuse cycle. Only this time instead of the other person harming you, you are harming yourself. That is why forgiveness primarily helps YOU. It helps you let go, move on, and move forward in your life free from the negative impact of the person who wounded you in the first place.
But, it is also true that forgiveness requires being able to stand in a place of spiritual power. As Jesus conveyed, now that the other person has been given a second chance, they now have a responsibility with that chance to become a better person. I am reminded of the famous play and film Les Miserables, which is a major story of forgiveness. In this tale Jean val jon steals silver from the home of the priest and is caught. Though the priest could have easily sent Jean val Jon back to the labor camps, he did not. Instead, he forgave Jean val jon. But, in forgiving him he also requested what he now wanted from Jean val jon (which was the priest’s way of saying what he would be “getting” in return). He said, “With this silver I have bought your soul for God.” Meaning he now held Jean val jon responsible for waking up, setting things right, and becoming a better human being from now on. Thank God, Jean val jon did.
As I see it then real forgiveness requires a great deal of spiritual power and spiritual perspective. To get to this point you do need to use forgiveness to heal enough to embrace more your own value and dignity as a human being. Letting go of your pain will help you get there, which is why forgiveness is a tool that mostly helps you. Once healed and free from the wounds of the past as a powerful and dignified human being, you then have the responsibility to learn about how to better protect yourself from such hurtful behavior. Then, you need to develop the capacity to set boundaries so you prevent that person from wounding you anymore. And, if you can manage it, you can even learn to develop enough spiritual power that with dignity and grace you are able to convey to the person who has harmed you, that in being forgiven, they have a responsibilty to wake up and become a better person.
With these steps everyone gives, everyone gets, and balance is restored for the good of all.
Dr. Lisa Love
Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Love. All Rights Reserved.
About Dr. Lisa Love
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