Eventually, there comes a time when “forgiveness” comes up in many discussions of past pain or trauma (even very recent pain and trauma, honestly). Sometimes it comes in the form of someone seeking forgiveness, other times it comes in the form of someone wondering if providing forgiveness is overdue… or possible at all.

Forgiving someone for something they have done to hurt us isn’t about the person who hurt us, at all. That’s an important detail we sometimes forget (as do seekers of forgiveness). So… there’s that.

Forgiving someone for hurting me has been a peculiarly tender and personal thing to learn to do. It took me a while to figure it out; so often the conversation around forgiveness has seemed to center on the actions being forgiven, or the person, and it’s actually not at all about any of that. Forgiveness is letting go our attachment to pain – that deep down personal aggrieved attachment to feeling wounded, and carrying the anger associated with that hurt. Forgiving is the process of letting that go, and moving on, ourselves.

You know what forgiving someone is not? It’s not permission to repeat that hurtful behavior. It’s also not any sort of agreement to continue inviting that person into our life to continue a shared journey as though there had never been any hurt. In fact – forgiving someone has nothing at all to do with the nuts and bolts and practical details of whether they are a part of our life ever again at all. Forgiving someone else is a way of allowing ourselves to move forward from a painful moment.

I’ve long ago forgiven my first husband for the injuries and scars that still sometimes hold me back, or at least affect my day-to-day experience of health. I’ve forgiven my second long-term partner, now also an ex, for the prolonged slide into learned helplessness and chronic frustration that come from being gas-lighted and manipulated for years. I’ve forgiven childhood enemies for their transgressions, and adults more recently who’ve mistreated me in one way or another, over time. Learning to forgive became almost easy once I understood that to do so did not require me to also invite people back into my life to repeat those behaviors – there is no expectation or requirement to do so at all. I can forgive, and move on with my life, allowing them to move on with theirs.

Forgiveness is powerful. I highly recommend it as a practice. I also, and without conflict or contradiction, highly recommend maintaining – and enforcing – healthy boundaries. Respect your own boundaries, respect the boundaries of others, and yes, even when you’ve forgiven someone. Non-negotiable relationship deal-breakers remain non-negotiable, and also deal-breaking, even in the face of “forgiveness”. That’s totally correct and appropriate. That’s proper. Having forgiven my first husband for his violence in no way suggests or requires that I allow him back into my life. 🙂 Forgiving him is for me, not for him.

When people seek forgiveness from us, the intention often seems to be to re-ingratiate themselves in our favor, as though “all is forgiven” also means “do over” and “no harm done”. That seeking suggests that the forgiveness is somehow about the person who has transgressed – but it isn’t, at all. I understand wanting to be forgiven; it sucks to ache with the pain of having hurt someone we care for. Too bad. It’s actually supposed to hurt if we hurt someone or treat them poorly; to remind us to do better, and to nudge us into making it right. Being forgiven doesn’t get someone off the hook for having to make amends, or somehow right our wrongs, and we’re mistaken if we assume that it does.

Being forgiven does not wind back the clock as though what was forgiven never happened. Relationships end on the backs of some pretty heinous deal-breaking words and actions – they should. Forgiving someone for those words or actions in no way suggests continuing the shitty relationship is going to be a thing, or that somehow the pain of what went down will just stop existing. We are each accountable for our actions. We face consequences – real consequences – for our choices, for our words, for our behavior, and whether or not we are forgiven by someone we’ve hurt, this is true.

I spent some time reflecting on forgiveness this weekend, having overheard a remark to the effect that “he’s not going to forgive me this time…” from a woman aware she chronically and repeatedly abuses her mate. I was astonished at the phrasing, which suggested she did not at all understand that the forgiving of her shitty behavior is not in any way related to whether or not the relationship itself would, or should, continue. It got me wondering about forgiveness, generally, and boundaries, and I found myself looking over past moments, myself, that I had forgiven. I felt pretty relieved that forgiveness has been so hard to learn, for me; the result has been that it did not become the kind of leverage that could be used to get me to “stay with a sinking ship” or “run back into a burning building”.

Here’s a thing that rankles me about that overheard remark; it also suggests that the speaker does not understand accepting forgiveness. Understanding that one has been forgiven requires a change in behavior – because accepting forgiveness implicitly acknowledges the wrongdoing. Once we know we have wronged someone, there is an obligation to change the behavior. No change? Well…um… why the fuck would a reasonable person expect that relationship to continue?? Furthermore, continued poor behavior, once forgiven, and having been acknowledged as poor (and undesirable) behavior – is willful. Yep. I said it and I mean it; if you know it’s unwelcome behavior, you’ve previously expressed regret for it, previously been forgiven for it, and you continue that behavior? You are deliberately, willfully, and yes on purpose, doing this hurtful thing. Seeking further forgiveness for the same shit is fairly sick, very manipulative, and in the face of chronic behavior, just a way of holding back that person you are hurting from seeking healthier relationships, and keeping them mired in bullshit with you. Particularly since the forgiveness isn’t about you. lol

For those faced with forgiving someone yet again for the same old same old, maybe also consider getting off that fucking hamster wheel at some point. Forgive, yes, but damn – respect your own boundaries, and be prepared to follow through on your non-negotiable deal-breakers. It’s okay to do that – and more to the point, it’s healthier to be free of abusive relationships than it is to attempt to “fix” them in the face of chronic mistreatment. Forgiveness is not tantamount to permission, or an agreement to ignore the damage done. 😉

It’s a whole new day. It’s a grand one to forgive old pain! It’s also an excellent day to stand strong on your resolve to treat yourself well, and to respect your own boundaries. It’s a lovely day to begin again. 🙂