Meaghan Thomas

NOT Forgiving is Self Care, Too

I don’t believe in unconditional forgiveness.

For those in my life who haven’t taken accountability for their actions and haven’t changed their offending behavior, I don’t forgive them.

I’ve given myself permission to not forgive. And, no, I’m not filled to the brim with anger (even though anger is a legitimate feeling I have sometimes. Despite society’s general fear of it, it’s a healthy, normal feeling worthy of acknowledgement). Once I gave myself permission to not forgive, I felt a burden lift.

The “Must Forgive Everyone” Concept Has Some Serious Holes

I’m not convinced our hearts and minds are capable of unconditional forgiveness, especially when the offending person doesn’t seek to resolve the pain they caused.

Society expects us to say the magic “I forgive you” words and “move on”, which often means we’re stuffing legitimate feelings down. That sounds unhealthy and toxic to me.

Society also says if we don’t forgive, we’ll be consumed with anger. We must forgive in order to grow, they say. Not true, I say!

I can not forgive someone and move forward positively in my life.

Also, do people really forgive every time they say they do? Maybe sometimes, but not all the time. The fact we say “forgive, but don’t forget” — doesn’t that sound like we’re not really forgiving the person in the way society expects us to? (For the record, I believe it’s totally normal to not forget people’s wrongdoings, I’m just trying to make a point here that society contradicts itself here.)

And what about the unforgivable things in life? What are those things? Well, they’re different for every person. No one gets to define them but you. But aren’t some things unforgivable? I say, absolutely yes.

My conclusion – forgiveness is not a must.

I Don’t Forgive Everyone, I Set Boundaries

Instead of doling out unconditional forgiveness to someone who seriously hurt me, I try to talk it out with them and set boundaries. I hold the person who wronged me at a healthy distance until they prove they’re trustworthy again. Sometimes they earn that trust back, other times they don’t. I may choose to let them in closer again, or I may decide to cut ties. This way, the onus isn’t just on me; it’s also on them, the offender.

By setting boundaries, I have the power to let the person in (or not) as I work through the pain they caused me, and as they work to heal our relationship. To me, that feels more realistic, genuine and healthy than an “OK, I forgive you” statement.

Don’t get me wrong – forgiving can also be good in many circumstances. It can be a compassionate and healthy act IF you genuinely feel that’s healthy for you to do. But in my book, giving someone a free pass while I’m still hurting is not healthy self care. That seems more like denial of my own feelings and self —and that doesn’t sound like a path to happiness to me.

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P.S. Last week when I talked to my wonderful PTSD/EMDR therapist Candice about this, she also thought the forgiveness concept can be toxic at times, and said people sometimes beat themselves up for not being able to forgive in the way they think they should. She said “Self compassion is the answer. Whatever you feel right now is OK. That is true every moment, of every day.” What a beautiful concept.

P.P.S. For the record, I’m OK if someone holds me to this same “I don’t forgive you” standard. I would want to earn my trust back with them versus be told I was instantly granted a free pass of forgiveness (because I don’t believe those really exist).

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What Do You Think?

For years I’ve struggled with finding words for how I feel about this “must forgive everyone” concept (it feels like it’s everywhere in our culture -or maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic and was sent to a Christian cult as a teen?). I realize these beliefs about forgiveness may not be popular, but I wrote this because I doubt I’m the only person who feels this way.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s talk about it! Post below in the comments…

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