It isn’t easy to talk about forgiveness. For one thing, it means we have to think about the pain that preceded our decision to forgive. And then, once we think about that pain, some of us may choose to dwell there, ruminate and rehash, stew in it, while forgiveness hangs in the balance and sometimes indefinitely.
Over time, though, we may reassess the story, muster the courage to re-write and transcend it. Some people never forgive. Some wish they could but say they can’t. Some don’t see the point. Others think of forgiveness as let-them-off-the-hookness. As it forgiving someone would be “as if nothing ever happened.”
Forgiveness is an intensely private transaction. A transfer of good will, an offering, a slate-clearing or an accountability without grudge-holding. Whatever the form it takes, forgiveness is often steeped in sorrow and longing and missed cues and the sting of loss. Forgiveness is the last thing on our minds when we believe someone has crossed a line, violated a boundary, done or said something that caused us distress, disappointment, loss and all the stories in between.
Often, forgiveness has a lesson. The need for boundaries. Limits on what’s good for us. Why our good will is taken advantage of by someone who would take more if we gave it. Why we lend money when it never gets reimbursed. Why we continue to spend time with people who criticize, deplete and discourage us. Why we allow ourselves to invest time and energy with those who
And it’s hard to forgive someone when you set a boundary, and he or she crosses it.
But, what if that someone is…yourself?
Boundaries begin within.
But that’s very fuzzy territory, isn’t it? It seems easier to set a boundary with someone else than with ourselves. But, the only way to create healthy boundaries with others is to do the same with ourselves.
There are these kinds of personal boundary issues:
We stay too long in places we know aren’t good for us. We tell our secrets to people who don’t know us. We take other people’s feelings personally. We look for validation from people who can’t give it to us.
And there are these kind of internal boundary issues:
We don’t know how much to say or hold back. We feel like we don’t belong in our skin. We aren’t sure what we believe. We can’t sense what’s authentic within us.
We don’t know where we begin and another person ends.
And there’s this:
We are too disappointed in our choices to consider setting a boundary for ourselves. That heavy burden becomes the boulder in the road. No way to say, “Hey you know what, I did that and it didn’t feel right, so I learned X about what I need and I’m going to do it this way from now on.”
Boundaries need our willingness. But for us to feel open to change, we have to come face to face with our disappointment…in ourselves. Maybe we feel we have been caught in a kind of Relationship Eddy, swirling around and around, and harbor a low grade nausea or regret that we coulda shoula woulda known/done better if only we had better boundaries in the first place. That’s a personal boundary-crushing act of unkindness toward ourselves.
There are very primal and poignant reasons we connect with significant others and get “stuck” in circumstances that feel life-draining. We cannot berate ourselves or blame others.
We know what we know when we know it. We act on that knowing at the moment when we have practiced setting a healthy boundary, and respond from a new sense of self-care. At that point, it feels utterly foreign to allow another person to hook us, drain us, infuriate us and keep us endlessly defending or explaining…when our body now knows it’s like putting ourselves in the fire to help the other person avoid the heat.
When we know it in our bones, so to speak, then we can choose self-preservation, because we have a deeper sense of conviction and commitment to our wellbeing.
As long as we keep investing in our own disappointment, it’s difficult to move to self-forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of subtlest forces that determine our capacity to create healthy boundaries. Our lack of forgiveness is the most important roadblock to our boundary-setting. If we are disappointed in our own choices, which we fear have led us to the very circumstances that are depleting us, we may feel unconsciously and consciously unworthy, unprepared and incapable of setting and maintaining boundaries of self-respect.
When we don’t forgive, we wait. It’s an unconsciously self-punitive process that we didn’t really sign up for. But, still, it comes with the burden of holding a grudge against ourselves.
I should have ________.
I shouldn’t have _________.
We put ourselves in perpetual detention.
When we create a boundary around how we want to live, who we want to spend time with, how we decide to show up or shift gears or backtrack or move forward, we live with intention, not detention. We are now at a powerful crossroads of our lives where we can see with more clarity and compassion.
In that light, we must give something to ourselves that we’ve been holding out on: forgiveness. Self-respect and forgiveness go hand and hand. Forgiving ourselves is for…giving ourselves. Setting boundaries is for giving. It’s never a one-time event, but a constantly evolving process of self-discovery and tenderness for our own unfolding.
Your brain on yelling and stress and tigers and love…