When You Can't Forgive: Hope is Not Lost
In an earlier blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free , a community member asked the question:
How can you forgive the same person for the 100th time after they have repeatedly engaged in the same behavior and offense towards you – after you have truly forgiven them in the past yet they continue to lie and cheat — now there is no more trust and forgiveness left in you and you are left with constant distrust, hate and resentment, and self doubt.
I don’t think you can really forgive someone who is continually violating you, but all hope is not lost. This question is touching on a fundamental topic in the field of human relationships, integrity, and self respect and that is self-worth and boundaries. One common understanding that most people can agree on is that we simply cannot change other people if they don’t want to change themselves. So, when you are staying in a relationship with someone who is continually offending and disrespecting you to the point where there is constant distrust, hate and resentment, it’s important to turn the spotlight off of them and onto you. What do I mean by this? It’s time to take an inventory of why yo are still engaging with this person. The fact of the matter is, more often than not there is often an underlying belief and self-judgment that you are worthless. When we begin to become present to the reality that this erroneous self-judgment and belief is there, we can begin to work with toward feeling a greater sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
How did this thought get there anyway? The thought “I am worthless” can be deep seeded from the time we are children. If we were continually violated or picked on in any way, the mind goes to work, as it does, searching for a reason why this is happening. “Oh”, the mind says, “I get it, I am getting violated or picked on because I am worthless,” and the mind is satisfied and the belief sets in. As a child the mind doesn’t struggle as much because it is satisfied with its solution, but as an adult, this doesn’t work anymore.
It’s important to know that our thoughts and judgments are not facts. If they were facts they would always be there. The fact is, our thoughts change depending on our mood. For example, let’s say you take on a challenging task and cannot complete it. If you were depressed you would think you were worthless, if you were feeling well you might think that this task just wasn’t for you. It’s the same event, just a different interpretation depending on your mood. Therefore we can say that these thoughts and judgments are not facts, but just impermanent neural firings that come and go in our minds. Therefore, it’s important to understand where they come from and that they are not facts.
To work with this:
- Get curious and understand where this thought may have come from if you can (e.g., what happened growing up that may have brought your mind to try and instill this belief.)
- Notice when this thought arises and label it as a judgment. Remind yourself that thoughts aren’t facts.
- Engage in something that gives you a sense of achievement or competence. This will begin to remind you that you do have worth.
At the end of the day, ask yourself, are you staying in the crosshairs of this other person out of fear or out of love? Often times it is out of fear of getting hurt or being alone if you stand up to the person or set up boundaries. When acting out of fear we often times put ourselves in a position of being a victim.
As you build your sense of self-worth you can also begin to build boundaries. Tell the person what feelings come up for you when they act the way they do. If they react in an erratic and aggressive tone, let them know to respect your boundaries and speak to you in a calm voice.
If they continue to react this way, you may have to remove yourself from the situation. Sometimes, we need to actually leave a dysfunctional relationship as painful as that may sound. Know that this is not a failure, but a more skillful action toward self-worth and healing. From this place of distance, you may be able to cultivate a more lasting sense of forgiveness to finally release yourself of this burden.
As always, please write your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Goldstein, E. (2009). When You Can't Forgive: Hope is Not Lost. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2009/04/when-you-cant-forgive-hope-is-not-lost/