Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Make You a Doormat

Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Make You a Doormat

I used to think that I had to stay angry to protect myself, that my resentments were the only thing keeping me from getting walked on again. 

 

This was just one of the many examples of my black and white thinking. 

 

Until one day, the most banal thing happened. I got a voicemail from the pharmacy that a prescription was ready. 

 

Except the prescription was for my ex-husband. The pharmacy had apparently gotten our numbers mixed up.

 

But, you see, this prescription was for the same ex-husband who had not forwarded the cobra information when it was mistakenly sent to his address and I almost lost my own health insurance. 

 

It was for the same ex-husband who had filed a harassment restraining order against me filled with lies because I yelled at him and removed my own belongings from our house against his wishes. 

 

I could go on and on here. Seriously. How much time you got? 

 

My point is, I had all the justification in the world not to forward that message. Screw him, right?

 

And then a program person asked, “Is that the woman you want to be?

 

The question made me feel like shit, but it also made me aware of what was motivating my resentments. 

 

I was afraid. 

 

This man had hurt me so much, had been cruel in so many cunning ways. I felt like I could not give him one inch. Which meant there was no room to do the right thing. Until I was called out on it.

 

When that happened, I felt like I was backed into a corner. Because that was NOT who I wanted to be. But I also didn’t want to give him the opportunity to hurt me again and these two things felt mutually exclusive up until that point. 

 

By the grace of God, I had been called out on it. So I asked my Higher Power for help, to help me do the right thing and still keep me safe. 

 

And I sent my ex-husband an email. 

 

It contained nothing but the absolutely necessary information. “I got a voicemail that your prescription is ready.” No “Dear X.” No signature. Just the bare minimum of information. And no response when he emailed back with a thank you. 

 

I was scared. I didn’t want to. But I did it. 

 

And I got a lesson and a gift from this experience. 

 

The lesson: my fear was not unfounded. But that didn’t make holding on to my resentments reasonable. 

 

Not long after that, I got an email from him saying my friend’s mother had called. Unlike my email, his was very cordial with salutations and signatures. 

 

And while it was indeed decent of him to pass on this message, and he did it with more cordiality than I passed on mine, I also knew it was his pattern to pretend like one decent act absolved all other heinous ones. And it was my pattern to go along with that in order to keep the peace, or in order to not look like a bitch. 

 

This wasn’t a prescription that could put his health at risk, so this time, I decided to risk “looking like a bitch” and didn’t respond. 

 

Because I knew if I did, he would try to use that email exchange as an opening to remaining friends, or as cover for restoring his nice guy appearances. And then the same cunning emotionally abusive pattern could continue. 

 

I never got another email from him again. And there are plenty of other pieces of information it would have been decent of him to pass on that I had to come by in other ways. 

 

And while that’s a little shitty, he hasn’t been able to emotionally abuse me like he did in the past either. 

 

You see, I had done a tremendous amount of work on trying to forgive him, and at this point I HAD begun to see how wounded he was. Indeed, hurt people hurt people. 

 

But forgiveness is damn near impossible if you keep getting hurt by the person. In fact, what I understand today is that forgiveness without boundaries makes you a doormat. 

 

Unless that person has made genuine amends, without boundaries, you WILL get hurt again. (This why I always tell families I work with to trust actions, not words.)

 

But with appropriate boundaries, you can pray for them. You can grieve for their own wounds. And you can move on. 

 

Boundaries are the only way you can take care of yourself. 

 

And here’s the gift I got from this experience. 

 

I used to have this obsessive pattern where I would imagine him criticizing me in different ways (he was always criticizing me) and then I would have the perfect comeback. 

 

I hated these obsessive thoughts. I knew they were doing nothing for me except keeping me stuck. And I knew he was still living in my head rent-free when I kept rehearsing these arguments over and over. I absolutely hated it. But I couldn’t stop them to save my life. 

 

When I sent that email about his prescription…

 

When I didn’t let my resentments keep me from doing the right thing…

 

But then didn’t keep engaging with him either…

 

They were gone. 

 

As if by magic. 

 

Honestly, I couldn’t believe it.

 

And the space that got created in my head was now available for stuff that was so much more positive and productive. To learn new things. To do new things. It’s been so much more fun. 

 

The hiking. The swing dancing. Training in life coaching. Meeting new people. 

 

I wish I had the words succinct enough for a blog post to convey the magic of what what happens when you combine forgiveness with boundaries.

 

But then, I’m probably not finding them because it might lead you to believe the process is clean and smooth. It’s not. 

 

But it IS worth it. 

 

So I have a question for you: 

 

Are there boundaries you need to set so you can let go of a resentment and forgive? What would help you set those boundaries?

 

As you think about that, I want to share a hint: You won’t do this perfectly. And it won’t be smooth sailing.

 

You might have read the story I shared about the email my ex-husband sent back to me and thought, “You know, there’s no reason she couldn’t have said ‘Thank you.'” And you might right about that. I don’t know.

 

I do know that if you’re expecting an exact, right, perfect way to set boundaries then you will stay stuck in your unhealthy relationship patterns. 

 

We’re all just working for progress here, not perfection. Your efforts may be messy at times. But the more you do it, the easier it will be and the better you will get at it. 

 

The lessons and the gifts will come even if you don’t do it perfectly. 

 

So now I want to hear from you. Share your experience strength and hope in the comments. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just a start. I do read everything you share and I appreciate your willingness to do so. 
One Thing You Can Do with Legitimate Anger

One Thing You Can Do with Legitimate Anger

I have often been taught that anger is dangerous.

And it was – often because I kept it pent up. And then I’d explode.

Another reason anger could be dangerous for me was because the people who were violating me – the cause of the anger – were gaslighting me and trying to make me think that I was the problem. They’d act like I was crazy to be as angry as I was. And, of course, by the time I blew up, they actually had a point.

Which not only fueled the anger even more, it also made me feel deeply ashamed.

And anger IS dangerous… if we don’t respond to it in a healthy way.

The thing I’ve learned about anger is that it often comes from an unmet need.

In my case, I needed my dignity respected. As a child, and even as an adult, I needed my needs taken into consideration.

Having grown up in a family riddled with addiction, in many relationships those needs were not being met.

And as a child, I was powerless to do much about that, but as an adult, I am not.

I AM powerless over whether any one person meets those needs.

But I’m NOT powerless over whether or not I seek out relationships that meet those needs, and how long I stay in any relationship, be it friendly or romantic, where those needs aren’t being met.

Nevertheless, this can be tricky for many of us.

One reason this can be tricky is, at least for me, my default reaction to my needs not getting met is to feel unworthy. Less than. Not good enough.

And when that happens, it’s the pain of those feelings that drives my anger, not the pain of the unmet need.

The difference is important; the pain over these feelings is NOT the same as the pain of not getting my needs met.

The pain of feeling unworthy keeps me stuck. More specifically, it keeps me stuck trying to change people, places, and situations I am actually powerless to change. And that is one helluva recipe for hopelessness.

On the other hand, the (unadulterated) pain of not getting my needs met – as long as I allow myself to feel it and move through it – is much more likely to compel me to take action to change the things I can.

It’s also more likely to compel me to look at my part. Did I have unrealistic expectations of someone or something? I’m more likely to see that if I’m not stuck in old narratives.

So, for me, to move through anger in a healthy way requires me to feel the essential pain of the situation, rather than the pain of the wounding stories the situation may have triggered.

Now, getting out of those old narratives so we don’t keep interpreting things that hurt or anger us in ways that keep us stuck is a different story. I’m going to share one way to do that in my next post.

Until then, I’d like to hear from you. Are there places where you recognize that old narratives are keeping you stuck in old wounding stories? Or, on the flip side, where have you been able to re-frame those stories so you can more effectively address unmet needs?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

I wanted to title this post “The Surprising Relationship Between Forgiveness and Productivity,” but I thought, if you’ve suffered from procrastination like I have, then pointing out forgiveness’ beneficent effects on procrastination might feel more useful to you.

So let me share a little bit of my experience.

I’ve struggled to consistently pursue my dreams. I’ve done it in fits and starts. One of the reasons for this is the significant amount of often very subtle emotional abuse I experienced growing up.

My family is profoundly affected by addiction and family addiction, and one of the ways these dynamics play out is to undermine, and at times outright emotionally crush, anyone who’s “getting a little too big for their britches.”

I’ve been in family recovery for 16 years now, and I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of healing around this. But one thing that stuck with me for a long time was thinking that achieving a dream or reaching a goal would somehow show up all the people who had tried to keep me down.

Denial is a funny thing because, with all that experience in family recovery, it took me a long time to realize that thinking my achievements were somehow going to “show them” meant that my actions were still revolving around them. In other words, I was keeping the focus on others and not on myself.

I have a dear friend in recovery who does vision cards (like a vision board, but just one idea/image per card.) I was privileged to be able to make vision cards with her for the people on our 4th step lists. These cards were a visual representation of praying that everything I want for myself to be given to these people on my list, just like it suggests in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d write their name on one side of the card, and put an image representing what I want for them on the other.

I started meditating on these cards almost every morning, and wouldn’t you know! I have become much more productive and consistent in the process. I am much better at nipping procrastination in the bud.

Not that I should be surprised. I mean, wouldn’t a loving Higher Power want me to use my goals and my dreams to fill my heart up, rather than nurse a resentment?

But this level of resentment for me was a layer deep within the proverbial onion. There were other layers that needed to be released before I could recognize this one. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly freeing to be released from it.

So now I’d like to hear from you. Is there a particular goal you are pursuing from which a resentment is holding you back? If so, how might get support for letting it go so you can be freer to pursue your dreams?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

The Gifts From Those You Resent

The Gifts From Those You Resent

As I became an adult, there was one thing I was most adamant I would never do: become like my mother.

Oh dear God, PLEASE don’t EVER let me become like my mother!

And for the longest time, I was real clear on all the ways in which I was never. ever. going to be like my mother.

I probably don’t have to tell you that it didn’t quite work out that way. As each subsequent Fourth Step peeled away the layers of denial, I was both humbled and horrified to recognize all the ways in which I had in fact repeated many of my mother’s destructive behaviors that had been so hurtful to me. They were just dressed up a little differently.

Fourth Steps have always been a part of forgiveness for me. Seeing the same defects in myself, and recognizing how I got them, allows me to recognize that others probably came by those behaviors honestly, too. It allows me to have compassion.

But there’s another piece to this.

I had spent so much time focusing on my mother’s defects that I failed to recognize her gifts. (more…)