Sunday, June 18, 2017

Boundaries and Forgiveness

Many people believe that in order to forgive someone, we must be able to have a relationship with them.  Unfortunately, however, although we are ALWAYS better off to forgive a person, we are not always better off to remove healthy boundaries that we have put up with a person.

Boundaries are necessary in all relationships!  Even happy, healthy, whole relationships have a line drawn where the relationship will have dire damaging consequences if the boundary is crossed.  For example, if a friend of yours spreads a rumour about you, you won't likely maintain the friendship.  If your husband cheats on you, you might get a divorce.  If a boss harasses you, you might quit your job.

Some relationships need extra boundaries put in place, because there have been demonstrations of behaviour that warrant a need for safety.  If a verbally abusive family member persists, you may choose not to take phone calls from them.  If a roommate steals food from your cupboard, you may need to keep it protected and out of reach.  If a client doesn't pay their bill, you may choose not to work for them again.  Boundaries come after futile attempts of communicating with the other person that their behaviour is hurting your relationship and finding that person unwilling to modify their actions.  Notice that boundaries aren't expecting the other person to change, but they're only changing YOURSELF.  

So, if those boundaries are put in place, does that mean a person hasn't forgiven?  Can a person forgive someone but still keep themselves within the safe gates of boundaries? In order to understand this complex conundrum, it helps to understand a little bit about what forgiveness is NOT:

- Forgiveness is not excusing or justifying behaviour.  Instead, forgiveness says, "What was done was wrong and painful, but I will no longer hold this offence over you.  I will treat you with love and kindness, even though you don't deserve it."

- Forgiveness is not reconciliation.  Reconciliation is when BOTH sides of the offence choose to first forgive, and then find a way to make a relationship work together.  Instead, forgiveness says, "No matter what you choose to do, I will forgive you from my side.  Even if you don't forgive me, I will still choose the higher road and forgive you."  Forgiveness is a personal choice.

- Forgiveness is not welcoming more offences.  It's not saying, "Well, you did that once and I didn't like it but go ahead and do it again...and again."  Instead, forgiveness acknowledges the reality of the damage that the offence caused and doesn't live in denial that "it really wasn't that bad."

Forgiveness can happen without any interaction with the offender.  Forgiveness can happen even if the person who hurt you is dead, completely unwilling to apologize, or even if they keep re-offending.  It is a personal choice to let go of the need to make a person pay for what they did.  It's choosing freedom over revenge.

Some people mistake boundaries for revenge.  It's very important to make sure that when considering the enforcement of a new boundary, you consider your motives.  Is this boundary to keep you safe and prevent further harm?  Or is it to make a person pay for their actions?  There's a huge difference, and you must be aware of your personal attitude toward your offender in order to discern this.  Revenge doesn't free anyone from their offender; it only keeps you bound and drags you down to the same level as them.  Boundaries, when done with a forgiving heart, allow you to heal and find strength to become a better person after whatever offence occurred. 

This leads to the question, of course, "What about relationships where I can't put boundaries in place?"  There are the rare situations when we really have no power to escape the damage someone is doing to us: a child in an abusive home, a person who is the victim of severe crime, prisoners of war, etc.  Must we still forgive even in these times?  I think that we are privileged to have the stories of WWII survivors who can offer us an understanding of these extreme circumstances.  You'll find that even though many people were unable to escape the pain that was happening to them, they were able to find an inner peace and deep meaning through having forgiving hearts.  If someone in that case can forgive, then we can too!

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