First published on KSL.COM
Question:In your article on forgiveness, you mentioned that there are some situations in which we should forgive but definitely not let the person back into our lives. What does that look like to have boundaries? How do you handle that if the difficult person is a family member or a person you are forced to see regularly, like an ex-spouse or co-worker? Why do I have to forgive if they aren’t sorry and aren’t going to change?
Answer:You asked a few different questions, so let me answer them one at a time.
Why do I have to forgive even when the person isn’t sorry and won’t change?
I could give you the usual answer — that you forgive so you feel better — but the truth is that your ego feels pretty good about staying mad. Instead, I encourage you to change what forgiveness is for you. Forgiving in the traditional sense meant you had to pardon someone for their mistake, because staying angry or hurt causes you more stress and unhappiness than it does the other person. So, you tried to do this for yourself, even though the person didn’t deserve it. This kind of forgiveness is hard and it’s the reason most of us struggle.
However, if you completely change your idea of what forgiveness means and, instead of pardoning people, make it all about changing your perspective about the incident and life in general, you can totally change how you feel about the situation. This can be done easily, even when someone doesn’t deserve it or isn’t sorry.
The most interesting perspective shift to try is to decide to see life as a classroom and this person and their mistake as being something that will ultimately serve you and make you stronger, wiser or more loving. This means that the hurt they caused can be used to bless and serve you in the long term. If you see the difficult person as a teacher in your classroom and their behavior as something that is serving your growth in some way, you might find you don’t even need to forgive. You can just let it go.
How do you handle forgiving if the difficult person is a family member or a person you are forced to see regularly, like an ex-spouse or co-worker?
Forgiving and changing your perspective does not mean you have to associate with or have that person in your life. You can and should limit contact with people who are a negative influence, a drain on your energy, or makes your life harder or more miserable. But you can still have forgiveness and even compassion for them and how miserable it must be to live that way.
You can love them from afar. This means you don’t harbor hate that would keep you in a miserable state. You can release all that negativity and choose to trust God and the universe that you are OK and let this person go in peace, while also choosing to stay away from them.
You must give yourself permission to make your needs important. Taking care of yourself and making sure you are balanced and happy is actually your No. 1 job, and that isn’t selfish. Your job is to make sure your needs are met and your bucket is full so that you have something to even give other people. This will often mean limiting the contact you have with people who make you miserable and drain your bucket.
Ultimately, it would be great if you could get to a place where you could be around this person (when necessary) and not be negatively affected by them, but that doesn’t come easy. In the meantime, you should stay away from them and protect yourself from further abuse or mistreatment.
What does that look like to have boundaries?
If you cannot limit contact and are forced to associate with the difficult person, then you need to define and enforce some boundaries. Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help you figure out what boundaries are needed to make this relationship work:
It is important to make some new rules and write them down. Just deciding in your mind is not nearly as powerful as putting them on paper is. When you write the new rules on paper, there is a different commitment level that happens in following them. Remember though, boundaries are rules you enforce on yourself to save yourself from your own weakness. Write down which behaviors you are no longer going to allow and how you will enforce it.
The most important part of having boundaries and enforcing them is not letting other people’s reactions to your boundaries bother you. Chances are, they won’t like your new rules and they will make you feel guilty for having them. That is not your problem and, on some level, it isn’t even your business. You are in charge of your own behavior, thoughts and feelings; you are in charge of being the best, strongest, most loving version of yourself you can be. Focus all your energy on that and let other people deal with their own feelings or issues themselves.
Giving yourself permission to have boundaries is the hardest part, especially if you have been a lifelong people pleaser. This may take some time to give yourself permission to make your needs important without feeling selfish.
If you are dealing with a really toxic, difficult person, you might want a coach or counselor to help you process the emotions and learn to be easier on yourself. Be patient with yourself and just keep working on it.
You can do this.
FOR MORE FREE
Coaching is less expensive than you think - If you need help we can find you a coach you can afford.
Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.