Most of us are brought up to believe that it is right to forgive and it is something we “should” do. But let’s look more closely at this as there may well be times when it is better not to forgive.
If someone is being pushy and demanding our forgiveness, “C’mon get over it!”. Is that a good time to forgive them? If someone is compulsively abusive should we forgive them? If someone is very likely to hurt us in the same way again (and we see no effort or willingness in their part to change their behavior) should we forgive them?
My answer to these questions is “no” – or rather “no, not yet”. We can forgive them – at some point, but we need to clarify a few things first. We need to be clear that forgiving someone just means that we are “giving up the desire to punish”. Forgiveness does not mean we have to still be in a relationship with that person. Reestablishing or maintaining a relationship with someone who has hurt us is reconciliation. This is different from forgiveness which is where we are letting go of wanting to punish them for hurts which we feel they have caused us.
Forgiveness often includes reconciliation, but it does not have to. Forgiveness is unconditional; reconciliation can be conditional. The choice is up to us. We can forgive and decide to walk away from the relationship, or set out conditions we want met in order to reconcile (Tough Forgiveness). If we decide to walk away, we need to be a little bit careful that we are not doing this out of vengeance and wanting to punish them by withdrawing from them. However, if someone is caught up in a pattern where they are just going to hurt us again we have the right to keep ourselves out of harm’s way by not reconciling with them – even though we forgive them.
Keeping ourselves out of harm’s way can actually be a vital part of the forgiveness process. It can especially be part of becoming reconciled with ourselves. We often at least partly blame ourselves for painful situations. Giving ourselves permission to stay away from situations which are very likely to hurt us helps us become reconciled with ourselves. In a sense we have stopped abusing ourselves and can therefore forgive ourselves more easily.
As we forgive ourselves and become reconciled with ourselves we are less likely to create unhealthy relationships with other people. In choosing to protect ourselves from harm we help to reconcile the different parts of our own self. We are less divided within and can begin to trust ourselves more. We are then more able to make healthy choices about when we choose to forgive (hopefully all the time) and when we choose to reconcile (only some of the time).
We can start the forgiveness process, via methods such as the Four Steps to Forgiveness, whether or not we have decided what we want to do about reconciliation. Sometimes going a little bit along the path of forgiveness before deciding about reconciliation will allow us a clearer perspective. Sometimes we may not be able to let ourselves even start forgiving someone unless we categorically decide to not reconcile or to use Tough Forgiveness.
As long as we understand that we can forgive and still be free to walk away, or to negotiate for what we want, then we are free to forgive.