July 25, 2013

This post first appeared in 2007 on my original Steve’s Not Nice blog on Blogger as part of a series on character. Now that I have integrated my blogs into one site here at Blazing Core, I am posting the series here.

I was just retaking the VIA (Values in Action) Strengths Test and realized that there were a lot of questions about holding grudges, forgiving and forgetting, giving people second chances, and all sorts of things I didn’t want tested. “Forgiveness and Mercy” wound up ranked number 22 out of 24. Why, I ought to get those guys! The test is rigged and it’s unfair! I’ll show them….

Okay, in all fairness (to me), “Fairness, Equality, and Justice” ranked number 7. That probably gets in the way of the letting go and moving on thing.

I know it’s also a challenge for me that I grew up in a family with alcoholism on many branches. My poor uncle tried to drink himself to death and nearly succeeded, but the lung cancer from smoking foiled his plan.

Decades ago they were doing studies on Adult Children of Alcoholics and found out different people play different roles in alcoholic families. Some pretend everything’s perfect at home and try to hide the problems from other people. They also usually try to fit in and look “normal.” If they can get acceptance from people who are socially or financially successful they think they’ll feel good enough inside. It doesn’t really work because they usually go around fearing that someone will see the “truth” of their chaotic past and unsettled and insecure heart in the present. They can wind up pushing away family and childhood friends and anyone who can threaten the false image they’re trying to maintain.

That’s sure not me! But it is the way many people I know, in my family and from other chaotic backgrounds, live their lives. I’m on the other extreme. I’m like the voice of a prophet in the wilderness. When something’s not right and people are trying to smooth things over and pretend everything’s fine, I get anxious. In fact, even as a child my grandparents called me a sh** stirrer.

So you combine a drive for justice and fairness with a need to call things as I see them and it’s little wonder “forgive and forget” gets forgotten. Because I’ve seen what happens when people keep forgiving and trying to forget the behavior of really messed up people, I’m slow to forget offenses. I usually watch closely to see if this is a reasonably healthy person making a human error, or if I’m seeing signs of ongoing problems and need to be cautious. If someone is an addict, or a manipulator, or self-absorbed at the expense of others, the people around them often try to make excuses and “normalize” it. I’ve been super-sensitized and have become vigilant to keep from being hurt again and again by such people.

As a result, when someone treats me in a ways that hurts or offends, I have to wait a while because my Justice starts roaring. When I’m finally able to explain to the person how his or her behavior affected me, I do it. And I set a boundary, stating my expectation of how I will be treated going forward. Then I watch like a hawk. Healthy people apologize and instinctively give me words of kindness and respect to counter the hurt. With someone like that, forgiveness is very easy, and forgetting is… well, I’m still not good at forgetting, but I can sure stick it way over in the back corner of my mind.

But when I tell a person how he has offended or hurt me and he is defensive, even argumentative, and turns things around so that he is the “victim” because I stood up for myself, the path is different. I set boundaries to respect and protect myself, and also to show a path for the relationship to be restored. With such a person, I find, the best I’ll get is a commitment to make changes, but no real and lasting changes happen. He (or she) tries to convince me, persuade me, and sometimes even shame me into “moving on.” That helps me see even more clearly that the boundaries have to stay firm or I will be hurt again in the same way.

I don’t help myself, and I don’t serve a selfish and manipulative person, by allowing the patterns of mistreatment to continue. I do serve both of us by setting boundaries and showing a way to restoration of a broken relationship. Allowing the pattern to continue and “forgiving and forgetting” is just enabling with the most troubled people. Staying firm on the boundaries gives that person an opportunity for improvement and growth and a way to move away from disruptive and unhealthy behavior.

Anything less is just a shaky truce, and a relationship based on an unspoken agreement to pretend things are what they are not. It is shallow and unreal. Relationships between people who commit to the steps of restoration become richer and deeper. They are much stronger over time. I prefer to have no relationship over phony truces and pretense every time.

Restoration is healing after damage. It can be healing inside the soul of a person who has lived through hardship and mistreatment. It can be rebuilding a relationship after trust was shattered. It can be returning to work after foolish choices derailed a career. Restoration is the promise that what is wrong and seems hopeless right now can be made right. It is the evidence that inspires hope.


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