Making it Safe to Forgive

Making it Safe to ForgiveI had an experience earlier this week with my dear husband where I sure as heck didn’t practice what I preach! We have a sensitive topic between us in regards to another dear family member and how best to support them through a difficult time. We often need to agree to just set this topic aside and trust that we will come back to it and it will get sorted in the way we always do, respectfully, amicably, fairly. This time around, I didn’t do so well with that! We agreed we were not going to bring up that topic during our quality time together that day. I committed to that. I meant it. And then….as we talked of this and that….the conversation naturally segued into a discussion about this situation and what the best solution might be so everyone feels good about it. I admit, I brought it up. In my defence, I was halfway through my second or third sentence about it before I realized I had shifted from one topic to that one. What I would like to have done, and what I will do in the future, and have done in the past, would be to say “Ooops! Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring that up. I know we had an agreement not to. Can you forgive me? And can we start again?” What I did instead was justify bringing it up (to myself) by thinking – “oh, this wasn’t intentional, it just ….happened.” And, “He’s not flipping out and telling me I shouldn’t be, so it must be fine, right?” Um. No. Where was my integrity? Where was my accountability to my word, regardless of what he was or wasn’t asserting? What had I committed to? And if I wanted to change my commitment I needed to ask him if that was okay and tell him why that was important to me. That’s healthy. That’s my norm. That wasn’t what I did here. As I left the room after this conversation I noticed I felt that niggle. I don’t feel it often these days – thank goodness. But there it was. I felt sad that I had compromised our quality time which is so precious to me. I felt sad that I had shown myself to him to not keep my word in that conversation. I felt scared that his trust in my word would be compromised and that that might influence the beautiful warmth we share. Of course, as I realized that, I also realized I had a wee bit of all or nothing going on there. I know my sweetheart, and one lapse will not compromise us. But I did also realize that I had compromised his needs for respect and trust and fun and play, and my own too. I had some apologizing to do. And so I sought him out. It sounded like this: “Sweetheart, I’m sorry that I didn’t honour my commitment to leave that topic alone. I understand that that didn’t meet needs for trust or respect or fun (or peace) for you and I am sorry for that. I am also sad that I missed out on some quality time with you because of that. Next time I commit to leaving a topic alone I will do so. Is there anything you need from me in order to be able to let this go?” He was satisfied with that but naturally disappointed at how our time had gone. It was no big deal, he says. Hugs ensued and all was well again. That’s all I could do in the moment. The final piece, the proof – would simply require time for a similar situation to arise and for me to put my money where my mouth is! As long as I trust myself to follow through on my commitment I can (and do) feel peaceful now. It was no big deal, this time. But imagine if I did this often; made promises and violated them, and didn’t apologize or, even if I did apologize, my behaviour didn’t change. How many times could I expect him to warmly let it go? Not too many. None of us could, or would. Soon the respect would vanish, cutting remarks would flow freely, we would not feel safe or trusting of each other and naturally our intimacy would be a thing of the past. Soon, we’re another divorce statistic. Relationships are fragile things. Well established relationships, where we have demonstrated mutual trust, safety and respect, naturally provide more room for us to make mistakes. The irony is that these healthy connections are what they are because we prioritize the sense of respect and trust and safety we feel from and with our partner and that we provide to them. As such, we rarely step in giant piles of crud and violate our agreements with them or compromise their trust and safety with us in any big way. More often we experience little episodes, like mine above. And assuming we apologize readily and change our behaviour accordingly, we actually end up making what could have been a trust diminishing experience into a trust building experience. The relationship is stronger for our learned experience and for the experience of mutual trust and safety and respect that gets demonstrated when we apologize sincerely, change our behaviour and are forgiven and the issue is dropped. If key people in our lives are not willing to give us a chance to err and apologize and show that we can learn from our mistakes the relationship will become a fear based, perfectionist nightmare and we will feel stagnant and stifled and likely develop coping strategies like binging, purging, anorexia, or restriction (chronic dieting), drinking, toking, shopping and isolating to name a few. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where your partner couldn’t let an old issue go; kept bringing up how you forgot their birthday etc. you know how devastating that can be to the sense of respect and safety you feel with that person and to how intimate you want to be with them. This situation typically occurs when that “bringer upper” feels that, not only did you not demonstrate understanding and respect for their needs in that situation, but that they lack trust in you in the present because in some way(s) you’re still doing things that don’t meet their needs for respect, trust, consideration etc. If you want that person to never bring up that situation again, ask them what needs they had in that situation that weren’t met and how they feel that you’re still not meeting those needs today – in what way?  I guarantee you you’ll learn a lot and you’ll never ever have to hear about that birthday again! (Assuming you follow through on honouring those needs from here on in.) Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. Being able to sincerely offer it and receive it is a precious gift. I don’t believe we should offer forgiveness until it feels right and peaceful within us to do so. I believe that in order for us to feel that sense of peace and trust we need to be able let things go, we have to be provided with a few key things:
  1. We need an apology that lets us know that the other person really understands what didn’t work for me in the situation – “I’m sorry for….”
  2. We need some reassurance of what the person will do differently in the future – what are they committing to doing differently or to not doing again, that will help us to trust that we won’t experience that again with them?
  3. We need time: Time for that person to demonstrate respect and caring for us in a variety of ways and time for that situation (or one like it) to arise again and for us to see that they respond differently. That’s when true forgiveness naturally occurs. And at that point, it just happens, there’s no decision to make, nothing to do, it just is forgiven.
Often people suggest we should “forgive and forget.” I say, “If I have not received an apology and have no reason to assume that that won’t happen again, why should I forgive? Why would I forget? That just shows that I don’t learn from my life experiences and that I’m a doormat!” Now, this doesn’t mean I’m carrying this experience (whatever it might be…say my father’s abuse in my childhood) every day and carrying anger, pain, suffering, resentment etc. because I haven’t “forgiven.” In fact, I have a great deal of empathy and compassion for my father’s life experiences that made him who he was. I still don’t want to have a relationship with him though because he’s never apologized and never done anything to reassure me he gets that what he did was not okay and that he’s done some work on himself that that I could trust he’d never hurt me or my family again. If that were to come down the pike, I’d consider reconnecting. Without that, no thanks. I’m not mad. I’m not bitter. I’m not sad. It just is what it is. My door is open should the above happen. And if not, I’m content to have empathy for him, and compassion and trust and safety and respect for myself in honouring my boundary. In other words, when someone has violated our trust, safety, and respect we need to know and to let them know that our desire to be close to them will be naturally compromised until we know it’s truly safe to do so because they’ve done steps 1 and 2 above and step 3 has naturally happened. There is soooo much more I could say on each of the points in this article. If you’d like me to say more let me know and I’ll do so. I hope this helps you to understand why you feel as you do with certain people in your life and why you feel so anxious at times that you use food to cope and harm yourself in that way. For those of you who are past or current cedric clients and/or take part in the web program, let this article spur discussion with your family and friends, and on our peer support forum, about the topic of forgiveness and the things they can’t seem let go of, or relationships that they can’t seem to feel safe and close in, and maybe you can help them understand why that might be. If you’re new to CEDRIC and these articles, welcome. And please know, there is a relatively simple solution to all this relationship mayhem and food stress. It takes practice but it’s simple. My team and I are here to show you how when you’re ready. Love The CEDRIC Centre - Michelle Morand

Posted in: newsletter, Relationship with Others, Relationship with Self, Relationships 101

Leave a Comment (1) ↓

1 Comment

  1. Clare November 19, 2011

    Thanks for another great article! Excellent topic, would be great to hear more some time!

    Clare x


Leave a Comment