Forgiveness vs. Being a Doormat (Part 2)

Part 1, here.

tanaudel, in comments to my post on the “doormat” side of this equation, summarizes nicely a lot of what the difference really is:

It seems to be far less about being a doormat and far more about being strong and gracious.

She describes this as something that can only happen once the wrong has been acknowledged by the erroneous party, once forgiveness has been requested. I disagree with that for the principle reason that I think that granting forgiveness is about the opposite of being a doormat: being forgiving is about me. It’s about healing myself.

One close friend of mine talks about the concept of “resentment” as being “unresolved emotion” that keeps being “re-sent” around your body and mind. It circles, grows, festers, continues to hurt or damage you over and over and over again. Whether it’s been requested or not, I need to escape those feelings if I’m ever going to move forward. That’s where the strength and the grace come in–I can’t have peace from the feelings until I do it. And I can’t let my ability to find peace depend on having the request come from the people who have harmed me, especially knowing that some of the people who have done the most harm will never be capable of acknowledging it.

I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness in having to ask others for it, for pretty big reasons. When I did that, I had to remind myself over and over that regardless of how it was received, I was doing it so that I could be freed from the sense of guilt and shame that was entrapping me at the time. And regardless of how it was received, I was. Which sort of drove the point home for me that the forgiveness wasn’t really coming from my actions or from the actions of those from whom I needed forgiveness. The strength and grace came from elsewhere. In the same way, my forgiving others–especially if they haven’t asked for it or if they’re people I haven’t seen in years and will never see again–has absolutely no impact on them. I feel like it would be arrogant to pretend I had any power to grant them forgiveness or grace, as if I have access to some special spiritual source of energy that I can transfer onto them. I don’t believe that when it comes from clergy and I’m not going to believe it when it comes from me. But forgiving others–letting go, accepting, refusing to stay trapped in and defined by the past or by actions that were out of my control, deciding to be different–saves me. And that didn’t come from me, either.

I have real pain and legitimate reasons for anger in my life. I’ve been seriously hurt and seriously damaged. I say that not because it earns me anything, but because I struggle to write things like this without coming off like I’m moralizing or telling someone else how to deal with their very legitimate anger. I find that some who are inclined to preach forgiveness are not very understanding about the magnitude of some of these injuries, nor of the fact that above all else, forgiveness just takes time. I was certainly angry for a damn long time, and went through a long period of being destructive because of it. What I need in my life now is knowledge that there is a way out of that, and for that way out to exist and remain accessible independent of the actions or feelings of any other human being. To re-adopt bloggy lingo for a second, YMMV.

Another friend I have gets really upset, because she thinks I’m letting people continue to hurt me out of a sense that I need to forgive. I’ve had a couple of people recently who have said or done pretty hurtful things, but I can see exactly where the damage is coming from based on whatever baggage they have, and I want to let it go because of that. It’s not about me. If I’m going to be capable of having loving relationships of any kind (and there is a very heavy post on that topic that’s been building itself in my head for several weeks now), I can’t let those things re-send. Her point is essentially that sometimes, by thinking that way, I’m letting these actions and these people continue to hurt me, and I’m not forcing them to take ownership of their behaviour. I’m certainly not saying that being damaged makes it okay to do hurtful things to others or, on a much larger scale, to perpetuate abuse cycles, nor do I want to put myself in a position to have the same hurts happening to me over and over again, because that would be very much the doormat mentality. But for the sake of my own strength and grace, I have to forgive. I just do.

Not ignore the wrong, not forget the wrong, but also not wait for and depend upon the other to acknowledge it–acknowledge it myself, put it in perspective, decide how to stop the re-sending, and move forward. I’m absolutely terrible at certain aspects of this process most of the time. But if I couldn’t do any of it, I think I would lock myself in my apartment and never come out, literally or virtually.

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14 thoughts on “Forgiveness vs. Being a Doormat (Part 2)

  1. tanaudel says:

    And I think I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, so it must be how I’m using the word : )

    I suppose I’d divide what you refer to as forgiveness (and which, I grant, is the dictionary definition) into two categories: forgiveness granted on request and forgiveness offered unasked. I’m just not quite clear what happens where the latter offer is not taken up or accepted (as opposed to taken advantage of), and tend to think of this as… not quite “forgiveness”. That’s concentrating on the person being forgiven, of course. From the other point of view, willingness to forgive remains the same whether it is accepted or rejected.

    I need to think this through further and work out the mechanics of it.

    And what you’re saying rings true, biblically – that forgiveness has much broader effects & ramifications.

  2. purtek says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that the difference in our positions is mainly based on different categorizations or different terminology choices rather than actual philosophical points. 🙂

    Yeah, I’m struggling with exactly what you talk about in terms of the latter offer–unrequested forgiveness–being essentially rejected. It’s tough to be graceful in the face of that experience. Willingness to forgive may in theory remain the same, yes, but in practice, it’s tough to actually maintain that willingness when your attempt to do it ends up being rejected. It’s far different from the experience of having your request for forgiveness rejected.

    Apparently, I need to think this aspect through further, as well. Thanks. 🙂

  3. BetaCandy says:

    Years ago, I came up with what I called “the flipside of the golden rule”, which was that sometimes people who hurt you ARE treating you the way they’d like you to treat them, and what do you do with that? To quote Eurhythmics: “Some of them want to abuse you… some of them want to be abused…”

    Sometimes I’ve gotten a sense that even though I could forgive someone because they’re more damaged than I am, they needed me NOT to forgive. They needed someone to stand up to them and refuse to take their crap because alone, they couldn’t confront why they were doing these things. (Of course, this can just turn into a weird cycle where they want to hurt you and be punished over and over, but that’s abnormal psychology territory, where forgiveness doesn’t work the same way.)

    If you don’t let people know they’ve wronged you, you’re denying them the change to atone or improve. If they demonstrate that they can’t/won’t stop hurting you, then if you keep subjecting yourself to it, aren’t you making yourself their accomplice in hurting you?

    I don’t see any of this as disagreeing with you – I think I agree with everything you’ve said. I just think there’s this additional wrinkle I don’t often hear discussed.

  4. purtek says:

    A really interesting one, actually, and I can definitely relate to what you’re saying.

    I kind of used to do some of this. I went through quite a few years of really struggling not to be a total asshole. Back then, I would “test” people (particularly in a romantic relationship), practically begging them to give up on me. And even though I got angry at the few people who called me on it at the time, I stayed friends with those people long afterwards, and even our friendship at the time was better, because I knew I couldn’t just be total bullshit with them, all the time.

    I like the way you say that not calling people on it is denying them the chance to atone/improve. Something I have to think more about.

  5. Sara says:

    Thank you so much. I was struggling last night and still this morning and always feel that I am subjecting myself to “door matism” and it’s hard for me to turn the other cheeck especially when the other people involved expect me to forgive and forget but when it’s done to them, they don’t follow their own expectations. So thank you, and I was just asking God this morning to tell me if he wants me to continue to take the abuse, because I will do what it takes to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. So again, Thanks

  6. purtek says:

    Sara, I’m not even sure how to respond to a comment like yours. I’m so grateful that you found the posts useful, and I’ll be praying that you get whatever you need to get out of a bad situation and feel strong about it.

    I can’t say that I have the answer to how to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, but I can say with all my heart and soul that I fully believe that people who demand that *others* suffer abuse that they don’t understand and don’t experience themselves are not behaving as Christ would have them.

    I also think that when Christ calls us to be self-sacrificial, it’s because he has a purpose for our sacrifices. There comes a point where “putting my own needs aside” isn’t actually helping someone else, and I think that’s inevitably the case when there’s abuse involved – I don’t think God calls people to be abusers, and I’m not genuinely helping that person by staying to be abused, so my only choice is to go somewhere else and be where I can legitimately be helpful to someone else. I’m not sure if that makes any sense or not.

    Thank you for your comment – I’m seriously overwhelmed by how much emotion there is in what you’re saying, and you will be in my prayers.

  7. churmursounds says:

    Purtek,
    Please never take this cite down, I find your insights and thoughts very enlightening and helpful.

    I think it is so important to highlight the fact that forgiveness is most useful when one can forgive without having to have been asked for forgiveness, because when someone has been violently wronged, usually they are not going to be asked for forgiveness, and when they are, its not in anyones best interest to just focus on the “transaction” of forgiveness, where someone asks for forgiveness, and then they are forgiven, case closed. Forgiveness really is a subjective, personal reality, for both parties involved. I think with minor grievance situations, maybe the “transaction” of forgiveness comes into play more prominently, but for really dramatic situations, the act of forgiveness takes a different form. And as Purtek commented, those feelings of guilt for the person committing the wrong, and feelings of resentment, for the person wronged, will not go away until that person learns to forgive, forgive themselves and forgive others and it is in everyones best interest to figure out really what forgiveness means to them and why it is necessary. Of course, before that happens they need to acknowledge the wrong first and foremost.

    Sorry for the long response.

  8. churmursounds says:

    Also, I have serious problems with the use of the word “doormat” , eventhough , it took being called that, more fuel to ignite me out of an abusive situation, I always felt like it was still kind of a way to blame the victim, and yes when one is in a cycle of abuse, that person does tend to take on that role, but you know, sometimes one cant see it when they are in it, and everyone on the outside looking in cant see them fighting back day after day to no avail, because they have not yet realized that they have to remove themselves from the situation completely. So it sucks to have been in a situation like that, and then have someone call you a doormat, because it took you a while to realize enough is enough. Especially when people make excuses for the abuser. Thats another topic I guess.

  9. purtek says:

    churmursounds, no worries on the long response – and thanks for your compliments. I agree with what you say about the use of the word “doormat” and how it’s very victim-blaming. I’ve often even had a lot of trouble with the expression “stop being a victim” – because how is someone supposed to do that, anyway? (though I know it often means more complex things, I find it troubling)

    So you’re right, it is another topic. One I think I may have to write about shortly. 🙂

  10. churmursounds says:

    Yeah, I feel like sometimes using that terminology, reinforces the abuse, because the whole point is for the victim to gain strength and get out of the abuse, but how is saying “stop being a victim” empowering…You really have to go through some serious decoding in order to not have it become a self fullfilling prophecy. Thanks again purtek, always look forward to reading your posts.

  11. […] been on my mind in a number of contexts: the meaning of an apology. I wrote a few months ago about forgiveness, and noted at the time that it has been extremely important for me not to base my ability to […]

  12. kisekileia says:

    Hey, I’m not sure if you remember me from LJ, but I decided to drop by your blog here, and I really like this particular post. I’m trying to think through a situation involving forgiveness in my own life–another Christian who has social skills issues really hurt me a year or so ago by saying grossly unfair stuff about my disability issues, and while she sort of apologized, I haven’t re-friended her on LJ (or fully forgiven her) because I don’t trust her not to do this kind of thing again. I think I need to forgive her in some sense that I haven’t, simply due to the requirements of Christianity and the fact that I still feel resentful, but I don’t think I can trust her again without evidence of a serious attitude change regarding disability (and possibly some social skills improvement) on her part. I’m not sure what to do about this, but I think the thoughts in this post are interesting and relevant.

  13. purtek says:

    Of course I remember you! I often regret how little I stop by my old lj friendspage, because there were some cool folks over there, and I miss them (yourself included).

    Glad you found the post possibly helpful…forgiveness and trust are major issues in my thoughts, and they can be so related/conflated in complicated ways. The “requirements of Christianity” in this regard can so often be used to pressure the victim, and it’s something that obviously frustrates me quite a bit. Good luck with the situation you’re dealing with.

  14. sasa says:

    I feel the need to reply to above. Someone in their comments here asked the question, what happens when forgiveness is offered to the guilty party, but is not taken up? As I see forgiveness and the way I read the first post, it has nothing to do with offering anything to the other party. Hell, the other party could be way out of our lives already, and good riddance! The kind of forgiveness we are talking about here is a kind of ‘abstract’ forgiveness, one that happens within us, the injured party. The reason it is so important to ‘forgive’ is because it liberates us from further hurt. That’s right, I’m sure all here can understand the concept of the hurt going on and on.. and on. A long time after the initial event. That’s because each time we re-live it, we get upset all over again. We get angry. We get resentful. We want to take revenge. We want to punish the guilty party. It doesn’t seem enough, sometimes, to wait for karma to work and hope bad things happen to this person. We need to see action now, or we will just.. just what? Implode? Go craisy? Start screaming our rage and pain? That’s the hurt we are talking about, right there. So how does one stop that? Obviously the first step is to stop further incidents. Stop seeing the person who caused the harm, cut them out of your life. Some ignorant people may take a while to wake up to the fact they’ve been cut out and why, but that shouldn’t concern us. We, the hurt party, must act as an independent unit, and manage our emotions and bodies ourselves. Without relying on the guilty party to admit guilt. Just protect yourself from further active hurts, then address the hurt going on inside. It’s a tough one, but it can be done. The trick is to know why and how to do it, then repeat the process each and every time hurtful feelings surface. You must be prepared to do it a hundred times a day, if that’s what it takes. Why? The why is simple. We want to be able to let go of thoughts that upset us, and start being happy again. That doesn’t mean we forget and thus allow ourselves to be actively hurt again by the same person. It doesn’t mean that we make up some excuse for their actions, either, thereby devaluing our own emotions. Whatever caused our hurt, our hurt is real and must be acknowledged. That’s the integral part of the equation. We acknowledge we’re incredibly angry and upset. We forgive ourselves for feeling this. We then focus on the guilty party. We must forgive them if we are to stop feeling the urge to take revenge, if we are to free our thoughts for better things. How to do it? First, be absolutely clear that you are not excusing the behaviour by the act of forgiveness. We said this before, the first step is to make sure the person never gets the chance to do it again. Second, imagine not that you have to be nice to the guilty person, but rather that your act of forgiveness is simultaneously a kind of dismissal. I forgive you and now let you go… out of my thoughts… out of my life… you have no power over me any more. You cannot hurt me any more. Understand? They need never know they are forgiven, and if the subject ever comes up, you may say that they are forgiven, but that you don’t wish to see them again, or don’t wish to see them until further notice, or whatever you decide is appropriate. The point is that you reclaim your emotions and take action to protect yourself. You must remember that by showing the guilty party your indifference, you are denying them the possible satisfaction of seeing you hurt (because truthfully, there are people out there who just love having the power to emotionally bully others). Third, and final point: whether the hurt was intentionally caused and aimed at you personally, or not, you must not allow it to affect how you feel about yourself. This is a key component of forgiveness. Take rejection, for instance. You could think a potential partner has rejected you because of something you did, because you don’t offer something he really wants. It could be true, but does that mean you should feel bad about yourself? Hell no! The truth is, you are still you, even if perhaps at times you lost your mind a little… you are still a worthwhile person, with a lot to offer. The fact that someone else doesn’t value you enough, is not sufficient ground to decide you are not worhtwhile as a person, now is it? It just means he is incapable of seeing you and appreciating you for you. I believe that when we can get our thoughts back on track and start to feel good about who we are again, we will no longer feel rejected, instead we will feel sadness for what could have been and pity for the poor sod who missed out on our company! When you finally reach that point in the analysis and when your emotions are no longer dwelling on anger and resentment, you will be able to truly forgive the poor, unfortunate guilty person, and be free to move on with your life, unencumbered, unaffected and that much wiser. Make sense?

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