Ever notice how quickly, and emphatically, other people are to chime in about how we “should” relate to people who have hurt us?
“You should forgive them.” “You should cut them out.” “You should understand their side of the story.” “You should report them to the police.”
When people offer us advice, of course, they usually have our best interests in mind, or at least they think they do. The people who tell us how to handle it when we’ve been hurt range from family members, to friends, to professional colleagues, to strangers on the Internet.
Make no mistake: I’m personally extremely grateful that so many of us have people in our lives who care about our well-being. The fact that people care about us enough to offer us recommendations on how to manage our lives in such a way that minimizes the chances of future pain? That’s extraordinary. Many of these peoples’ hearts are in the right places.
But the fact remains, however: none of those people is you.
None of those people have to live with the decisions you make every day in quite the same way you have to live with them. (They may have to live with some of the attendant consequences, but only you have to wake up with and go to sleep with yourself every morning and night.)
For that matter, many of the people who are offering us advice on how to respond when someone has hurt us, are responding to their own history, their own truths, and their own fears.
I, personally, don’t know how you should relate to the specific people in your unique life who have hurt you. Because I’m not you.
I pretty much know one thing when it comes to this: whatever you choose to do, your health and protection have to be your top priority.
The only decision that is “wrong” when it comes to relating to people who have hurt you, is a decision that invites and allows that hurt to continue.
Beyond that, the issue of what “should” you do in relationships that have a pattern of having been hurtful in the past is complicated. Don’t let anyone try to tell you differently, either— while we wish things were easily sorted into black and white categories for easy decision-making, as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, reality tends to be a little more complex than that.
Should you “forgive” someone who has hurt you?
That’s not a question that has a blanket answer. Not many people can even agree on what “forgiveness” entails. Many people associate religious overtones and teachings with the concept of “forgiveness.” Many people reject the concept altogether as giving a “free pass” to people who have behave unacceptably.
The thing is: if you’re committed to building healthy self-esteem, it’s up to you to thoughtfully, deliberately determine what YOUR best choice is when it comes to forgiveness.
Your self-esteem absolutely notices when you forfeit the obligation to think, and substitute other peoples’ views and values in place of your own.
Your self-esteem also notices when you stay in the fight, and continue to take on the burden of thinking and making decisions, even when the subject matter is hard, uncomfortable, or awkward.
Your self-esteem definitely notices when you’re making decisions that either allow you to continue to get hurt, as part of a predictable pattern; or when you make decisions that protect you.
It’s hard to “esteem” yourself when you’re not protecting yourself.
It’s hard to “esteem” yourself when you turn a blind eye to the reality of relationships.
Many people feel very strongly about “forgiveness.” So much so that they’ll go out of their way to convince you that their view is not only correct, but essential to you living a good life.
Their view of “forgiveness” may or may not be consistent with your own view; and “forgiving” someone may or may not be the thing to do in any given situation. But the point is, whatever you end up doing, it’s incredibly important to your emotional well-being that the decision be one that YOU made— not one you were pressured into, even with the best intentions.
Some questions I find useful include: what does “forgiveness” mean to me, specifically?
What would it be like if I chose to “forgive” this person?
Can I, personally, move on without “forgiving” this person?
Does “forgiving” this person feel right?
Does “forgiving” this person feel safe?
Does “forgiving” this person create any kind of “loophole” that might allow them to hurt me again?
Those aren’t easy questions. For anyone, really.
But it’s by asking the tough questions that we build self-esteem in the real world.
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