Why Forgiveness and Boundaries Go Hand-in Hand

Learning how to set boundaries can be an essential part of forgiveness.

Fear of getting hurt again is a big reason people don’t forgive. They use anger to protect themselves. The problem is, holding onto anger is toxic.  It hurts you, far more than it hurts the other person, and it ends up binding you to the person who hurt you. 

An alternative approach is to protect yourself with boundaries, instead of anger. Then you can take care of yourself, and forgive.  This way you reap the benefits of forgiveness and avoid the toxicity of anger.

For many of us, boundaries are a foreign concept. We weren’t taught about boundaries.  We don’t know what they are or how to establish them. We certainly didn’t have good role models. Instead, we learned to accommodate other people and put their needs above our own. That’s fine up to a point. But, when we find ourselves being treated poorly by others, it may indicate that our boundaries are weak or non-existent.

We need to learn that our needs matter. We need to know that we deserve to be treated well by others. We need to get clear about what’s ok for us, and what is not ok. And we need to learn how to speak up for ourselves.

The essence of a boundary is “here is what is ok with me, and here is what isn’t ok with me.”  You have a right to set boundaries.  In fact, it’s your job to set clear boundaries — to let others know what is ok with you and what is not ok — and stick to them. 

So, what do healthy boundaries look like?  Here are some examples:

  • It is not my job to fix others.
  • It is okay if others feel angry, but it’s not okay for anyone to lash out at me.
  • It is okay for me to say no.
  • I’m not responsible for how others feel.
  • I don’t have to anticipate the needs of others.
  • My needs matter.
  • Nobody has to agree with me.
  • I have a right to my own feelings.

Forgiveness can be combined with a range of possible boundaries, depending on what would have you feel safe and protected from being hurt again. For example:

  • You may feel the need to sever contact with the person.  
  • You might need to take a break. In this case, you might want to let the other person know you are working on finding peace and ask them to respect your space. Tell them you will let them know when/if you are ready to resume contact, and it might be in small ways at first. This approach can reduce stress, because both of you will then know what to expect, and it allows you to take small steps (when you’re ready) to see if you can re-establish trust.
  • You might choose to continue in a relationship with a clear boundary — i.e., “this behavior is unacceptable to me and if it happens again, we’re done” — provided you are 100% committed to following through, if the boundary is crossed.

The point is, when it come to forgiveness, it’s not necessary or wise to put yourself at risk. But you do need to be very clear in setting boundaries with the person who hurt you.  Doing so is an act of self-love, self-care, and empowerment.



About Eileen Barker

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