My personal and professional experience is that forgiveness doesn’t stop real-world bullies. Most people think forgiveness consists of two things:
- Some surge of feelings that makes us more kindly disposed toward a person who has injured us, whether intentionally or not. Words in dictionaries include:
- A thawing or understanding, caring, sympathy, empathy, compassion, pity, pardoning, clemency, mercy, kindness and benevolence and
- A letting go of anger, resentment, the desire to punish, vindictiveness and revenge.
- Putting ourselves back into the same situation with that bully to show that we trust him not to take advantage of us or harm us.
Many people are addicted to those wonderful feelings of forgiveness. They feel morally superior and spiritually advanced.
Indeed, when our hearts open up, a bridge of good will and good behavior can be created. The other person may be genuinely sorry for their behavior and won’t do it again. If possible, amends can be made with a reciprocal flow of open-heartedness. Subsequent interactions can be founded on charity and caring.
There have even been documented cases in which parents have forgiven the murderer of their child, and the murderer was transformed and spent the rest of his life making amends and teaching others about the bond of caring that can exist between all humans.
Real-world bullies – relentless, narcissistic control-freaks; mean, nasty, emotional manipulators and blackmailers; taunting, harassing, abusive predators – don’t stop because we forgive them. Indeed, they interpret forgiveness, understanding and caring just like they interpret unconditional love – as signs of weakness and invitations to increase bullying and take advantage of us more.
I think of forgiveness in a totally different way. When we’ve forgiven someone, they don’t occupy much space in our thoughts and lives. We simply don’t think about them much.
If we observe people carefully, we can see that we usually get to that place of forgiveness when we’re confident that we’ve met two conditions:
- We know that we’re protected from that bully; we have the awareness and skill so that we won’t let them harm us again.
- We also want to see them make amends that require effort and sacrifice. It’s not enough that they apologize or promise they’ll never do it again. Talk is cheap; it’s too easy to say, “Sorry” one time. We want to see acts that make amends over time.
Also, our confidence is not about whether or not the bully has transformed and won’t hurt us again. We’re simply confident in our own abilities. Then we can stop obsessing on the incidents of abuse and bullying, and focus on what we want to do in our lives.
Our previous obsession with the pain of bullying was simply motivation, a strong reminder that we don’t want to experience that ever again. Once we’re sure ourselves, we no longer need to revisit the painful incident to remind us to be prepared.
But how about the idea of putting ourselves back into the same situation again to show forgiveness? Nonsense. Although we can see the spirit of goodness within each person, that’s not what we get to deal with in the physical world. We get to deal with their personality and ego.
Before we trust someone and allow them in our lives, we should observe them in many situations, time after time. We should observe their behavior, not the reasons, excuses and justifications for their actions. We should permit them to move closer by small steps.
Personally, if the pain caused by the bully was great, I don’t want them in my life again, no matter how much they want to continue and promise they’ve changed. We can go our separate ways. I can observe from a distance and after 20-30 years I might change my mind about interacting.
There are many processes we can use to reach that level of determination and skill.
Because I’ve seen so many sneaky, manipulative, toxic parents who, after a lifetime of battering and spurning their children, get old and want those children to serve them. The parents now admit they were wrong and insist that the children take them back and cater to their wishes. The emotional blackmail is, “If you were a truly forgiving person, you’d be understanding and kind, and care for us now.” But these toxic parents don’t stop bullying their children. They’re merely narcissistic, control-freaks demanding or blackmailing or using guilt to get what they want.
Why put yourself in harm’s way? Let these bullies practice being transformed on other people’s bodies. Watch them from a distance for 20-30 years to see if they’re sincere and can keep their promises.
But let’s go back and ask, “What if you’ve forgiven the murderer of your child, but the murderer wasn’t transformed by your forgiveness?” You’ve lost nothing. The murderer is still behind bars, I hope forever or awaiting the death penalty, and you’re still on the outside. Nothing will bring your child back so you might as well think only rarely of the murderer and think often of your child and how you want to live now.
Self-forgiveness is akin to this, but it’ll be the subject of another article.
You choose which way of looking at forgiveness you want; which criteria you’ll follow before you forgive. Which way gives us the kind of life we want: to feel spiritually advanced and get taken advantage of repeatedly or to keep bullies out of our internal and external worlds?
Of course, your plan must fit you, your family and the situation. With expert coaching and consulting, we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules that aren’t appropriate to our desire to thrive in the real-world.