May 6, 2014

Being Forgiving vs. Being a Doormat.

Photo: Denis Burin on Pixoto.

Recently, it occurred to me that “forgiveness” holds many different meanings.

Much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is forgiveness.

I experienced this a few months ago when I wrote a piece about how I had forgiven a former friend, but decided against welcoming them back into my life. More than a few people responded to my article saying I had not really forgiven. I disagreed.

Likewise, I have had more than a few people say that when it comes to the topic of forgiveness, they are “not a doormat.” As a close friend of mine said, “There are some things that are just not forgivable.”

All the above led to the question:

What difference is there between being forgiving vs. being a doormat? Is there one? If so, what is the line between the two?

Like many things in life, there isn’t a clear-cut answer. Ultimately, it depends on both the situation and the people involved.

Forgiveness doesn’t always mean we have to acknowledge that we are okay with the person or situation in question. 

Several years ago when I was in my late teens, I was a member of a support group of childhood sexual abuse survivors. I was amazed at how many of the members said they had forgiven their abusers.

As someone who at the time could not even comprehend forgiving my abuser, I asked them how they dealt with their anger and pain. Most said that it was still there.

However, one woman clarified for the group, by forgiving, they didn’t seek to justify or downplay what had happened to them. Rather, they came to realize that their abusers were very disturbed individuals who had engaged in some downright evil behavior. But, that didn’t mean they were necessarily evil themselves or were the sum of their worst actions. I thought this concept was powerful then, and still do.

Years later, I met a man whose former partner left him for another man (a friend of theirs), after withdrawing all of the money out of their mutual savings account. When I commented that I didn’t know if I could have ever forgiven such a thing, he replied, “I did. What other choice did I have?” However, he also made it clear that under no circumstances did he ever wish to have her back in his life.

Still, everyone is different. It might be okay to allow people who have hurt us back into our lives if we know they won’t hurt us again. However, we go from being forgiving to becoming doormats when we allow toxic people back into our lives, who haven’t changed and aren’t going to amend their ways. (Granted, sometimes it can be hard to see certain signs, but that is another topic entirely.)

In the end, the question of whether or not we are allowing ourselves to be walked over and taken advantage of is very much like the question of whether to forgive or not: it’s up to each of us. However, most of us have a gut feeling when we are being used. We should not ignore our instincts. The truth is, all of us can forgive even the most unforgivable of things. However, what we chose to do next is up to us.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Denis Burin on Pixoto.


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