March 30, 2013

It took me a long time to realize what true forgiveness meant.  I had people in my life who led me to believe that forgiveness equaled tolerance of intolerable behavior. 

I thought that part of being forgiving was to allow myself to be mistreated. 

It took a long time for me to learn that you can forgive someone while holding firm to your own personal boundaries.  You don’t have to be a doormat to be forgiving.

You can forgive someone while also distancing yourself from bad behavior. 

A good friend of mine who also happens to be a therapist once told me, “Sara, if she makes you feel icky, then you don’t have to maintain a friendship with her.” 

(I’m pretty sure the word ‘icky’ is a technical therapeutic term.)

This may seem like common sense to some, but for me this was a serious light bulb moment.  I applied this new reality to several relationships.  I did some major housekeeping.  

I learned that I owe people respect and honesty, but not at the expense of myself.  

It’s okay to say, “You don’t treat me very well, and I forgive you for that.  But I’m not going to put up with it anymore.”  

Sometimes it helps to say it to the person.  But you don’t owe people who mistreat you any explanation. 

You only have to say it to yourself, to give your heart the peace it needs to move on. 

At that point, if the relationship is worth saving he or she will do what is necessary to save it. 

Respect and honesty go two ways.  You deserve it as much as anybody else. 

If the other person isn’t willing to do his or her part, then it probably wasn’t the best place for you to be anyway.

It’s okay to pass the responsibility of other people’s bad behavior back to them.  It isn’t your job to rescue people from themselves. 

After I purged myself of toxic relationships, I still had one more person to forgive.

I had to forgive myself.  And it was by far the hardest.

Nobody forced me to expose myself to mistreatment.  I made a choice – sometimes conscious, sometimes not – to spend time with people who were less than nice to me and others.

I knew their behavior was wrong, and I let it happen.  I couldn’t blame anyone but myself for those years I spent as a victim.

This was the bitterest pill to swallow.  The truth is, I’m still struggling to get it down.

On the bad days, I want to bang my head against a wall and say, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” 

I wonder still why I chose to ignore all the darkness around me for so long.

On the good days, I love me in spite of myself. I look in the mirror and see someone who is worthy of love and happiness. 

I look around at all the wonderful, positive people in my world, and I’m proud of the life I’ve built.

And thankfully, it’s almost always a good day.

This article first appeared in the Lewistown News-Argus and the Sidney (Mont.) Herald on March 30, 2013.