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Why I Choose Boundaries Over Forgiveness

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.


For the past three years, I have been deconstructing how forgiveness shows up in my life. The relentless ties only left me feeling less than, not good enough, resentful and left me with people-pleasing codependency. Follow me as I explain why I no longer choose forgiveness, but rather setting better boundaries in all my relationships, and how that set me free.

Recently, I had one of my husband’s longtime friends laugh at me when I told them you don’t need to forgive to heal. But rather you need trauma work to heal and to learn to set better boundaries. They’d made the comments:

“Well, maybe you’re just not ready to forgive.”

“Forgiveness isn’t for them it’s for you.”

“Just give it more time, that person’s really changed.”

I wasn’t able to continue the conversation due to the laughter, and at that moment, I chose to place a better boundary rather than to continue.

You know what? That friend never asked why. Why do I choose boundaries over forgiveness?

Allow me to share my five reasons why I choose boundaries over forgiveness:

1. Living in the present, not the past.

A common misconception victim-shamers like to tell us is we need to stop living in the past.

“Oh, that happened such a long time ago.”

“You should be over that by now.”

“But they’re your family”

These are phrases that come to mind. Just because I no longer forgive doesn’t mean I live in the past. I’m fully present and mindful of the many blessings living in the now brings. I’m not holding onto any grudges, but rather holding a boundary. I’m no longer holding onto past resentments, shame or guilt. What holding a boundary does for me is it allows me to fully accept the person for who they are and not who I want them to be. It’s total acceptance.

2. Religion.

Religion has been used to silence the abused and harbor the abuser. From my childhood trauma, religion was used daily in controlling my behavior. Whether it was in the parochial school I attended, in the youth group I went to weekly, at the grocery store where I saw people who knew my family or at home.

Shame, guilt and fear are also common tactics that are used to make the abused “fall in line” with the forgiveness narrative. Threats of, “I’m going to hell,” etc. are also made. The many “ifs” in scripture. “If I don’t do ABC, then I won’t be forgiven by God.” To me, it’s manipulative and controlling basic human emotions. I know now from my relationship with God He doesn’t function out of a place of fear, guilt or shame, but rather it’s the broken system that is the church that spews the forgiveness narrative and the people who perpetuate it.

3. Blame through shared responsibility.

Shared responsibility: Once you accept to offer forgiveness, regardless if it’s for yourself or the other person, toxic individuals will use your forgiveness against you.

I used to get mad when people used to use my forgiveness against me to continue to harm. This tactic is used to make you feel like the relationship fails because of shared responsibility. When, in fact, you never had a chance to make it at all. In turn, the blame gets shifted over to you as if you’re the one who inflicted the trauma instead of the abuser. Like the reason why the abuse keeps happening is because of something you did.

At some point, the victim gets tired of living in the cycle. The cycle gets predictable. It’s obvious they don’t want to change and forgiveness is to buy time.

4. Toxic positivity.

“Oh, it didn’t look that bad.”

“But it made you stronger.”

“There are two sides to every story.”

Or, my personal favorite:

“Without it you wouldn’t be who you are today.”

These are oh-too-common phrases used to minimize and dismiss trauma. Most people are not asking you to fix anything, but rather be with them safely after their experience.

By using an obligatory positive outlook on life, it fundamentally encourages a person to be silent and internalize their struggles. This manifests a negative connection with how we view difficult emotions. The more we withdraw from our boundaries, the more we reinforce our perceived helplessness to experience these times of emotional reactions. Therefore, when negative emotions happen by an individual who uses toxic positivity, they are more likely to experience shame associated with feeling them.

5. Moral high ground.

Those who can be forgiving are often viewed as people taking the moral high ground. Many times, we see them as peacemakers.

When victim-shamers deflect your pain with sayings like, “You’re acting from a place of hurt, you’re bitter or just be the bigger person,” it’s not because your pain is not valid, but that they are uncomfortable and cannot sit in it themselves.

I believe most of the time, forgiving others is a total lie. It is not real.

We all can put on a fake façade. We sloppily project our insecurities on others, transform the lies into a livable truth and live a fake life. We are deceiving ourselves first, then we bring others along for the ride. It takes effort to become real again.

At the end of the day, no amount of therapy, morning meditation, religious bypassing or toxic positivity was able to fully pull me out of the nosedive I’d spiral into every time I realized forgiveness just wasn’t going to come.

Because when we are wounded, no one else can measure what thwarts our threshold of unforgivable, and only we can decide if forgiveness will help or hurt. Ditching the forgiveness narrative and adopting boundary setting has set me free from hurt, shame, guilt and anxiety. And opened me up to much healthier relationships, not only with myself, but with those around me.

Disclaimer: Abusive relationships are complex filled with trauma bonding. Experiences do differ, especially when resources are considered. This is in no way a victim-blaming post, but a post to get people to reflect on how forgiveness can be used as a tool to continue to hurt them.

Getty image by Atlas Studio

Originally published: May 28, 2021
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