Forgiveness: Setting Boundaries

Setting  boundaries is essential for healthy relationships, for being able to forgive others, and for being able to come to reconciliation with people who have hurt us, if that is possible and desirable.   An inability to forgive can point to where an unhealthy boundary needs attention, and usually the boundary is unhealthy because of a false ingrained belief.  A false belief is any belief that puts us into conflict with the way Life really is.  (See the essay, Letting Life Come as It Comes for more explanation.) So called negative feelings like anger that continue to be unresolved can point to an unhealthy boundary.  Instead of berating ourselves for being unforgiving when we’ve truly been doing the work to resolve our hurt feelings, it may be time to look for boundary violations and see if there is something our discomfort and unforgiveness are pointing to.

As a simple example of how anger points to boundary violations, my husband and I had a petsitter several years ago who watched our cats while we were out of town.  She would repeatedly leave our grand piano open, (which the cats loved to play in) even though I asked her to close the lid when she was finished.  We came home after a trip to find the piano left open yet again.  I was furious.  Before my first complaint could come out of my mouth, my husband calmly told me that we would find a new sitter.  Immediately my anger disappeared because there was no longer reason to be angry.  Now, if I had continued to stew over it at that point, I would have been completely stuck in victim consciousness.  It’s important to ask ourselves often if we are playing victim.  If we are not, and we are still angry, look to beliefs and boundaries.

One of the most common beliefs I have seen my clients’ deal with is the belief that Family sticks together no matter what.  Usually this belief also has a set of expectations along with it, such as we must spend major holidays together, or we will ignore the way things really are to keep up the appearance of having a successful family, or we will work toward Reconciliation at all costs.  Unlike a petsitter, we cannot just fire our family and hire a new one.  How do we handle setting good boundaries with our family?

One of my clients had been living with the belief, Family sticks together no matter what, for most of his life.  Some of his proudest moments had come about because he had followed that belief; he had been there for family when they had needed him.  Members of his family had done foolish things and had caused him and others pain, but his suffering was not important.  (See the essay, The Giving Persona for more explanation around his personality type.)   He had been married to the woman of his dreams for a few years, and he was very happy and looking forward to his own family.  However, his wife did not live by the same belief.  She came from a family where she had to maintain firm boundaries with certain members of her family in order to honor both herself and them.  She had learned the hard lesson that family sticking together no matter what didn’t always work. 

My client was pleased that his wife and his sister had formed a close relationship.  But then the wife began to notice a tendency in the sister to not take responsibility for herself in emotionally difficult situations.  (See the essay, The Importance of Feeling Feelings for why we must deal with emotionally difficult feelings or compromise our health.) For my client, he was able to ignore such incidences because of his family belief system.  At one point my client’s sister behaved badly toward his wife and was unwilling to apologize or deal with the bad feelings generated by her behavior.  For his sister, her attitude was that she must be forgiven because that was what family did for each other, and it was time to move on.  Since this was the way it had always been done, she didn’t see what the problem was. When his wife insisted on dealing with what had happened,  the sister refused, telling his wife that she was ruining the family and that the wife had the problem, not her.  The sister then continued with the same relationship with the couple, even though both my client and his wife objected.  The sister’s belief of family sticks together no matter what was so ingrained that she dismissed their objections until both my client and his wife cut her off completely in order to be taken seriously.

Even though my client felt he had to stop communicating with his sister,  his family programming told him that the proper way to act was to forgive his sister unconditionally and move on with the way things had always been.  While intellectually he understood that his sister was too emotionally dissociated for his wife to be comfortable around, his belief led him to expect his wife to ignore her feelings and have at least a superficial relationship anyway.  (See the essay, Dealing with Emotional Dissociation for more explanation around emotional dissociation and its affects on others.)  His wife enacted strong boundaries with him, insisting that she would not compromise her emotional health for anyone, including him.  He thought that choosing to have a relationship with his sister while honoring his wife’s choice would end his inner turmoil, but instead, it increased.  The belief, family sticks together no matter what, and his Giving Persona were contradicting his basic beliefs around the right and wrong treatment of others, the right of his wife to choose her relationships, and his lost respect for and disappointment in his sister.  He alternated amongst being angry at his wife for not smoothing things over, being angry at himself for thinking she should do so, and being angry at his sister for her emotional immaturity.  On top of this his Giving Persona made him feel like a failure for not being able to make everyone happy.  Because his wife didn’t share his family programming, and they were both committed to a conscious marriage, he had the support to discover that his belief was just a belief, not necessarily a fact.  For him, the discomfort pointed to where he had a false belief. 

When he did the work of dismantling the belief (we worked with Byron Katie’s material, and did Soul Retrieval, Power Animal Retrieval, Cord Cutting, and removed a Generational Imprint) he was able to make a new decision about his extended family without the old pulls that were causing him and his wife suffering. (His wife had ongoing resentment toward both him and his sister—pointing to a leak in their couple’s boundary with the extended family.)  In his case, he chose to have an extremely limited relationship with his sister without feeling previous guilt, while continuing a distant relationship with other relatives.  Most importantly his inner conflict and the pulls from his Giving Persona vanished; he was not moved by his sister’s objections and unhappiness with the new relationship rules.  As a result, his marriage became even more stable, he claimed he felt like a man for the first time, and his wife’s resentment magically disappeared.  For both of them, they were able to move forward with their marriage with new beliefs that served them better than the old.  Forgiving the sister became a non-issue; the soul lesson they took away from their experience was around the necessary boundaries and priority that needed to be in place in order to have a container for a happy marriage.

It’s important to note here that forgiving the sister happened naturally for both the husband and the wife once my client accepted what his sister was really like, and accepted that neither his sister nor his wife needed to change.  No interaction with the sister was necessary for this shift to occur.  In my client’s case, he decided to have no significant relationship with the sister unless it became apparent that she had dealt with her emotional dissociation and could honestly work toward a reconciliation in which all parties could be free of resentments.  Although he told his sister how he felt and why the relationship stood the way it did, he did not expect her to change. 

Other outcomes, given different personalities and emotional maturity might have been possible.  If his wife had been willing and his sister had been able, the three of them could have attempted reconciliation.  He could have chosen to completely cut off his sister as he did at first, if that was really necessary to maintain a good boundary.  In the end, each couple must rely on their own feelings to help guide them to boundaries that serve them best.  It’s important that boundaries honor who each person is.  False beliefs always lead to judgments of how relationships should be.  Dismantling beliefs lead to acceptance of how each person is, and to healthy boundaries and happy relationships.

 

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11 Responses to Forgiveness: Setting Boundaries

  1. John oconnor says:

    Thank you for this article! It was reaffirming to hear and pertinent to my family dynamics. Thank you again!

  2. Ingrid says:

    This was about something quite complex and well written. I can apply it in my own life to a different situation. In my case, I have always visited my sister and sent presents to her children (they are now late teens/20s) and had Christmas at her place and made a fuss over her kids. I have always been resentful that she doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate or visit me and has ignored my son’s birthdays and does not talk to him when she sees him. Things came to a head when she visited our mother (who had just moved to 2 doors from me) but wouldn’t cross the road to my house, rather she sent my mother over to ask me if I would like to come and visit her at her holiday accommodation which was a 40min drive away (!!). As I had bought this house 5 years ago I had been really excited to show her (it is a heritage house and uber cool – she is an architect ) When she finally did come over for a visit, I was completely full of resentment and hurting and the whole thing was very uncomfortable and awkward. After her visit, I emailed her to say that I no longer wanted her to be the guardian of my son were I to die, and she said she had forgotten she was and she wouldn’t want to be his guardian anyway. Anyhow I was massively hurt as you can imagine, even though probably I had been in denial for years about my sister’s disinterest in me or my family. I think this article has helped me see that we are operating on different belief systems and that the way I see things isn’t necessarily right. Just because I want her to care, doesn’t mean that she will and possibly she doesn’t see that she has done anything wrong or even offensive. She may feel that she was just stating her views and setting her boundaries. I might be hurt that her concept of family does not include me, but I guess I need to get over it. I need to find a way forward in forgiving her but at the same time, I need to put proper boundaries in place for myself & my family. I already find that I have no desire to visit her and given that it is more likely that she will come this way, I think having the boundary that she may not visit me at my house is also acceptable, given that she has acknowledged that she has no interest in my son. It is OK for me to guard what is precious to me and not allow people into my house who do not respect this. This article was helpful as I think it is possible to forgive and at the same time, have boundaries. I guess really understanding the belief systems and accepting difference is what it is all about. Still, I need to work on feeling some warmth to her in my heart again, as I can’t imagine talking to her ever again – though I may have to if Mum gets sick, guess I can do it by email. Yeah so I still have a bit of work to do there. 😉

    • Elaine says:

      Dear Ingrid,

      I am so sorry that you are in such a painful relationship with your sister. I agree, setting some boundaries with her and accepting that she doesn’t want to be involved with you as you do with her is a good thing for you. I highly encourage you to read my books, starting with the Empath and the Archetypal Drama Triangle. You and your sister are stuck in a painful pattern, and I think if you had a better understanding of what the pattern was, you could spot yourself in it before it plays out in the painful way that it does. Less suffering and more freedom for you is a good thing! You may want to read the rest of the books too–the last book is about family systems in which there is a psychic garbage pail and a narcissist, and how to get yourself out of such a painful dynamic.

      Wish you the best of luck, and sending you a big hug!
      Elaine

  3. Lisa says:

    My husband has been having an affair with my friend for 3 years. I recently found out all the gory details and we are now divorced and they have started “dating”. I am trying to move past the anger, pain and deception. I sat him down and explained to him that what he did was wrong, but I forgive him. I think I did it too soon because now he texts me all the time wants to go to soccer games games together with my step-son, have family dinners etc. I want to truly forgive him and also be a part of my step-sons life, however I am still angry at my ex-husband and feel like he stills controls me and acts like we should all be one happy family. How do I set boundaries with him and truly forgive at the same time? Thank you

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Lisa,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the affair and the ending of your marriage. Of course you are still angry, and you should honor your feelings and where you are at. While it is commendable for you to want to forgive him, and I do encourage you to keep moving toward that, what you have gone through is a tremendous betrayal of your trust by two people, not just one, who are important to you in your life.

      Your husband sounds like he wants to smooth things over as fast as possible and not deal with the real consequences of betrayal. His act of being one happy family is not realistic–it’s something that doesn’t usually happen, and you shouldn’t feel forced or guilted into acting that out just so he will be OK with himself. You do have a child that you raised together, however, so it’s important to look at how much you are willing to do for your step-son and his comfort. However, I wonder how bizarre this is for this child. I would instead focus on what you are willing to do for your relationship with your step-son, and then check in and see how costly this is to yourself.

      This is such a tricky situation when children are involved. It would be so much easier to set a boundary of never seeing your husband and your girlfriend ever again and doing the work to forgive from afar. The important thing here is to honor your feelings, and to feel like you are making the best choice for yourself so you stay out of the Victim vibration as much as possible. (If that doesn’t make sense, please read my first book on the Drama Triangle.)

      I hope that you are seeing a counselor so that you have someone to talk to about how your relationship with your husband played out. It’s important to look at your relationships and see if there are patterns there that can help you avoid such painful setups in the future. Let me know if you have more questions.

      much love,
      Elaine

  4. Ingrid says:

    Thanks for your reply Elaine. I must admit that I find all your comments and blogs very perceptive and it feels like you are strong on empowering people even if they may have to deal with uncomfortable things. In regards to your books, I imagine that many people have found them valuable. However I do not go along with the physical stuff that you have mentioned on your site, like sea salt soak or kosher salt soak, rescue remedy and using a version of florida water – it’s just not stuff that I am into and it would feel false/contrived for me to go along with these rituals for the sake of following your book’s recommendations – and it is not something that I would want to do. I respect/acknowledge that you have different beliefs around with this, but I wonder how useful this book could be to someone like myself who does not share ALL of your beliefs ?

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Ingrid,

      I think you will find my books helpful–my books concentrate mainly on relationships and how archetypes set us up for many of the painful patterns we find ourselves in. If you found the articles and blog helpful, you’ll most likely find the books helpful, too. The second book in the series does talk about shamanic energy work and how soul retrieval and underworld work can help shift some of these ingrained patterns that my clients were unable to shift with counseling or therapy. It’s another tool in the toolbox of personal transformation and healing–but certainly not for everyone. My books do not make recommendations–they mainly concentrate on descriptions and examples of how the Empath tends to relate and behave in relationships that might get the Empath into painful situations. There is no requirement to take a salt bath or do a fire ceremony if you read my book. 🙂 I hope that helps! Let me know if you have questions. But in short–if you like my articles and blog, you’ll get about the same with my books, just more in depth.

      xoxo
      Elaine

  5. Jennifer says:

    Almost two years ago, my brother exposed himself to me while my sister was 5ft away. I left their home angry. My brother in law lied three times about the incident to my sister when confronted and asked why he did it. He eventually stated he did it because he was angry with me. This incident was just one of many over the course of their relationship. Because of his actions she questioned my integrity and morals. My sister and I had a big blowout last January. I told her that I was not willing to have him be a part of my life anymore but was will to work on our relationship. She said she was ok with it. However, two nights ago we had the same argument again. She doesn’t understand that I would feel uncomfortable being around him. She says I just need to be civil but that would involve spending time in his company. I’m at the point where I don’t want her in my life if she can’t see where I’m coming from and is willing to move forward. Any suggestions?

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I’m so sorry you are having so much trouble with your sister and her husband. Of course it is understandable that you would want nothing to do with him after such a violation. Has he ever apologized directly to you, or explained himself to you with her present? Is there anything he could do to make it right between you? If not, then you know where you stand–that your relationship with him is done. Then you can focus on your relationship with your sister. Does she believe this incident really occurred? Does she think that you should just ignore it, and if so, what’s her reasoning? If she expects you to be civil to him despite your not wanting to have anything to do with him, and you choose not to be around him, then you may not be able to have the relationship you want with your sister. That is painful, and it will be hard for both of you to adjust to that. I’d suggest, if it is possible, to find out more of what she is thinking. She is in a lose-lose situation–she has spousal loyalty and sister-loyalty in conflict here. I hope you can achieve more clarity with your sister.

      hugs!
      Elaine

  6. Linda says:

    Hi Elaine, thank you for writing this. It reaffirmed something that’s been on my mind in regards to my family situation. But I’m a bit confused about how to apply it to the situation at work and was hoping you can help me clarify.. I’ve been struggling with moving on from forgiving a coworker/ex-best friend. She did many things that was hurtful. More like said many things behind my back due to jealousy. I had told her about it that I found out and it was very disappointing and hurtful . She apologized, only to do it over again. The second time I found out, I simply wrote her an email (didn’t think it was worth it for both of us to meet up and talk about it again), letting her know I know what happened. I apologize for being quiet around her at work because I simply didn’t have much to say anymore. I was also quiet as that’s my learned responses growing up to shut away when I am hurt. At the end of the letter I simply said thank you for your friendship and the memories. She read the letter and since then ignored me and was passive aggressive for a year. Never responded a word. We work in health care field. She did many things that upsetted me including walking away from a patient in need when I step into the room. She could not bare being in the room with me. Now she’s moved on from that, what I struggle to move on is how she would behave differently towards me in front of people. Depending on who she’s around, she’d acts friendly towards me so people don’t notice what’s really going on. Otherwise, she’d completely ignore me. I really dislike fake people, and the fact that she’d compromise patient care because she knows she can get away with it. It’s unprofessional, and that also bothers me a lot too. I feel if it were someone that I had no close relationship prior it would not bother me so much, at most I’d be irritated but definately not personal. I keep our relationship professional. Interact only as necessary. But I feel bad when I catch myself keeping bitterness when I see certain behaviors of hers.

    How can I move on from this? Is it because of boundaries issue too? Or is it just something I need to let go..

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Linda,

      I’m so sorry you are dealing with this relationship. It sounds very painful and confusing. First, though, I want to ask you how you would deal with someone in general that compromised patient care who wasn’t a friend or former friend. Would you normally report it to your superior? To her superior? To HR? What is the professional route for that situation? Because if you did not take the professional route when it came to that patient, you did not to truly act professionally. That is your responsibility to that patient. While your friend may see it as vindictive and punishing on your part, that is too bad for her. She obviously feels that her hurt feelings matter more than putting someone in her care in jeopardy, and that is beyond selfish and immature. If it is true that you work in a place that would let her get away with such behavior, that isn’t a place you should work, and no patient would want to visit!

      Yes, this is both a boundary issue and something to let go. It’s also important to understand and to work out the game being played here. Once you understand her game and your part in reacting to it, then you can decide whether you want to continue playing or not. From what you describe she sounds very manipulative and passive aggressive. She sounds like she gains a sense of power by spreading gossip and holding weaker people hostage with her “fake” behavior.

      Why would you want to be friends with this person? It sounds like you made the right decision in giving her the boot. While it is too bad that you can’t physically separate yourself from her, every day you do get to see that you made the right decision. What I would suggest examining is why you were drawn in in the first place, and why you feel bad at the bitterness you feel. Let’s examine the bitterness further. Are you bitter because you were taken in by such a manipulator? because she’s punishing you? because she’s exerting such power over you? What’s the all about? Anyone will feel disappointed and hurt by this behavior–why the long term hurt? It’s almost like there is more going on there (perhaps from a pattern with friends and family) that is fueling hanging on to this relationship.

      It’s important to examine the pattern of relationship, too. Is this something that she tends to do with her friends? Have you heard from others about this kind of blown up relationship? Did she complain about other friends that didn’t treat her right? Because that would indicate that you aren’t the only one. At the same time you want to look at your own pattern in relationships, too. You said you already know that you have a pattern of being quiet and withdrawing when hurt. That can also be seen as controlling and passive aggressive by others, although usually Empaths do it out of being emotionally overwhelmed rather than as an overt way of control.

      There’s so much to explore here–let me know what you get. The key to breaking free of this (and any pattern that could be making it repeat in your life) is to find the emotional hook that keeps you playing out the hurt. It could be from the current relationship, and old relationship, or even an old family chilldhood wound. Use this as an opportunity to explore your inner landscape. Wishing you the best of luck!

      much love,
      Elaine

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