01 January, 2014

Confusion and forgiveness

Content warning for gaslighting type stuff, I guess.

In November I made a few posts about how I have to be harsh with people sometimes because I have boundary issues and might take on their feelings by accident.  I'm not sure I do have boundary issues.  What happened is, at the beginning of November I ended my first serious romantic relationship.  Over the course of the relationship I had started to feel very confused about things like who I was, what I felt, and how I behaved.  I felt like I couldn't clearly remember incidents that had happened between my girlfriend and me and I was constantly straining to understand what was going on.

There was a possible explanation for this, but I didn't want it to be true.  My girlfriend refused to ever apologize or acknowledge doing things that hurt me.  If I brought up something I thought was a problem she would either claim she didn't understand, tell me I was confused about what was happening, tell me I was contradicting myself, or bring up something bad I'd supposedly done to her.  Along with whatever her response was, she also would get upset and it was awful because I knew it was my fault for criticizing her behavior.

This was all really disorienting.  When something hurt me, I had to either put up with it or risk something worse happening if I talked about it to her.  I worked hard to convince myself that she wasn't doing anything wrong.  I also worked hard to believe that the things she said made sense even when she was attributing feelings to me that I didn't have or distorting things that had happened.  Over time she caused more and more problems for me, but I had to believe it was my fault because otherwise, I would have to admit that my image of my girlfriend as a kind, well-meaning person was completely wrong.  It was past the point where she could just be doing all this by accident.  There was a long-term pattern of her distracting, punishing, and confusing me out of asking to be treated fairly in our relationship.

I don't think she set out to do this to me--I think she was desperate for closeness and terrified of criticism.  But it was still very wrong and shouldn't have happened.

When I ended our relationship, I knew that I had to turn off the parts of me that had focused so much on trying to keep my ex from being upset.  I had to stop trying to always see her point of view.  Instead, I needed to focus on the fact that what she did to me was wrong.

I might be more likely to identify with other people than the average person, but the degree to which I was identifying with my ex's feelings by the end of our relationship didn't come naturally.  I had to be trained into putting her comfort ahead of my needs.  I may be suggestible, but I didn't start out as suggestible as I was by the end.

So, yeah.  It's not me, it's you.

I also wanted to write about forgiveness a little bit.  I usually lean toward forgiving people but I think it's important to acknowledge that in some situations, certain kinds of forgiveness aren't possible.

Let's say Molly's boyfriend, Steve, steals money from her and she forgives him.  There are a bunch of different ways this could play out:

He steals money from her and then apologizes.  She forgives him.

He steals money from her and apologizes.  She forgives him.  He continues to steal money from her and apologize.  She forgives him every time.

He steals money from her and when she confronts him, he gets mad at her and says she should care more about his problems.  She apologizes and gives him as much money as he wants.

He steals money from her and she is going to confront him.  Then at church one day, Molly resolves to be a more forgiving person and decides she will be okay with Steve stealing money from her and she won't confront him about it.

He regularly steals money from her and she can't stop him from doing it and she resents this.  She decides to forgive him and not resent him for stealing her money anymore.

Molly says Steve is not allowed in her house.  She isn't angry at him for what he has done, but she's not willing to deal with him stealing her money.

So, what most of these situations have in common is that Steve doesn't see his bad behavior as wrong and he plans to continue doing it.  I'm not sure that you can really forgive someone like this unless you are doing it from a distance.  I feel like trying to be forgiving, compassionate, etc. to someone who is repeatedly hurting you is less about forgiveness and more about accepting that you're getting hurt and trying to have a good attitude about it.  I'm not criticizing people who try to have a good attitude about getting hurt but I don't think anyone needs to try to forgive someone who is hurting them.

I think forgiving someone who is sorry can be a really positive thing.  I don't think forgiving someone who isn't sorry is really something that needs to be done.  For real forgiveness to happen, the boundaries have to be in place--it has to be acknowledged that there's something to forgive.


  1. I'm sorry if t his is a second comment or doesn't make sense. I discovered your blog googling "ableism" because I wanted to find anti-disablist blogs. I am also a childhood psychological abuse survivor, and this si different from your experience with yoru ex-girlfriend (for you're both adults), but I can relate to some of what you've written. I too felt for a long time that I was somehow wrong,a nd thhis is also made worse by the fact that I'm disabled and have a lot of internalized ableism. That being said, I agree thar forgiving requires realizing that you wer enot the one who was wrong, but yoru abuser was. If the relationship isn't likely to change or has't ended, it is also vital that ht eother person acknowledges they are wrong. I ave not come near any of these yet. I want to say, forgiving can be done from a distance, but it rquires acknowledging what happened and that it was wrong. If it wasn't wrong, why forgive?

    1. thanks for commenting Astrid. it wasn't the case in my relationship with my ex but I do think being disabled has made it easier for people to manipulate me or treat me badly in the past. being Autistic made me grow up thinking I was always wrong in conflicts.

    2. Oh, I know who you are. You used to have another blog a few years ago.

  2. Hi there, I was reading up on your journey just now and had a quick question. I was hoping that you could email me back when you have a moment. I really appreciate it, thanks!

    - Cameron

    1. Hi Cameron. Sorry if you're actually a person, but this looks kind of like a spam comment to me. If you write another comment, I will tell you my email.