What forgiving is and isn’t, part 3

Two different things

The next paragraph was inspired by my pal Charlene—in a very good way. Food. Fido. Friends.

Have you ever eaten something that tasted wonderful and later you were sick as a dog? By the way, why is it that dogs supposedly get more sick than other animals? Seriously. Just thinking out loud. Maybe it’s that Man’s Best Friend thing and I certainly understand that. Dogs are a major gift from God. Don’t even think about arguing with me on that one. Anyway, picture that “Great food leading to super-sick” scenario. I have an example from last year, but I will not gross you out with that one, at least not today.

One of our sweet dogs

Seeing clearly
If you’re thinking, What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China?—another expression we grew up with—here’s the point. When we think about eating, we naturally think it’s a good thing. When we think about receiving an apology, we also automatically think it’s a good thing, a resolution thing, sometimes a long-awaited thing, maybe even a relationship-mending thing. Well, today you’ll read about a Sociopathic-styled Apology. I think it’ll help us to see and think in a broader, more clear way about apologies and forgiving. Things are not always what they appear to be.

When I told my Brandon that I started writing this post, What Forgiving Is and Isn’t, Point #5 came to his mind, big time. I hope you’ll find that part particularly entertaining. Get ready to read about loan sharking, The Magic Words, red flags and razor wire.

Part 2 of this post was long on theory. Today, we’re hitting some practical points. But first, how about a quick review of our first three points about forgiving.

Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.

While forgiving can lead to great healing in our relationships, it does not mean we should automatically reconcile with someone after a time of estrangement. This leads us to Point #4: Forgiving doesn’t mean reconciling. Since we covered this point in the last series, it’ll be fairly short and sweet here. For some reason, “short and sweet” makes me think about Peanut M&M’s. What can I say? Pandemic + quarantine = Frankie Ann + more chocolate than usual.

Point #4: Forgiving doesn’t mean reconciling.
A fun lady I used to work with would say, “Build a bridge and get over it.” In other words, forgiving can help rebuild the bridge between people—a bridge or connection that gets damaged—or annihilated—by sin.

From The Big Why, part 4:

Reconciliation and forgiveness
Years ago, when The Exile began, I mistakenly thought that reconciling was always “the right thing to do.” What about forgiving? Reconciliation and forgiveness are two very different things.

Reconciliation means coming back together—resuming contacts with someone after a time of estrangement or separation. Like I wrote in part 1, there are times when reconciliation is dangerous and unwise.

Don’t get me wrong. I think reconciliation is a wonderful thing—when it doesn’t involve an evil person or an issue of safety or wellness.

Wisdom and discernment are essential.

Forgiving means this: “Even though you hurt me, you don’t owe me anything. I’m letting go of the past. I’m letting go of my hurt and my need to punish you.” …Basically, the choice of unforgiveness keeps me chained to the past and it doesn’t hurt The Guilty Party at all. It hurts me.

This saying is true: “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

“Letting go of the past” doesn’t mean ignoring it or pretending it didn’t happen. It means doing the work of grieving, taking The Healing Journey, and moving forward with my life. If you need more guidance about reconciliation, here’s the whole post. While you’re reading, pay special attention to these two sections: From Evil to Good and Using the Religious Cover.

Clarity and the verse
I’m about to link you to a Bible verse that can be taken the wrong way. As we all know, there are some sick and dangerous people out there. My sociopathic in-laws are an excellent example. There are times when the most loving thing to do is to walk away—to protect yourself and your family from danger. See this post for clarity on how we show love to dangerous people.

With that said, here’s the verse in question: Romans 13:8.

This brings us to Point #5 about forgiving: Forgiving is not a transaction.

Point #5: Forgiving is not a transaction.
In other words, forgiving isn’t my payment to you in exchange for an apology that you so generously gave to me to buy me off since you did something bad to me. Forgiving doesn’t communicate: “Now we’re even.” Am I being sassy again? Yes, I am.

The sociopathic way
Listen to this Typical Tirade my sociopathic mother-in-law dishes out oh-so-skillfully. “But I said ‘I’m sorry!’ [Envision the Academy Award-worthy scowl and the clenched fists for added emphasis.] And you say you’re a Christian. If you were a Christian, you’d forgive me right now. Remember all the great things I’ve done for you. [She bestows us with a list.] I can’t believe you’re so ungrateful.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

What a creative spin. Did you notice all the transactions in that little performance? We supposedly owe her our immediate forgiveness because she said The Magic Words and because she did This, That and The Other 10 or 20 years ago. Oh, and now we owe her an apology because we’re so ungrateful. Good grief.

My sociopathic in-laws believe that saying The Magic Words, “I’m sorry”—with no scrap of sincerity—fully obliges the other person to immediately forgive them and then to gladly continue submitting to lifelong abuse. Is this just another example of Control Freak Central, with a little math thrown in for good measure? You know. Sociopath Math. The Magic Words + drama + Typecasting (i.e., insults) + Loan Sharking (i.e., “You owe me”) = Immediate forgiveness + confusion + a very entertaining smack-down + a victim for life.

That reminds me of the eight warning signs for violence from Lisa Wolcott’s outstanding article, “How to Spot—and Handle—a Sociopath.” I call these warning signs Red Flags for Sociopaths—Forced Teaming (i.e., Crashing a Problem), Speaking in “We” Terms, Charm and Niceness, Too Many Details, Typecasting, Loan Sharking, The Unsolicited Promise, and Discounting the Word “No.” See all six parts of this post to help solidify these warning signs in your mind. They’re important.

Here’s a warning from The Sneak Attack, part 1:

Being sucked into the lies, the manipulation, the drama-fest achieves nothing positive and simply keeps our own emotions and lives spun-up in the sociopathic mayhem. …We don’t need to “set the record straight.” We don’t need to grab the bait. If we do, we’ll wind up with a hook slicing our faces open, choking for air. Never a good scenario for us. Always a Rip-snorting Good Time scenario for the ones doing the fishing—the sociopaths. The record will never be straight with sociopaths because they hate the truth.

When it comes to dealing with sociopaths, remember this above all:

You play, you lose.

Translation: “Don’t play in the razor wire.” We used to call my mother-in-law Her Majesty, The Sadistic Control Freak. Now we call her nothing. If that last sentence makes no sense, check out the Epilogue from the first series.

The Sociopaths of America are pros at pretending that forgiving is a transaction, but just because they say it doesn’t make it true.

Lord, protect us from evil.

Separate issues
Remember Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Likewise, I can forgive whether or not the apology I receive is sincere, complete or in any way appropriate. My decision to forgive and the timing of that decision are not contingent on someone else’s words, behavior, attitude, pressure, etc. The apology and the forgiving are two totally separate issues. They really are. It’s crucial for us to understand that.

Many misguided and/or messed-up parents have provided poor training for their children in this area. We’ll cover that later.

Sometimes receiving a sincere apology stirs our choice to forgive, and that’s a good thing. But these two things—receiving a sincere apology and forgiving—don’t necessarily happen at the same time. Think of them like bread and butter—two obviously different things. I can enjoy them together or separately. Ditto for an apology and forgiving.

Four more
Reflecting on my mother-in-law and her drama leads us to Point #6 through Point #9.

Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.
Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences.
Point #8: Forgiving doesn’t mean regaining trust.
Point #9: Forgiving doesn’t automatically reestablish a previous relationship.

In other words, forgiving isn’t a Memory Eraser, just like The Gift-Wrapped Apology isn’t a Trauma Eraser.

If you’d like an excellent example of these four truths—Point #6 through Point #9—and more, read The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant.

To me, these four points are closely related. We’ll cover Point #6 today and we’ll get started on Point #7 next time.

Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.
People with certain personality disorders love the expression, “Forgive and forget.” Why, pray tell? Because they have no intention of changing their ways and it’s no fun to be a control freak with no one to control. That goes without saying. Sociopaths must have victims and narcissists must have adoring servants. Unfortunately for us, my mother-in-law is both—a sociopath and a narcissist—so our job was to take her abuse while telling her how great she was and how fabulous she looked in her new outfit. That makes my eyes bug out of my head.

Forgetting means to not remember the wrongdoing at all. Ignoring means to pretend it didn’t happen. Both options are dangerous and keep us from making wise decisions. We can’t discern right from wrong if we can’t—or won’t—remember what actually happened, and what the events teach us about the other person. Drink in and reflect on this Bible verse.

But solid food is for the mature, for those
who have their powers of discernment trained
by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:14, ESV

We need to keep our brains on and our hearts open. One without the other leaves us either vulnerable or detached. I spent many years of my life being vulnerable, and—believe you me—I made many mistakes.

Coming next: We’ll dig into the reasons why some of us found it very difficult to see the truth. To see reality. To see the problems right in front of us. At some point, we started asking the right questions and finally began the training mentioned in the verse above: Discernment Training. Until we meet again…. Thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace. 

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: 2 Corinthians 4:2

Song for Healing: This remarkable song grabbed my heart this month. It’s one of my new favorites: “We Look to You” by Sovereign Grace.