Tonight in my CoDA meeting we read from Step Ten of Melody Beattie’s book Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps. I highly recommend this book if you are serious about getting your head in the right place. It’s a great place to start.
What struck me this evening was this paragraph:
I kept trying to forgive [addicts] for [their addictions] when I was still allowing myself to be victimized by their [behavior]. I kept substituting forgiveness and denial for acceptance of reality. I had concepts confused.
Oh, yes! Me, too. I have had a terrible time learning the difference between forgiveness and denial and acceptance of reality. Even in the thick of things, when I thought I was getting really good at recovery, I was really good at saying the words “I accept reality,” but there were layers and layers of reality I was still bargaining with. The key lies in the confusion with forgiveness and denial.
I was taught that I should forgive endlessly. If you’re a Christian (or were raised Christian), you’ve likely heard the admonition to turn the other cheek. Or how about to forgive seventy times seven? Well, my family really took this to heart.
I have parents who cannot end their dysfunctional marriage, returning to each other over and over again — for more than 30 years — with episodes of anger, hurt, distance, and acting out sprinkled between episodes of professed forgiveness, love, and commitment.
Needless to say, it’s very confusing to all involved. But, hey, they’re forgiving each other, right? It’s the most dramatic example I can provide, but I can attest to countless other examples where forgiveness in my family meant pushing aside our individual values, self-esteem, feelings, intuition, health, and good sense.
I really don’t think that’s what it’s supposed to be about. That sounds like denial.
It’s really easy to focus on forgiving someone else when secretly you harbor the hope that they will change their behavior. Or when you keep telling yourself that it’s not who they really are. Or they just need more time (to change). Or anything that rationalizes or justifies their behavior, particularly while that behavior is harmful to you.
When we tolerate behavior that disrespects the very core of who we are, that requires us to disregard our preferences, values, desires for the future, feelings, and intelligence, we are not looking reality square in the face. Because if we were staring at reality, we’d be forced to acknowledge truths such as these:
- By continuing to allow this person to treat me this way, I am disrespecting myself.
- If I disrespect myself, I am sending the other person the message that it is OK to disrespect me.
- I set the example for how I will allow others to treat me by showing them how I treat myself.
- I have the right to determine how I wish to be treated — and defining that is an act of self-respect.
- To further practice self-respect, I have the right to communicate to others what I will and will not tolerate.
- I don’t have to judge their behavior, but I can choose not to participate.
- I get to define the kinds of relationships I’d like to have in my life.
Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate, and that’s one of the big lessons we need to learn. Recovering from codependency can also be about forgiving ourselves for the ways in which we have been dysfunctional. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to forgive all these other people and continuing to put up with all that toxic behavior because we got concepts confused.
So now that we’ve got things straight, let’s turn the energy of forgiveness inward. We can’t do better until we know better, so there is no reason to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t know before. We can take new knowledge forward and be loving and kind with ourselves.
Are you ready to put aside confusion and look forward with clarity and kindness? Are you ready to look reality square in the face?