Thursday, November 1, 2012
When Forgiveness Is Not Good For the Forgiver
We often hear that forgiveness is a virtue, something to always aspire to. Forgiveness leaves people happier and healthier than those who ruminate and hold grudges. The theory goes, that if you can forgive, you can forget. This may be true in many cases, but according to research by Jim McNulty at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, forgiveness can also have its costs. If the person you are forgiving repeats their troubling behavior or takes your forgiveness as a license to behave badly again, there is danger that the forgiver can turn into a "doormat," rather than a hero. Professor McNulty, according to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal, studied the diaries of 135 newlywed couples, and asked each partner to answer the same question each day for a week: "Did your spouse do something today that you didn't like and did you forgive him or her?" He discovered that for people who forgave their partner, they were 6.5 times more likely to report that their partner had done something negative again, in comparison with partners who did not offer forgiveness. In other words, forgiveness of bad behavior can let people off the hook for behaving badly. Dr McNulty notes, "The potential cost of forgiveness is that it doesn't hold the partner accountable for their behavior." Sadly, being a soft touch or having a good heart can turn you into a doormat. If you don't stand up and confront a bully, someone who has transgressed your boundaries or someone who has taken your goodness for granted, you might find yourself feeling like the sacrificial lamb. McNulty found that people who withheld forgiveness fared better than those who offered it when relating to people who repeatedly transgressed known boundaries. It is one thing to forgive a nice person, who made an innocent or unconscious mistake. If the transgressor feels badly about their behavior when called on their mistake and ultimately wants to work to preserve mutuality and equity in a relationship, then forgiveness can be an act of love. Forgiving a person who has demonstrated that they either don't know or don't care about the impact of their behavior on others, may not be the best choice for a healthy relationship. The moral of the story: don't offer forgiveness carte blanche. See if your transgressor is a caring, kind person who will feel remorse for having hurt you and take actions to correct their behavior or if your transgressor shrugs off your hurt as though you and it don't matter. Only forgive those people who truly deserve your forgiveness And as the serenity prayers says, let go of the rest.