How are we to deal with people who continue to hurt us?
I think the first aspect to consider is who is doing the offending? Is it a spouse, child, extended family member, friend, co-worker, etc? The degree of closeness matters in my opinion. It would warrant responding differently if I lived with them, saw them only occasionally or worked with them daily.
Forgiving someone who is a repeat offender is different than someone who has only offended us once. A stranger is easier to forgive in my opinion because we most likely will never see them again. On the other hand, forgiving someone who we interact with on a regular basis and who keeps re-injuring us with their offenses requires a different strategy. This is because it isn’t just ONE wound we are trying to heal from but the same wound/hurt that keeps getting re-injured or maybe multiple wounds/offenses.
This makes healing difficult as you can well imagine, not to mention the goal of forgiveness.
If I had a physical wound that kept getting hit, how would it ever be able to heal? You have to protect a wound in order for it to heal properly. I believe the same concept is applied to emotional wounds.
If my hurt at the hands of another keeps receiving provocation, then it is most certainly going to be a challenge to forgive them and move on. Any progress I make at healing from their interaction is lost as I keep receiving fresh offenses.
Therefore, my second aspect to consider is what can I reasonably expect from the repeat offender? After I have Biblically addressed the matter with said repeat offender as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17 ESV, I need to adjust my expectations.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
If the repeat offender takes responsibility and apologizes then great. But if they don’t, then I need to adjust my strategy. Continuing to expect them to “right” their wrong will not be productive. If anything, my unreasonable expectations of them will only inflame their injuries inflicted upon me. It will interfere with my ability to forgive them and heal. This usually keeps me feeling “stuck” in a revolving door of offenses.
By coming to terms that they are unable or unwilling to take responsibility, then I am able to move on without their contrition. I have learned that sometimes what keeps people from taking responsibility for their repeating offenses is that they have their own emotional baggage so heavy that they are emotionally and spiritually blind to the truth. Self-deception or self-denial have them in bondage.
It is possible to “move on” regardless of their making amends but this will require certain considerations.
This leads me to my third point of what needs to change in dealing with a repeat offender that will foster emotional and spiritual health? If I cannot count on the repeat offender changing then the only recourse left is that I change.
Haven’t we all heard that insanity is to continue doing the same thing but while expecting a different outcome? Why should we, therefore, continue to hope that our repeat offender will finally come to their senses and repent of their destructive ways? At some point, while we continue to pray for them, we must move on WITHOUT THEM.
What I mean by this is that we have a choice whetherwe stay in a dysfunctional relationship. We may not be able to change our relationships with people if they are our family, neighbor or co-worker but we can enact some BOUNDARIES.
The Lifeline of Boundaries
Having spent the last year studying Christ in the Gospels, I have learned valuable lessons from His personal interaction with others. He is my hero for loving others fully yet without entrusting Himself to them (John 2:23-25). Jesus knew how to love others in truth without getting pulled into being over-responsible or into dysfunctional patterns.
He would offer, sometimes even confront, others with the truth. Judging by their reaction, if they were open to it or closed to it, He would respond accordingly. At times when people were open to being reasonable, then He would continue on with His interaction with them. Other times, when people were closed to a reasonable mindset, He would leave them and go to another area where maybe different people would be more open to what He had to say.
All this to say, Jesus was not a doormat for abusive behavior, that is until the weekend of His arrest and crucifixion. I learned that even the Son of God established healthy boundaries with people. He did not accept unreasonable behavior or attitudes. He would confront harmful patterns when necessary and this is from Someone who was the Greatest Love of All!
There are many resources for learning how to establish respectful boundaries like books (Boundaries by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend for instance), Biblical counseling, support groups, Bible studies, etc. The important factor is that boundaries are established so that repeat offenders are kept in check. Accountability is key for healthier relationships.
It is not unreasonable to distance yourself or set up other boundaries from those who keep bringing harmful patterns of behavior. What is unreasonable is to accept destructive interactions from others all in the name of “love”. Jesus taught us what real Godly love looks like and it included standing up for what is right.
What Will Foster Forgiveness
Once healthy boundaries are in place and emotional wounds are able to heal without repeated injuries, then forgiveness is much more conducive. It is a reasonable expectation that we can forgive repeat offenders with the appropriate boundaries.
Striving to forgive someone who has unlimited access to your heart and life is not realistic nor does it represent Christ well. Unrealistic expectations promote frustration and hopelessness. When we love others fully, in truth, without entrusting ourselves to them, then we can forgive even the most challenging offenders.
That, my friends, is freedom through Christ!