It’s often mentioned that we should forgive. Everywhere we go, we are told to turn the other cheek. That is especially true in family settings. Certain family members may well feel awkward with the idea that their offspring don’t get along with each other. So much so that undue pressure can be put on us to somehow make things right with the other. And yet, if our siblings recognize this value within the family, it can be exploited against us. This is what I call weaponizing forgiveness.
If you are the one who constantly has to forgive the other for the sake of peace in the family, it can take a hard toll on you, as it dismisses your feelings and leaves you out in the cold with hurt and unresolved feelings. This pressure can happen not only in families, but also within communities, or faith-based systems espousing solidarity when taking space from someone can be seen as a source of pressure and judgment that confronts the ideals of that community. Compromising ourselves to the ideals of a community gives carte blanche to a person to do wrong, and yes, can enable that behavior.
Recognizing the pressures exerted with imposed forgiveness allows us to clarify our intent. It serves as a reminder that pressures can come from inside and outside, and that if we’re not careful, family members, culture and faith can override our personal decision much to our detriment.
So what can we do? First, recognize the “game” that’s being played. Seeing it for what it is will help in recognizing where we get caught up, and where we enable the outcome of weaponization to play itself out. A next step can be to recognize that we are responsible for what we do with our body, and what we don’t. Do we let ourselves get bullied, coerced into decisions that we normally wouldn’t take? Break it down into steps with a past personal example. Where exactly did it short circuit? Where did you betray yourself? Catching that is key, as it will illustrate where your first few changes can be. I’m a believer in small tweaks that bring about big changes over time. What’s more, a healthy regular revision of our action steps helps to keep our priorities in order. What is most important now? What have I integrated? What is a work in progress?
Making decisions about ourselves, and limiting how others treat us can be like taking the bull by the horns and taming it. Not so much to exercise domination over others but rather assertion of what is acceptable for us. It’s the ultimate shield against weapons such as forced forgiveness, which will reinforce our identity to the pleasure of some, and the displeasure of others.
Ali-John Chaudhary is a Registered Psychotherapist with offices in Ontario and Quebec. He helps clients from different parts of the world going through sibling estrangement issues, and produces YouTube videos on the same subject, with author Fern Schumer Chapman. He also hosts a twice monthly online support group on zoom for those looking to empower themselves with this rarely discussed subject.