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Should I Forgive Them or Forget Them? - Fridays with Ferne: Episode #48

To forgive or not to forgive… that is the question. And I’m here to tell you something controversial: any time you ask yourself if you should forgive someone or not, the answer is always, undeniably, unequivocally… yes. 

You might look at me and say: “That’s crazy! This person hurt me worse than anyone else in the whole world. What they did is absolutely unforgivable, and there’s no chance I’m ever going to have a relationship with them again.”

To which I’d respond… who says you have to have a relationship with someone again just because you forgave them? Nobody! You can forgive someone at any time without inviting them back into your life. And that’s not all — there’s so much more all of us should consider when thinking about how and when to forgive others. 

Why should I forgive someone? 

When people think about forgiving someone, they usually pose it as a question. They’ll say, “Should I choose to accept someone’s actions and move on with my life, or pick up the pieces and walk away?”

In truth, forgiveness isn’t that binary. Like I mentioned, forgiving someone doesn’t mean you need to continue having a relationship with them. That’s because forgiving someone isn’t about the person in question… it’s about you. 

When we choose not to forgive, what happens is that we build up a lot of resentment, bitterness, angst and bad memories within us. Those things add up, and they prevent us from enjoying our lives. And so the point of forgiving someone isn’t to release others of responsibility for their actions — instead, it’s to release ourselves from the entrapment and imprisonment we feel by the weight of their choices. 

Choosing to forgive is our way of saying, “Okay. I release you of the power you hold over me, and I’m choosing to move on with my life.” You don’t even have to tell the other person you’ve forgiven them. Simply make the choice to let go of what’s holding you back, and then decide if you still want that person in your life. 

What does forgiveness look like? 

When you forgive someone, you’re basically saying: “You did something harmful to me, and I was hurt by it, but I refuse to remain in bondage. So I release you of your responsibility for my future wellbeing.”

In this way, forgiveness is a state of mind. It’s an attitude developed in response to someone’s actions — actions which have impeded your ability to be happy. That’s why we should always forgive others: because to do so is to remove the power they have over us to keep us unhappy. 

Once you’ve forgiven someone, the bigger question remains… should you maintain a relationship with them? Or is it time to move on?

Should I end my relationship with someone?

Maybe you’ve been friends with someone for years, and they’ve gone on to do something terrible. You’re stuck wondering whether or not you should continue the friendship or not. How do you know if what they’ve done is an offense you can move past… or something worth walking away over?

My advice would be to envision the rest of your life with and without this person in it. Does your life get better or worse when that person is around? Do they contribute meaningfully to your everyday existence? When you’re with them, do you feel great most of the time, or bad most of the time? Do they help you grow, or do they erode you?

These are all important questions to ask yourself. Once you’ve found the answers, you can start to create patterns based on past incidents. If this is the first major offense after a lifetime of strong, solid memories and moments, then it’s probably time to reforge the relationship anew. However, if you find that this person has repeatedly and habitually violated how you would like to be treated, then it’s time to move on. 

If you do move forward with the relationship, the key is to make it very clear how you would like to be treated in the future. Because we teach others how to treat us — if we let them behave in ways that aren’t in accordance with our values, they’ll keep doing it. 

Instead of putting up a boundary, tell the person in question that they can act how they’d like to, but you won’t be around for it if it doesn’t fit your own value system. If they’re constantly rude and disrespectful, tell them what you do like in a friendship — peace, laughter, happiness and connection — and that you’re going to look for relationships that are full of those things, rather than ones that aren’t. 

Creating a framework for the future of your friendship is key when it comes to establishing a lasting bond after you’ve forgiven someone. And if that framework fails? Then it’s time to say, “Thanks, but I’m good now. I understand that it’s hard for you to behave the way I would like for you to behave, and that’s okay, but I’m not going to stick around for it. This isn’t a relationship that’s good for me, so I wish you all the best, but you’re going to have to live without me.” 

The importance of forgiveness

It’s not always easy to navigate the tricky waters of forgiveness. In fact, it’s easy for me to tell you to forgive anyone — no matter what they’ve done — but learning how to actually do it takes time, patience and effort. 

If you’re looking for help along the road, I’m here. I’m just one of a handful of expertly trained coaches who can assist you in working through your questions about forgiveness. If you’re curious about whether or not you should stick around for a friend that’s slighted you, reach out to me here, and we’ll tackle those tough questions together. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back™. Today is Fridays with Ferne, and I'd like to welcome my daughter Ferne back from her trip in Ecuador. Welcome back, Ferne!

[00:00:21] Ferne Kotlyar:Thank you so much! It's so nice to be here. I definitely missed flushing toilets, that's for sure. [Laughs]

[00:00:29] Kim Ades:So before we get into the topic of our podcast today, just tell us briefly, what the heck were you doing in Ecuador? You were doing something called banding birds, just so that our audience knows, what does that even mean?

[00:00:43] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah. So I'm in graduate school at the University of Toronto and I study plant pollinator interactions. So in my case, that's a plant called heliconia and the pollinators are hummingbirds. And so being a plant person, I don't know much about birds, and I went there to learn about birds and what they do is this thing called bird banding. And essentially, they catch birds, in this case, every two weeks. And they catch them in these nets, they extract them from the nets and then put a little band on them with a number, so that each bird is marked as an individual, and then they release the birds. And these are really important for monitoring these species and learning about them, learning about their breeding seasons and their different morphologies, so that we can better protect the birds.And so I learned how to catch these birds, how to take them out of the nets, how to handle them and how to put a band on them. And I was specifically looking at hummingbirds, which are some of the most incredible creatures, they are so small and really cute, and just really majestic.

[00:01:58] Kim Ades:And did you only catch hummingbirds? Like, were other birds caught in these nets?

[00:02:03] Ferne Kotlyar:So, I went to learn about hummingbirds, but these nets are pretty unspecific, so we [chuckles] caught a whole bunch of things. some motmots, we did not catch a toucan when I was there, but there were plenty on sight. And we caught a whole bunch of things that definitely bite. I don't know if anybody's heard of cock-of-the-rock?

[00:02:26] Kim Ades:Were you bitten?

[00:02:26] Ferne Kotlyar:Yes! Yeah, a few times. Some of the birds, you know, they're like medium, they bite a lot, but I guess you get used to it. [Chuckles] At the beginning, absolutely. I mean, you have to grab a thing that bites you out of a net. But as I said, you get used to it and it's not as bad. I only bled once or twice, so it's okay. [

00:02:49] Kim Ades:You only bled once or twice?

[00:02:51] Ferne Kotlyar:[Laughs]

[00:02:51] Kim Ades:You never told me that.

[00:02:53] Ferne Kotlyar:Well, you know. [Laughs]

[00:02:54] Kim Ades:All right. So, we are happy you are back, and we are happy that you are learning as you go. But what is our topic for today? What do you wanna talk about?

[00:03:04] Ferne Kotlyar:All right. So today we're gonna talk about forgiveness. I know it's kind of a broad topic, but the question here is, how do you know when to forgive somebody? At what point are you just being naive and giving somebody another chance when you know they're gonna hurt you again? And at what point are you ready to say, "okay, I'm ready to let this person go and I don't need them in my life anymore"? Where is that line?

[00:03:33] Kim Ades:Okay. So it's a really great question. And I would say to you that forgiveness has no bearing on your future relationship with that person.

[00:03:44] Ferne Kotlyar:Why do you say that?

[00:03:45] Kim Ades:So forgiving someone doesn't mean that we must continue a relationship with a person. We can forgive them, we can accept their apology, we can set ourselves free from the angst or anguish that someone else causes us. And then after that happens, we can decide whether or not we still wanna maintain a relationship with them. And they are not tied together, they're completely different procedures.So when is forgiveness necessary? All the time. Why? Because when we don't forgive what happens is, inside of us, we hold onto a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, a lot of bitterness, a lot of bad feelings, bad memories, things that don't create health for us, things that don't allow us to really thrive. Right?

[00:04:49] Ferne Kotlyar:Is there nothing that somebody can do that is unforgivable?

[00:04:53] Kim Ades:Oh, there are lots of things that people can do that are unforgivable, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't forgive them.

[00:05:00] Ferne Kotlyar:Doesn't that seem a bit contradictory?

[00:05:02] Kim Ades:Yes, it does seem contradictory, but we forgive them for us, not for them. Forgiving them doesn't release them of responsibility, forgiving them doesn't release them of the consequences of their actions. Forgiving them releases us of the entrapment or imprisonment that we feel by their actions.

[00:05:27] Ferne Kotlyar:So, what does forgiveness look like?

[00:05:30] Kim Ades:Forgiveness looks like this: forgiveness says "you did this thing to me, I was hurt by it, but I refuse to remain in bondage. So I release you of responsibility for my future wellbeing".

[00:05:50] Ferne Kotlyar:Does it always have to be a conversation with the other person? Or can you just--

[00:05:54] Kim Ades:No, it doesn't have to be a conversation at all. But it's an act that you take on, it's a state of mind, it's a way of looking at this person or at this situation to say "that was a moment in time and if I carry it on for the rest of my life, this person continues to hurt me over time".

[00:06:18] Ferne Kotlyar:And to hold power over you.

[00:06:19] Kim Ades:And hold power over me. So that's why forgiveness is critical to moving forward. But forgiveness isn't part of what we do to maintain a relationship with someone. If you wanna maintain a relationship with someone it's important to forgive them, but we don't have to maintain a relationship with someone if we forgive them.

[00:06:45] Ferne Kotlyar:So if someone does something really horrible, let's call it unforgivable, you don't necessarily have to have that conversation with them and say, "I forgive you, but I never want to talk to you again"... You can just accept it in your mind to say, "I'm ready to move on and I will never talk to them again"?

[00:07:04] Kim Ades:Yes.

[00:07:04] Ferne Kotlyar:But I release them.

[00:07:07] Kim Ades:I release them. They cannot hold me hostage. And it's funny, right? It sounds like it's backwards, right? Because if you're the hostage, how can you release your captor? Think about it that way.

[00:07:21] Ferne Kotlyar:So can you tell me more about what it looks like to release somebody of that? What does it look like to not forgive somebody and to have them hold that power over you? Can you expand on that?

[00:07:36] Kim Ades:Well, someone does something bad to you, whatever it is, they take advantage of you some way, and you're hurt by that action, whatever it is. It could be someone stole from you, it could be someone lied to you, it could be someone took advantage of you sexually. It could be a million things, right? All these things that could have happen. And you are terribly, horribly, awfully hurt by it. And you discover the truth or you discover what they've done and you feel shattered. If you continue to feel shattered over time, what happens? You literally give up your life.And so we don't wanna do that. We want to put an end date, or we want to conclude the pain, we wanna wrap it up, we wanna say "that happened. It wasn't good, it wasn't fair, it wasn't nice. I didn't deserve it". All of those things are true, but we don't want this person to hold dominion over me for the rest of my life. So, I need to do something, I need to think something, I need to have a view of the world in a way where I can release this person and this experience and leave them in the past.

[00:09:03] Ferne Kotlyar:So how would you do that? What's the process in forgiving somebody?

[00:09:08] Kim Ades:Well, it's difficult because it's not always easy to forgive someone. So someone does something terrible to you and it's an awful experience, it's terrible, and part of the forgiveness process is to try to understand why that person would do something like that to you, right? What kicked in for them. And it could be they're just a terrible, horrible, awful, rotten person. There is no good reason for it. It could have caused a terrible loss for you in your life, and there's no way to rationalize it. But moving to forgiveness says, "okay, this is out of my hands. I'm not giving this person the rest of my life". And now the question becomes, what do I do with that experience? How does that experience serve me somehow? Even if it was horrific. Because it doesn't serve me in ruining my life over and over and over and over again. So what does it do for me? Does it strengthen me? Does it give me a purpose? Does it help me understand what I want from my life or here on in? What does it do for me?And it's very important for us to think that way. How does this inform my life? Where do I take it from here? What are my next steps? How do I turn this experience into a great growth moment? Or a learning opportunity or a moment of clarity or a moment of purpose where I know from here on in, here's what I wanna dedicate my life to.Right? So forgiveness is an internal process. You know, we think that forgiveness is saying to the other person "I forgive you", but you can say those words and not feel forgiveness.

[00:11:09] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah.

[00:11:10] Kim Ades:Right? And so forgiveness is really about releasing yourself of the feelings of bondage from this person's actions. That's what forgiveness is.

[00:11:21] Ferne Kotlyar:And so can we talk a little bit about the forgiveness of when you say those words to somebody. What does it mean when you actually are not only ready to forgive somebody and move on from them, but when you're ready to forgive somebody and become friends again, or, you know, reestablish that relationship, yeah.

[00:11:42] Kim Ades:Let's say somebody does something to you and you're very, very hurt by it. I think it, you know, sometimes what happens, and I think it's very common for people to experience hurt and walk away without a conversation.

[00:11:58] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah.

[00:11:58] Kim Ades:Without a review of the incident, right? So you might have been friends for years and years and years, and something happens and you decide "that's it. I'm done", and you simply walk away, you close the lines of communication and you say they're not worth it. And in some cases that's accurate, right? It's okay to walk away from people who aren't necessarily serving us or lifting us up or who may be toxic for us. But in other cases, there may be a long term relationship with someone where the relationship matters more than the incident.And so what do we need to do? We need to come to the table and learn to express ourselves to say, "Hey, that really hurt me. This is how I was affected by those actions".

[00:12:51] Ferne Kotlyar:Well, I was just gonna ask, how do you know when you're ready to walk away and when the relationship matters more?

[00:13:02] Kim Ades:That's a really good question. I think that it's important for us to envision our lives without this person and say, does our life get better or does our life feel like it's a terrible loss?

[00:13:14] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah, but I think that in some cases, when a relationship is very toxic, you may not be able to envision a life without them, but it could still be a better option.

[00:13:26] Kim Ades:It could still be a better option. I think one of the things we need to do is say, does this person contribute to our lives? Does this person-- when I'm with this person, do I feel great or do I feel bad most of the time? Is this person in my corner or do they erode me somehow? Do they chip away at me somehow? And so we have to, in some cases, step back and take a bit of an objective look, sometimes it's a good idea to get a third party opinion to say, "Hey, you've known me to be in this relationship with this person for years and years and years. Is this a healthy relationship for me?" Do I feel healthy in this relationship or do I often feel upset? Frustrated, disrespected, put down. Is this a good relationship for me? Is it healthy? And so when it's a healthy relationship, mostly, but we had this one incident, then we can use the incident to rebuild our relationship and make it even stronger. But if it's a pattern where this is one more thing, right? Like the straw that broke the camel's back, we might use this incident to say, "I see the pattern and I realize I don't wanna be treated this way. This is not a healthy relationship for me". And at that point, it's time to call it a day.

[00:14:57] Ferne Kotlyar:And when you do call it a day, should you have a conversation or should you just walk away? Like, is it worth it to try and then decide based on that?

[00:15:10] Kim Ades:What do you mean "to try"? To try having a conversation? You mean, to fix it?

[00:15:15] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah. Is it worth it to say, "I forgive you, let's try one more time" versus just like, "okay, I'm done"? Obviously it depends on the situation, but--

[00:15:27] Kim Ades:It depends on the situation and it depends on the agreements you make when you try one more time. Right? So for example... Let's take an example of a couple. The couple is dating, right? And let's say, I don't know, one person in this couple is consistently rude and disrespectful. And the person might say, "Hey, when you say these words, or when you behave in this manner, I feel really, really disrespected. I just feel like you are not thinking of my feelings and you're being mean or whatever it is, right? And you might say, "hey, here's how I would like you to interact with me. Here's how I would like you to be talking with me". And so what you're doing is you're setting the stage. You're saying to the person, "here's what I'm looking for, here's what I want", 'cause what we're really good at is telling people what we don't want, what we hate. Right? What bothers us. We don't tell them what we want. So we might have a conversation that says "here is acceptable behavior to me. When you speak to me like this, the good way, then I am happy to be in a relationship with you. But when you do this and this and this, that really makes me feel upset", right? So you can provide that framework or that guidance to tell people how you want to be treated. And we teach people how to treat us, right? That's part of what we do in relationships. And then if that fails to take hold, we can say, "I'm good now. I understand that it's hard for you to behave the way I need you to behave, and that's okay. But this is not a place where I wanna stay. It's not a place. It's not a relationship that's good for me".But here's the key about all of that. And I think this is very, very important, particularly in relationships. So where do relationships often go wrong? They go wrong when one person, or the other, in the relationship is only happy when the other person behaves a certain way. So in other words, they pin their wellbeing, their happiness on the behaviors of the other person. That's a problem. Why is it a problem? Because at the end of the day, the only thing that I have responsibility for is the way I think, the way I feel and the way I behave. Right? So if I hold you responsible for my happiness, I'm setting you up for failure, and I'm creating a relationship that's very, very hard to flourish.

[00:18:33] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah.

[00:18:33] Kim Ades:Right? Doesn't work. And so what I need to do is say, "okay, so here's the relationship. Here's how the person shows up all the time. I realize that it's not healthy for me. I'm okay for that person to continue to behave the way they do, and I don't need to change that person in order for me to be happy. And I'm good to call it a day".

[00:18:59] Ferne Kotlyar:So where is that line between "it's you" versus "it's me"?

[00:19:05] Kim Ades:It's a good question. And it's sometimes very tricky to decipher. And what we wanna do is decide whether or not the person who doesn't feel good in the relationship is being abused or disrespected or being really, truly treated poorly, or whether or not the person who doesn't feel good is not taking responsibility for their own wellbeing and happiness.And that's where coaching comes into play, where we are able to decipher, we are able to sift through the data and get a series of example. Of when this person doesn't feel good and identify whether or not they're really, truly, either being treated poorly or whether or not they're just expecting this other person to completely be a very, very specific way in order for them to be happy.

[00:20:00] Ferne Kotlyar:Yeah. Sounds like coaching is really helpful.

[00:20:04] Kim Ades:It's complicated, but this is where coaching really comes in in a very, very helpful manner. Because when you sift through all of these examples, you start to realize, "oh man, this person really isn't healthy for me". Or you start to realize, "oh man, I'm really holding this other person responsible for my happiness, and that's not fair".

[00:20:26] Ferne Kotlyar:But I think a lot of the time it's not necessarily black and white, it's probably a combination of both.

[00:20:33] Kim Ades:You know, it's usually a combination of both, but in a lot of cases, it's more clear than you might think.

[00:20:41] Ferne Kotlyar:Oh, yeah?

[00:20:41] Kim Ades:Yeah. So in a lot of cases, it's not as hazy as you think. Once you start to get a series of examples in front of you, starts to say, "okay, there's a pattern here". We all live with patterns, we all exhibit patterns. So what's the pattern in this relationship? What's the dynamic that's taking place? Is it abuse or is it simply that the couples in this relationship are not taking responsibility for themselves?

[00:21:12] Ferne Kotlyar:Or that-- I mean, there's also, I guess, a middle ground of this relationship just doesn't work, not that anybody's being abused.

[00:21:21] Kim Ades:Right, and it could be "this relationship doesn't work. This person is unable to show up in the way that I really need them to show up" and that's okay too.

[00:21:32] Ferne Kotlyar:So there seems to be a bit of a hazy line between "this person can't show up in the way that I need them to show up" and "I'm not taking responsibility for my actions or the way I feel".

[00:21:43] Kim Ades:Yes, but the key here is, in all cases, when we learn to accept the other person for the way they are, whether they committed a violent infraction, or whether or not they're just maybe differently brought up or have different values or see the world in a different way, when we accept people, how they are completely.And from that point on, we can then make a decision about whether or not this is someone we want in our lives or someone we wanna live with, or whether or not that person is simply somebody we don't connect with or don't feel matched with our value system.

[00:22:33] Ferne Kotlyar:I think that makes sense. Well, thank you so much for your insight on forgiveness. I think it's a unique perspective.

[00:22:41] Kim Ades:Perhaps it is, but if you have somebody in your life that you're grappling with, and you're wondering whether or not to forgive them, my answer is yes, let's forgive people. That doesn't mean we need to stay in a relationship with them. That's a whole other matter. Thank you guys for tuning in! Hope this brought you some food for thought. And please like, please share. We wanna hear from you, we wanna hear your thoughts. Thank you, Ferne, for being on the podcast and we will see you next week. Have a great week, everyone!

[00:23:12] Ferne Kotlyar:Bye!

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