Forgiveness and Trust are Not the Same Thing

I wanted to highlight a concept that has really helped me as I have been working to forgive my abusers. It is simply this: you can forgive someone, and even love someone, but not trust them and so choose to not allow them in your life.

In other words, forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. I have found this idea described in several books, including The Burnout Cure by Julie de Azevedo Hanks, and How to avoid falling in love with a jerk by John Van Epp.

Here is a scenario, similar to ones described in these books, that can help you understand this concept:

Imagine that you have a coworker who is a jokester and has one of those old hand buzzer shock devices that shocks or startles people whenever they shake his hand. He has played this prank on you several times, and you’ve had enough. You ask him to stop doing it. He apologizes and promises to not do it to you anymore.

The next time you see him, he reaches out his hand to shake yours, and you take it, assuming he will keep his word. But, you hear a buzz and feel a shock. You express your anger and he apologizes and promises again to not do it.

You decide that he may have forgotten or needs to get used to the new behavior you have asked of him, so the next day when he reaches out his hand, you once again give him another chance and shake it. But once again, that device is in his hand and shocks you.

Will you shake his hand again after that?

Probably not, because you can no longer trust him. You can forgive him and not hold a grudge, yet choose to not shake his hand anymore because you can’t trust that he will respect your request to not shock you.

I am not good at analogies, so I apologize if it didn’t actually help (the ones in the books are better, and they’re just great books, so I recommend them), but I hope that it helped someone struggling with this issue to understand that its okay to not put yourself in emotionally or physically dangerous situations. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to trust them or allow them in your life.

To continue to allow them to harm you is actually a very unloving thing to do because if they aren’t held accountable for their actions, they will never feel the need to discontinue them.

Some may tell you that you are being unforgiving if you don’t continue or resume relationships with people who have abused you or who are unhealthy for you emotionally, but this is simply untrue.

Forgiveness is not defined as “resuming the relationship”. Sometimes, after forgiveness, people do choose to do that in some circumstances, but that isn’t what forgiveness means.

Forgiveness means to let go of the anger that is harming YOUR heart and life. This is sometimes a long and difficult process, and you need to be patient with yourself as you work towards it. But you don’t need to feel pressure—from yourself or from others—to resume a relationship with the person who harmed you. Sometimes that just isn’t safe or wise to do.

I like some specific situations that Julie de Azevedo Hanks wrote in her book: You can forgive an abuser and still press charges. You can forgive your spouse for being unfaithful but you don’t have to stay married. You can forgive a child who is addicted to drugs and stealing from you but you don’t have to let that child live in your home.

I am not against resuming relationships. I believe this is usually appropriate in most situations. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. Sometimes loved ones even wrong us in significant ways but can earn our trust again through sincere and complete change. I have both needed forgiveness and trust after doing terribly wrong things to loved ones, and I have extended it when the situation was reversed.

But sometimes, often in situations of emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, boundaries need to be put in place to protect you. Even if the abuser says they have changed, and even if they have changed, you may be dealing with PTSD that makes it unhealthy for you to be around them. Its okay to not allow people in your life. You can make this choice without hate or vengeance in your heart.

I just wanted to share this important understanding with those out there who may be in a situation where it truly is impossible or unsafe to trust that person again. Know that it is okay to not allow that person in your life and that it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven them. I hope that can give you some peace.


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