Early on in my stepmom journey, I had a conversation with a stepmom who was in the trenches of a high conflict co-parenting relationship.
And when I say high conflict co-parenting relationship, I mean HIGH CONFLICT CO-PARENTING relationship. (My blog template doesn’t let me underline text, but if I could I would underline “high conflict” like 15 times to emphasize JUST how high conflict this dynamic was).
I don’t say this type of thing very often, but in this situation, her stepchildren’s Mom was clearly on a mission to make her and her partner’s life, hell on earth.
It was a case of parental alienation at its finest… with a pretty hearty side of “abuse of the system”.
It was straight up malicious, and in my opinion, very damaging to the kids.
But, in one of our conversations the stepmom told me that she has forgiven her husband’s ex for all that she has done (and continues to do) to try and make her life difficult.
I wish someone would have recorded the look on my face when she said this.
“You forgive her?” I responded? With a whole lot of, “are you effin’ kidding me” in my tone.
“How have you forgiven her? Especially because we all know that a new allegation or situation is probably just around the corner… It’s been a never-ending saga for you?”
… and by the way, I’m pretty sure she’s not sorry for ANY OF THIS!”
This admirable stepmom went on to tell me that she’s just accepted that this is how his ex-wife is. This is how she sees the world. At the end of the day, there is nothing she can do to change it.
Well, that I could get on board with.
Acceptance yes. But forgiveness, I don’t know.
This got me thinking about forgiveness in situations where the act is chronic… almost cyclical and predictable if you will.
How are you supposed to forgive someone who
A. not only isn’t sorry, but justifies their behavior???
B. continues to do whatever act it is that requires the forgiveness???
In my mind, you forgive someone after a certain act and an event. The event happens, you process it, forgive it and move forward…
When it’s happening over and over again… at that point, for me, it’s not about forgiveness. It’s about acceptance.
Accepting that this is how that person is.
This is how this person sees the world.
Accepting that this person is most likely going to continue in this manner.
Then I thought some more about it… in these situations forgiveness really means accepting, processing and moving forward.
Even though I struggle with using the word forgiveness - forgiveness and accepting are essentially the same thing.
I know, from speaking to hundreds of women in high conflict co-parenting relationships, when it comes to repetitive situations when there isn’t an ounce of remorse, many of you struggle with the word forgiveness too.
But still, you need to know this.
Whether it be forgiveness or acceptance, here’s the cold hard truth.
Spending your time and energy on something you can’t change, is an absolute waste.
Resenting someone for the impact they are having on your life IS also a waste of time and energy.
So, the question is, how are you going to deal with this situation?
How are you going to minimize the impact it has on your life moving forward?
Because if you’re craving change, you’re the only one with the power here.
Stumped? Here are 4 strategies to help you get started. 4 Ways to forgive or (accept) someone who just isn’t sorry!
Like I said, (now) I see forgiveness and acceptance as the same thing. The first step is to accept that this is how that person is.
they have different values and beliefs than you
they are experiencing the same situation in a different way
they see the world through a different lens
and most importantly, they are probably going to continue acting the way they are
When you accept and just come to terms with the fact that this is how they see the world, you stop being surprised when they mistreat you. You stop having the emotional “punched in the gut” feeling, when they strike again.
You can accept, anticipate and plan your reactions accordingly.
2. TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY
If you continue to put yourself in a position where you’re hurt or taken advantage of, at some point you need to take some responsibility for putting yourself in the same situation time and time again.
Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Yes, I realize there are situations where this person has to be part of your life, but you can create systems and boundaries to protect yourself against the BS.
Here’s an example that often hits home for people.
Say your child comes home from school one day, and tells you that little Johnny pushed him down in the mud when they were playing soccer at recess. Your child is sad, upset and embarrassed. You console him and give him a pep talk and send him on his way.
The following week, he comes home and says that it happened again. You respond the same way as you did the previous week, but this time you send the teacher a quick email to let them know what’s going on. The teacher makes Johnny apologize.
The next day, it happens again. Then the next day and the next. Clearly Johnny doesn’t care about what the teacher had to say. Your child continues to be pushed down in the mud.
At what point do you say to your kid… “buddy, stop playing soccer with little Johnny at recess. He’s a jerk and is going to continue to push you in the mud as long as you play with him.”?
At some point you teach your kid to take responsibility for putting himself in the line of fire.
Is it right that your son can’t play soccer because of little Johnny – no – it’s not fair at all.
BUT you can’t control little Johnny. You can’t control how the teacher reacts or whether the kids are supervised. At some point you need to teach you kid to avoid situations where he is going to be harmed.
Sure, Johnny the jerk will probably strike again in a different capacity… this isn’t the last you’ll see of him. But, it’s important to minimize the opportunities this kid has to be an ass.
SO… say you’re a stepmom in a high-conflict co-parenting situation. Or maybe you’re a mom dealing with a stepmom from hell - insert whatever toxic person you have in your life into this scenario. Then change the soccer game to your current scenario.
What are you doing to continue to put yourself in the position to be pushed in the mud?
Do you need to set more boundaries?
Do you need to distance yourself?
What can you do to minimize your interactions with the toxic person?
EMPATHY em·pa·thy | \ ˈem-pə-thē \
Definition of empathy
1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner also : the capacity for this
Take a moment and look at the world through the lens of the person who is harming you.
Why do you think they act that way?
How do you think they view the experience?
Why do you think they have the perspective they do?
What’s different about your perspectives?
For example: If you’re dealing with an ex-wife who is treating you like garbage, perhaps you are a trigger for her. You represent her failed marriage and what she wishes she had for her life.
She’s jealous of the life you have. Perhaps you make her feel insecure, so therefore she tries to bring you down to make herself feel better.
Or maybe she is unhappy, and resents her ex-partner for finding happiness.
Take a moment to consider how the person who continues to wrong you, views the situation. This doesn’t mean that you agree with it. But empathizing with their experience, can help you be more accepting of their behavior.
NOTE: Accepting does not mean condoning!
4. FEEL BAD FOR THEM
Let’s take the empathy piece one step further.
Yes, this person has wronged you.
Yes, they have made you feel bad.
BUT at the end of the day, you get to continue on with your life. You get to be you. You have the power to CHOOSE HAPPY.
Yes, you have to deal with the outcome of their toxic behavior, but that’s just a blip in your story.
They, on the other hand, are probably going through life consumed by anger, hostility, resentment, discontentment (whatever it is that pertains to your situation). That stuff is with them all day, every day, and that’s a shitty burden to carry.
It goes back to the saying:
The way someone treats you is more about them than it is about you.
You get to keep being you, they have to keep being them. So, process, move forward and start living the life that you deserve to be living.
They aren’t going to change until they commit to doing the work on themselves… that’s not a decision you can make for them.