I never thought I’d be the sort of person to place conditions on friendship. I have proudly waved the flag of total acceptance and therefore have walked around for years in a gold-infused state of delusion that I am totally awesome for waving said flag. Well, ha ha ha, I’m a dick because it’s entirely untrue.
I expect a lot from close friendships, from relationships, from any meaningful connection with someone. I expect respect, consideration, attention and (yes, it’s truth-tellin’ time) admiration from those close to me. I also expect honesty and accountability, and the lack of these can and have been deal breakers. I don’t support friends who have fucked up unless they ‘fess up; I can’t abide by dishonesty; and I when I reach the end of my tether with someone, I do have the tendency to give them the cold shoulder rather than say what’s pissed me off.
The terrible thing is that I’ve absolutely refused to acknowledge any of this until very recently.
As with everything, I have to preface this post with a little background. About a decade ago, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. The disorder part of that diagnosis I have since overcome, but the borderline part is still very present in my personality. What that means is I have (now mostly resolved) issues with abandonment; I tend to idealise close friends and lovers, a feeling that can rapidly morph into devaluing if the other person falls off the pedestal I have built for them; I have moments of intense episodic dysphoria particularly if rejected or criticised by a friend in which I feel I’m the worst human in the world; I tend to disassociate if I’m in a bad mood; and I have extreme sensitivity and empathy to those in need – with the condition that these are returned in my time of need.
Now, when most people hear of BPD their immediate thought is of someone with extreme mood swings, self-harming behaviour, suicidal threats and/or attempts, and who is generally a psycho sad sack. As I mentioned above, I have outgrown and worked through that stage, but the lingering traits in my personality make relationships veeeeery interesting. I have fought and screamed and sobbed and torn my hair out in relationships, more explicitly in the past and greatly internalised more recently. I’ve done some awful things to people I love in the past (and in the present; there’s that honesty thing again), and they have done some awful things to me, which I have responded to with dragon-like acerbity which has culminated in a very final “fuck off, I hate you.” I have been left steaming and angry and stomp-around-the-house-y and that has led to extreme disappointment in myself for allowing any of it to happen in the first place.
Which brings me to forgiveness. I believe forgiveness is essential to growth as a spiritual and intellectual human being, particularly forgiveness of self, but it’s so bloody hard to do sometimes. And why is that? Well, I think there’s a certain amount of power in holding a grudge or holding on to resentment; being the person wronged is an opportunity to be the person pitied, quite frankly. It puts one on the moral high ground, often with the added clause of “I wouldn’t do that to another person” to add to the acrimony arsenal. But, let’s face it peeps, we all have done ‘that’ to another person, and have probably felt indignantly justified in doing so. I think that I struggle with forgiveness because the act of forgiving seems to me to be condoning the other person’s actions, therefore making it okay for them to repeat the behaviour, or merely to not feel any accountability for their conduct which is just unacceptable!!! And I can’t forgive myself because I excel in self-flagellation so very much.
I find forgiveness easier with time and separation from the act and the person. I also find it easier when the offender has apologised. But is it always wise to forgive, to piously exonerate a person from their wrongdoing like some overdressed pontiff? (That’s the image I have in my mind at the moment, go with it.) Well, that’s a tricky one. I haven’t forgiven my childhood abusers because I don’t think they deserve it, but I certainly do not hold any hate for them. In fact, I don’t even think of them very often, because to do so would give them power; power that I took back a long time ago. I have forgiven my parents for the silly things they did as I was growing up, but I still experience fragments of pain from those experiences. Some slights I have been subject to have simply faded from my mind, while others have taken root, which is not altogether a bad thing as they serve as a reminder to be wary of certain behaviours in the future. Some things I have done I have forgiven myself for, while others hang in the back of my head like musty old cheese at the back of a walk-in larder.
In other cases, removing the offending people from my life has served to alleviate some of the rancour, and although no active forgiveness has taken place, if I ever meet these people again, I’m not going to run screaming from them.
“But what about people that you want to keep in your life?” I hear you ask.
Thanks for asking. Funnily enough, I was talking to my therapist about the fact that sometimes my best friend forgets to respond to my texts and this leaves me feeling ignored and unimportant and that that really hurts me. I went on to say that I don’t like feeling this way about her because she’s otherwise an awesome human being and I have no right to apply conditions on our continued friendship, as love should be unconditional. My therapist went on to say something very interesting about unconditional love only existing between a parent and child (which I may discuss in a later post), but then she said something that blew my little brain: Don’t place conditions on your friends, place conditions on yourself.
She went on to explain, “Place conditions on yourself with how you respond to these things. You have the choice as to how someone else’s behaviour affects you. Place a condition on yourself that you will not distrust the friendship (if the friendship is important to you), or that you will gently remove yourself from the relationship if you can’t bring yourself to trust the other person. That way, you will be accountable for your own actions, and not expect others to live up to an idealised behaviour pattern that you have created for them.”
Oh. BPD brain go ‘splodey.
But it actually worked. For my best friend, for my other friends, for my family and for myself I’m able to trust in our relationship. With others, like my ex, like an old friend who was quite awful to me a few years ago, and another young thing that I’d adopted into my clan who turned out to be a bit nasty, I’m working on forgiving them and accepting their humanness – not for them, but for me, so I can move on with no lingering feelings of bitterness or pain or general ickiness.
I guess that’s what forgiveness and acceptance is really about, yeah? It’s about freeing oneself from the pain one has decided to feel over the actions of others (pain which is entirely normal and understandable). If those others take one’s forgiveness as an excuse to indulge in more arsehat behaviour, then that’s their responsibility entirely, and is not a reflection on the awesome person who is learning how to be even more awesome.
Time, I think. Time is the only condition to a friendship, to forgiveness, and to being human. We can’t escape it, so I guess we make it work in our favour.