How do you really forgive?
November 18, 2011 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I thought I had forgiven my friend, but whenever it comes up I am disturbed by our differing accounts of the same events. Why does this bother me so much? How can I truly forgive her?

For a relatively short period of time, maybe 6 months, a friend of mine treated me poorly. She was inconsiderate, inappropriate and just generally mean. For me it was pretty intense, I felt personally attacked, and I was couldn't get her to acknowledge any ill feelings towards me that would explain this shift in behavior.

We had some time apart and then were able to talk things out and renew our friendship. I expressed my feelings, she apologized. Everything went back to normal.

But every once and a while, it comes up and her explanation is that 'we had a misunderstanding' or 'we just weren't connecting.' And it really gets under my skin. Then again, I'm not sure what I expect her to say about it!

I don't know how to resolve these feelings- we've already talked it all over. I don't want to rehash this stupid stuff. I understand it intellectually, that we can have differing perceptions of events, but somehow it still bothers me.

Is this a time heals all wounds sort of situation? Or is this just unforgivable for me?
posted by abirdinthehand to Human Relations (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
But every once and a while, it comes up

How does it come up? Do you bring it up? If so, you need to stop beating a dead horse and forgive her or move on. She's already apologized, what more do you want? Forgiving someone isn't admitting fault or giving up. It's a tool that is essential to moving on with your life.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:09 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sometimes, people do really crazy stupid shit that absolutely boggles our brains, and our brains, desperate to find some sort of logical conclusion to pair with said crazy shit, go mad trying to reconcile what happened with the way things are now. Sometimes this means that what happened = really just not okay. If that's the case, you have a few choices:

a) Forgive her, and continue to be her friend.
b) Hold a grudge, but continue to be her friend.
c) Hold a grudge, but commence the slow fade and drop her.
d) Forgive her, but commence the slow fade and drop her.

Pick the one that'll give you the most peace, and go forward.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:15 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Short advice before I sleep: try to figure out why you are still in pain over this. Do you find it hard to trust her? Are you afraid on some level that what she said was true or that you deserved it? Did something like this happen in your earlier life? Etc, etc. Do you feel that it's unfair that she doesn't take full blame for this? If so, why? In the past, have you felt that others hurt you and never were accountable? Also, what "brings it up" for you? Random things? Mean stuff she says about others? Painful experiences in the rest of your life?

Also, what was her explanation for why she treated you so badly - that is, what did she say when she apologized? Can you get into her headspace and try to figure out what she was feeling? Like, if she was going through some stuff and taking it out on you, that still sucks but it feels different from "she was just making fun of me for kicks".

It's not really a question of "forgiveness" - you do forgive her. Forgiveness is an action as much as a feeling, and you are acting out forgiveness by maintaining your friendship, not being horrible to her, not trash-talking her, etc.

IME, time does heal a lot of this stuff - eventually, you'll have enough layers of positive experiences with her to sort of seal off the bad memories and they will lose power. But if you can name what's bugging you, it will go faster and better.
posted by Frowner at 10:18 PM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

Well, how else is she supposed to refer to the incident? Do you want her to say "back when I was a huge a**hole to you and screwed you over repeatedly," or will you let her save face and refer to the incident with a euphemism? It sounds like she felt badly enough about what happened to work things out with you, and she probably feels guilty now whenever the issue comes up. If it bothers you when she refers to the "misunderstanding," just tell her it's water under the bridge, not worth mentioning again.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:34 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

From your brief description, your friend spent 6 months doing things that hurt your feelings, and you could never get her to acknowledge what happened or explain why she did it. Apologizing is not the same as explaining. Then she stopped. But if I were in your position, on some level I would be very wary about the hurtful behavior starting up again. The fact that she describes behavior you found very disturbing with a superficial "we just weren't connecting" suggests that she didn't get it then, and so she's unlikely to be more careful in the future.

I don't think it's a question of forgiving her. I think it's a question of forgiving yourself, for feeling hurt then, for still feeling hurt when it comes up, for not wanting to be hurt that way in the future.

If it were me, I would stay emotionally distant, unless there is some extremely compelling reason for continuing to be close friends. You don't have to avoid her, or give explanations, but just don't get close. When people talk about "time heals" they frequently mean that after awhile you just don't care very much.
posted by kestralwing at 10:37 PM on November 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

Six months of being an asshole??? If it was me I would never ever consider being friends with that person again, but that's me. I put a pretty high standard on friendships, and maybe you do too?

Do you want her to say "back when I was a huge a**hole to you

That is EXACTLY what I would expect from a real friend who treated me like crap for six months, but again, that's me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:43 PM on November 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

One of my colleagues who became a longterm friend (10 years now) was an absolute shit while her father was dying. Some long time later, another colleague of ours had a mother dying and behaved badly sometimes. My friend brought this up in frustration, and I blurted out, without thinking "but you were just as bad when your dad died." She was shocked, and perhaps hurt, but she had had no idea of what she'd done, how she'd behaved. Perhaps your friend similarly doesn't have a good recollection of what she did, because the time was so bad for her.

Another possibility is something similar I did to a very good friend once, a long time ago. My teasing, learnt from my family of origin, absolutely crushed her. I found out much later that she'd been crying herself to sleep, from the pain I was causing her. For me, the same time, I was so happy she was living with me, and so proud she was my friend, which is why I was teasing her so much, I had no idea. When she finally told me, it was too late to resurrect the friendship. I couldn't face what a cruel person I'd been to her, and she didn't like me anymore.

If either of these possibilities seem like the truth, I'd suggest that you let it go, don't bring it up again. When it crosses your mind, say to yourself, yes, I was hurt, and she apologised, even if she doesn't understand the true impact it had on me. I will let it go because that is what I choose to do.

The last possibility is maybe your friend is mean. Maybe this is what she does to people who aren't in her inner circle. If you think this is the truth, then let her go.
posted by b33j at 10:44 PM on November 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

People don't want to think of themselves as bad people and will often rationalize shitty things they do to themselves in ways that it makes sense to them, even if it has a very tenuous relationship to reality.
posted by empath at 10:50 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

To build on what kestralwing just wrote, it's not totally clear if this is the type of behavior that might crop up again or not. If it was a TOTAL anomaly for this person, learn to live in the moment, and let it drop. If it could easily happen again, redefine your boundaries.

I have three interesting anecdata to share. All very recent. Wow. I'll try to keep this short!

Just drove my longterm very close male friend and his gf to the airport. He's family! Looking back, I did some shitty things I'm still glad he's friends with me after. And he was a prick once or twice. All of these old stories came up during our drive, in fun and jest, since they were new stories for his gf. Because our lives have changed so much, and who we are has changed so much, it was just interesting history we were relating to her she hasn't heard before. We're still close.

Another friend, female, I've known a few years and really really like - but she is very controling and annoying about money. Months back, I put the breaks on her, but stayed friendly. Just recently I'm starting to hear about conflicts between her and her SO (who I also really like) that TOTALLY explain her behavior. Along with the fact that she's just kinda bossy (and I LIKE strong chicks.) The boundaries will remain in place because I want to keep liking her, but at least I understand her better now.

A third female friend I've known the same length of time also got put in the penalty box, and that is where she will stay. Right from the beginning, even though she is brilliant and hilarious, stories she told me about current and past relationships threw up red flags and showed me it wouldn't end well with her. These stories have helped me keep things pleasant whenever I run into her (because I know what she's about) and I don't need to know or care what she says behind my back. And that's where I plan to keep that.


I don't know where your friend may or may not fall into that spectrum. But there ya go.
posted by jbenben at 10:55 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I mean okay, going by the title of this ask, "How do you really forgive?" you understand that forgiving her is the preferable way to go about fixing this. But forgiving someone can be really hard. Hell, giant swathes of religion are wrapped up in the concept of forgiveness and even with codified modes communication it's still one of the hardest damn things a person can do.

Forgiveness is super individualized. I'm the type to hold grudges for years, until suddenly, in the wink of an eye the grudge is gone. Other people I know are zen about things to the point of bafflement, forgiving left and right until there's a tiny little problem I'd never think would be an issue that just makes them break and stay mad forever. My father says that he forgives plenty of things but clearly just uses the words without the meaning. Everybody is different, every situation requiring forgiveness is different.

If you're religious in some way it might help you to read up on what your preferred spiritual guides say on the topic of forgiveness. If you're not, it still might help, just to give you an idea of what people who have put lots of thought into the matter have to say, regardless of their paradigm.

Look at this situation you've got from as many angles as you can. Really try your hardest to empathize with your friend. Really try your hardest to figure out why this specific thing bothers you so much to the point of making this AskMe. Determine if forgiving her is something you can do without involving her knowledge of your predicament or not. If you think you can do it on your own, through self-reflection and however you personally process problems, then that's simpler, but possibly less successful. If you need to tell her that you've forgiven her, verbally, be prepared to have a very difficult conversation. Be certain that her friendship is worth this difficulty to you. Perhaps that is part of where the problem is stemming from? Because she is so important to you, and you don't understand why she hurt you? Maybe she's more important that you think she is.

The difficult of the conversation will likely stem from her thinking that your forgiveness is a form of condescension. Prepare yourself to respond to that. Be absolutely certain that is not what it is. Do you need her to blame herself, to feel really bad and "atone" for what she did? Is your need to forgive her actually just a desire to feel superior to her? Figure it out. Think of it kind of like grieving. It takes time, everybody does it differently, it comes out in weird ways, and sometimes it makes relationships change unexpectedly.
posted by Mizu at 12:41 AM on November 19, 2011

IMO, its simple too see why it bothers you. You want your feelings validated. You want her to acknowledge the behaviour that upset you and apologise sincerely. So long as there is a disconnect between what you experienced emotionally and what she feels happened, her apology cannot feel sincere to you and your feelings cannot be validated. I assume although you talked it out, you still have no explanation for why she treated you poorly so it remains unresolved. (there may not be a reason, she may not have been doing it on purpose)

You say you understand your perception of the events are different but do you also understand that your memory/understanding of it is not more or less truthful than hers? You don't give specifics of what she did but its possible it was really a misunderstanding. She may have been completely unaware of how she was coming across. Work/home/family stresses or illness can cause people behave differently - they can become irritable, snippy and/or self-absorbed without even realising it. Its also possible that after the first incident you were especially sensitive to her actions and that she wasn't being as mean/inconsiderate and appropriate as you thought - at least not in comparison to her usual self. It can be a hard to break cycle, she does something inconsiderate/inappropriate and you get irritated, and from then all her actions are seen in a less favourable light than before, which makes you more irritated etc.

In terms of how to forgive, intellectual and emotional forgiveness are 2 different things. It sounds like you have forgiven her intellectually but not emotionally. Intellectual forgiveness is easy, she says sorry, you accept. Emotional forgiveness is not something you really have control over. If she cant apologise in a way that gives you what you need emotionally, I think only time will heal this wound. Until that happens you might want to find ways to stop this subject coming up - or at least reduce the frequency.
posted by missmagenta at 12:50 AM on November 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

You talked things out, you said how you felt, she apologized, and you both moved on. So why is this continuing to come up? How does it keep coming up?

I really think this is a necessary piece of information that you haven't provided here.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:30 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My thoughts are along the same lines as jbenben's and kestralwings'. When the hurtful behaviour is repeated over a long period of time (and six months is a long period for negative behaviour to be repeated), it can leave such deep traces and fears that one "nice" conversation during which apologizing seems the "nice" and appropriate thing to do is not enough.

I think the only thing which can turn your desire to forgive and forget into real forgiveness is some guaranty that the hurtful attitude is 1. a freak occurence, 2. not a sign of some very deep-seated, mostly subconscious, attitudes and beliefs about you and the relationship between you, and 3. not going to be repeated in the future. Consciously (and permanently) acknowledging that the offending behaviour/s was/were out of line is the most reliable way in which these three messages can reach you when you are the one who has been hurt. But for this acknowledgement to seem honest, and not just like an emotional massage during one let's-be-on-our-best-behaviour conversation, it cannot stay restricted to that one initial conversation - the onus is (largely) on the offender, as it were, to make sure that the hurtful behaviour doesn't recur, and also to reassure you that it won't.

Based on my own slightly similar situation, these are some things I am trying to teach myself:

1. When hurtful behaviour comes your way, don't just keep bottling stuff up until you can take no more - very often, when you reach boiling point it is too late to salvage the relationship without huge amounts of work and continuous just-so behaviour for a lengthy period of time. React on a sliding scale basis, depending on how serious the behaviour is. For example, with first instance of rudeness you just draw attention to it allowing the other person to regroup (you can just say "hey!" and raise your eyebrows, or take a step back, or draw your upper body back - just enough to get a behavioural reset from the other person). The second time you can be a bit more forceful, and the third time you actually address it openly.

2. Don't use excuses to avoid the stress of reacting. I used to think that people behaving badly and hurtfully had issues (I used "depression" as a blanket term here) - so their behaviour was excusable cause it came from a place of emotional turmoil and unhappiness. I still believe this to a large extent, but I no longer think it is up to me to plead with myself in their defence. In fact, I came to realise that I was doing this out of habit (after doing this a few times, I became almost addicted to the thrill of creating explanations - sometimes, I had to be quite inventive, a bit like writing short-stories, only lazier), out of cowardice (I hate confrontations), and also out of a desire to build up "bad behaviour credit", as it were. But it isn't the hurt person's place to create scenarios in which the hurt "makes sense". It is their job to signal boundaries by reacting and letting the other person deal with that reaction. Otherwise it's like trying to run the relationship as a one-man show. Never succeeds.

3. Learn to distinguish between bad behaviour and bad attitude. Someone who is curt because they have a bad day, week, month is different from someone who is curt because they fundamentally disrespect you. Neither should be tolerated, but how you ultimately deal with curt behaviour does depend on where it is coming from.

4. Own your contribution to the tensions in the relationship, but don't let it cloud the issue. It is impossible to be exposed to months of bad behaviour without starting to mirror it, or without becoming passive-aggressive, at least to some extent - but be careful not to go to the other extreme, where suddenly bad behaviour over a long period of time becomes obscured by your own behaving badly in response). Is it possible that your friend lives with the impression that there was a bad dynamic between the two of you, rather than just her being insensitive and mean? Was the situation presented even remotly in this light when you had your conversation? If yes, maybe this is where the "misunderstanding" idea comes from. If not, she might still cling to this explanation of what happened. In any case, you can use this as an entry to another conversation about that period, making it clear this time that you are aware of your own bad responses, you regret dealing with the issues poorly, but that the main issues were xyz, and unless they are proprly acknowledge you fear that the same dynamic might recur in the future.

5. Pay attention to what you are feeling, and don't dismiss your feelings. It could be that you just find it hard to let go of this, and you need time. But it could also be that your feelings are communicating that there are some red flags still standing, which have not really been addressed between you. Maybe you can see the same behavioural patterns still in action, albeit muted? Maybe some of the things that were said or done require more than a blanket apology? Maybe you cannot find an explanation for some of the things that happened other than by assuming that you friend disprespects you or doesn't care about you (for instance, someone being rude or condescending a couple of times is someone who has a bad day; someone who systematically undermines you and your self-esteem has a much more serious problem)? Or maybe the kind of thing that was done is a deal-breaker, and you haven't quite become aware of this yourself? Or, despite the apology, their current behaviour reinforces the bad stuff from the past (as an example, let's say the friend exposed you to public ridicule and is unwilling to do damage control)? etc.

6. If you are convinced that the bad behaviour was a one-off, that it will not recur, and that it is not an expression of a negative attitude towards you, if you still care about this friend and friend cares about you, but you are still unhappy about euphemising the issue - I'd say have another conversation about it and then try to let it go (or just try to let it go without more discussion). In the course of any relationship we all end up doing bad stuff to each other - maybe think of a time when you were a less than fabulous friend, and she forgave and forgot. However, if, upon reflection, you are not satisfied that this is a person who cares about you and respects you and your feelings, maybe it is time to let this friendship go, or at least dial it down a lot.
posted by miorita at 4:45 AM on November 19, 2011 [18 favorites]

Do you bring it up? If so, you need to stop beating a dead horse and forgive her or move on.

I don't think the OP is saying this at all.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:48 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did she explain why she acted like this when you guys talked things over? Because if you still don't understand what brought it on - that could help a lot with accepting her euphemistic explanations.

For me, though, I don't think I could trust this person again. If we remained friends, it'd be on a "this far no further" level, where I wasn't involved enough for it to hurt if she arbitarily changd her behavior again.
posted by lemniskate at 4:58 AM on November 19, 2011

Response by poster: thanks everyone, it's helpful to hear the different perspectives on this for me.

Yeah, she mentions it. It'll be something like, oh you met joe, that was that night at such and such a place, but that was when. . . [insert euphemism here].

I think a large part of the problem is that she was unable to explain her behavior. She basically just admitted she had behaved badly. She did say she must have felt threatened by me, but could not explain further. She said it in that way too, that she 'must have' as though she didn't really know how she was felt. At the time, I thought- well she has her own deep seated issues and it doesn't really have to do with me- I guess I tried unsuccessfully to not take it personally.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:29 AM on November 19, 2011

If you can't get over this in part because you don't have an explanation (as people seem to be suggesting), it might be worth trying to get one, but it's worth keeping in mind that there's a widespread school of thought that one should not explain while apologizing (because that seems like making an excuse, which makes the apology seem less genuine).

I really can't imagine why this keeps coming up. One option is that your friend keeps bringing it up, which is shitty and approaches DTMFA territory. The other is that you keep bringing it up.

If I were your friend, and we had talked this all out, I had apologized, you had accepted my apology, things went back to normal, and then you kept bringing it up, I would be pissed. If you can't get past it, you can't get past it,* but otherwise you just have to move on because you can't expect your friend to keep apologizing (or punishing herself) indefinitely.

*Maybe you just can't get past it. If her mom had cancer, okay. If she was just a bitch for six months for no reason, well, six months is a long time and distinctly not an isolated incident. A person in my past treated me badly for two or three months. I've gotten over it in the sense that I've moved on with my life and am not constantly nursing wounds, but I will never forgive and we will never be friends. If you're in that kind of situation, I can't imagine why you would want to be friends-- it is okay to move on from that person.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:33 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think this is bothering you because she didn't really apologize or even explain herself at all. She is the one bringing up the unpleasant time and euphemizing it, and I for one would feel certain that unpleasant times were going to happen again with her, sooner or later. Forgiveness isn't something you're required to supply, it's something your friend needs to earn, and it sounds like she hasn't even tried to.
posted by tomboko at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

In light of your update, I wonder if something else could be happening here. It's possible that she doesn't feel bad or apologetic only about treating you badly, but also very ashamed about the you-related feelings which led to the sub-par treatement. These feelings-to-be-ashamed-of could be all manner of things. For me, for instance, some of them are:

1. Feeling envious of a friend's success(es), or even of their lack of insuccess, or them "getting away with something". This has only plagued me very, very rarely, but when it has, I felt incredibly ashamed, like a worm is gnawing right at the heart of me.

2. Taking things out on my nearest and dearest. This is how a lot of people deal with dissatisfactions in other parts of their lives. When I do it (again, I have tried to curb this tendency, but am not always succesfull) and realise I am doing it, it makes me feel quite ashamed, because as a child I have been very often a victim of such behaviour and have promised myself that when I grow up, I will NEVER put someone else through that. I thought (and still think) that it only takes self-control and caring about the other person to spare them the suffering and hurt such behaviour inflicts on them, and despised my own "take-outer" for lacking in self-control and care. Of course, whenever I occasionally turned into a take-outer, that contempt inevitably turned into self-contempt. I have a handle on this now, but it took a while.

3. Feeling uncharitable towards someone I am close to. I've learned that, however much you love someone, there will, probably, be times when you get annoyed or exasperated by them (regardless of the reason). I used to have such a romanticised and exalted notion of friendships, amorous relationships and relationships in general that I felt profoundly ashamed for failing the ideal.


The point to this is that shame is one of the most difficult emotions to deal with. The way you described your friend's actions in your update (including the fact that she cannot tell you why she behaved the way she did) could well spring from feelings of shame. To me, she comes accross as almost obsequious, and trying to save this by euphemising what has happened. Maybe that's why she keeps bringing it up - because she has unresolved feelings about it, wants to acknowledge it but never fully manages to since she cannot confront the shame and is thus locked in a vicious circle where shame leads to half-baked acknowledgement leads to more shame etc.

Only you know if there is any merit to this, but, if there is, it might be an idea to initiate another conversation, in which this is addressed. Maybe the next time you two are alone and she brings up the "time when xyz" you can let her know that you would like for the two of you to live in the present and look towards the future and let the past be the past (if you are otherwise ready to do so), and that the only usuful thing to be gotten out of that unpleasantness is to know that certain behaviours are not OK for either of you, that if something bothers one of you it's a good idea to speak up, that everybody can have unreasonable reactions to things (jealously in the face of the other's success, exasperation with some trait or behaviour, whatnot), but that it is important to deal with such emotions thoughtfully and not take them out on each other. But that it would be good to let actions speak instead of words in regard to this paticular past period from now, make sure you are considerate and kind towards each other, and not keep mentioning what happened.

The way I read what she is doing now is her trying to atone for what she did, but in a not entirely satisfying manner: she is simultaneously abasing herself and not really acknowledging what happened. If this is the case, this is just another unhealthy dynamic.
posted by miorita at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sometimes, people do really crazy stupid shit that absolutely boggles our brains, and our brains, desperate to find some sort of logical conclusion to pair with said crazy shit, go mad trying to reconcile what happened with the way things are now. Sometimes this means that what happened = really just not okay. If that's the case, you have a few choices:
a) Forgive her, and continue to be her friend.
b) Hold a grudge, but continue to be her friend.
c) Hold a grudge, but commence the slow fade and drop her.
d) Forgive her, but commence the slow fade and drop her.

I have a similar situation going on. A good friend of mine dropped me for a year and then came back-- there was a friend group fadeaway going on and I found out later that she is having relationship issues. I am trying, she is trying, but it is definitely weird to have this "lost year" sort of thing coming up in conversation. Not to mention the part where I and the rest of the old friend group are now persona non grata to her fiancee, so that kind of makes things difficult.

What I am kind of doing is option (e), continue the friendship, try to get over the grudge, but have reservations and lower my expectations. I don't think it's going to go back to the way things were under the circumstances, and while I miss that, I can't fix time and her moving on when I did not here. I am enjoying her while she's around, but not daring to ask for more and trying not to get my hopes up. If she wants to hang out, great, but I don't go around asking her to do stuff, since the fiancee issues is most likely a problem for her. It's probably gonna be more of a circumstantial/casual friendship now and I'm just going to have to deal with that and take it as it comes.

In your case, it's a little uglier so I'm not sure how to adapt this theory exactly. I think I'd suggest making it more of a casual friendship and only trusting her so far. You'll always be kind of burnt by the old information (she was a jerk), but unless she fucks up again, give her a chance to improve.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2011

I once heard that forgiveness, really, is nothing more than abandoning all hope for a better past.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:15 AM on November 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: First of all, the fact that you continue to have bad feelings about this does not mean you haven't forgiven/aren't forgiving her. We get it hammered into us that forgiving is about letting go, moving on, not allowing someone to hurt us any more. To the point that we are *seriously* urged to believe that forgiveness is something we do "for ourselves", rather than a transaction between two people.

It therefore follows, from this faulty reasoning, that, if we still feel bad about something, we haven't really forgiven the person. That's actually a major barrier to forgiveness, because that really is not the way humans actually operate. It would be nice if we were perfect, but we advance in fits and starts and sometimes go backwards. Furthermore, if she had run you over in her car instead of hurting you emotionally, you would probably still be dealing with pain and fallout from the physical injury - would that mean you hadn't properly forgiven? Of course not, and I think our tendency to underestimate the pain of emotional injury, or to stigmatize the sufferer for feeling it, does us a big disservice here.

The way she's handling it now definitely sounds weird. If I were you I would also feel quite uneasy about how she's talking about it. It sounds like she talks about it as though reminiscing about the good old days, frankly, which is incongruent with her apology and your mutual agreement to move on.

I don't know what is motivating her to do this, and it's not really your problem, as others have so eloquently explained. What does concern you is whether this means her attitude towards you isn't as good as the official version says it is, and/or that she might just decide to start treating you just as badly again if she decides that she feels like it.

Here is my suggestion: next time she brings it up as though reminiscing about the good old days when she gave you a swirly and peed in your soup, ask her: "Why are you bringing this up? And why are you bringing it up like that?" The way she responds will probably tell you a lot. I recommend practising in front of the mirror for a while so you'll be prepared for the various reactions you think she might throw at you. If, for example, she said something like "lighten up" you could reply, "well I didn't bring this up, you did, and I don't really understand what your motives are."

Finally, a good book on this subject is "How Can I Forgive You" by Janis Abrams Springs. It's one of the few books that tackles the subject in a realistic way. She has sections on the four ways this usually goes.

First, there's Cheap Forgiveness, which you as the offended party are expected by our culture to practice. You are barely allowed to expect an apology or confront the offender, if at all, and as soon as they pony up even the weakest of excuses or pseudo-apologies - or even if they don't do that much - you are expected to totally get over it, fully trust them with your life again, and not ever to have a single bad feeling about it or them in the whole world ever.

The next one is "refusing to forgive". Why that asshole, that cream-faced loon, that wicked witch of the West, you dare to suggest that *I* should ever forgive *her*? No! No! That would be saying that what she did was okay [it wouldn't] and bending over for it all again [it wouldn't] and she is evil, beyond redemption, has split ends, and wears one of those stupid hats with the earflaps! I could never forgive such a terrible person as her!!! This one is fairly self-explanatory, I think.

The next one is "acceptance" in which you try to work it out with them, and maybe push quite hard against their resistance and excuse-making in order to try to get them to understand. This, I think, is what "turning the other cheek" might mean in practice, because whenever you try to address the problem with them, you run the risk that they'll turn it around and attack you again - you got slapped once and now you complain, you're getting slapped twice.

Having done this, the other person is very often not going to come through for you. At a certain point you might have to face that this is just one of the faults they have, and you are going to have to work around it. This might involve reconciliation or it might not. A few years ago, for example, I had to accept that someone I know is most probably, and I say this with very little fear of exaggeration, a sociopath. Accepting that meant cutting off the relationship; she is what she is, she's psychologically incapable of repenting of her actions or doing better in any genuine way (only in a dangerous way because, with this person, even her actions lie) and is simply too hazardous to have any contact with at all. Springs differentiates this from "genuine forgiveness", and she's right to, because I'd love to say I've forgiven this person from a distance even though I cut her out of my life and want absolutely nothing to do with her. But that would be a half-truth; I can't complete the forgiveness process totally on my own and without the participation of a person who, with no rancor towards her, simply will never be able to do anything to get off my shit list. A "mixture of mercy and fear" is what the Bible recommends for dealing with these folks, along with praying for their redemption; that's the best I can do so that's what I'm doing.

"Genuine forgiveness" is when you and the offender work together to restore the relationship. You help them figure out what they need to do to make it up to you and make you feel safe relating to them again, and you extend yourself to rise above the injury. It hardly ever happens, because our culture pushes cheap forgiveness so hard that it convinces you, as the injured party, that it's all on you and you don't even get to mention it, that involving the offender or mentioning it to them at all is aggressive or asking too much, and that you do it to feel better and therefore, if you don't feel better, it must mean that you're an inadequate forgiver. I think this is where we came in.
posted by tel3path at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

OP, I see a lot of people giving you the "let it go" speech. And there is value in that...especially if you don't care to continue to be friends.

But yeah, if I was treated like that...and still remained friends, I would want some kind of assurance (since the trust isn't there anymore), that I would not be subjected to those past behaviors. I would want to find out WHY it happened, and what the probability of happening again is...and then I would make a decision of whether to remain in the relationship or not.

Good luck, dude.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2011

In my case, the problem I have with a friend, and why I would call it "a misunderstanding" is that it's just less harmful to the universe that way.

What she interprets as me "being mean" to her is just me distancing myself from her, or speaking up when she goes into some really repugnant world views that are just harmful to society.

I would and have apologized for anything I have said that hurt her, I never want to hurt anyone, but I don't feel bad about distancing myself from her, and I don't feel bad that she thinks me disagreeing with her is being mean or inconsiderate. Also, she keeps hounding me about why we aren't close friends anymore, but how can I explain that her views (which are her right to have) make me sick?

So I have summed it up as "we just don't understand each other" and "we're just not connecting" because for me to say I think she's become someone I don't want to be around, but I love her, and there is no good way to explain it other than we don't understand one another anymore. That is my way of saying, YUCK WHY AM I FRIENDS WITH YOU?

(Your update said she admitted feeling threatened by, that is not the case with my current experience, but I thought I could address the misunderstanding part and the "not connecting")
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe admitting it and apologising was really hard for her - how many times must she eat that crow?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:01 PM on November 19, 2011

Grlnxtdr may be right. Not suggesting that you were labelling her reasonable and rightful behaviour as "mean" or "inconsiderate", but that your friend may simply not like you. I think it's fair to say that someone who is mean to you for six months, doesn't like you during those six months. If you say that she now talks about those incidents as though reminiscing about the good old days, maybe that's what she's doing: the good old days when she could openly show her disdain for you.

Not everybody who doesn't like you, and doesn't want to be your friend, will just fade. Sometimes they hang around responding to your attempts to restore the friendship, and doing friendlike things, while resenting you and wondering why you don't understand that they don't want your friendship at all. But instead of fading, they give mixed messages. It isn't fair, but it also isn't uncommon.
posted by tel3path at 1:26 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

But every once and a while, it comes up and her explanation is that 'we had a misunderstanding' or 'we just weren't connecting.' And it really gets under my skin. Then again, I'm not sure what I expect her to say about it!

Her brain's self protection mechanism (to downplay the extent of the problem) is irritating you because you feel she doesn't take your concerns (and by extension you) seriously.

I don't know how to resolve these feelings- we've already talked it all over. I don't want to rehash this stupid stuff. I understand it intellectually, that we can have differing perceptions of events, but somehow it still bothers me.

You're afraid it's going to happen again (aka part of a wider pattern of behaviour on her part) and that you'll look like a mug for forgiving her and trusting her.

This is a difficult place to come back from. I'm not sure how you remove that fear - that fear exists to protect you. It's like - last time I went into the jungle there was a tiger, tigers will eat me, I will be always looking out for the tiger now. Caution is good. Blind acceptance of someone is not.

The only thing I can suggest is that when she says "we had a misunderstanding" or "we just weren't connecting" you counter it in an assertive - not aggressive or distraught - matter of fact matter with your take on the situation. Just a very short counter-statement.

Of course, she may get annoyed with that (because her own brain is trying to protect her from the concept that she might have hurt you) and she may dump you as a friend. But I personally would only really want to be friends with someone who was prepared to acknowledge the extent to which they've hurt me.
posted by mleigh at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i think you might be onto something tel3path, she may not like me and may just be continuing this relationship out of guilt or shame-- or just to keep up appearances with our mutual friends.
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:01 PM on November 19, 2011

If you wish to remain friends, you simply must get over it. Sadly, there is no other way.
I have done the same thing to a very close friend of mine; treated her objectionably over a period of about 2 or 3 years. I was going through some really rough stuff at the time and she became, I'm ashamed to say, something like my punching bag.

I am totally honest with people when it comes up (it almost never does) because I have taken responsibility for my actions. It seems as though she is unable to do so, or still feels guilt for what she did just as you still find hurt in her actions.
posted by the milky bar kid at 8:26 PM on November 19, 2011

I have a friend who occasionally does or says things that I find really hurtful - much less now, but she went through a phase of doing it literally all the time. I think she suffers from a kind of cognitive dissonance: she's about to do or say something hurtful, then thinks to herself, "could that be seen as a hurtful thing to do? Someone who was a good person and a good friend wouldn't do something hurtful. I am a good person and a good friend. Therefore what I am about to do cannot possibly be hurtful." If the recipient of the behaviour then does find it hurtful, that's their fault for being over-sensitive - not hers, because she's a nice person, and nice people don't hurt their friends. Could your friend be doing something similar? That doesn't help you deal with it, of course, but it may be what's going on in her mind.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 2:30 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

She damaged your trust by treating you badly without apparent reason for such a long time.

You have a right to ask for an explanation, and a right to feel that the explanation is inadequate if it doesn't satisfy your confusion.

If she wants to continue the friendship, she needs to rebuild your trust. Which may be difficult, especially if you didn't have a terribly close friendship -- without going extravagant it may not be easy to show that she values you, feels badly about the mistreatment, and won't do it again.

There may be some truth to the idea that she doesn't really want to be friends, but is making nice because that's what the culture is telling her to do.

Do you really want to remain friends with her? If so, figure out what your lingering issues are (and you've gotten a lot of good suggestions on how to do that) and then explain those to her. But really, if she could treat you badly for that long and then (seemingly) make light of it afterward, she doesn't seem like the kind of person who's worth keeping around. If you have mutual friends it might be difficult to cut off contact entirely, esp. if you've been friendly with her after her mistreatment. In that case stop instigating contact, be civil or distantly friendly if you meet in a group atmosphere, and relegate her to "acquaintance" status in your mind.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:58 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's sad that your friend keeps dredging up the past. She's not letting your friendship grow past whatever hurts have happened. I think the fact that you're thinking about the nature of your friendship and how respectfully friends should treat one another demonstrates a real maturity on your part. It sounds like your friend may not be maturing at the same rate you are, and you'll have to assess whether or not this friendship will help you continue to grow as a person.

I had a friend like this once. Ultimately, I realised that I could no longer be myself around her, and I knew in my heart I couldn't be true friends with someone like that, nor could I fully enjoy a person who brought up the past/made me feel bad about past misunderstandings. A lot of it is about being true to yourself. When I did walk away from my friendship with her, it was one of the hardest things I ever did. I literally mourned over it, but that's another one of those things that time *does* heal.
posted by chatelaine at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2011

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