Forgiveness can be a challenging process for anyone, but especially so for those with borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is characterized by difficulties regulating emotions, unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior. These core features of BPD can make it very difficult for borderlines to truly forgive others who have hurt them.
What is Forgiveness?
Before exploring whether borderlines can forgive, it is important to understand what forgiveness entails. Forgiveness does not mean excusing, justifying, forgetting, or reconciling with the person who caused harm. True forgiveness involves:
- Letting go of resentment, bitterness, and the desire for revenge
- Gaining understanding of the hurtful event and the person’s motives
- Releasing negative thoughts and emotions surrounding the offense
- Cultivating empathy, compassion, and goodwill for the offender
Forgiveness is primarily for the benefit of the forgiver, allowing them to move past pain and anger. It does not necessarily restore trust or mend broken relationships. Forgiveness is an internal process that takes time. It is not granted automatically and cannot be forced.
Why is Forgiveness Difficult for Borderlines?
There are several reasons why the radical forgiveness described above can be extremely difficult for those with BPD:
- All-or-nothing thinking – Borderlines tend to see things in extremes, as completely good or bad. This makes it hard to see nuance in hurtful situations.
- Unstable sense of self – Borderlines struggle with a shifting sense of identity, making it difficult to maintain an internal stable perspective necessary for forgiveness.
- Intense emotions – Borderlines experience emotions very deeply, making it hard to move past the intense hurt, anger, and betrayal of offenses.
- Fear of abandonment – Borderlines desperately fear rejection and abandonment. This makes forgiveness risky, as it requires vulnerability.
- Difficulty trusting – Due to past hurts, borderlines find it very difficult to trust others. This impedes forgiveness, as trust is needed to believe change is possible.
These core BPD traits combine to make borderlines prone to holding grudges and remaining embittered by past offenses and betrayals, rather than forgiving.
Is Forgiveness Possible for Borderlines?
While extremely challenging, forgiveness is not impossible for borderlines. With tremendous effort, borderlines can develop radical forgiveness of even major transgressions. However, this requires utilizing many skills and therapies designed to treat BPD, including:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Helps build distress tolerance, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness skills needed to cope with hurtful events in a healthy way.
- Mentalization therapy – Builds ability to understand different perspectives, improving empathy and compassion for those who hurt you.
- Schema therapy – Addresses ingrained assumptions, beliefs, and coping styles that influence how borderlines respond to being hurt.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Modifies all-or-nothing thinking, irrational beliefs, and negative thought patterns that fuel unforgiveness.
- Mindfulness practices – Reduce reactivity and bring awareness to thoughts and feelings that perpetuate resentment.
While it takes tremendous conscious effort, borderlines who utilize these therapies can develop the skills needed for forgiveness. This includes distress tolerance, mental flexibility, empathy, healthy communication of needs, regulating anger, and challenging rigid assumptions about themselves, others, and relationships.
Steps Borderlines Can Take to Forgive
Forgiveness is a process borderlines may need to revisit repeatedly. But there are practical steps borderlines can take to work toward forgiving those who have hurt them:
- Allow time to process the hurt – Forgiveness cannot be rushed.
- Accept the pain – Avoidance only prolongs unforgiveness.
- Release the desire for revenge – Revenge will not bring the peace you seek.
- Seek understanding – Try to view the situation through the other’s perspective with empathy.
- Release negative emotions – Anger, resentment and bitterness block forgiveness.
- Cultivate compassion – Wish the best for the person who hurt you.
- Accept what cannot be changed – Focus on what is within your control.
- Learn from the experience – Grow in wisdom and strength.
- Let go and move forward – Free yourself from the past hurt.
While extremely difficult, if borderlines invest the extensive time and effort required for these steps, forgiveness is attainable.
Forgiveness Is a Process, Not Event
It is important for borderlines to understand that forgiveness is an ongoing process, not a single event. Setbacks are to be expected. Borderlines may re-experience anger and pain related to the offense and need to renew their commitment to forgiveness. Each time borderlines work through the process, forgiveness can become easier and more complete.
Forgiveness Does Not Necessitate Reconciliation
An important distinction for borderlines is that forgiveness does not automatically require reconciling the relationship with the person who caused harm. In fact, in cases of abuse, betrayal, and mistreatment, reconciliation may not be recommended. Borderlines can forgive someone internally without interacting with them again. Forgiveness is primarily for the borderline’s peace of mind, not the benefit of the offender.
Borderline’s Support System Is Vital
Borderlines should not attempt to tackle forgiveness alone. A strong support system is vital throughout the forgiveness process. Borderline’s therapists and loved ones can provide the empathy, encouragement, and accountability needed to help them work through each challenging step toward releasing past hurts through forgiveness.
Forgiveness Is a Gift Borderlines Give Themselves
Ultimately, the greatest beneficiary of borderlines’ forgiveness is themselves. By doing the difficult work of letting go of anger and resentment, borderlines free themselves from past pain and open the door to inner peace and contentment. Forgiveness allows borderlines to move forward unfettered by bitterness to create the life they truly want. While immensely challenging, the gift of self-freedom makes forgiveness profoundly worth pursuing.
Forgiveness is extremely difficult but not impossible for borderlines. While BPD traits like all-or-nothing thinking, intense emotions, and fear of abandonment make it incredibly challenging to let go of offenses from the past, purposeful skills training and therapeutic techniques can enable borderlines to develop forgiveness. It requires tremendous conscious effort and time to work through the process, along with support and understanding. But radical forgiveness of even major hurts is achievable for borderlines, freeing them from past pain and providing the gift of inner peace. With dedication to the hard work of letting go, borderlines can open the door to a life no longer dominated by the shadows of yesterday’s hurts.