When to stop giving someone the benefit of the doubt

Ssecond…and third and fourth chances are easier to give to a partner or friend who let you down if you can find reason to believe their mistake wasn’t actually so evil. Maybe there’s a solid explanation for where they were or who they were with or why they didn’t react to a situation the way you expected. But, according to clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, offering this kind of leniency can be a slippery slope to getting hurt, especially if the person in question possesses certain toxic tendencies. And, in fact, learn when stop giving someone the benefit of the doubt can be an important act of self-care.

For an extreme example of forgiveness gone too far, consider recent Netflix shows Invent Anna and The Tinder scammer, both of which detail the emotional and financial fallout of an incredibly skilled con man. In each case, one of the most seriously cheated – Rachel Williams and Ayleen Charlotte, respectively – felt a desire to make excuses to the con artist, who was, in reality, a narcissistic predator entangling them in a toxic relationship. . When the two women recently shared their stories on an episode of Red table discussionDr. Durvasula pointed to the critical gesture that made their lot worse: not knowing when to stop giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

“I always tell people, ‘catch your justifications’, and that the four most dangerous words in the English language are ‘benefit of the doubt’.” —Ramani Durvasula, PhD, clinical psychologist

“Scammers, predators, narcissists – they all play on people’s empathy,” Dr. Durvasula said, in the episode. “Your empathy becomes, for them, a kind of weakness that they can exploit, that they can take advantage of. I always tell people, ‘catch your justifications’, and that the four most dangerous words in the English language are ‘profit of doubt”.

Why Giving Someone the Benefit of the Doubt Doesn’t Always Work in Your Favor

It’s a natural human instinct to give someone the benefit of the doubt. And in many cases, that’s a good thing, given that mistakes are also human and forgiveness is an essential part of managing any relationship. But when you’re dealing with a toxic or emotionally deceptive person, they’re likely to take advantage of this natural tendency to forgive to act in hurtful ways while avoiding the consequences.

This is especially the case when you’re in a relationship with a narcissist or someone who has an overly inflated sense of self. “A lot of times people can’t believe that a person is so self-centered and lacks empathy,” therapist Lesli Doares, LMFT, previously told Well + Good. “They get the benefit of the doubt because they can act in a way that seems generous, but it’s just a ploy to keep someone connected to them or to get something specific in return.”

That is, the narcissist tends to adopt a kind of false seriousness, saying something like, “How can you be mad at me?” I spent 20 minutes yesterday listening to your problems,” or “When you asked me for that ride to the airport, I gave it to you, so you can’t blame me,” says the Dr. Durvasula. “They view their falsely empathetic intervention as a ‘get out of jail free’ card and will ultimately use it against you.”

How to Know When to Stop Giving a Partner or Friend the Benefit of the Doubt

In cases like the ones above, where one-time kind gestures are used as free passes for bad behavior, it’s important to hold your ground; these apologies should do not be seen as reasons to continually give someone the benefit of the doubt when they hurt you.

Similarly, if you find yourself repeatedly creating your own flimsy justifications for a partner or friend’s behavior, it’s a sure sign that it’s time to stop offering them leniency. Typically, these justifications can stem from wishful thinking, empty desires to just maintain a relationship, or feeling like you’re a “bad person for not giving the benefit of the doubt because society tells us to.” , says Dr. Durvasule. Some examples ? Statements like “They don’t mean what they say” or “They’re just very stressed” or “All relationships are difficult”. The more you make these excuses for someone else, the more they can seem to reinforce themselves as true and keep you stuck in an unhealthy relationship, as a result.

To catch up before you fall into this justification trap, consider this framework from Dr. Durvasula: “If the mistake happens once, it may be a simple mistake, and you can offer the benefit of the doubt. If it happens again, it may just be coincidence and again you can give the benefit of the doubt. But if it happens a third time, it’s a pattern, and if you’re still giving the benefit of the doubt, you’re inadvertently undoing the bad behavior.

Of course, this progression is easier to identify objectively than within a relationship. Remember that a toxic person can be adept at using fake empathy and sincerity as “proof” that they are in fact a caring person and worthy of your forgiveness in return, but no matter what, if you offer them the benefit of the doubt a few times and see no significant change in their behavior, says Dr. Durvasula, that’s your cue not to offer it again.

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