Why Is It Hard to Forgive

Every single one of us has had to consider the idea of forgiveness yet it is one of the trickiest subjects to navigate and get our heads around.  What is forgiveness and why can it be so hard to forgive?

Most of us assume that if we forgive our offenders, they are let off the hook — scot-free — and get to go about their merry ways while we unfairly suffer from their actions. We also may think that we have to be friendly with them again, or go back to the old relationship. This, of course, would cause hesitation to forgive.  It’s important to realize, however, that we do not have to keep trusting those who violated our trust or even to like being around those who hurt us. Here are some components on forgiveness that we must consider:

  • Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook
  • Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again
  • Forgiveness does not mean we have to revert to being the victim. Forgiving is not saying, “What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me.” Nor is it playing the martyr, enjoying the performance of forgiving people because it perpetuates our victim role. 
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we never can get along with him again. 
  • Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It might take some time to work through our emotional problems before we can truly forgive. 
  • We have to forgive every time. If we find ourselves constantly forgiving, though, we might need to take a look at the dance we are doing with the other person that sets us up to be continually hurt, attacked, or abused. 
  • Forgiving does not mean denying reality or ignoring repeated offenses
  • Forgiveness is not based on others’ actions but on our attitude.  
  • Withholding forgiveness is a refusal to let go of perceived power. We can feel powerful when the offender is in need of forgiveness and only we can give it. We may fear going back to being powerless if we forgive.   
  • We might be pressured into false forgiveness before we are ready. When we feel obligated or we forgive just so others will still like us, accept us, or not think badly of us, it’s not true forgiveness — it’s a performance to avoid rejection. Give yourself permission to do it right. Maybe all you can offer today is, “I want to forgive you, but right now I’m struggling emotionally. I promise I will work on it.” 
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It’s normal for memories to be triggered in the future and that’s okay.  The key is to work through those triggers.
  • Forgiveness starts with a mental decision. The emotional part of forgiveness is finally being able to let go of the resentment. Emotional healing may or may not follow quickly after we forgive. 

Forgiveness is a key to living a whole and empowered life.  Allow yourself the time to consider who in your life you may need to forgive then keep in mind the principles above to start the process.

 Written by Lisa Smith

SMFT Lisa #1 (1)