5 Reasons Forgiveness is Not a Good Way to Heal
For philosophers and clergy alike, the message is resoundingly clear: Forgive those who have hurt you, because holding on to anger is destructive. Case in point, see the small sampling of widespread broadcasting of such messages below.
Forgiveness is the final form of love
To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and to realize that the prisoner was you
-Lewis B. Smedes
To err is human; to forgive, divine
Forgiveness is often offered as a powerful solution; as an agent to not only help you heal from painful events but also allow you to move forward.
The general idea is that holding onto anger can make you bitter and hold you back from healing from harm that someone has done you. But the problem is that there are several serious problems with trying to use forgiveness as a solution.
Let’s first look at why it doesn’t work. Then, we will discuss a much better solution.
5 Reasons Forgiveness Does Not Work
- In today’s world, we generally seek to avoid emotions that are unpleasant, like anger and hurt. We naturally believe that we should escape “bad” feelings as soon as possible. Forgive and move on is a logical way to achieve this. However, emotions are not logical, and so this strategy does not work.
- Glossing over unpleasant feelings not only doesn’t work, but it also does not make use of the emotion. For example, hurt and anger carry vital messages from your body to your brain. The message from hurt is, “take care,” and the message from anger is “watch out, and protect yourself.” Before you forgive anyone, it’s vital that you listen to these messages, and heed them.
- True forgiveness is a wonderful thing, indeed. It happens after a process has taken place. This process involves accountability from the person who harmed you. If the person you’re forgiving has not acknowledged his or her harmful act and asked for your forgiveness, then you have not held the individual accountable.
- Forgiving those who have not taken responsibility for their actions falls short of holding them accountable. The offenders will be essentially let off the hook. This robs them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
- Forgiving someone who has not owned up to their actions makes you unnecessarily vulnerable. John F. Kennedy said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” In this quote lies a warning that forgiveness can leave you vulnerable to re-victimization. Without your anger and hurt to warn and remind you to protect yourself – and if the person who harmed you has not been held accountable – you are opening yourself up to being harmed again.
Quotes and articles about forgiveness present it as a solution to painful situations.
But forgiveness is not a solution. It’s a process.
The Process of True Forgiveness
- The offender realizes he (or she) has hurt you, perhaps because you have told him; perhaps because he notices your anger or hurt.
- A discussion and/or acknowledgment takes place, in which the offender takes accountability for her actions.
- The offender genuinely feels guilt or remorse and apologizes for his hurtful actions.
- An emotional meeting of the minds takes place in which you feel the remorse and accountability of the offender.
- This emotional meeting of the minds allows you to truly forgive your offender. All is not forgotten, but a mutual understanding has relieved you both.
In the process of true forgiveness, the relationship is changed forever, sometimes in a good way. Many who go through these steps together end up feeling more connected and closer than they were before the offense took place.
When There is No Accountability
Of course, it is true that in many of life’s situations the offender does not notice that she’s hurt you or does not appear to care. There is no accountability, no acknowledgment, no apology. So, sadly, there can be no meeting of the minds. These are some of life’s most difficult and painful experiences.
Here the solution becomes not about forgiveness, but about balance and self-care. If you allow your hurt and anger to rule you, you will be in danger of becoming bitter or vengeful.
Instead, please use your anger and hurt to build and enforce boundaries that will protect you from the other person. Soothe and balance your painful feelings with attention to your own health and recovery. Talk to those who care about you, eat well, and rest. Pay attention to your feelings and manage them.
And always keep in your mind the most healthy and powerful guiding principle for one who has been unjustly harmed and left with no accountability:
The best revenge is living well.
Nothing could be more true.
To learn more about emotions, how they are useful, and how to manage them in relationships, see the books National Bestseller Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
A version of this article originally appeared on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author.
This is the information that connects all the seemingly random dots.
To finally be able to give myself credit for not blindly accepting what “professionals” diagnosed me as. I was diagnosed with having a histrionic personality and being emotional to be the center of attention. I knew it was B.S. but they’re the one with all the letters after their name, right? WRONG! I trusted this “professional” had my best interests in mind and thus expressed the unbearable nightmare I was living in a very vulnerable and genuine way. And because I felt I could be my vulnerable and openly honest self in this clinical environment I was harmed even more than I could have ever imagined. I … thanks to one person …who not only recognized emotional neglect BUT made sure to share the knowledge not just amongst the ranks of “professionals” but to the very individuals that have spent lifetimes trying to understand themselves and the often damaging diagnosis attached to them as absolutes. I am many things but histrionic for attention is NOT one of them! My mother did her best, I in turn did my best but my children have more than their best, they have knowledge and I intend on making sure my grandchildren don’t fall victims of 4 generations of mother’s doing their best with the worst of life’s lessons they were given to work with. EVERY MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO LEARN THIS AND GO THROUGH YOUR SYSTEM OF ACQUIRING THIS KNOWLEDGE! You open the most profound and healing pathway for the future of humanity! I am with my entire soul grateful to see and heal my emotional self and know it’s not just another label that doesn’t feel right or even fit me but the result of something NOT done and until now not understood. I for the first time in 50 years understand myself and believe that I am going to be ok. I can heal and find the happiness I have always believed was out there for me. And if I don’t get there before my end, I know my children can heal and my grandchildren can begin a better legacy. And all because because one person chose to write a book that shared their knowledge with people like me. You have changed the future of humanity with your gift.