NOT Forgiving is Self Care, Too

I don’t believe in unconditional forgiveness.

For those in my life who haven’t taken accountability for their actions and haven’t changed their offending behavior, I don’t forgive them.

I've given myself permission to not forgive. And, no, I’m not filled to the brim with anger (even though anger is a legitimate feeling I have sometimes. Despite society’s general fear of it, it's a healthy, normal feeling worthy of acknowledgement). Once I gave myself permission to not forgive, I felt a burden lift.

The "Must Forgive Everyone" Concept Has Some Serious Holes

I'm not convinced our hearts and minds are capable of unconditional forgiveness, especially when the offending person doesn’t seek to resolve the pain they caused.

Society expects us to say the magic "I forgive you" words and "move on", which often means we're stuffing legitimate feelings down. That sounds unhealthy and toxic to me.

Society also says if we don't forgive, we'll be consumed with anger. We must forgive in order to grow, they say. Not true, I say!

I can not forgive someone and move forward positively in my life.

Also, do people really forgive every time they say they do? Maybe sometimes, but not all the time. The fact we say “forgive, but don’t forget” -- doesn’t that sound like we’re not really forgiving the person in the way society expects us to? (For the record, I believe it’s totally normal to not forget people’s wrongdoings, I’m just trying to make a point here that society contradicts itself here.)

And what about the unforgivable things in life? What are those things? Well, they’re different for every person. No one gets to define them but you. But aren’t some things unforgivable? I say, absolutely yes.

My conclusion - forgiveness is not a must.

I Don’t Forgive Everyone, I Set Boundaries

Instead of doling out unconditional forgiveness to someone who seriously hurt me, I try to talk it out with them and set boundaries. I hold the person who wronged me at a healthy distance until they prove they're trustworthy again. Sometimes they earn that trust back, other times they don’t. I may choose to let them in closer again, or I may decide to cut ties. This way, the onus isn't just on me; it's also on them, the offender.

By setting boundaries, I have the power to let the person in (or not) as I work through the pain they caused me, and as they work to heal our relationship. To me, that feels more realistic, genuine and healthy than an “OK, I forgive you” statement.

Don’t get me wrong - forgiving can also be good in many circumstances. It can be a compassionate and healthy act IF you genuinely feel that’s healthy for you to do. But in my book, giving someone a free pass while I’m still hurting is not healthy self care. That seems more like denial of my own feelings and self ---and that doesn’t sound like a path to happiness to me.

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P.S. Last week when I talked to my wonderful PTSD/EMDR therapist Candice about this, she also thought the forgiveness concept can be toxic at times, and said people sometimes beat themselves up for not being able to forgive in the way they think they should. She said “Self compassion is the answer. Whatever you feel right now is OK. That is true every moment, of every day.” What a beautiful concept.

P.P.S. For the record, I'm OK if someone holds me to this same "I don't forgive you" standard. I would want to earn my trust back with them versus be told I was instantly granted a free pass of forgiveness (because I don't believe those really exist).

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What Do You Think?

For years I’ve struggled with finding words for how I feel about this “must forgive everyone” concept (it feels like it's everywhere in our culture -or maybe it's because I was raised Catholic and was sent to a Christian cult as a teen?). I realize these beliefs about forgiveness may not be popular, but I wrote this because I doubt I'm the only person who feels this way.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s talk about it! Post below in the comments...

7 thoughts on “NOT Forgiving is Self Care, Too”

  1. I love this blog post so much. We are never told that it is ok NOT to forgive. But it is so true. I can really relate to this!! I want to set boundaries, take accountability to what responsibility was mine –if any– and then move forward. Thank you for an awesome and relatable post!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jean. And thank you for sharing that you can relate. It took me awhile to sort out my feelings in my head about it on paper. It means a lot that you posted you understand these feelings too!

  2. I have faced many situations in my life where someone did something to hurt or offend me. Although I have forgiven some, not all are deserving of forgiveness. That is not the same as hatred. I definitely don’t hate those I have been unable to forgive, but I still harbor resentment. Am I expected to forgive the man who molested my daughter or beat my son? I don’t believe I am. As a result, I can understand your column and appreciate your insight into this issue. Thank you.

    1. LuAnn, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry you have been through so much. I agree – I don’t hate the people I don’t forgive either. But I do still feel anger sometimes about the things a few of them have done. I’m OK with that. For what they did, anger is an appropriate response. I don’t let it eat me alive, and I express it in appropriate, self-loving ways. I also have witnessed people who say they forgive feel very strong feelings of anger because they resented “being forced” to forgive their offender. I think we live in a culture that is afraid of acknowledging anger. It’s a normal emotion we all have and I wish we didn’t shame people for expressing it in healthy ways. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Well I don’t know about cults but The Bible tells us to forgive as Christ forgave us. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting another person to die. Just because you forgive doesn’t mean you will easily forget. You may never forget. It also doesn’t mean I have to be your friend. If a person is capable of hurting others with no remorse then I choose not to have them in my circle. Forgiveness helps me understand why someone hurts others. Whatever the reason it’s no excuse but knowing that the person is sick or crazy or just mean. Let’s me know they need the Lord. I choose not to waste my time hating people because that’s what unforgiveness is. They could care less about me and ain’t thinking about after they’ve offended me. I will not give anyone that kind of power over me. I have forgiven many people who have hurt me and it’s way better than ruminating over the offense. It took me a while to let it go and now I don’t even think about that stuff. If it does come up I can honestly say I feel sorry for people like that because they are not happy.

  4. What is normal? Does it exist? No. Not really. What is normal for one is not for all. It’s an individual’s
    concept. Therefore, everyone is imperfect or dysfunctional in their own way, based on the hand they were dealt. That’s out of our control. The environment you are raised in, the people who raise you and the particular dysfunction you are subjected to will directly relate to the dysfunction you wind up with or distinct personality characteristics. I’m sure we all can agree on that.
    Buddha says forgiveness is understanding. If you understand you can’t be mad. When you seperate the person from the behavior it’s easy to say i love them
    But i hate their behavior. When you understand the dysfunction which we all have is left to chance or fate then it could just have easily been you who ended up with the dysfunction that drives the undesirable behavior you found offensive then you can’t be mad at them you will understand why they do what they do and understand you also do things you may or may not be aware of that offends. You would pray that others would be merciful and gracious enough to understand there’s a reason why you’re bent the way you are and grant you forgiveness not the action or behavior. YOU. That my friends, is unconditional forgiveness. If you understand you can’t be mad.

  5. This is a great piece! Thank you for voicing what I have felt for a very long time. Forgiveness and love isn’t always unconditional and automatic.

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