Forgiveness is Bullshit

Wherever you find an intolerance for and avoidance of “negative emotion,” you are almost guaranteed to also find a “doctrine” of forgiveness. I cringe every time I hear forgiveness come up. For a while, my cringing was accompanied by guilt because I felt horrible that I would see such a “positive” action/attitude as repulsive. I could easily understand why I might feel repelled by the fundamentalist definition of forgiveness, but I didn’t understand why I was also disgusted by the more “liberal” definitions of forgiveness.

As I’ve taken the journey to reclaim my right to have my emotions, even the shadow ones, I’ve gained a bit of a better understanding of my hatred of the very idea of forgiveness.

Basically I’m here to say it’s all bullshit.

Yes, I know I’ve probably made many of you gasp and even branded myself in some minds as a “bitter person.”

That’s okay. If you don’t feel like reading on about how the idea and pressure to “forgive” can actually be harmful, you are free to stop reading here. But I guarantee there are going to be a good number of readers who sigh with relief at what I just said because, deep down, they feel that way too.

Why do I think forgiveness is bullshit? Before I answer that question, I want you to close your eyes and think about your best denotative definition for the word. Can you?

Well, let’s go over some of the popular quotes and quips about forgiveness. Then at the end, we’ll actually look at the dictionary definition and discuss that (now please don’t ruin things and look it up in the dictionary just yet).

  • “Forgive and forget”: I actually got this one a lot in fundamentalism. It’s a very convenient phrase for teaching children to suppress memories and accept repeated abuse. In fact, when I, as a teen, confided to a counselor at The Wilds Christian Camp that I couldn’t “forget” about my abuse and I was having a hard time “forgiving” the abuser as a result, I was told that as long as I never talked about it to anyone ever again and pushed the thoughts about the abuse out of my head whenever they intruded, I would be able to forgive, even if I didn’t officially forget. It should be pretty easy to see why equating forgiveness with amnesia of an event is bullshit. Stupidity is not a virtue.
  • “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” This little gem from C. S. Lewis is representative of another commonly repeated idea in fundamentalism. It doesn’t really define forgiveness, merely mandates it as a divine expectation, which can be just as bad as the definitions. I would actually classify this as spiritual/emotional abuse even without having a definition like the one above simply because of the way that such a divine mandate is wielded against the wounded to undercut their healing. It’s probably also the only idea off the top of my head that I would say Jesus should be ashamed of propogating with his “seventy times seven” statement in Matthew 18:22. . . unless of course, the translation effect fails to account for the possibility that at that time and in that period “forgiveness” wasn’t what we think of it as today.
  • “True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’” (Oprah) Bullshit should be so easy to find in this one. I can think of several experiences that I would NEVER thank someone for, my sexual abuse being the most prominent that comes to mind. In fact, if forgiveness is really finding the ability to be thankful for what someone else did to you that hurt you, I’d have to say that I’ve never forgiven anyone who wronged me, nor do I want to.
  • “Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” (C. R. Strahan) This is one that on the surface seems nicer. And there are a lot of variations on the idea of freeing or healing oneself through forgiveness. But my next question is, if forgiveness is not absolving someone, what is it? These types of phrases never give an alternative. And I’m sorry to break it to anyone who likes this definition, but it’s not in the real definition. “Absolving,” on the other hand, is. So the attempt to whitewash forgiveness into something entirely personal and not connected to the offending person is really just all BULLSHIT.
  • “Forgiveness is the discovery that what you thought happened, didn’t.” (Byron Katie) Bull-fucking-shit! I actually expected better from Byron Katie. I’ve heard a lot of good things about her and was horribly disappointed to find her propagating such a stupid definition of forgiveness. It’s just another form of the amnesia prescription of forgiveness, but with an even more sinister undertone. Instead of just forgetting it happened . . . it’s actually suggesting that it didn’t happen. Yes, let’s tell a grieving parent that forgiving a drunk driver who killed their child would mean discovering that the driver didn’t actually kill their child. That doesn’t sound insensitive at all! For that matter, I’m sure there are a few spouses who might also protest at the idea that forgiveness means discovering that infidelity didn’t actually take place. In case it isn’t obvious, what Katie is describing is called a misunderstanding, and that doesn’t require forgiveness, merely clarification.

But what about the real definition? Okay, here you go. According to, forgiveness is:

  1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
  2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
  3. to grant pardon to (a person).
  4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
  5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

The definition and connotation of forgiveness is all about the other person—the person who wronged you—and setting them free, absolving them, letting them off the hook, ceasing to feel anger (or bitterness or whatever the new demonized emotion is) towards that person.

I’m here to cry bullshit on the whole charade.

Forgiveness isn’t necessary for healing.

Forgiveness is not necessary to “move on.”

It’s not even necessary in order to feel compassion or love for someone.

It’s not necessarily healthy.

In fact, more often than not, in the instances when forgiveness is prescribed (severe betrayal, severe hurt/abuse, severe tragedy, severe trauma), it’s actually harmful to the person needing to heal. There’s a reason why anger is listed as one of the main steps in grief—it’s important! Getting angry, feeling sad, holding someone else accountable, they’re all part of “moving on.”

What does a statement like “you just need to forgive” do? It heaps more guilt on the person who is experiencing those emotions—those necessary emotions—by making them feel like they’re wrong or unhealthy or weak for experiencing them. In other words, it’s blaming the victim, encouraging them to ignore their own needs and cater to another person’s desires.

It denies the mind’s natural way of healing itself.

You don’t get past the anger by suppressing it. You don’t move through grief by denying it. The only way to get through those difficult aspects of healing is by claiming the right to feel them.

And the only reason why forgiveness sounds so “positive” to us is because we have this fucking stigma about the shadow emotions being “negative” (which I discussed briefly here). We as a society don’t know how to handle those intense emotions, so we distance ourselves from them. And when someone else is experiencing them, we prescribe “forgiveness” as the fix-all that allows us to sound helpful without actually doing anything to help. If we move past the idea that shadow emotions are negative, suddenly the need to forgive by letting go of those emotions is non-existent, along with the need to distance ourselves from those emotions.

Does forgiveness ever have a place?


I’m an open-minded person and willing to consider that forgiveness really does have a legitimate purpose somewhere buried underneath all the bullshit–that it can potentially be a healthy  byproduct of healing in some circumstances. But I’d be more than willing to bet that, in those instances, the forgiveness happens fairly naturally.

In the instances where the hurt is bigger and the problems larger, i.e. whenever forgiveness takes up focus, it should be up to the individual to decide if that is something they need or even want.  It should be up to the individual to decide if the relationship is worth the work of restoration or if it’s safe to continue with that relationship. Moreover, it shouldn’t ever be the goal. Healing should be the goal, whether or not it includes forgiveness.

And without a genuine apology for the pain and damage caused and change to avoid repeating it, I don’t think forgiveness is either possible or healthy. Healing comes in those instances by learning to set boundaries, take a stand for your own needs, and hold the other person culpable for their actions, not by giving a blank check to someone who repeatedly hurts you.

I think it’s high time we forgive ourselves this absurd expectation that we should always forgive. It’s time to allow ourselves to recognize that healing isn’t about forgiving the other person; it’s about listening to ourselves.

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125 thoughts on “Forgiveness is Bullshit

  1. I do a lot of work with radical forgiveness. I would have to say that forgiveness is not about forgetting, is not about denial and does not happen as a result of being fed pablum about forgiveness from other people. True forgiveness does not involve the person who has wronged us. True forgiveness is the ability to release anger and resentment so that our trauma no longer defines us. But, everyone has their own experience and their own ways of coping.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Thank you for reading. I can respect others having a different understanding and experience with this tricky topic. There are probably some who need to seek out a version of forgiveness, then there are some that really need to be given the freedom to not seek forgiveness. Obviously, I’m in the latter group. :) I’m glad it provoked thought. That’s all I can ask of any post to do. Namaste.

      • AthenaRose says:

        I was working on embracing rather than repressing my anger, and what I found was that there were so many things that I felt enraged about – environment, personal, political, etc. that all that ended up happening was I became stuck in a perpetual state of rage that was completely off-putting to people close to me. It was also wearing down my body, and I felt like I had less energy, felt sicker, and for sure less enthusiasm about life, and started to feel extremely depressed. To be honest, the thing that knocked me out of it was re-watching “the Secret,” and remembering that my emotions are frequencies that I can consciously play with in order to alter the functioning of my body, and also effect my relationship with the world around me. After that I started to engage in what I would call healthy denial, where I choose to cultivate wholesome positive emotions, and acknowledge but definitely downplay or release negative situations I have no additional control over. I think where the “forgiveness” aspect comes in, is where I put myself in the person’s place who wronged me, and see how different factors might have contributed to their becoming the negative influence they were in my life, and then making sure I minimize or remove their presence so I can maintain my health. I then focus on general societal conditions that need changing, which would help to make us all emotionally healthier, and try to contribute to those, to prevent this harm from perpetuating. I’d like to practice and maybe some day teach conscious communication, so that we have less “minor” understandings that can turn into major wounds. There are definitely people I cringe to think about in my life, but I try my best to own what projections there are there, and then to try to achieve a state of neutrality so I don’t continue to let their sad, foul behavior effect me any longer. Sometimes what Byron Katie says frustrates me too, but I think coming from the perspective of no occurrence being “good” or “bad” just “what is” – a sensation, a passing phenomenon to be observed by our transcendent “Observer” Self, I can see what she means. That’s more in regards to the meditative state of “non-clinging” to these passing sensations. This is a tricky subject we all struggle with, but I hope we can strike a balance to neither repress, or exaggerate, our “negative” (in the sense of having a harmful effect on our bodies) emotions, just to use them where they are effective and to try our best to cultivate a foundation of balanced and relatively joyful (and compassionate) non-attachment.

      • Renee H says:

        after over 10 years of my sister being murdered, the man that did it, did less than 4 years, I wrote him a letter, even though he feels it was everyone else’s fault, never said he was sorry,etc.. I wrote him and said that after over 10 years “I forgive you for accidentally killing my sister” then of course asked a bunch of questions and asked him to write back. To me this is either really brave,or really stupid, as people fear him. That’s all I have to say, I have some anger, mostly sadness, but all in all, I just wanted to let it go (the memory of my sisters murder) I want her to actually rest in peace, if that is ever possible. I wrote the letter and sent it November 22nd, this year..the day after what would have been her birthday.No response, as I doubt I will ever get one, it’s to be expected. Thanks for Reading!

    • Aibird says:

      I don’t follow you here.

      I have worked through my anger and resentment, but the trauma still plays a large role in my life. It’s not anger that is ruling me. It’s the triggers — all leftover bits from the trauma — that are physiological and psychological in origin. How does forgiveness play into this? If I have any anger, it’s anger that because of what happened to me, I have these effects that influence my behavior — all unconscious — and no matter how much I catalog them and try to work them out of my system, they never truly go away. Forgive is a verb that requires a subject for which the verb can act upon. So I forgive, then what am I forgiving? You say it is about letting go of your anger and resentment, but isn’t that just working through it in a natural healing process? How is that forgiveness? What is the forgiveness acting upon?

      I don’t mean to be pedantic, I just want to understand what you mean by your definition of forgiveness, for I’ve never heard it used that way before ever.

  2. Blown says:

    I have no idea what forgiveness is. I don’t think it’s part of my vocabulary. I’m more on the elephant side ;-)

    Great post :-)

  3. Renee Hampshire Thank you for writing the truth. Rape can never be forgiven, especially when it was a true friend, at one time, and, I did not forgive. Then there was the murder of my only sister, the man got away with it because we didn’t want a re-trial because they “Violated his rights in the trial” My sister’s death and he was charged with manslaughter, had put it behind me, and then 4 years later his case was re-opened due to the lovely Fla. state law..because the state didn’t charge him with another crime, like, umm, let’s see, leaving the state for 2 days, and not calling 911 after he “accidentally killed her” defense??? No, I will never forgive that man, in fact I will probably be in the news someday for killing him, and getting charged with first degree murder for defending my dead murdered sisters honor, as all he is now free, and charges were dropped doen to “Felony Assault” and I am expecting my sis to walk through the door?? n, she’s dead, and he gets off probation on May22, 2013, happens to be the same date that me and my wife got, no I will never forgive people that assaulted me, raped me, or murdered my best fiend and sister and got away with it and still he blames everyone else for what he did… See you in the news someday! (I hope I do not have to represent all of murder victims, with all the nuts out there, I truly don’y want to be known as some whacko killer on the news, but of a woman defending my dead sisters’ honor with a once convicted murderer that got aay with it! Much Love!! (Am a true sister and family!)

    • I’m so sorry for the pain that you’ve been through, first with your rape and then with your sister’s death. It is totally understandable that you wouldn’t forgive the people who were behind that. But I am not trying to condone murder or revenge in return. I don’t believe that violence in return for violence is an effective solution or a means of healing. I can’t imagine the grief that you must be experiencing through this, and all of those emotions, anger included, are okay to feel. But acting on them in a way that perpetuates violence will only hurt you more. I encourage you to seek out a therapist to help you process. Mine has certainly been a huge help to me in working through my trauma.

      • Renee H says:

        I definitely agree that therapy would help as far as wanting to harm the man that took my sisters’ life. I will get over it in time, it’s a big ‘IT”. Sometimes it’s good to rant, that’s all I was doing is sharing my experience with a hard emotional outburst. I wouldn’t ever take another’s life, I felt good saying it. I have had therapy in the past for PTSD and know how to control my anger,etc. I just love your topic and feel it’s healthy to rant and share my issues if only to help someone else to know that they are not alone! Thanks so much for your great writings and sharing your personal thoughts. Hugs to everyone that has experienced trauma..We are not alone.

      • I’m glad to hear you’ve been to a therapist. I don’t think any trauma survivor should have to go through the aftermath alone. And ranting is indeed healthy. I understand the rage and often find a good outlet through my writing (and in my angry-girl music). Thank you for reading and sharing. <3 and light to you.

  4. Aibird says:

    Thank you for this. I really needed to hear this.

    I’ve had a lot of issues with people telling me that I need to forgive and it’ll help me in my healing. But the people they say I need to forgive and let them be are family members who said to me directly that my trauma was a dream. I’ve been hung up on the whole idea of just forgiving them for that for years now. How can I? I’m the one that has to live with the trauma, and when I needed them the most, they call it a dream? They don’t want to talk about it, or anything? And then, if I try to explain that some things are hurtful or triggering, they forget or they do it anyway, and then expect me to act in ways that make them more comfortable? It happened to me not them. I have to live with the horrible aftereffects, and they do not. Is it wrong of me to ask them to not do triggering behaviors? How can I forgive if their words and actions show me that they still don’t really take it seriously, and still don’t want to take responsibility for how much they hurt me?

    Yours words have given me a lot of food for thought. A lot. Thank you for that.

    • You have every right to be angry with them for being so callous to your pain. It’s sad that the need to preserve a lie of functionality is more important to them than hearing and accepting what happened to you. That’s a betrayal almost as bad as the initial one. May you find help and healing with those who support you and find ways of establishing boundaries with those who hurt you.

  5. Anonymoustheologian says:

    Interesting post. I would agree with you partially because some of what you say is true. Forgiveness is not about blindly making yourself vulnerable to a person who has wronged you. Unfortunately, you didn’t really articulate what forgiveness really is. In the end you take the Dictionary definition of forgiveness to mean that its all about the other person and you major take-away from this is that healing is about listening to ourselves. I’m sorry, but listening to yourself will not right the wrong any more than forgiving the person will, and you are not “healed” if your life is poisoned by hatred and anger over someone who has done you wrong.

    Also, forgiveness is not all about the other person. In fact, the wrongdoer doesn’t even need to be present in order for forgiveness to happen.

    All I have to say is that I am glad that God forgave me when I was His enemy. Without His divine forgiveness, my life would be a pointless waste. How can I possibly hold anything against another, when God himself sent his perfect son to die for those who made God their enemy? I would be a glaring hypocrite to do so! Jesus never said there shouldn’t be consequences for wrong actions…quite the contrary. But he also said that God is the Judge; not us.

    • I don’t define forgiveness because I think it’s important for people to question its validity to its very foundation. I don’t think forgiveness is necessary to healing and, therefore, see no need to define it at this point. If I did define it, people would read that as yet another prescription for how forgiveness should be pursued. I just think we should stop pursuing it.

      I actually don’t think anger or hatred are inherently poisoning to any life. They are emotions, and as such, I believe they are entirely healthy and okay to experience. There are unhealthy ways of expressing and dealing with them, but those aren’t nearly the only ways of expressing them. I would be very concerned about my mental health if I didn’t feel anger towards someone who hurt an innocent person or child. If harmed one happens to be myself, it would be a gross betrayal to deny myself what I would consider entirely moral and natural to feel if the person being harmed were someone else. Giving myself space to experience those emotions has been a very big part of my healing. Learning to love and listen to myself has been equally part of my healing. I don’t think healing and “righting a wrong” are the same. Sometimes there is nothing that can right what’s been done. Healing is about restoring health, whether mental or physical, and wholeness, including emotional wholeness.

      I’m sure you’ve already figured out how I feel about forgiveness based on religion or divinity since it was one of my points, so I’ll not waste time repeating myself. ;) But I think you’ll discover that I’m not very fond of the Christian God. I find him morally reprehensible, narcissistic, and abusive. I respect that Christianity works for you, but I can’t share in your joy or your belief that God is the epitome of forgiveness and judgment.

      • Anonymoustheologian says:

        I am very sorry that the circumstances you have been through have caused you to feel this way. Though I have not experienced your specific heartache, I have had heartbreaks of my own. I ache for you, especially since your circumstances have caused you to turn away from God instead of towards Him. That is sad. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to bear life’s issues with nothing but your own thoughts for comfort. I know I almost went crazy after losing my wife the way it happened.

        Logic-wise the main issue I have with your worldview is how you interpret God’s actions. It is a tragic mistake to interpret God’s actions as morally wrong. You can not logically say that you believe in God, and then say that God does things that are not morally right. If you believe in God, then you also must believe that it is God who defines what is morally right and wrong. If you don’t believe that God defines what is right and wrong, then you don’t believe in God…you believe in something else. You cannot call anything God does wrong because He is the one who defines what is right and wrong.

        Also, you label God as a terrible wrong-doer because of what He allows to happen in the world, but you ignore the fact that it is sin that caused the problem in the first place. God created two perfect people in a perfect world, and the only reason bad things happen is because humanity rebelled against their perfect God.

        Lastly, please consider that, while God does allow bad to happen, He also works everything together for good. The big picture is all about God, and how awesome He is. Everyone’s story from Adam to the last person that ever will live fits together to glorify Him. He is worthy of praise!

        I sincerely hope you find healing (maybe you already have to a point. I’m not trying to presume.) But if you are still hurting, I would suggest that the answer is to turn towards God instead of away from him. The children of Israel in the Old Testament had the same problem over and over again. Turning away from God only got them in worse and worse situations until they finally repented and God sent their deliverance. Good luck my friend. I will pray for you.

      • You assume that I believe in the Christian God. I do not have to believe in that god to find the actions attributed to him reprehensible.

    • Renee H says:

      There’s also the belief of “An eye for an eye” that is written in the word, do you stand by that belief of the written word? Just curious. :^)

      • Anonymoustheologian says:

        I think you need to go back and read that passage in Matthew, because the whole point of it is that Jesus doesn’t stand by that belief either :) According to that very passage Jesus says that He does not support revenge or even hatred.

      • Renee H says:

        That’s all and good for you. I have no belief in the christian God, as Man wrote the bibles and therefore it’s not God’s word to me. I am a woman and would have no place in a woman hating bible of man’s word.
        I believe in love and kindness, and not judgement of man, or the bible.
        Religion is for people that need a belief in something higher than them, it keeps you from going insane. I am spiritual, not man made books to tell me I am some kind of sinner.

  6. Nancy says:

    amazing, as always… in particular:
    “…consider that forgiveness really does have a legitimate purpose somewhere buried underneath all the bullshit–that it can potentially be a healthy byproduct of healing in some circumstances. But I’d be more than willing to bet that, in those instances, the forgiveness happens fairly naturally.” and:
    “…it should be up to the individual to decide if that is something they need or even want…. Moreover, it shouldn’t ever be the goal. Healing should be the goal, whether or not it includes forgiveness.”

    you. nailed. it. (IMO)

  7. forgiveness advocate says:

    Seems like you have a lot be angry about and rightfully so. As someone who has been studying the psychological process of forgiveness for over 25 years, I know that there are many misconceptions about forgiveness which leads to a lot of confusion. You bring up a lot of these misconceptions in your blog. As you correctly state, forgiveness is not forgetting. How could forget that they were sexually abused or forget that they lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident. Forgiveness is not forgetting. In fact it is the opposite. One has to remember what happened in order to forgive. I also have problems when religion orders us to forgive and forgiveness immediately. Forgiveness is a choice that one makes when he or she is ready. No one should be forced to forgive. It also does not occur immediately for most people. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. Check out Enright et al’s (1991) process model of forgiveness. It started off with 17 units and now has 20. I worked with incest survivors educating them about the process of forgiveness and it took on average 14.3 months for them to forgive in individual education sessions.
    I have never heard of the idea that “True forgiveness is when you can say thank you for the experience”. I do believe that after forgiving one may be changed in certain ways as a result of the experience and the forgiveness process but that does not mean one is thankful for the experience. Check out Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”.
    Forgiveness is not denial as well. As mentioned above, prior to forgiving, the injured has to admit she was hurt and how the hurt negatively affected her. One cannot forgive if in denial about what happened.
    Never use the dictionary definition for psychological processes. Forgiveness can simply be defined as a gradual decrease in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the offender and perhaps, over time, a gradual increase in positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the offender. Although this increase in the positive does not have to occur in order for one to forgive. Forgiveness is not the same as pardoning. One forgives personally, while pardon occurs publicly. Forgiveness does not mean to cancel a debt. One can forgive personally and bring the offender to justice and expect to be compensated for one’s hurt. Forgiveness is to cease to feel resentment.
    You are right that anger is important. After being hurt one has a right to be angry. In fact, anger is the second unit in Enright et al’s model of forgiveness. The problem in society today is that there are a lot of angry people who are not validated for their anger. Incest survivors have a right to be really angry but can work through their anger so it does not affect one’s life. I agree with you that anger is a normal and natural emotion and it is what we do with our anger that is positive or negative. However, after awhile anger gets old and tiring. Forgiveness allows us to work through our anger and come out stronger in the end. The first phase in Enright et al’s model is working through all the feelings associated with injury before making the decision to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean that we don’t express emotions including anger.
    You are also right that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is something that the person who was injured can do on his or her own without any response from the offender. Thus, one can forgive without an apology. Making an apology a requirement of forgiveness actually can reinjure the person who was hurt. As we know many offenders do not apologize or even admit to the injury. Thus, saying that an apology is necessary for forgiveness leaves many injured people trapped waiting for a response from the offender that will never come. However, an apology is necessary for reconciliation to occur. One would not want to enter into a relationship with someone who has hurt him or her without receiving an apology and/or admittance of wrongdoing as well as a promise that the hurt won’t occur again. You are correct that forgiveness means to hold the other person accountable and responsible for one’s actions. It does not mean to allow someone to hurt us again. I also think you need to be careful when talking about forgiving oneself. Forgiveness occurs in the context of deep, personal, and unfair hurt. In the book, “The Courage to Heal, the authors, Laura Davis and Ellen Bass, said that the only person the sexual abuse survivor needed to forgive was herself. My response to that is “what for?” What did the survivor do wrong? Who did she hurt? If she abused someone else then, yes, she does not to forgive herself. But she does not need to forgive herself for her body responding normally and naturally to a touch that is supposed to feel good. She needs to be “accept” the way her body responded. Please be careful when you use the term, “forgive yourself” If you are interested in learning more about the psychological process of forgiveness rather than the dictionary definition, check out the book, Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert Enright (2001) and The Art of Forgiving (1996), although this last book has a Christian bent. It has tons of great examples and is very easy to read. I also recommend research articles by Freedman and Enright. Good luck in your journey. You are right that forgiveness is a choice. Research has shown that forgiveness is healing in many different populations who have experienced deep hurt and that forgiveness leads to decreases in anger, anxiety, depression, resentment, and increases in hope and self-esteem.

    • Hmm I don’t agree with the assessment of emotions as negative. And you may find that what you are describing as forgiveness I would term something else, like healing. The lessening of the intrusiveness of the trauma on one’s life can happen without forgiveness.

      I used the phrase “forgive yourself” in a very specific context of letting ourselves off the hook of feeling obliged to forgive. While I appreciate your concern, I would hope you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I also think the context of the courage to heal quote was more along the lines of releasing yourself from the unfair blame you may have put on yourself as a coping mechanism, but I can understand where you might feel upset about the way it was presented in the book. I actually think what that book said about forgiveness of the abuser was very good. For some it happens; for others it doesn’t. Either way, the person’s personal process of healing is okay.

      • forgiveness advocate says:

        Again, we need to be careful. Forgiveness does not mean letting one off the hook. Forgiveness is about holding the offender accountable and responsible for his or her actions. Also, one can forgive while justice occurs. Interesting, that what I call forgiveness, you call “healing”. Seems like it is semantics to me. We both agree that what I describe can be healing. I label it as forgiveness but you don’t want to do that based on what else forgiveness has been confused with. I can respect that.

      • I don’t think you understood what I meant. There is no need for the victim to forgive themselves; however, many victims have placed quite a bit of blame on themselves for one reason or another. Even though they are not at fault for any of their abuse and not guilty in any way, they may feel the need to “forgive” themselves, as in remove the false blame they placed on themselves. But point well-made. I was trying to clarify my take on “The Courage to Heal” comment on forgiving oneself, but to be honest, I don’t even like that use of forgiveness (outside of as a rhetorical device, which I used one time in my post) because, as we can see, the word is so muddied and laden with many potentially triggering or offensive connotations and meanings. That is why I don’t attempt to reclaim it with a version of my own palatable definition. There are too many ways that it’s been used as a weapon against victims that its very use can kick up a lot of old stories that victims don’t need to have running around in their heads. Rather than constantly trying to correct misconceptions and take care in our use, I say fuck forgiveness, change our vocabulary, and focus on healing. Ultimately we get to the same place, but without all the b.s. trailing along behind.

  8. Renee H says:

    I like that “fuck forgiveness” I have a total whatever anyone calls “Normal functioning life” I put it in my files and sometimes pull them out and toy with them each trauma is mine, and I will let someone in or not, it’s totally my choice whether I share, go to therapy, or just simply move on to something else be it Labyrinths, writings, etc.. Not religious here, maybe spiritual if you call it that. Anyways, we as individuals deal with grief/and or forgiveness differently an it is our own choice, noone else’s to judge or say “You need therapy” we are not robots or in some matrix, so freedom of thought isn’t free yet, but freedom of seech is, I find that humorous.

  9. Em Pulse says:

    There is something left out here. The root of this article sounds like an excuse not to forgive ONESELF for the resentment or anger one harbors over others. Hanging onto that emotion seems to validate one’s feelings and give one power over the negative experience, but it is based in ego. Ego is not based in spiritual truth. Forgiving oneself is allowing oneself to be human, to embrace the hurt as a valid emotion, and to deal with it with grace. But hey, that’s just my own experience. I don’t see it as bullshit, because it has allowed me to evolve with perspectives that I may not have been able to appreciate otherwise.

    • I don’t think anger is something someone needs to forgive themselves for. If anything, I think we need to forgive ourselves for not allowing ourselves to experience anger. Suppressed emotion is horribly unhealthy, both psychologically and physically. I could easily argue that it is ego and superego that tell us we cannot have our emotions because of the stigma society places on them. :)

      • Em Pulse says:

        You misunderstand me. You seem to equate forgiving oneself for anger with ignoring that anger, when in fact I’m saying that forgiving is acceptance of that anger and letting go of what doesn’t serve you well. Does anger serve anyone well? Harboring bitterness doesn’t sound like a winning strategy to me. If forgiveness is bullshit, is mercy, tolerance and compassion also bullshit? It’s all a process that is connected. But hey, rage on it of suits you.

      • Anger serves many people well when given the space it needs to be experienced. It has often been the catalyst for setting boundaries, defending the innocent, standing up for right, making needed changes, etc. Even Jesus got angry. I feel terribly sorry for anyone who cuts themselves off from the health of natural emotion. It is that aversion to sitting with our emotions that leads to such violent outbursts, imo. But thank you for reading my blog. Even though we disagree, I respect the interaction.

      • Tim says:

        dude, you just keep making perfect sense. i’m swelling with joy at the recognition of useful anger that you have “unveiled” to these weak hippies and Christians. We must stop bullying ourselves for feeling wrathful, especially for people who destroy our planet for money. But, healing just means we stop keeping decaying energy in our bodies. Anger can become that if stifled, unused, or regretted. As for listening to anyone that’s a Rabbi or has a religious background of any sort, people need to keep in mind that these types have an agenda (either consciously or unconsciously) to spread the validity of their god, which automatically makes them suspect. Their truths are usually not “theirs,” but are from the doctrines that have brainwashed them–in essence, they are a mouthpiece keeping in line with their faith.

      • Suppressing emotions, especially profoundly negative ones such as anger, is not only potentially unhealthy, but arguably the direct “cause” of some of the most horrible events in history. When Carl Jung said, “What you resist persists,” he was talking about those negative thoughts and feelings we bury deep inside. It is no coincidence that Jung, who was Swiss, examined the events of WWII from the perspective of the “Shadow.” I am better off, and so is society, if I deal with my “stuff” rather than work hard to tuck it away because I’m “supposed to forgive.” I face my anger and accept it rather than unconsciously flinging it into the world.

        I suppose, however, that as a daughter of the Holocaust, I have less of a hard time facing the fact that I’m angry about some things–and that being angry is perfectly okay–than are a lot of people whose families did not experience this level of harm.

  10. Lisa Walter says:

    Forgiveness isn’t a one-way street. The person who wronged you MUST repent, seek you out, and try to make amends. If the person is never sorry for what they did, you have no reason to forgive them. Repentance on their part comes first. Then, over time, it’s your decision to try and forgive.

    • forgiveness advocate says:

      You are talking about reconciliation. If you say that you cannot forgive until your offender comes to you with an apology, you are reinjuring yourself by making your healing dependent on the actions of the offender. An apology certainly makes forgiving easier but it is not necessary. An apology might be necessary for getting back together in a relationship with someone who hurt you though.

      • That’s only true if you equate forgiveness with healing. The two don’t necessarily go together.

      • mamastorm says:

        No, Lisa didn’t say anything about reconciliation. That comes after forgiveness, if the wronged party so chooses. Maybe rather than spout your forgiveness advocacy, you should read the article and try to understand the harm YOU’RE doing.

      • forgiveness advocate says:

        I didn’t say that Lisa said anything about reconciliation. I said what she was describing fit better for reconciliation than for forgiveness. You seem very defensive. I am willing to learn from you and others. I would hope that you would be as well.

      • I’m surprised (or I guess I’m not) that *forgiveness advocate* is using psychobabble (“You seem very defensive”), and thereby moving from reasoned discussion to argumentum ad hominem. The last and second to last sentences (“I am willing to learn from you and others. I would hope that you would be as well.”) are also addressed ad hominem. These sentences do not address the topic of the discussion but rather the individual doing the discussing. This language is manipulative and it has no place in any reasoned dialogue. Indeed, I believe such language is essentially deceptive and as such doesn’t even belong in the therapeutic setting.

  11. If what you mean by “forgiveness” is letting someone off the hook, then I agree forgiveness should not be the goal. Healing should be the goal. It’s about preventing someone else’s actions from poisoning your life. It’s about moving forward rather than looking back. Injustice exists, and at some point we need to come to terms with that, or we’ll destroy our own chances for happiness. That doesn’t mean we don’t *seek* justice. But as long as we *nurture* the anger and resentment, we allow the person who harmed us to have power over our lives. We have the absolute right to experience our emotions, but we also have the right to move on.

  12. mamastorm says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

    As a survivor of severe physical, sexual, and psychological child abuse, I’ve always been infuriated by the incessant platitude that I MUST for give “to heal,” or (even worse) “for [my] own sake.” I could never articulate why, though, usually simply excusing myself, or if pressed, pointing out that my own mother held me down to be raped when I was all of 11 years old, and asking “could YOU forgive something like that?” I got so many “I would try”s (which always struck me more defensive than honest) that I recently spent a full 18 months wrestling with my inability to do so and trying to force it before I finally, passively took to telling people “that’s just not where I am right now.”

    Thank you for setting me free from that bullshit!

    In addition to bookmarking, sharing the article on Facebook and creating a WordPress account so I could comment, I’ve saved it as a document on my computer and printed it off to take to my psychologist. I sincerely hope that last bit doesn’t violate your copyright policy; I assure you I have no intention to distribute. I just want my doctor to read it.

    • Oh I am so so sorry for the pain you’ve been through. I’ll give you the honest answer you deserve. No I wouldn’t be able to forgive something like that and I wouldn’t even try. I’m glad this post has helped you free yourself from that burden. Of course you can take the article to your therapist. May you continue to heal in the manner that you need and continue to stand in your truth no matter what anyone else thinks your process should be. <3

  13. Alicia says:

    I am going to just say thank you. Thank you very much for writing this.

  14. In regards to anger, I used to work in Citizen Action, a leftie community organizing non-profit. Our director often said than in order to be an activist for social change one needs to have a constant slow-burning anger.
    I would add, though, that there is a difference between the motivating anger of the activist and the sometimes paralyzing anger of the survivor.
    In the end, everyone needs to find a way to deal with their personal trauma, hopefully in a way that allows the individual to have a life that exists beyond the trauma. For some, forgiveness is a way to make that happen. Other people may have other methods. The question I would ask is what are those other methods? Can one simply compartmentalize one’s experiences to the point they can live a decent life? Can one use one’s anger as a motivator to achieve happiness (the best revenge is a life well-lived)? What are ways of getting past trauma that don’t involve some level of forgiveness? What has worked for you, or for people you know?

    • I think anger, like sorrow, can initially be incredibly intense following trauma. When I was grieving a while back, I felt afraid that if I started crying I wouldn’t stop. But eventually, when I wasn’t trying to suppress my sorrow, my body decided when it had had enough and rested. Emotions are not bottomless, even though they may feel that way. Anger is our warning light. It goes off when something crosses a boundary. If we listen to our anger, allow ourselves to experience it, and use it to make the changes that are needed in our lives (set boundaries, make a new start, whatever is needed). I haven’t personally compartmentalized my life. Rather I’m integrating the scars of my trauma into my whole being, embracing my shadow emotions as well as my positive ones, and focusing on wholeness. I don’t think a lack of forgiveness means that people automatically desire revenge. I do not wish ill on my abusers, nor do I want to hurt them in return. I merely cannot excuse their actions and do not consider it healthy to cut out the natural emotions that my trauma produces. Anger can be a motivator to build a better life, but I think that “better life” includes all of the emotions. As I give my emotions room to run their natural course and take the necessary measures to meet my needs (whether by setting boundaries, moving, caring for myself, learning to love myself, etc.) my emotions will eventually balance out.

      • That’s brilliant, and seems really logical and healthy. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Although I would say there is a semantics issue here. Many of us would define exactly the process you describe here as the true process of forgiveness.

      • I have come across a few people where the difference is entirely semantics, and I can accept that they view that process as forgiveness while I view it as healing. Coming out of an abusive system where forgiveness is the primary weapon for perpetuating more abuse, I just have too many negative associations with forgiveness to try to reclaim it.

      • Yes – the cycle of apology and forgiveness in abuse is a good example of the kind of forgiveness that only perpetuates more hurt. So true!

  15. DJM says:

    This article is bullshit. To say forgiveness is bullshit is to say Christ’s whole mission was bullshit. Perhaps that’s the underlying motive for writing it. Forgive me if I’m wrong… or not.

    • I’m sorry that you feel that way. I respect many things that Jesus taught, but if you assume that my disagreement with his stance on forgiveness means that I am rejecting everything he said, I can’t do anything to change your mind. Namaste.

    • mamastorm says:

      Christ was supposed to be God. I’m not, neither is the author, and neither are you. Tell me, did you even bother to read the whole thing?

      • Renee H says:

        Well, This article was about forgiveness and for some reason people have been writing their beliefs in religion. Forgiveness is about emotional healing, and somehow religion is trying to be “Sold” and I really do not appreciate religios people trying to force their opinions on here, but what to be expected..You religious people are always knocking on my door, why? If I wanted to go to “Church” I would. Please respect the article about “forgiveness” and try and keep your religious commune like opinions to a “Religious Blog” People always try and force others to think the way they do with religious B.S.. All the preachers and orthodoxed priests are the one’s that have been either ex-drug addicts, or child pedifiles/rapists, so no, I do not hold a high regard nor respect for any religious folk….they are the ones that always have something to hide, and are quick to say we should convert to their religious views..Hmmm ..the article is purely a helping hand for thoughs that have had traumas in their life and forgiveness as an option. There are millions, maybe trillions of ways to go about forgiveness, and any man written bible and or best sellers and re- written to be english beliefs kind od turns me away, as far as any religious people, it’s none of your business what or when or how I believe. You can talk all your man written religious non-sense that makes no sense, and that was re- written to english, and not go insane, that’s what it’s for, “The Bible” to keep you brainwashed and to not go insane and makes no sense in the REAL WORLD Of THE HERE AND NOW in reality…Forgiveness is a chice and we all have that right, so go fuck yourself bible thumping B.S’rs your the one’s that put christ on the cross, and yet yu wear yur cross around your neck, and point fingers..yur the one that killed christ and you try to brain wash people, just like your brain washed..Do your creepy molesting somewhere else. Yes, you Christians, Catholics are all in church praying and trying not to “Rape others” you need to stay in church and pray as you feel you are sinners. good riddens..Forgiveness of rape and drug abuse,etc, then becoming priests and preachers, I know all about all of you with your Re- born christians, yes you forgiveness and let others live their innocent lives!

  16. mamastorm says:

    Excuse me, but when did I try to force my religion on you? I’m not even Christian, so you look like an idiot now.

  17. I think that you make a really good point about people who push forgiveness as a task on other people. Usually it is about their own agenda. They are uncomfortable with the anger/pain/grief etc. and by convincing folks to ‘forgive’ they can avoid the discomfort.

    I will say that there comes a point at which we need to decide how much power a trauma/person is going to continue to have in our lives. If we are obsessed with revenge fantasies, or fearful of living in case we meet that person, then we have work to do. That work may, or may not include forgiveness. That work may or may not include letting loose the rage so we are empty for a moment and can fill the void with something other.

    There are no easy answers, no easy solutions, no magic wand that will take away pain and scars. But if we are willing to work at the difficulty of life, life becomes possible.

    • First, I want to thank you for your comment. When I saw the word “pastor” at the beginning of your name, I thought, “oh boy, here we go again.” I’ve had few positive interactions with pastors and many abusive ones. Finding a pastor who comes at this topic with sensitivity and reason has been kind of like searching for a mythical creature. I truly appreciate the way you have spoken with understanding of the complexity of healing from deep pain and the respect you show for the wounded.

      Second, I agree that healing is going to involve removing the power of the abuser from the life of the victim, and I appreciate that you don’t equate that with forgiveness necessarily. There are many people who assume that a lack of forgiveness automatically means a desire for revenge. I like that you recognize there is a distinction between feeling anger over what happened and desiring to hurt the other person in return. I support embracing anger and letting it run its course. I don’t support violence as payment for violence.

  18. JZ says:

    I had a feeling that I had to forgive many guys. Even my own parents for mental abuse. I should’ve been the nice girl.
    Finding out I can never forgive anyone my mind pushes all the abusers and the stories deep into my subconsciousness. Talking about it with a therapist just opens the wounds again. I’ve learned to never forgive and forget. It’s the darkness inside I’ll carry all my life. Better show anger and sadness and get through it as you feel is right than listen to those forgiveness bullshit. Always said by people who weren’t wronged btw.

  19. miss kae oz says:

    I think anybody telling anyone what they MUST do to heal is harmful.
    I have personally always had a problem with forgiveness because it seems in most cases, the perpetrator has faced no accusations or penalties. In these instances, forgiveness feels a lot like complicity or permission to do it again.

    But not everyone is talking about personal horrors when talking about forgiveness. Sometimes they are just misunderstandings and grudges. I would guess that is what the Katie quote is about.

  20. EmberLeo says:

    I think *prescribing* forgiveness is more harm than help. I know an amazing number of people who, when somebody says “I forgive you” hear “It’s all your fault.” instead, because of being pushed to forgive when it’s not appropriate, not what they feel, not what the other person feels – or being ever so magnanimously forgiven when they don’t feel guilty, didn’t think they’d done anything wrong to warrant needing forgiveness.

    Spiritually speaking, Forgiveness is a very powerful thing for a burdened person to receive, but to teach it as a doctrine to those not already burdened mostly just teaches them a list of things to START feeling guilty about, whether or not that’s actually appropriate.

    In my experience, forgiveness IS for the person who believes they have done wrong *and feel guilty*, but the point is NOT that, as a person who has been wronged, I have an obligation to absolve them of their responsibility to me – on the contrary, I’m only going to forgive them when any responsibility to me has been fulfilled to the best of their ability. The real point of forgiveness, as far as I’m concerned, is that a person who feels terribly guilty for something they can’t fix, have already done their best to resolve, or especially that isn’t particularly harmful in the first place, deserves to move on with their life not eternally burdened with that guilt and shame.

    As a wronged person, I can only forgive when I am assured that the harm in my past is not going to occur again in the future from the same source. But more to the point, I can’t relieve a burden the other person never felt in the first place. There’s nothing TO forgive if they don’t feel guilty or ashamed, or otherwise repentant. Forgiveness is a response to someone else’s repentance, not a response to my own pain.

    Do I find it useful to let go of long-term anger and resentment and move on with my life rather than continuing to dwell on past hurts that are no longer also in my future? Sure. I have a use for that meaning of “forgive” – the meaning of “move on”. Forgetting, however, is not on the table, ever.


    • I think it is important to remember that in this context forgiveness does not include or involve the person who wronged you. Forgiveness, in this context, is the process of releasing anger and, in a way, forgiving the Universe for the fact that something terrible has happened. Forgiving an abuser, a rapist or a murderer would not necessarily involve communicating with or even thinking about the person who committed the heinous act.
      This works for some people, although I am sure not all.

      • Actually, I think I worded that poorly. Often the concept of forgiveness as a part of healing (which I agree should never be foisted upon someone) is forgiving that the terrible thing happened – not necessarily forgiving the perpetrator of the terrible thing.
        On another hand, sometimes finding compassion for a perpatrator is helpful – to understand that a person who commited a terrible wrong is plagued by more issues than I am is often a helpful mechanism for me.

      • EmberLeo says:

        I hadn’t forgotten it, but I think the shift is context is part of the issue. My understanding (as a non-Christian who studies Theology) is that the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is focused on the forgiven, not on the one doing the forgiving – GOD is doing the forgiving, and the point of it is that we’re not to be burdened forever for temporary wrongs.

        Turning that around into an obligation for individual humans to let go of their anger may be useful for them, and even for society, but it’s not, to my understanding, the original point, and shifting it that way places an undue burden on the victim.


      • Hmmm…I am not a practicing Christian but was raised in a leftie Christian environment. The two examples of forgiveness I can think of would be the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us” and the crucifixion “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” I never thought about it in the context you mention, although I think your point it good. I saw the Lord’s Prayer as a commitment we make to forgive others, and I saw the crucifixion as the example of behavior we should emulate.

        On the other hand I always thought about God’s forgiveness as a bit of a problem – when taken to an extreme it seems to cause bad behavior – since God will forgive us anyway.
        I was raised to believe forgiveness of each other was a primary Christian value – that to be Christ-like we must forgive one another. To be honest even though I am not now Christian it is one of the Christian doctrines I like most.

  21. [...] suppose if you weren’t shocked about my previous post, you won’t be shocked to learn that I’ve come to see anger as healthy. I lost count of how many [...]

  22. Thank-you for your interpretation of anger and forgiveness. I have felt like such a failure because I remain angry and attempt forgiveness daily without much success. I pray for peace in a new life apart from my abusive relationship but struggle with the entire “letting go” process. 12-step meetings, therapy, and prayer offer little balm. Yours is the first voice to allow me my emotions without guilt for doing something “wrong”.

    • I’m glad I was able to offer some hope. I wish you healing free from false guilt. I wouldn’t give up on therapy. Keep looking for someone who validates your process and feelings. They’re out there. :)

  23. Lauren says:

    I understand where you’re coming from. You’re dealing with trite sayings that are meant for lesser infractions as well as some spiritually abusive phrases there. How I understand forgiveness is that it cannot be given unless it’s asked for. “Forgiving” someone simply means being in a place where you can forgive them (reaching a point of healing). Within Protestant/Evangelical thought, forgiveness is available but cannot be given until it is requested. Forgiveness can be healthy when it comes with healing and is decidedly unhealthy when one is pressured into it.

  24. Rob says:

    ‎”We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Quotes can indeed be inspiring, but as much as I respect MLK Jr., I disagree with his Christianized view of forgiveness. I find it perfectly possible to love without forgiveness. It’s also possible to forgive without loving. The two are not synonymous, even if MLK thought they were.

      • forgiveness advocate says:

        Love the MLK quote!

      • forgiveness advocate says:

        True. It is possible to love with forgiving and forgive without love. However, realizing that there is some bad in all of us and even some good in the worst of us, helps us see that all people are human beings who make make mistakes. When we realize that we are imperfect it is easier to forgive others for their hurtful actions. Although the more severe the hurt, the harder it is to forgive.

      • I have a hard time placing rape and abuse in the category of “mistakes.” Yes, we’re all capable of some measure of evil, but it takes more than mere capability to actually commit something so destructive to a person intentionally. Those things don’t accidentally happen. They are chosen with a tremendous absence of respect, compassion, and humanity.

  25. [...] Working from that definition — that forgiveness equals reconciliation — I no longer believe that forgiveness is a blanket mandate. I no longer believe that I have to forgive everyone. Given that definition, I must agree with my friend when she says that forgiveness is bullshit. [...]

  26. anon says:

    thank you.

  27. […] is exactly the kind of crap that made me write my “Forgiveness is Bullshit” post a while […]

  28. Debi says:

    Who would have thought that my random Google search for “forgiveness is bullshit” would actually yield something? Thank you for sorting this out for me. I looked after my husband with Alzheimer’s for 10 years 24/7, with ZERO help from his family, in fact they actually hindered my efforts with their drama and antics tight up until the last possible moment when they stole his urn of ashes right from the cemetery immediately following the funeral. That was two years ago and I am still angry about it. Some have said, “you need to forgive them”. I call that bullshit. No, I am not going to forgive them for that desecration EVER. I have refused to have any contact with them in any way. However, two years later I am still angry about it and I am supposed to forgive them? Thank you for helping me understand that I am not the crazy one that anger has it’s place and is a natural human experience, not a shadow feeling to be looked up. Does this anger make me throw rocks at their windows? No and I don’t send them nasty letters but that doesn’t mean I have forgiven them or will ever forgive them. I don’t go around complaining about every day/ I don’t feed the anger every day but forgive them? No. Now I know that it is ok. I feel much better. It is ok to to not forgive someone who has done you wrong. What I have done with this anger is learned a valuable life lesson about who to include in my and who not to include.

  29. JohnnyCake says:

    Thanks for a stimulating article, obviously a lot ot viewpoints weighing in. You also clearly have a heart for others that have been wounded.I think you raise some good views on the necessity of experiencing the shadow side of our emotions – the lenght of time for grieving and anger is up for grabs but I think most would agree that it’s not healthy to get stuck ad infinitum, although truly some may never fully recover, as it was for Frodo who carried the ring.
    I agree with you that It’s not helpful to be rigidly controlled by a premature notion of forgiveness, but I’m not convinced that this justifies the use of extreme language like ‘fuck forgiveness’ to make the point that it’s mainly about emotional healing from here on. The reason I say that is that in our day and age, it could be 15 years and someone wil come along and write ‘fuck emotional healing’ – which sounds awful, but no less awful than forgiveness is BS or fuck forgiveness. Now you might be thinking I have a prude issue or cannot handle negative language, but it’s more that I believe anyone can make a solid argument that builds toward a new paradigm shift on healing without discarding the merits of forgiveness- even if they are few to your mind. language.Yes, the word is repeated in Scripture, but there is no need to throw an otherwise positive word under the bus. For even poets and artists have been using the word for years e.g Don Henley
    “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
    But everything changes and my friends seem to scatter
    But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
    Even, even if you don’t love me anymore”

    Now he’s just offering one angle on the kaleidescope of forgiveness, my interpretation is that he was hurt, and he’s learning to let go of the pain & the sorrow
    “There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
    They let you down, you know they hurt your pride
    You better put it all behind you baby..”

    And so we hopefully we come to some common place of agreement: When Henley writes “you better put it all behind you” I don’t think he is hoping we would avoid the shadow side – he’s embraced it himself in the song – but he does have a goal in mind which is to forgive and heal The song touches just few people becasue we are all working through stuff doing our best to get through it. Discoverng right Relationship is key in his song, not just discovering himself.

    Now If the biblical perspecitve offers anything different it may be this: some wounds are so deep that no matter how hard you try to heal yourself, or work through the rage, it’s still there at 3am in the night. When I spoke to an amazing woman from Cambodia this year who lost her all her 4 from her family in the genocide, she said it was God who helped her remove the ‘rock of fire’ from her heart. Her comment carried some timeless truth to my mind- and I don’t mean ‘her truth’ – because it suggested that maybe humans have a ceiling they hit in terms of capacaity to heal and forgive. Her comment also introduces the notion of healing coming from ‘outside ourselves’ not just within. As long as we hold that it’s only within us, I think we begin to make the self the center of all things, but even Henley would allude there is something bigger going on, and he is coming from true life experience that reaches out beyond himself.

    You might not, as you said, be able to retrieve the word ‘forgiveness’ but there’s no sense beng confined by inaccurate representations of it. There could be some new bridges between healing and forgiveness, for they are not incompatible; on the contrary they make a stronger harmonic chord together. As an example, C.S Lewis (who was not a fundamentalist btw) went through the shadow side of forgiving a cruel schoomaster but he found life application with integrity in the verse of forgiving 77 times. Could it be a metaphor for all the agony, tears and screaming he did in between each one of those 77 (or more) events – to get healed of that past abuse?
    Anyhow I thank you for engaging many on this blog, myself included. I just throw up the caution on negative language to make your argument. It’s still cool to look for the good in language that’s been around the block – there may be new linings in the silver cloud of a word, & we don’t have to first presume that the cloud only rains.

    • For people (like you) who have found a version of forgiveness that enhances their healing, my words will be meaningless and even uncomfortable. For those who have only been tortured by the prescription to forgive, my words will be freeing and profound. There are plenty of people who are willing to say forgiveness can be good. There are not that many who are willing to say fuck forgiveness. I think it’s an important voice to add to the discussion–an important option to give others. I stand by what I said. Those who find value in it can take what they can use. Those who disagree with that stance are welcome to reject it for themselves. I have no problem with you disagreeing with me, but I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to compel me to change my language or position.

      • JohnnyCake says:

        heh thanks for the reply. If you found any of my thoughts being seen as an attempt to compel yours, I’m just coming from the realm of debate where any individual is free to bring their point of view forward. I think I’ve been honest, just as you were. If my argument carries a ‘think again on language’ –as one part of several points I made-it’s OK In a tolerant world to indicate what the disagreement is specifically with. And you’re still free to hold your own, which you’ve done. But of more interest to me is what do you think of Henley’s lyric, or Lewis’s idea of 70×7 applying to healing? Then we also engage with other thinkers and writers.

      • I think they are merely two people trying to figure out their pain. Poetry and writing is a means of healing in the way that it allows one to express the chaos of pain in an ordered fashion. It helps the brain process what feels too big to process. I’ve often written poetry or stories that mirror how I’m feeling at one time–including expressing the confusion of love for those who abused me. I can feel responsible for provoking my brother into beating me, and that feeling is valuable as truth of my journey. But it doesn’t mean that I actually am responsible. I can reject the philosophy behind a feeling without negating the feeling.

        So, I respect them for expressing their process and the truth of their feelings, but I reject the broader applications. As a prescription or model of forgiveness and how it fits into everyone else’s life it’s as much bullshit as any other forgiveness prescription. Lewis may not have been a fundamentalist per se, but he had his fair share of asshole doctrine. I referenced one of his quotes on forgiveness in this post. Taken together with your own reference, it makes his ideas on forgiveness seem even more dangerous and silencing to victims.

      • JohnnyCake says:

        Thanks for your thoughts on poets and writing as a vehicle to make sense out of chaos. Cool! Re: Lewis , I disagree with the asshole doctrine bit and think his books “The Problem of Pain” and ” A Grief Observed”, the first more intellectual, the second more like a raw diary of loss, are nothing to with silencing, more helping many find their voice in the chaos of life. Again, I’m not sure at what point the harsh viewpoint kicks in, but it seems like your main concern, if I understand it right, is any belief that hints at control/repression/a fake response that denies humanity, or smothers the heart of the matter. I think Lewis was not silencer, he was an opener, in the sense of good art takes something familiar and renders it unfamiliar again so that you can find yourself in the story. He’s also good at parables within a fantasy E.G the Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces. Now if you want to criticize Augustine or Calvin and their contributions to doctrine so be it ( on condition that their position was understood:) but Lewis was a free thinker, and In that respect so is the contemporary Don Henley, Anyhow, it would be cool to gather some great poets around the healing of the heart. Thanks again for dialoguing.

      • I’ve read Lewis and disagree with your assessment. You seem to idolize Lewis on little other evidence than that you already like him. Simply declaring his forgiveness quote doesn’t silence victims doesn’t make it true. I have presented reasons why I believe it is silencing. In true debate you would have to address those. You couldn’t just plug your ears and say “it’s not true!” Have fun in your echo chamber.

      • JohnnyCake says:

        Heh how about a boundary in a helpful statement like you don’t want to go any further with Lewis at all, not connecting with this guy or something, which is altogether fine by me, and then the author can be dropped. (Btw I’m not here to make you or anyone tangent into those who are fans of Lewis and those against, which would be pointless camp-making). I was just wanting to have a decent conversion about healing and forgiveness, good topic overall, and some possibilites of how one gets there, e.g. poets contributions.

        But more importantly, I thought you wanted “sensitivity and reason”, and to “respect the interaction” even if disagreeing– both quotes in earlier posts. Your final sentence of myself in the ‘echo chamber’ flies in the face of that approach. I’m disappointed by that last negative phrase. Sarcasm-ridicule, to my mind, are unecessary when discussing a valuable topic like emotional healing.

      • Haha, yes, you picked the wrong week to push my patience. I’ve been incredibly tolerant with you up until now. You, on the other hand, opened the conversation by essentially telling me I should change my language because you disagree and then proceeded to ignore everything I’d written in the majority of my post, either deliberately or ignorantly, by referencing an author I had already criticized and acting as if I hadn’t left any room for forgiveness to have personal meaning in someone’s life. To top it off, in your last post, you practically give me permission (as if it’s yours to give) to criticize Augustine or Calvin, implying in the process that I don’t have permission to criticize Lewis. If I sound pissy, it’s only because I’m tired of the arrogant, privileged tone of your comments. So, to keep it respectful, let’s agree to disagree and go on our merry ways.

  30. Ana says:

    Sometimes Magical,
    This is an excellent blog post. Thank you for writing this! I’ve been sitting here for the past hour trying to articulate my thoughts about what you and the commenters have said.

    For those who’ve said that “forgiveness just means healing”: No matter what dictionary definition you choose, forgiveness is a transitive verb. It means that you are wiping the slate clean and freeing someone of responsibliity for their past action. It does not mean merely letting go of negative feelings. It does not mean letting go of the idea of revenge. It means telling the responsible party: I no longer hold you responsible for what you did.

    For that reason, I agree that forgiveness is bullshit, when we’re referring to a victim/abuser relationship.

    But whatever the definition of forgiveness, I think that telling someone “you need to forgive him/her” is an obnoxious, insensitive act. This is tantamount to saying “get over your pain.” The person saying it is likely too selfish to tolerate being exposed to another person’s pain, or perhaps they have a relationship with the abuser and don’t like being made to feel guilty about their own lack of moral strength for not standing up to the abuser, so they’d prefer to force the victim to just stop complaining.

    I also find it insidious, because that sort of advice (or command) is almost always given to the member of an oppressed class, or the person with less power in a relationship. I often hear employees told to “forgive” their bosses, or children to “forgive” their parents, but rarely if ever hear employers or parents being admonished to “let go and forgive”.

    In response to those who’ve defended forgiveness b/c of Christian beliefs: Even the extremely conservative fundamentalist church that I was raised in did not demand that victims forgive their abusers. According to our pastor, it wasn’t possible to forgive someone for harming you if they didn’t acknowledge their actions and give a heartfelt apology. In order to forgive, God requires sincere repentance from his followers. According to my church, demanding that someone forgive another without an expression of sincere regret is demanding that a mere human be more merciful than God himself. (I’m now agnostic, but I remember that stance b/c it struck me as being one of the few logical ideas I heard there.)

    And I think that those who defend the common practice of insisting that hurting people “forgive” are trying to paint this false dichotomy: either you’re sitting in your room seething with rage and revenge fantasies b/c you haven’t forgiven someone, or you’re leading a shiny happy full life b/c you’ve decided to forgive your abuser. From my experience, the only people I know who’ve been locked in some sort of angry paralysis are those who have been denied their experience and not given time to heal. And as a relatively happy, healthy, loving person, I expect that from time to time I will still experience sadness or anger, when I think of the way that I was harmed. To me, that is healing, and that is living a truly authentic life: allowing myself the right to experience each and every emotion without judgment. And I can and do experience that without ever having to revise history and tell my abuser that I “forgive” them for what they did.

  31. Ana says:

    *to forgive (not forgiveness) is a transitive verb.

  32. averyteoda says:

    “You have to forgive” is a refrain I heard nigh constantly after my emotionally abusive father died a couple of years ago. A couple of my relatives actually said they felt sorry for me for being so bitter about how he treated me and my siblings. (PS, these statements were made days after he died, which made them extra infuriating, but they’ve continued since.)

    You mentioned that forgiveness is sometimes a natural byproduct of healing, which I think is the salient point for me. I don’t think it should be forced, or expected. It’s so patronizing to me for hear that people feel sorry for me because I can’t (won’t) forgive my abusers. It should never be EXPECTED that one forgive being wronged. For the people who said forgiveness isn’t about the offender, you’re right. It shouldn’t be. I heard once (wish I could credit the source) that forgiveness can never be ASKED for–it can only be given by the wronged party, if they choose to give it at all…which they are not required to do. It reminds me of the bullshit quote about nobody being able to hurt you without your consent. I get it–how we react to things matters. But the idea that we are somehow complicit in being wounded and it’s up to us to correct it is dismissive.

    Like you, I need the space to feel anger and resentment and hurt. The expectation that I forgive, and the guilt I (still) feel over not forgiving, only lengthens my healing process. I have enough emotion around the topic without guilt being thrown in there too.

    Many times, I think the expectation of forgiveness comes from the discomfort of the people expecting it. It feels like when someone says “you should forgive,” they’re saying “please get over it and stop making me uncomfortable.” There’s no space to grieve over the parts of yourself that you’ve lost because of this person. Ironically, everyone accepts the grieving process as natural, but it seems like it’s only allowed if it’s conducted so that it doesn’t make anyone else uncomfortable.

    I understand what my abusers did and why they did it, to a certain extent. I understand (some of) the history behind it and how their own experiences played out in the ways they abused me. But I do not excuse them for perpetuating their own issues upon me, and I don’t forgive them for their shitty actions. My healing process has instead been about accepting that the abuse happened (and that it was real) and that I will live with it for the rest of my life, but I CAN live with it. I don’t choose to adopt the forgiveness model because I find it rankling. If it’s something that comes as a byproduct of healing, I’ll accept that. If not, I accept that too. I do not expect it or require it of myself.

    • “Many times, I think the expectation of forgiveness comes from the discomfort of the people expecting it. It feels like when someone says “you should forgive,” they’re saying “please get over it and stop making me uncomfortable.” There’s no space to grieve over the parts of yourself that you’ve lost because of this person. Ironically, everyone accepts the grieving process as natural, but it seems like it’s only allowed if it’s conducted so that it doesn’t make anyone else uncomfortable.”

      YES! So much yes! And I think that you have an awesome perspective on forgiveness in that last paragraph as well. Willing to accept it if it comes. Willing to accept if it doesn’t. There’s nothing that should induce guilt in that attitude except for the bullshit that others try to push on you based on their own discomfort. I hope you continue to heal from what your father did. I’m sorry that you had to go through that, but I thank you for this amazingly insightful comment. I think it sums up alot of what I was feeling and trying to express in this post.

    • Forgiveness if often misunderstood says:

      Actually, in Enright et al’s (1991) 20 unit model of forgiveness, anger is the second step. One needs to get angry about what was done to them before he or she can forgive. One needs to express their anger and negative feelings but not get stuck in them. If one doesn’t get angry about being hurt, forgiveness may be false. Forgiveness is an individual decision and no one should be forced into it. I am sorry that you received pressure to forgive. Forgiveness oftentimes leads to healing but it is just one way of healing and is not for everyone. It is helpful to do some reading on the subject so you know exactly what is involved in the process of forgiveness. Admitting that one was hurt, that the offender was wrong and that one is angry all need to occur before forgiveness.

  33. kyascales says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting words to what I’ve been struggling with.

  34. Happy Girl says:

    I think that apologies first of all are of course only genuine if a person does not repeat said behavior. This is of course where forgiveness is naturally possible only if the transgression does not completely destroy the victim. But forgiving for all transgressions by a person is unreasonable. I mean really, how many times does someone have to be an asshole before we accept that they are this and say OK I accept you are an asshole and choose not to speak to you again. That is my way of dealing with someone like this. I accept them for what they are and do not allow them back into my life. I am not a dog and so will not be available to be kicked over and over again.
    I absolutely also believe that if you can put this healthy boundary up with one asshole, each subsequent one will be easier to detect before they really have a chance to hurt you. You self check and see ok If I was not in this situation, what would it look like to me as an outsider. This way you can realize OH, Yup Asshole alert or NOPE over reaction. This is the only way to learn from your life and only keep nice ppl who treat you well in it.
    You do not remain angry at every asshole you knew, you just recognize their Twin when you meet one and dispose of them PRONTO LOL

  35. Thank you so very much for this! So validating, so empowering, so encouraging. Keep writing!:)

  36. Totally agree! This forgiveness thing is another “should” that has somehow become an unquestioned part of (at least) U.S. culture. You are correct that forgiving is by definition absolving another person. But where did this notion come from that “I” will be better off if “I” forgive? I think on the one hand people are mixing up forgiving with giving up on being enraged and angry at somebody else for harm they did to you, and sometimes that’s healthy (but not always). However, to believe that there is somehow another layer to this, a spiritual benefit to the act of forgiving, is just another version of Christian magical thinking. There is nothing “out there” that accrues to me if I forgive somebody else. I don’t believe in magic.

  37. […] to reconcile the empowering, positive aspects of anger and reject the unhealthy prescriptions of forgiveness that victims encounter at every turn in our society, I still felt afraid of […]

  38. Colin says:

    This reflects IMO, what Alice Miller taught. Forgiveness represses the true emotion of the pain….it is a denial of one’s own truth, & prevents one from feeling their own feelings. Thanks for assisting in dispelling the myth. Cheers!

  39. spooksmcgee says:

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve shared this blog post with some friends who have also experienced trauma at the hands of another, because we were discussing this exact topic. Great job, keep writing!

  40. Paul says:

    I agree a lot with what is written here. That said, I feel this further clarifies what true forgiveness is. I don’t think forgiveness is about saying what happened was or is okay, cause it is not!

    Forgiveness is one of those words that is routinely misused and misunderstood. Letting go is not forgiveness although forgiveness cannot happen until you let go first. Forgiveness is what happens when you stop rejecting what you believe to be the cause of your suffering. My own definition: Forgiveness means making room for more. What I mean by that, is this: When I am unforgiving I am rejecting the bad thing that happened and not allowing it to be a part of me. Forgiveness is opening up to the bad thing and allowing it in. You may be surprised to find relief in this and that it in no way diminishes the pain but actually validates it in a way that nothing else does. The Enlightened Wounded Child has a tender and open heart. This makes them open to wounding but it also makes them open to forgiveness. Forgiveness or the need to forgive is a theme for the Wounded Child. For the Enlightened Wounded Child forgiveness is a way of life. Forgiving the past, forgiving the hurt and forgiving the losses or in other words making room for the past, making room for the hurt and making room the losses means you don’t exactly let it go as much as you widen your capacity to hold it and end the resistance to it. This is the daily spiritual practice of the Enlightened Wounded Child.

    • There is no linguistic or historic basis for forgiveness to mean what you postulate, which means that you are only redefining forgiveness. If you want to do that yourself, that’s fine. It’s certainly a time-honored way of reclaiming something that has been used against you in the past. But I’m not one to hold onto a word and force a new definition onto it. I don’t think forgiveness is required in order to integrate your past into yourself, nor do I agree that forgiveness is the process of integration. I can open up to my pain and accept it and embrace the wounded parts of myself without forgiveness. I can see how it would work for some to redefine forgiveness as basic emotional healing, but I think that adding that definition merely compounds the confusion the word holds for others, especially those (like me) who have had forgiveness used by abusers to manipulate and cause further harm. I would rather just ditch the concept altogether than redefine it into a more acceptable form.

  41. Paul says:

    I wish you the best on your path. I resonated with your blog. Cheers.

  42. Clare says:

    Excellent piece! Ahhhhh the Freedom in not Forgiving! Your’ve really stirred it up! Good job!

  43. Ray says:

    Finally, somebody honest enough to tell it like it is – forgiveness is a cruel load of BS! Returning good for evil sounds good (because the word ‘good’ is used). But it’s actually rewarding evil, which perpetuates it rather than destroying it. It is illogical and immoral.

  44. Ricky Johnson says:


  45. pauline says:

    Thank you for writing this. No words can explain how much this means to me, especially after all these years of being told to always “forgive and forget” awful moments. I happened to find out about this piece via a friend’s Facebook page and I’m definitely going to read more. :D

    Thank you for also reminding everyone that we all have the fundamental right to feel strong emotions and how unhealthy it is to sweep everything under the rug.

  46. Anya Phenix says:

    Reblogged this on Anya Phenix and commented:
    I’m finding some very helpful thoughts to ponder on this blog.

  47. […] Working from that definition — that forgiveness equals reconciliation — I no longer believe that forgiveness is a blanket mandate. I no longer believe that I have to forgive everyone. Given that definition, I must agree with my friend when she says that forgiveness is bullshit. […]

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