Forgiveness is Bullshit

Please Note: I will no longer be approving comments that prescribe forgiveness to me or others or imply that we “just need to do it right.” I’ve already covered that extensively both in the main post itself and in the comments. Feel free to comment about your own personal experience (good or bad) with forgiveness, but keep your opinion about what others need to do to yourself. Thanks!

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 Dictionary.com, 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?

Maybe.

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.

215 thoughts on “Forgiveness is Bullshit

  1. Completely agree. I move on, I don’t forgive and there is no bitterness, And the people that I know who harp on about forgiveness never forget anything, they go on and on and on about whoever or whatever they claim to forgive. It’s a self-absorbed notion that makes people feel better but has no meaning. I would rather ride on my unicorn. Has about the same value.

    • Dough Boy says:

      I agree with you Samantha,

      I feel that people that claim to “forgive”, do it because they do not want to fully feel their anger or hurt in connection with who hurt them? So they never really get rid of their anger, they just keep stuffing it away. Hence, why they always have to keep coming back, over and over, about how much they have forgiven this or that person?

      If you constantly practice the “forgiving and forgetting” then you can easily deny and suppress you’re feelings of anger in relation to it?

      In my opinion forgiveness is just an easy “traditional” cop out for people to “consciously” deny their own emotions, but in the end the body has the last word. And the body will say yes, when you’re mind says no…

      In other words, those emotions will never disappear, no matter how much you try to get rid of them. They will always be expressed in some way or another, either overtly or covertly…

      • It’s an unfortunate aspect of our society that people feel compelled to ignore their own emotions, especially anger and grief. I don’t doubt that there are those who can forgive and truly forgive in a healthy way. After all, most of us have to learn to forgive some things throughout life because relationships are going to get a little messy. However, there’s a difference, I think, in forgiving and restoring a relationship to a healthy place and in suppressing emotions and ignoring the harm done by an action.

    • Forgiveness if often misunderstood says:

      I love the idea that forgiveness is a CHOICE. A choice that an individual makes for him or herself. It may not be for everyone. Thus, one can forgive and it can be very healing but it does not have to be for everyone. I wish that others holding a negative view of forgiveness would recognize the same idea. It is not helpful to talk in generalizations, such as, “All who talk about forgiveness….”. This may be true for some but not for all. Please don’t make generalizations and assumptions people in favor of forgiveness or those who choose to forgiveness. Also, make sure that you accurately understand what forgiveness is and is not as well as the contexts surrounding forgiveness before advising against it or making assumptions about the people who choose to forgive or advocate forgiveness for healing.

      • Dough Boy says:

        Of course forgiveness is a choice…

        A lot of people choose to not deal or look at their feelings all the time, it is nothing new.
        And forgiveness is a part of that, in fact to “forgive and forget” is one of the oldest “tricks” in the book for denying your feelings in my opinion.

        Also why should we not advise against forgiveness, if it has had negative effects in our lives? Shouldn’t we warn others of the dangers of forgiveness, if we know about them?

        Why can there never be a counter argument against forgiveness? Why should there only be one opinion, that forgiveness is “always best”?

        I HIGHLY suggest reading this article for people to make up their own mind whether they want to forgive or not?

        “Concerning Foregiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth” by Alice Miller”

        http://www.alice-miller.com/articles_en.php?lang=en&nid=48&grp=11

        But why should we turn a blind eye to something that could be destructive?

      • Forgiveness if often misunderstood says:

        If you knew anything about forgiveness, you would know that forgiveness is not FORGETTING! One does not forget a deep, personal, and unfair hurt, although one can forgive such a hurt. And the second step in Enright et al’s (1991) interpersonal forgiveness model is anger. This means that before one can forgive, he or she needs to get angry, in a safe and healthy way, about what was done unfairly to them. Forgiveness is not possible until one expresses and deals with all their feelings about being hurt. Knowledge and informed criticisms of forgiveness are always appreciated. Spouting off about what you think forgiveness is and is not or involves is NOT helpful!

    • cbrahma says:

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Where is the lingering festering resentment all the pious folks go on about? Actually the guilt trip only rubs salt in the wound and forces me to bind with the offending party. Far from ‘letting go’ I am pushed to ’embrace the tiger’ – sick and self-destructive.

      • Yes I have found that forcing myself into contact with toxic people is the biggest barrier to “moving on” though I talk in my healing series about how that moving on is very different from what people expect.

  2. Dough Boy says:

    I agree with you magical.

    Also I believe that most people in the world (not all) have been brought up “not to feel” their own emotions, probably since childhood.
    And as a general rule, people in general, avoid their own emotions because they don’t know how to deal with the pain, or how to face their fear of feeling those scary emotions? So this mostly results in people resorting to avoiding their feelings all together, and then they’re left with a crushing emptiness inside?

    And of course this emptiness is then filled with addiction, or other behaviours. Anything, but, feel that pain, anger, humiliation etc. , all those ugly feelings. But we cannot live a full adult life without taking our feelings seriously. Only children are not affected by their denial and emotional blindness.

  3. MikeyAngry says:

    After reading this article and others about the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness is an arcane idea, and one that demands the offender be given lower status. In this country, we’re taught from birth to allow others to shit on us, almost indiscriminately, because ‘forgiveness’ is a ‘sign of being a bigger person’… Which basically means that when we forgive, we’re elevating ourselves above someone dumber and less mature than us.
    Accountability is a long forgotten staple of real life. It’s time to resume the practice.

  4. Dough Boy says:

    “If you knew anything about forgiveness, you would know that forgiveness is not FORGETTING!”

    What makes you such an expert on forgiveness then?

    And since when am I just “spouting” stuff on forigveness?
    I have read countless of articles such as this one and Alice Miller’s, plus I have my own experience about forgiveness. Why am I not allowed to comment on that? Unless you personally don’t like what I’m saying, and you try to make me shut up right?

    What you are saying is very rude! And it’s like saying that we can’t talk about the moon, because we have never personally visited the moon?

    Like I said, people can read this article for themselves and then make their mind up about forgiveness. They don’t have to be dictated by you
    about how they should think of forgiveness or not!?

    “Forgiveness if often misunderstood”

    “Concerning Foregiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth by Alice Miller”

    http://www.alice-miller.com/articles_en.php?lang=en&nid=48&grp=11

  5. Alex Upstart says:

    Yes! Beautifully written! You put into words all of the reasons that the mandate to forgive has always made me feel uncomfortable. It does not serve the person who has been hurt; it is a way of freeing the abuser of any responsibility or discomfort. Thank you for explaining this so thoroughly and thoughtfully; I would love to send everyone who posts a “forgive and forget” meme to your page.

  6. Katrina Gilbert says:

    Thank you for speaking the truth! I agree with the other comments saying that forgiving is not forgetting. It’s not wise or healthy to allow a person to hurt you repeatedly because you continually forgive and forget about it, with no apology or effort to reconcile on their part. In some relationships within my family, that notion has led to continued emotional abuse and enabling of bad behavior with no accountability. It’s not much different than “sweeping it under the rug” . The situation is unacceptable.

  7. Jack Weber says:

    and from “listening to ourselves” and passing through our emotions, we forgive, as a byproduct of our own authenticity and process. feeling oru feelings comes first, but then forgiveness happens as a result, often enough, i find. Shadow gives rise to light.

  8. Pat says:

    What a relief to read this common sense article!

  9. Stacy says:

    Thank you!!! Well said!!!

  10. Ann says:

    So true I have never understood forgiveness as an excuse for nastiness. It’s excusing abusers actions. Joke is the children that forgive are the nice ones that get picked out by the wannabe Narcs. Yea right like a narc would forgive as children and beyond as as adult. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries and protection of those boundaries are the lessons for children. How to spot a Narc being a useful starting point. I have a bet that there’s a lot more out there than we are told. Afterall our society rewards them, I’ll say no more bout that. Any sort of abuse is abuse, denying this in anyway to ourselves, cannot be healthy, I stand by that. Work through how it made you feel. Practice a whole new tool set of communication skills and awareness of these freaks so you can get away form them and pass the knowledge of this onto others. These people need to be brought out of the shadows not excused. Acceptance makes more logical sense to me then let the person off. So you can accept the whole hideousness of it and make moves to move on. They are damaged they have and will continue to abuse people for the rest of their lives what they did was not a one off. Abuse isn’t a mistake of a nice person. They are twisted and live there life that way. Empathy is the answer! Not invalidating your children when communicating to them also. Giving your children posessional everything and idolising them isn’t empathy. This as well as obvious abuse can also make abusers of them.

  11. Hannah says:

    Thank you. I’ve had a hard time explaining to others that this is exactly how I feel. I keep being told to forgive my abuser in order to fully heal myself. But I can’t, and won’t, and don’t want to forgive Or pardon his heinous acts. I grant no pardon.

  12. aqua says:

    I entirely agree with the sentiments of your post, including the nausea at the superficiality and emotional manipulation and dishonesty of it all.

    I think its really important for all of us to consider that the concept of forgiveness is due to the pervasive influence of Christianity on our psyches and culture, irrespective of our personal levels of religiosity.

    Im not religious but I totally understand the burden of guilt imposed by not ‘Forgiving’ adequately or being able or wishing to – and I mean specifically in the face of denial of the behaviour and frankly thats outrageous!

    This HuffPost article talks about the Jewish approach to forgiveness and it makes perfect sense to me. And I find it really freeing to consider that the American/European fixation, isnt the only approach.

    Heres an extract.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-manfred/why-forgiveness-is-overra_1_b_812181.html

    “Forgiveness was a dilemma for me because I couldn’t see myself forgiving what I felt were unforgivable deeds. I talked to my rabbi about it and learned that the emphasis on forgiveness in our society comes from Christianity. It’s what Jesus did, and since we are basically a Christian society, following the example of Jesus has become the gold standard.

    In the Jewish tradition you don’t have to forgive unless you feel like it, or unless your ex has made amends. You will not necessarily suffer if you don’t forgive. Forgiveness is not the only way to heal from hurt, betrayal, emotional or physical abuse. You will move on anyway because unless you hang on to your hurts, nursing them with more and more attention, they will naturally fade with time. Forgiveness may, or may not, have anything to do with moving on. We are human, our wounds heal, hurts of the past recede into the past and the pain they caused lessens over the years. Just like any other kind of grief, the pain caused by betrayal or abuse fades whether or not we forgive our exes. Forgiveness often happens organically, after enough time has passed.

    Before talking to my rabbi, I certainly had no idea what my own religion taught. Unlike the Christian approach, which is based on doing what Jesus would do, Jews base their beliefs on doing the right thing. In the Jewish tradition you’re not obligated to forgive someone unless they’ve sincerely expressed remorse and convinced you of their sincerity. In fact the offender is mandated by God to ask for forgiveness three times and only then is the victim religiously required to forgive. However, if the wrongdoer does not apologize there is no religious obligation to grant forgiveness. Additionally, in Judaism, a wrongdoer must apologize to those he has harmed in order to be entitled to forgiveness. A person can only obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs done to God, not for wrongs done to other people.”

  13. Jenina says:

    This is one of the most sensible articles I have read so far….no trace of hypocrisy.

  14. Brilliant ….. Just brilliant. I love it when someone stands up and speaks a real truth without any denial. I must read this again to really absorb this very helpful insight. Thank you.

  15. […] -> Source: Forgiveness is Bullshit <- […]

  16. forgiveness is nonsense, some things are unforgivable but when a person gives into rage , it binds them to the person that injured them , forever ! they not only hurt you at that time but continue to even though they are not there , you cant forget but you can temper it , my advice is you either kill that person or move on and I’m not being snide

  17. Junella Pedro says:

    Try this for a new definition of forgiveness:
    If an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth would bring about justice… then forgiveness is letting go of your right to administer justice to someone who has done wrong, whereby relieving yourself of the burden to punish the offender.

    • suzanne Freedman says:

      Forgiveness is the idea of letting go of personal revenge for an offense, not public justice. Thus, rather than me taking personal revenge, I will hold the person accountable through the justice system if appropriate. There are many misconceptions about what forgiveness is and is not and this leads to a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings of the healing aspects of forgiveness for the individual and society.

  18. V. Hill says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Finally someone who agrees with my thoughts!

  19. Colleen McLean says:

    I have struggled with this claim of forgiveness all my life. Like a magic pill I just never fully grasped the idea, made the connection and like a drug addict I have had multiple relapses into my angry little world. “Forgiveness” never taught me how to handle a similar situation differently. I am more faulty in nature than I care to be but my kindness rules over my common sense. I repeat good deeds because of my rusted idea of trust. I have to forgive myself more times than anyone else. I love all your definitions and agree how forgiveness is bullshit especially in the absence of any apology or action of change. Thank you.

  20. I really like your thoughts on this subject. Though, I’d like to add this perspective:

    When it comes to fundamental or Christian forgiveness, Christ is often seen as heroic in his ability to forgive because people are amazing by his ability to be the “bigger man” after being crucified. I think its’ this aspect of psychology (being impressed by forgiving outrageous sin or indiscretion) that motivates alot of this suppression of so-called “negative” emotion: The idea that you’re somehow being small or petty by not being forgiving.

    I actually disagree with this take on Christianity. The victim who chooses not to forgive, or to forgive naturally in their own time, I think is behaving in a more Christian way by actually holding evil accountable, or by holding those accountable for their sins. (Which is what God does.)

    Although Christ generously forgive his tormentors, (on the grounds that they “knew not.”) And although we are called to be like Christ. a true Christian apology requires three parts in order to be absolved or forgiven:

    Sincere remorse. “I’m sorry.”

    An admission of guilt. “This is what I did.”

    Repentance. “What can I do to fix this/ make it better?”

    Only then can someone be truly forgiven or absolved of their sins and wrongdoings.

  21. Heidi says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!! Now, may my healing begin…

  22. katie says:

    This is the best blog post i have seen on the internet in a long time! thank you so much for writing it. I’ll be sharing it far and wide!

  23. ray says:

    the moralism behind forgiving is a mis-reading of the Bible – Jesus tells a parable about a servant who was unforgiving to a debtor who was REPENTANT. The whole dangerous misconstruction is the idea that forgiveness must be unconditional – God’s forgiveness is certainly not otherwise there would be nobody in hell. So why are we held to a higher standard than God?

  24. chadadair says:

    You are right that we shouldn’t forgive Willy Nilly, to use an Old Testament expression.

    In a very simple way, God doesn’t forgive the unrepentant. At least not pragmatically anyway, they still go to Hell, right?

    Does that mean that we should only forgive those who are remorseful?

    Not necessarily.

    I agree that the modern concept of forgiveness is probably naiive compared to the way that the Jews of Jesus’day thought about it. However, I find it very disappointing that you recognize that truth and still continue to use a Contemporary definition for the term, rather than understanding the context of how the Jews in Jesus’ day thought about forgiveness.

    The Jews basically thought of forgiveness like a financial transactions. One person owes an ammount. But someone comes in and pays the fee on the behalf of the other person. The original “debt” has been forgiven.

    So to forgive means basically what people call “pay it foreward” in the modern era. We are to demonstrate true love to the people around us. That is how we move forward and forgive the wrongs of the distant past.

    Should we surgar-coat the evils of this world with a cherry on top? Jesus certainly did not do that when He knocked over the tables in the marketplace, so no.

    But we can forgive our fellow mankind by being a light in a dark world, and treating people in the way that we would hope that they would treat us.

    • That makes even less sense than the modern idea of forgiveness but certainly shares some of the elements that I think are bullshit…such as forgiving a debt. There’s also a world of difference between Jesus protesting corruption in the temple (please know your Bible. It wasn’t a marketplace) by knocking over tables and chairs and forgiving someone who has done something egregious against an individual personally. I could get into it, but it seems a little laughable to bring Jesus up as an example after I basically said that I find him a horrible example on this issue.

      • chadadair says:

        I have studied the Bible both academically and privately for over 30 years. You state that “it was not a marketplace”., but that is precisely what the people made it to be, and that is the whole point. Its true purpose for the reverence for God was ignored for the means of mere profit. The area in question was the temple court. The original design and purpose of the outer court of the temple was for prayer. However merchants instead transitioned to selling the elements necessary for sacrifice and probably did not charge fair pricing. The true purpose of the outer court of the temple was turned into a marketplace for selling of the sacrificial item. Jesus, as the Son of God, understood the essential nature of prayer over sacrifice for a proper communication with God.

        On forgiveness however, Jesus paid a debt that he did not owe as an extension of God’s love. God forgave us our sins, because Christ paid our debt. It is only through Christ that we can find true peace to those who of their own freedom of thought choose to believe in Him.

      • ray says:

        I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about.
        God does not forgive unconditionally otherwise Hell would not exist. What the conditions are , is somewhat unclear, but regardless we are not gods. We are vulnerable to nasty jerks that can damage us – and not dealing with nasty jerkiness by forgiving it, is ridiculous. The whole discussion is moot in any case, because even Christians don’t live in that self-desctructive way.

  25. greeleygray says:

    I grew up in a fundamentalist church, though I am Buddhist now. I remember the Bible saying that God required us to confess and repent before he forgives. Why should I not require the same? Confession meaning that you admit you inflicted pain or harm… not just an insincere “I’m sorry.” Repentance meaning that you demonstrate that you have learned your lesson and that you will never behave the same way again. I may or may not forgive after confession and repentance have happened, but you can be certain I won’t forgive if they haven’t!

  26. Jenine says:

    It was pretty refreshing to read this article. Late last summer, I came out about being molested by one of my older half-siblings to my dad and a couple other relatives on his side of the family not to mention one of my maternal cousins’ ex-girlfriend who then proceeded to tell quite a bit of people on my mom’s side. I feel like there is no reconciling with my family after all they put me through over the years especially not my sister. I personally have no problem if someone wants to forgive another person for doing them wrong regardless of what it was. However, I do have an issue with people forcing it on someone who may not be ready to reconcile if they ever decide to do it. Because when you’re forced to forgive, you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for other people’s benefit including the abuser.

    The only reason why my aunt wanted me to forgive my sister for what she’s done is because she wanted me to not because I was ready. I wished I could’ve said more to her like how they’re still living their lives in a cult, but I was weak and besides my father wasn’t there to defend me (I’m not mad at him for wanting to see his friend on Thanksgiving day. LOL). Even when I still did talk to my sister (who did molest me btw), it got to the point where she was always asking me for money (and she had a job) yet putting me down for being out of work and not going to school. After a while, it got to the point where I was miserable around her because of the insults. The last three times we were around each other, I either cried at some point or felt horrible because she has reassured me several times that no one would be there for me if my father were to pass. I know part of this is my fault because I brought up the issue first, but my mom’s family used it against me to show that they’re not supportive of what I do.

    I see a counselor now and when I go to my next appointment, I will tell her that there is no reconciling with my family. They’re the type of people who say they’re sorry and don’t mean it. I know how they operate. I don’t need people with empty apologies and promises.

    • I’m sorry you had to go through that. Only you can decide if forgiving them is what you want, can, or need to do, and your healing isn’t contingent on forgiving. I wish you all the best in your journey. This might be a great thing to discuss with your counselor if you haven’t talked about it before. If she’s open to your feelings on the matter, that’s a great sign. However, if she pressures you to reconcile…that might be important information about her not being a good fit. A good counselor will follow your lead and pace on healing from trauma, not pushing you to do anything you don’t want to do around either cutting off or re-connecting with an abuser. I’d also highly recommend “The Courage to Heal,” a great book about healing from sexual abuse with sections talking about forgiveness, reconciliation, and confrontation. Some people find one or all of those beneficial; others do not. The important thing is that each person gets to decide for themselves what their healing journey looks like.

      • Jenine says:

        Sorry I replied so late. Yeah, my counselor is basically focusing on me healing from the abuse. She uses the concept of removing the splinter and feeling no more pain. In one session, she did say she’s not trying to change how I think about my sibling who did this or the rest of my family, but she is trying to help me move on with my life. In other words, she’s not forcing me to reconcile with them. It’s complicated. You see, my dad wants me to heal too, but I feel it’s for all the wrong reasons. On the other hand, my therapist is trying to focus on me healing for the right reasons. It’s not that he doesn’t believe me, however. I feel it’s because it’s my word against my sisters along with his own mother’s denial due to dementia and other things. I personally feel that regardless of it she had dementia or not, she still wouldn’t believe me for one reason or another. Either she doesn’t like me anymore because I said some bad stuff to her online a couple years back (I’ve since apologized, but it may not make a difference) or she doesn’t want to face the fact that one of her grandchildren went through incest and sexual abuse. God forbid if either my dad or aunt said they were molested. She’d probably deny that too.

        With that being said, I’m steadily making my exit plan from my family. My mom’s side is trying to cover up what happened, while whatever my grandmother says goes even if someone isn’t speaking to her anymore. It’s awful. I also wanna thank you for your comment months earlier. It was very helpful. Recovering from sexual abuse especially incest is a long journey.

      • It is a very long journey, and I wish you luck in your attempts.

  27. peacerunjet says:

    YOU ARE MY HERO, sometimesmagical. I have been searching for something to express how I feel about the brainwashing I continually receive through my religious upbringing, current social media “memes” and just the whole “forgiveness is being free” lie. It’s a lie. Nobody should have to forgive the really bad stuff. I don’t let it eat away at me or hurt me (more than it did when it happened) but I am NOT going to forgive. I made a mess out of my trying to become a strong functioning adult by pretending that it is necessary to forgive to live. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this. you ROCK.

  28. I’m writting a Visual Novel about 2 countries who are at war because of their different views on Justice. One country believes that forgiving is the key to move forward and to be happy (even rapist, killer and terrorist), while the other believes that punishing such people is the right thing to do.

    Your post definitely helped me in my writting!

  29. Linda Bailey says:

    The Bible teaches this: Before forgiveness is granted, the offender must apologize and repent. Repentance means to have a change of mind and change in the behavior that caused the offense. If you believe, after it has been demonstrated, that the offender has indeed repented, then, and only then, are we asked to grant the forgiveness.

    • Which passage gives such detailed instructions of the process?

      • Linda Bailey says:

        Luke 17:3

      • I guess it’s nice to have one verse out of the many that doesn’t mandate forgiveness if that’s your religion.

      • Linda Bailey says:

        It mandates forgiveness as long as there is repentance. Plus, to me, it makes perfect sense whether it is religion or not. If someone keeps offending in the same manner, even after apologizing, then they truly are not sorry for the offense. I feel no obligation to forgive under those circumstances. The Bible tells us to forgive as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13).God forgives us when we come to him, confess our sin, ask for forgiveness (apologize) and repent (turn from our sinful ways).( Ezekiel 33:10-19, Isaiah 55:6, Jeremiah 6:16 & 26:3, Luke 13:3 & 5, Acts 3:19). He does not forgive those who are ‘stiff-necked’, continue doing evil, or refuse to repent. The Lord does not expect more of us than he himself is willing to do!

      • There are a lot of verses that mandate forgiveness without qualification. But I would agree that forgiveness is not necessary if the person isn’t sorry or repeatedly harms. I would take it a step further and say it isn’t necessary even if the person is sorry and asks forgiveness. I don’t need a god to tell me when and how to forgive. I will listen to my heart about whether that’s appropriate.

      • Linda Bailey says:

        I respect how you feel.

  30. When I first saw your statement, “Forgiveness is Bullshit” I read your blurb just to understand why you were so full of anger and misguided. I’m glad I finished reading until the end because you did put it in perspective and I understand the statement. You mentioned the stages of grieving, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s important to note that you can’t forgive unless you are in the acceptance stage. Some people try to convince you that you should be going through the stages faster or at their pace. Some people never reach acceptance and can therefore never forgive. I experienced extreme betrayal and it took 18 YEARS for me to even realize that I needed to forgive. I didn’t go looking for it. The person crossed my life after years and, like you said, it was “natural”. One thing lead to another, heartfelt apologies were given, a marriage was broken, water under the bridge bla bla bla and when I absorbed it all and said the words, “I forgive you.” I started a healing I never even knew I needed (and I’m a nurse). We are still friends and now we have moved on. I only hope the other person has healed as well with my forgiveness. I can’t even explain to you what it feels like to truly forgive but when you feel it you will know it. It’s amazing and I am grateful. All the best on your journey.

    • Suzanne Freedman says:

      Doris- so glad to see that you found peace in forgiving. And so happy to see something positive about forgiveness posted. I think many individuals hold misconceptions about forgiving and what it is and thus, don’t realize how healing forgiving can be. Thank you for your post. Take care!

    • While I would maintain that moving on and even reaching “acceptance” can be done without forgiveness and that forgiveness is a voluntary addendum to healing rather than the path to it, I’m really happy for you that your experience with it has been so positive. It sounds like you didn’t feel that pressure to forgive before you were ready and that it was a natural part of your process in this case. That’s wonderful for you!

  31. J donohue says:

    Bravo!!!!

  32. Fellow Traveler says:

    I’ve lived through both these approaches, and I can tell you that a life spent practicing forgiveness (properly understood) is more fulfilling and peaceful in every way imaginable. The ways in which you have been asked to practice forgiveness have not appealed to you — fair enough. But I would encourage you (as I encourage myself as well) to keep your mind open to the idea that perhaps there are depths in the concept that you have not yet plumbed.

    • As I’ve told others who have expressed finding a place for forgiveness in their process, awesome! I’m happy for you that it’s been a fulfilling part of your journey. I’ll throw some confetti for you. But if you walk away from reading this post thinking that the best response you can make is to tell me and others who eschew the idea of forgiveness being necessary that we just haven’t tried it the right way yet, you’re missing the most important take-away of this post (and I question whether you even read it entirely). I dedicated several paragraphs to talking about the place that forgiveness can have as a “healthy byproduct of healing” in some circumstances. (It’s the latter part of the post. Go check it out.) However, in case it wasn’t clear, the most bullshit aspect of forgiveness is how it’s prescribed by others to individuals who haven’t found that to be part of their healing (yet or ever).

  33. Dorine says:

    I tried the forgiving route. But at age 53 I had enough of my fathers abuse. Everyone kept telling me what a good daughter I was for putting up with him and taking care of him. But when his dr told me after his open heart surgery he will probably live another 10 to 15 yrs I thought no, I cannot put up with his abuse into my 60’s. I thought when I was little I’d be free at age 18. I’m done forgiving. I went no contact 6 months ago and feel so good about it. I’ll never forgive him.

  34. Becca Cerveri says:

    ..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. This point is what hits me the most in this (awesome) article and in my life. I’ve been dished out a lot of pain and have spent years working to “heal” my heart and soul. It’s said that you can’t heal until you forgive and if you don’t it will kill you in the long run. Well, it does kill you…a little bit every day, BUT it’s not the lack of forgiveness its the lack of apologies owed to you. It’s as if the offender thinks that by not apologizing it never happened…again putting all the responsibility, blame and work on the victim…and boy, is it ever work…hard, dark and painful work. I often find myself saying “I didn’t ask for this treatment or deserve this treatment, why do I have to do all the gut wrenching work to mend my soul? ” From the moment trauma happens, the body begins to wilt. The overflow of adrenalin, the lack of sleep, the dark tar that bubbles inside, that unexplainable loneliness and empty pit so deep inside it seems unreachable erodes life. Every time I have a bad day, every time the rollercoaster cart starts the plunge, i start wondering why i can’t get this shit right. Why can’t i “let go”? Why can’t i “heal” like so many people claim they do? What makes me so different? I can figure out almost anything. Why not this? No, the offenders don’t face their demons. It’s the victim who wants to just live; wake up feeling rested, not get triggered by their senses, go out, have friends, that face their demons 24/7 to heal. Healing…WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? Next artice maybe because that’s another idea all muddled in bull shit! To heal…is there some finish line? Is there a last page to turn so we can close the book and put it on the shelf? Is there a final question we can bubble in our answer and get a passing grade if we studied hard enough?

    • The idea of healing: what it is and how it happens–I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and a blog post will probably soon follow with some thoughts. I’ll try to remember to put a link here for you if you’re interested. But the short answer is I think we do ourselves a disservice by trying to make it about a destination we reach where it’s as if our trauma never happened. I think that is more likely to push someone into trying to ignore the pain rather than work through it. Then it becomes this elusive goal towards which we constantly strive–sort of like perfection in its unattainability. It sucks that survivors end up with all that work and difficulty. I’ve often thought the most perfect justice would be of the abuser could somehow be saddled with the survivor’s pain and wounds. I’m sorry you’re hurting. I hope that you can find some solace here.

    • I wanted to let you know that my most recent post begins to address this question. I decided to break it up into multiple posts to give myself plenty of time and space to explore how I want to define it for me. But I hope that you will check out the current post and continue to follow the progress of this topic.🙂

  35. Ann Brown says:

    Thank you for this. I agree with you and am pleased to know that there are others out there who feel the same as me.

  36. […] Source: Forgiveness is Bullshit […]

  37. Marquis Crumpton says:

    Outstanding article! I told the very first therapist I saw so forgive the abusers yet they are gonna continue to abuse anyway? Her and I fought about forgiveness she shoved it down my throat along with her Christian ideologies.

    I have seen nothing in my life where forgiveness has been used and abused on people – a freebie to abusers. One example is I forgave my ex for something he did that hurt me and guess what? He kept doing it for the course of our 10 yr relationship, so where was the true forgiveness?

    Anyway, forgiving abusers, I don’t forgive the transgression (act). I believe it was in this article or somewhere else, where is the true realization that someone was immensely hurt? I mean when will the abuser realize this and step up to the plate? My first therapist said never mind the abusers, I was like wtf?

    Do I forgive my abusers? No, do I hate them? Yes, which I feel like I can’t seem to move on. I do believe forgiveness has its place I have said for years it takes both parties one to say I am truly sorry (actually meaning it and having the emotions to go with it) and the other I forgive you how can we repair the damage? It is a two way street yet forgiveness teaches a one way street or dead end.

  38. […] frequently, when people find out I don’t think forgiveness is necessary for healing…and often detrimental in its universal prescription, people will challenge me by asking if I still have any anger or pain left over from my abuse—as […]

  39. Lea says:

    Oh so much this, thank you for writing what I’ve been thinking for years x

  40. melanie says:

    I do not forgive n I NEVER forget. Ever. I agree with you!!!

  41. Anna says:

    Fantastic!

  42. my painful experience says:

    Judging by the definition of this word forgiveness and what it has meant to me in my experience, I understand what you mean in this article, that it is imposed upon people who are often the victim of harm. I too have seen it too often prescribed to those with pain and those being abused. I don’t however believe that the forgiveness often prescribed is a true interpretation of the word. I agree that forgiveness is a choice, but not to accept the negative situation as just or good. I see it as a feeling that arises naturally after deeply accepting the reality of one’s feelings, frame of mind and situation in which the wound was created.
    I believe the idea of forgiveness has been distorted by many who use the word. The word ‘forgiveness’ in a healthy practice seems to mean that the victim decides that no further act of revenge or punishment should be brought upon the guilty party or source of the pain/suffering. A healthy confrontation or response to a wounded/abusive relationship or situation is crucial however in order to heal. One needs the space and time, in order to accept and heal the wound/pain/suffering. The scars will remain as a reminder of that pain and the trust will remain broken, with forgiveness alone.
    Only with reconciliation and shared intentions can a relationship/situation pivot from a strictly non-violent/non-vengeful intention, to a healing relationship/situation. In order to regain a connection that feels safe, it takes a lot of focus and shared accountability to create a new healed relationship/situation.
    I don’t mean to push ideas that prevent anyone from being free to experience their own emotions and feelings. I just offer my perspective on what a healthy idea of forgiveness might look like. This idea of forgiveness has the potential to offer more space to accepting one’s own experience, and less space given to violent/revengeful thoughts and/or actions. Is it not violence/vengeance or neglect which might have caused the pain to begin with?

    • In order to accept your view of non-forgiveness though, I have to conflate it with vengeance and violence. I don’t think they’re the same at all. I can be unforgiving and not take revenge.

      • my painful experience says:

        I agree with you in a certain definition of forgiveness.

        I was trying to make the point that the definition varies from, not holding anger or pain, to, pardoning or not pursuing retribution/revenge.

        The negative emotions are a sign that something is wrong in the present environment, or else they are a flashback to the past(and you can choose your present perspective of a past reaction). The feelings of being hurt, angry, resentful or unsafe (because of a person and/or situation) have the opportunity to be resolved/healed/made safe if the relationship can be mutually mended maybe through admission of all guilt and then agreed upon intentions and boundaries. Otherwise the situation/person can be non-violently confronted, avoided, or violently confronted.
        Shoot im not sure if im explaining well enough.

        I found this to be more practical than the ‘fundamentalist Christian’ view of forgiveness.(that ive been subjected to my whole life)

        https://califia.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/buddha-on-forgiveness-reconciliation-and-right-wrong/

        I hope im clear that i dont think youre wrong, I just think there might be other interpretations of the word that may offer a different perspective. I have a lot of past experiences where i feel my anger and pain was justified with people who do not express guilt presently who i now choose to avoid. and some that i am attempting to resolve our relationship.

        Whats your experience with feeling indignation or displeasure in the past with relation to the present relationship? If i may ask.

      • I think my indignation has increased as I’ve come to value myself more and hold people accountable. I still have anger and hatred present with regard to abuse, but I’m happily no longer in touch with that person and find that the anger and hatred serve as reminders of why they’re not safe.

      • my painful experience of bliss says:

        i also agree the non-forgiveness does not necessarily equate to vengence/violence, but unless the intention/resolve of non-violent action is made, simply the potential for violence is still there. That is as long as fear based emotions are involved.

      • I guess I don’t see a problem with that. There is always a potential for violence. It has less to do with the emotions involved than it does with the choices people make. Violence is a potential even with someone who is calm and disinterested as we have seen with many a serial killer.

    • I do believe that you hit an important point about forgiveness arising naturally though. Natural as a result of one’s own process without pressure from others is the only kind that isn’t necessarily bullshit.

  43. Kat says:

    Thank you so much for this, I couldn’t agree more!
    I have a history of abuse with my father and I have had more people (family, not on his side – also very religious) tell me to be a “bigger person” and to forgive him than any one supporting me.
    You cannot boil such strong emotions &/or experiences down to two phrases = either forgiving or not forgiving… they are so much more complex than that.

  44. Rosin Dearg says:

    Thank you for so eloquently stating how I feel. According to Christian scripture, we are not required to forgive anyone who does not beg it, acknowledge his guilt, show contrition, make restitution. I will never forgive my father for raping me when I was 12, nor must I. Some things are unforgiveable.

  45. Jacob says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am crying reading this. I have always felt there is something wrong with the concept of forgiveness. It seems forgiveness is a concept invented by perpetrators. It conveniently lets them off the hook. But a lot of abuse is not excusable.

    The only correct usage of the concept i can think of is to forgive oneself for being the victim. Many victims including myself blame themselves for being abused and forgiveness of oneself states no, it was not my fault. However the perpetrator deserves the blame for acting in a mean and selfish way, scarring the victim for life in many cases.

    Perhaps some acts are forgivable. For example if someone says something hurtful during an argument and then apologizes and doesn’t continue the behavior then it can be forgiven.. However violent physical and sexual abuse and murder etc are not forgivable nor should they be.

    I can move on and heal without the guilt of needing to let the abuser off the hook.

  46. nicola Roberts says:

    All I know is resentments eat me away inside…i have so much anger it feels toxic in itself. However I’ve never dealt with the trauma appropriately so no wonder it has turned to rage. At 45 I’m only just realising I wasn’t the problem. After years of being brainwashed into thinking I was…scape goated…bullied…verbal abuse…physical abuse…Mental abuse….emotional abuse….from a child till now. I’m no angel..However I do wonder if I would have this bloody ager if it wasn’t for all this abuse? Would I have been a well rounded human being. Achieving the way a normal person does in there life’s…being able to go to a steady job and feel self assured..so when the office bully has a dig it will wash over me and I could let it go with out it sinking into my thin skin and torturing my self worth.
    Would I be married and in a loving kind relationship? Instead of looking out from my window at couples walking to the train station holding hands as they skip off to work? Why do I look at that puzzled….wondering what that feels like to be normal…and then taking tablets to cope with the pain that I can’t. Still hearing the voices in my head of all those who told me I couldn’t. So the anger is still very alive…forgiveness…I’ve tried…I was told if I wanted peace I should pray for these people and I will heal that pain. Forgiveness will follow? Some how till now I. Haven’t been able to do that…may be it’s because my life’s a bloody mess because I allowed myself to live a life they wanted for me…I’ve always believed because of them I didn’t deserve any better…It’s so strange though how when anything went wrong in there life’s they all came to me to pour there troubles out too. To help then solve there problems. Yet I was a piece of shit…I’ve always thought time is a healer that with time I would feel better. It’s still there though. I’ve just found your Facebook page and this site..and I can’t tell you how willing I am to heal…that I am willing to go to any lengths to forgive myself…Thanks Evelyn I appreciate all you have done for people like me…may god continue to.bless us all. X

  47. venbaxter says:

    I see many good points and ideas here.

    Forgiveness — whatever else it is or involves — does not mean “forgetting” and it does not mean opening oneself up to further harm.

    It’s also not something that can rightly be asked for, commanded, or even recommended. Forgiveness is certainly a “byproduct of healing” that follows (and only can follow) other necessary steps.

    “Forgiveness” is in the inner realm of the survivor, having nothing to do with anyone else except as they are able otherwise to help somehow with some part of the survivor’s healing (such as listening, validating, and sharing their own experiences).

    Thank you for sharing!

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