Forgiveness Goes Beyond Three Words

Forgiveness is an action not a feeling.

Posted May 20, 2016

We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world; yet, we expect perfect relationships. When love’s blinding light dims, conflicts are inevitable. Forgiveness is the salve that heals love’s betrayal, but few people know what forgiveness means much less know how to forgive. Forgiveness takes discipline and strength of character. 


Betrayal occurs when we expect people to act a certain way and they don’t. Betrayal can only take place when a trust relationship exists; for without trust there are no expectations. People who we don’t trust cannot betray us because we have no behavioral expectations. Without expectations, forgiveness is not necessary. Betrayal is not restricted to friendship and love interests where behavioral expectations are inherent to those relationships. We form trust relationships with society at large. We expect people, even if we don’t know them, to act with curtesy, respect, and civility. When we become victims of discourteous acts or personal crimes, we feel betrayed because our expectations of human behavior were violated. Governmental institutions, which consist of people, can also betray when they do not live up to our expectations. Forgiveness is only required when people or institutions fail to live up to our expectations. Betrayal creates a barrier between us and our most cherished relationships. A barrier that can only be overcome by forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an action

Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is an action. We must consciously decide to forgive someone who has fallen short of our expectations. We must act to forgive and not wait until forgetfulness softens the pain of disappointment. The sting of unforgiven betrayal is resilient and hurt feelings can be resuscitated at the slightest reminder of the transgression that caused the betrayal. Forgiveness is an active process whereby we make conscious decisions, in worst case scenarios, daily decisions, to follow through on the act of forgiveness, regardless of our feelings. If forgiveness relied on feelings, few people would be forgiven.

Forgiveness is choosing not to remember

Forgive and forget is not an accurate truism. Transgressions are sometimes difficult to forget, especially if they are grievous. True forgiveness takes place when we make a deliberate choice not to dwell on wrongdoings. Thinking about transgressions often reignites the emotional pain associated with betrayal. Each time we focus on the act of betrayal we consciously or unconsciously rebuild the betrayal barrier thought by thought. Long after the words “I forgive you” are spoken the act of forgiveness continues.

Forgiveness is not a weapon   

In the heat of an argument, we are tempted to use the nuclear option: “Remember when…” Resurrecting once forgiven behavioral missteps may win an argument, but it will be a pyric victory. The person who launched the emotional nuclear bomb loses because he or she fans the smoldering pain of betrayal. Residual emotional pain ignites into anger if it is left to fester. This type of anger can only be assuaged by revenge. Winning an argument using forgiveness as a weapon is an act of revenge that can be used over and over again as long as the anger chafes the human heart. The recipient of the emotional nuclear blast will feel betrayed because he or she thought the offence had been forgiven. The guilt the recipient felt once again surfaces causing renewed anxiety and relational distance. The fallout from an emotional nuclear blast can instantly destroy relationships. Forgiveness builds loving relationships; it does not destroy them.

Forgiveness remains silent

True forgiveness does not become grist for the gossip mill. Gossip is subtle form of revenge because the transgressor is slandered and becomes the target of public humiliation. Seeking the council of a trusted friend may aid the healing process. Conversely, gossip prevents a grieved heart from healing because the wound caused by betrayal is not allowed to heal. An exception to this tenant is when criminal activity occurs. Criminal activity can be forgiven, but it must be immediately reported to the proper authorities.      

Forgiveness takes discipline

Forgiveness takes discipline. Seeking forgiveness is easier than forgiving. The person who forgives must not only endure the pain of betrayal, but they must also continually make a decision not to remember the transgression, not use forgiveness as a weapon, and must refrain from gossiping. In all relationships, we will, at one time or another, fail to live up to the expectations of others. The brunt of betrayal is lessened once we realize that in an imperfect world populated by imperfect people, there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Forgiveness bridges the barrier of betrayal and allows us to continue to strengthen our relationships. Forgiveness is an essential part of life. We must learn to forgive others because at some point in time we will need forgiveness ourselves.

For more information on how to build, maintain, and repair relationships, refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.