Ana Nogales, Ph.D.

Family Secrets



Forgiveness is one of the most difficult but necessary actions we must take.

Posted Feb 07, 2017


At times, we might feel that it is impossible to forgive someone who has hurt us. Our inability or unwillingness to forgive others is perfectly echoed in the proverb “to err is human, to forgive divine.” As a human, mistakes are easy to make – forgiveness is not easy, but possible, and necessary to allow ourselves the opportunity and freedom to move forward from a painful past. If we simply bottles our emotions, they are not only bound to overflow, but they weigh us down in the past. Moreover, we simply cannot cast aside a painful experience. In fact, in attempting to forget an experience, we exacerbate its impact on us. The human brain is not built to forget the past.

© Can Stock Photo / creatista
Source: © Can Stock Photo / creatista

Forgiveness is difficult. When we are unwilling or unable to forgive others, it is likely due to dwelling on the painful event. In dwelling, we remain in the past. Our past consumes our present. Rather than having been a victim to a single event, we continue to be a victim. In some cases, people dwell in the past their entire lives. Unfortunately, we sometime transfer this pain onto others, such as our children, and in some cases, even our grandchildren. This behavior is especially common in people with obsessive personalities.

The inability or unwillingness to forgive others may further harm the victim. Numerous studies show that resentment may turn into anxiety, depression, and tension. It can affect our physical health. It can affect our heart and other vital organs. By not forgiving, we condemn ourselves to further harm for having been hurt.

It is especially difficult to forgive others when it is evident that one’s apology is devoid of regret, empathy, or a desire to improve oneself and the situation one caused. These pleads for forgiveness are empty, offensive, and just as ruinous as the harmful act. Forgiveness is a process, not a reset. With regret, empathy, and the desire to improve, one shows that one truly desires to be forgiven.

For forgiveness to take place, the aggressor needs to ask for forgiveness. However, at times, the aggressor may not be cognizant about how their actions are harmful, let alone the extent of the damage of their actions.

The logical response would be to forgive the aggressor, but clearly, this is not simple. If we forgive and provides the aggressor another opportunity to improve, it is possible that the only outcome will be the same situation. This is dangerous. Forgiveness does not entail an automatic emotional reset between the involved parties. Negative events must be decomposed through communication and effort. This takes time.

Once the hurt individual understands that forgiveness is necessary to live a happier life, they need to understand several factors:

  • Forgiveness does not justify hurtful actions
  • Forgiveness does not mean remaining in a relationship with the one who hurt you
  • Forgiveness is not weakness
  • Forgiveness is not self-belittlement
  • Forgiveness does not mean to agree
  • Forgiveness does not mean to forget

So, what does it mean to forgive?

  • Forgiveness is understanding that the other person is a human being who, like all human beings, has made a mistake
  • Forgiveness is recognizing that the other person’s troubled past may have led to them act mistakenly
  • Forgiveness is the desire for the other person to discover better ways of resolving their personal issues
  • Forgiveness is the realization that one did what one could and that it could not be avoided, that is, to forgive oneself
  • Forgiveness is to allow oneself to live in peace
  • Forgiveness is wishing the other peace
  • Forgiveness is distancing oneself from those that cause harm

We are unable to change our past. By dwelling in the past, we condemn ourselves to relive painful experiences. This is self-destructive. Through forgiveness, we not only free ourselves from past pain, but prevent our pain from spreading into our relationships with other people.

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult but necessary actions we must take. Ultimately, we know that people make mistakes. Some mistakes will hurt others, but pain is an inherent part of being human. Although everyone is an individual person, everyone is experiencing the human experience. We are all trying to discover purpose, passion, and love through our interactions with the environment and people. In our journeys, we sometimes walk down a wrong path.