The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Forgiveness

7 toxic quotes about forgiveness – do not try these at home

Posted Sep 15, 2014

Closeup picture of sign that says“I never take advice from anyone more messed up than I am.” - Tom Hopkins

I’ve spent a good deal of my career working with and teaching forgiveness, specifically ho’oponopono, the ancient forgiveness practice of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, I wrote my PhD dissertation on it.

So I’ve got some expertise in this area, and I’ve noticed that there’s some pretty rotten advice out there on forgiveness. Let me just comment on a few “tips” that I think miss the mark:

1) “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Yikes! Do NOT try this at home!

I don’t know of any relationship that has not had its rough spots. Even in good times, we inadvertently bump into and bruise each other. As we open ourselves to loving someone, we also make ourselves vulnerable to hurt. If you don’t acknowledge and forgive those hurts, they can grow and fester, completely destroying trust and even love itself.

My wife Sumi and I use ho’oponopono daily, forgiving each other for whatever small infractions occurred and recommitting to a clean relationship. This practice has allowed us to keep our marriage fresh and growing.

2) “It's said in Hollywood that you should always forgive your enemies - because you never know when you'll have to work with them.” - Lana Turner

As a motivation for forgiveness, this is pretty weak. Forgiveness can’t be just about “giving” in case you’ll want to “get” something in the future. The practice of ho’oponopono teaches that we forgive even complete strangers that we never expect to see again!

Why? The benefit of true forgiveness is to ourselves by releasing the negative energy of resentment or anger.

3) “I don't want to forgive myself. . . . I think if you're guilty of something you should live with it. Get rid of it - how can you get rid of a real guilt? I think people should live with it, face up to it.” - Orson Welles

Orson Welles wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In 300 BC, scholar Ausonius advised his students, “Forgive many things in others; nothing in yourself.”

But have you ever really seen any good come from carrying around a burden of guilt? Guilt tends to sap our energy and hold us back from expressing ourselves fully. Self-forgiveness brings us back to our foundation and allows us to move forward positively.

Forgiving ourselves doesn’t mean that we forget about whatever we have done (or not done). By forgiving ourselves, we can release the emotional burden, acknowledge our responsibility and our humanity, and retain the learning of what we could do differently in the future.

4) “Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.” - Emma Goldman

This one doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, but is it always possible to understand another person’s actions? We can speculate and spend hours (or years!) trying to figure someone out and still not really get it. So if we can’t understand them, do we withhold forgiveness?

And when asking for forgiveness, is it necessary that the other person understands us completely? “It all started in kindergarten when that little girl kicked me and I cried and then in first grade. . .” No! We can give and receive forgiveness simply because we are generally well-intentioned, imperfect beings.

5) “It's far easier to forgive an enemy after you've got even with him.” - Olin Miller

Tempting, right? But whipping yourself up to take revenge just adds another layer of gunk on the issue. By “getting even,” you’re not only dealing with the original “wrong,” you’re also dealing with the “wrong” you committed in return and all of that extra negative energy. Not the straightest or easiest path to forgiveness.

6) “Understand that it is often unwise to forgive face-to-face. This tends to make the other person feel 'put down' and make you look holier-than-thou.” - Charles Stanley

How could sincere, heartfelt forgiveness ever make someone feel “put down”? In ho’oponopono, the forgiveness is always mutual: “I forgive you. Please forgive me too.” It is always respectful and loving.

Sometimes, of course, it is not possible or wise to offer forgiveness face-to-face. But in most cases, doing so allows for a full healing for both of you.

7) “If you forgive people enough you belong to them, and they to you, whether either person likes it or not squatter's rights of the heart.” - James Hilton

I’m not sure what “squatter’s rights of the heart” are but forgiving someone does not mean that you need to love, like, or even have anything to do with that person going forward. You have choice in whether to continue your relationship or not. But if you do choose to stay connected, you do so being free of whatever negative energy you had between you.

Until next time... Mahalo!

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about NLP and check out our new Integrative NLP Practitioner Certification® Training.