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How do you forgive someone who isn't sorry they hurt you? Is it really that important to forgive?

(224 Posts)
ElizaPickford Thu 14-Aug-14 17:06:39

I've just finished reading The Railway Man and it is ultimately a book about forgiveness. It got me thinking - forgiveness was obviously the right thing for the main character to do, no doubt made easier by the fact that the person he needed to forgive was desperately sorry and had spent much of his life trying to atone.

I'm not directly trying to relate my situation to the one portrayed in that book - however I've been struggling for a long time with the fact that I was betrayed by one of my parents and have been badly damaged on several levels by their actions to me throughout my life. I no longer have anything to do with them but I do think about them often and find myself struggling with the idea of forgiveness.

One one level, I would love to be free of all the feelings I still have of resentment for what has gone on and suspect I would be more at peace if I could forgive. However, I know that from a logical perspective that I don't know how to forgive. I can say that I do but ultimately I am still left sad and angry and forgiveness does not feel authentic. What makes it worse is that the person I feel I should forgive actively does not give one tiny shit about their behaviour - they think that they tried their best and "if that's not good enough then tough shit." There is no salvaging the relationship at all I don't think - I've tried but it is completely one way traffic and I'm not a masochist.

So the question is - is it possible? Has anyone done it? Or do I need to just reconcile myself to this feeling of sadness that underlies everything I do for the rest of my life? How important is forgiveness anyway - is it mentally safer to remember that whatever happens this person cannot be trusted and that even if they were sorry I need to keep my guard up?

headinhands Thu 14-Aug-14 18:33:51

Hi Eliza

sorry if this comes out all scrambled and messy but I'm not great a stringing thoughts together. My method of forgiving people who haven't apologised or recognised the hurt is usually about acknowledging a 'back story' although it probably doesn't work in all cases. An example would be a friend letting me down badly, and me recognising a narrative that lead up to the incident, such as said friend having something happen in their past that attributed to the behavior. There always seems to be some way of beginning to reasoning how that person got to the point of doing what they did. I'd like to think that the people I may have hurt would use the same reasoning.

Rafanderpants Thu 14-Aug-14 19:22:05

Sorry you've had this OP but Im with you on this.

being deliberately hurt and theyre not sorry at all, I jujst cannot forgive them.

sometimes I feel is punishing ME cos I cant forgive them, but I pray 'God, you KNOW what they've done, im only human and find the forgiving thing hard, but you're God, please forgive them for me'' or words to that effect.

I think sometimes I cant forgive God for allowing it to happen too.

Is that something you think too?

frames Thu 14-Aug-14 19:27:17

Hi, I was terribly hurt by someone, who was not ever in the least bit sorry. We still see each other. I just had to move on. They are forgiven, simply because it was such a waste of energy to hold a grudge.

combust22 Thu 14-Aug-14 21:43:57

I don't need to forgive.

I have been very hurt by someone but I have moved on, I have become a stronger and wiser person as a result. I don't hold a grudge or any negative feelings. I rarely think about the hurt. I have no need to forgive to move on with my life in a happy, stronger and positive way.

If you need to forgive then that's your thing, for me it isn't neccesary.

I think perhaps there is a strong religious aspect in the "need" to forgive. I am an atheist, perhaps that's part of the reason why it's not my bag.

elastamum Thu 14-Aug-14 21:50:56

I also don't think you need to forgive to move on.

I had a messy divorce due to my exes affair and it hurt me and my DC really badly. I haven't forgiven him and never will, but we now have a good relationship.

There are some things that I have just put down because they are done.

Another atheist btw

niminypiminy Thu 14-Aug-14 22:09:00

Forgiving someone isn't about saying what they did was alright really and didn't matter -- that would be like saying the wrong they did to you didn't matter -- and it's not about making a good relationship with them -- sometimes this can happen and sometimes it can't and shouldn't. Forgiveness is putting down the burden of wishing them retribution, it's no longer carrying the weight the wrong on your shoulders to put right. You could think of it as being moving on as combust22 does, or seeing the backstory as headinhands does. When you forgive it's not the wrong vanishes, it'll always be part of your story, part of who you are -- but it won't be the whole of your story, you'll be more than the hurt you suffered. Forgiveness means letting justice rest elsewhere, understanding that the wrong was part of someone else's story -- a story they are responsible for. When you forgive someone you are acknowledging that just as you are more than what they did to you, so they are more than what they did to you. Forgiving is immensely hard because we have to acknowledge the wholeness of the other person, but it is immensely freeing and strengthening because we get our whole self back.

There is a recent book by Desmond Tutu in which he writes very movingly of forgiving his violent father, called The Book of Forgiving. You might find it helpful.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 07:22:53

nimin- to me that seems a very christian view point. You talk of forgiveness as "putting down the burden of wishing them retribution,"- well many we didn't feel that in the first place.

I don't want to acknowledge the wholeness of that other person, I am happy being in a position where their life is meaningless to me- that's a good state for me. I don't excuse or pardon that other person at all for his action, but that does not stop me from being healed.

Again I think this whole idea of forgiveness seems very christian. and not necessary for many of us.

frames Fri 15-Aug-14 08:25:42

Combust. I guess nimny is reflecting christianity....but in some cases it is not possible just to cut people out and move on, some events in our contact with others need to be forgiven for a constructive relationship to move forward.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 08:32:10

Oh yes and I get that. If we maintain relationships sometimes forgiveness is helpful. But these are usually smaller things.

If someone hursts me really badly then I won't maintain a relationship with them. Forgiveness is uneccessary then.

The OP was talking about a parent who has hurt her so badly she has nothing more to do with them. I don't think forgiveness is necessary in that type of situation.

headinhands Fri 15-Aug-14 10:07:04

Yeah good point, I may well use a backstory to reason why someone let me down badly but it doesn't mean I will put myself in a position where it can happen again if it was a big enough breach of trust.

So the thinking is 'I understand that you think you have done your best, and I don't think you meant to hurt me, but I can't trust you with my feelings so am unable to have the sort of relationship with you that we otherwise might of had' or something like that. And I am talking from personal experience here.

Not sure how it works with romantic relationships though as never had to try and salvage one through infidelity.

headinhands Fri 15-Aug-14 10:11:36

I agree that the word forgive is heavily connotative.(is that even a word?) I'd prefer to think of it as 'making some sense of' or 'coming to terms with' in a way that helps me not take it unnecessarily personally.

LarrytheCucumber Fri 15-Aug-14 11:42:43

The trouble is, as Christians, we are told to forgive.
I have struggled with this a lot. A relative said some things to me which effectively wiped out the relationship I thought we had. She stipulated that from then on things had to be on her terms, and I was to keep out of her life. She also sent me loads of letters full of Bible verses telling me how I should forgive her etc etc. I likened it at the time to being beaten over the head with a forgiveness stick.
I apologised for everything I could think of that I had done to hurt her, but there was absolutely no acknowledgement of my feelings. It was all about her.
So I struggled with it for years. In the end I realised that I was only hurting myself. She had moved on and has got what she wanted.
I have now arrived at the best I can do, which is to wish her well in life and not seek revenge.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Aug-14 13:18:02

Larrythecucumumber, if you wish her well and do not seek revenge then you have forgiven her. She sounds awful and so does the way she treated you, but it sounds as you have shown great generosity of spirit towards her.

I find the idea of living in a world where people don't value forgiveness a bit scary. It's important to me to know that when I do something wrong there is the possibility that I might not be defined for ever by my wrongdoing, and to feel that I live among people who are able to see a little way past their hurts and injuries.

But I don't want to get into a Christian vs atheist slanging match about it. The OP asked a question, and I felt I had something to say to her, and did so to the best of my ability. That is all.

LarrytheCucumber Fri 15-Aug-14 13:36:17

niminy yes, I probably have forgiven her, but it doesn't mean I am not sad about it sometimes. And it took a very long time.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 14:00:37

nimin- why is it scary? Why should I wish my wrongdoer well? He had no reggret and I culdn't care less what happened to him in his life. He chose his onw path.

niminypiminy Fri 15-Aug-14 14:45:09

Larry, of course you still feel sad sometimes. Forgiving doesn't mean saying 'it's all alright'. And I am not surprised it took a long time, because forgiveness is very hard. But so much of what is worth doing in this life is hard, sadly.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 15:22:54

nimin- so you say forgiveness means "if you wish her well and do not seek revenge then you have forgiven her"

Not all of us want revenge for wrongdoings- that is a very base way of thinking. But neither do I wish my wrongdoer well.

Why is important to forgive and want well of our wrongdoer?

ChocolateWombat Fri 15-Aug-14 15:40:25

I think that if you can forgive, YOU are the biggest beneficiary, not the person you have forgiven. Often the person you are forgiving is not sorry or has no idea that they have hurt you. They don't want or need your forgiveness, because they have no sense of guilt. So the person who is hurting because of the issue is you yourself. When you forgive them, you release yourself to move on.
And I think forgiveness can be a one-off thing, but it is often a process, where you do forgive, but the thing comes back to you at some point and you need to forgive again.....the pain and need to forgive lessens over time.

I really think it is a choice to forgive, not a feeling. It is not saying they never hurt you,mor what they did is okay. It is saying that you are not going to be burdened by the person who did the hurtful thing to you any longer. Try to think of things you can mentally wish good for them about.

ChocolateWombat Fri 15-Aug-14 15:43:02

To think about it conversely,consider what happens when you don't forgive. The issue grows within you, as does the bitterness and you get eaten away by it. The person who did the wrong is not suffering in any way, but you yourself are.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 15:54:43

No I don't agree- as I have said I think the idea of forgiveness is a very christian view.

It does not take me to forgive to move on in a positive way with my life. I carry no burdens, so no need to forgive.

Why is there the assumption that if I don't forgive I will carry bitterness and be eaten away? That's just untrue for many.

My ex husband abused me, beat me and raped me. Do I forgive him? No. Do I wish him well? No.

I have no need to enable me to move on in a positive way. I have learned from my experiences, I am a stronger women, I think a better mother because of what happened to me. The bad events rarely cross my mind.

I don't feel burdened, I don't feel bitter, I don't feel a victim, I am no longer feel hurt.

I feel quite insulted to be told that my life won't move on and I will be bitter and burdened unless I forgive.

Heap of toss. Save it for your bible groups.

ChocolateWombat Fri 15-Aug-14 16:23:48

Forgiveness is clearly important in Christianity. However, it isn't just a religious concept, but an important human-interactions concept.
Is love just for religious people? Or what about being kind?
Why does forgiveness need to be confined to the religious?
The OP is troubled by what has happened to her. She doesn't feel the people who hurt her are sorry, and she IS burdened by the past, even if some people are not. Choosing to forgive, making a choice to do so, even when she doesn't have the feeling of forgiveness at the moment, could really help her, regardless of if she is religious.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Aug-14 17:57:31

not just confined to Bible groups, the forgiveness and reconciliation process in Rwanda 20 years after the genocide this year has helped heal deep wounds in communities and in the whole of the society.

religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/13/ministering-to-evil-and-forgiving-the-unforgivable-in-rwanda/

to err is human, to forgive is divine. thats what those people are living and breathing. theyre an example to the whole of humanity.

combust22 Fri 15-Aug-14 18:06:46

Come back when something really bad has happened in your life and then tell me how you feel.

It is deeply patronising to be told that I will be bitter and burdened unless I forgive.

headinhands Fri 15-Aug-14 18:17:24

I think we're mixing up too many different types of 'wrongs' for this discussion to do anything other then create a lot of heat. For example, there is a gulf between the 'wrong' of a friend who told someone one of your secrets and the 'wrong' of someone sexually attacking you.

(Why is god so keen for us to forgive even the worst crime against us even when the perpetrator isn't sorry, and yet god himself doesn't do the same?)

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