Find it hard to forgive someone? Try acceptance
– The act of pardoning somebody for a mistake or wrongdoing
Should you forgive someone else?
Personally, I am not all that big on forgiveness. I think that the act of forgiveness contains a judgement. There is an implication that in the act of forgiving someone I am coming from a (slightly?) superior place - "I am in a position to forgive you".
There is also a danger with forgiveness that when someone is forgiven they can carry on with impunity. They do not necessarily have to face up to the consequences of their actions. I believe that real peace and happiness comes from living in our compassion and acceptance - the opposite of judgement.
When forgiveness does work
If someone asks for your forgiveness – say a husband who has been unfaithful - and you feel able to deeply forgive them, that has a very different energy about it and forgiveness in that instance is very powerful.
So, forgiveness works when it is combined with someone taking responsibility for their actions.
Maybe you really can’t or won’t forgive them?
But what if you are finding it hard to forgive someone - maybe what they did seems unforgivable to you? What if they are not sorry about what they did and show no remorse?
What can you do to stop what has happened from eating you up and being burdensome to you?
What about the feelings you are left with? The hate, fear, resentment or shame - how can you stop these turning into bitterness or self hatred?
Is There An Alternative?
- Coming to terms with something. The realization of a fact or truth and the process of coming to terms with it
Some people struggle with the notion of acceptance because it implies that what someone did was acceptable. This is not my view of acceptance. We can accept what someone has done without condoning or agreeing with it.
When you accept that something has happened, without judgement, you can separate your feelings from someone’s actions.
You no longer need to feel shame, guilt, anger or hurt. Whilst it isn’t a pleasant memory, the feelings will no longer burden you and cloud your current relationships.
Acceptance can heal and bring calmness and peace to people no matter how deep their pain is.
Kat looked after her partner, Gary, who suffered from Dementia for many years. She felt really hurt and let down by several of their close friends as they did not stay in touch with either of them throughout the very difficult time when he was ill and eventually passed away.
After his death and as Kat picked up her old life and came into contact with these friends, Kat found it difficult to pretend nothing had happened and did not feel the same towards them.
Her friends said outright to Kat that she should not hold a grudge against them and should forgive them for the fact that they could not cope with Gary’s illness.
Kat could understand that point of view. She had found it very hard to cope herself, but what she couldn’t forgive was the fact that they had not been in touch at all and now expected their friendship to continue as if nothing had happened, and that her inability to do that was her problem – if only she would forgive them, everything could be resolved.
Kat felt really hurt by their actions and felt that to abandon your friends at such a time was ‘unforgivable’, and she did not feel that it was possible for her to forgive them. This turned into criticising and beating herself up for being such a terrible person as she did not want to forgive them.
Kat came to accept that they are as they are. They are people who cannot cope with illness and death and so avoided it. She did not have to make any judgement about them – they were not right or wrong, or good or bad, just simply accept that is how they are. We are all flawed and imperfect!
She also accepted that, whilst she felt their behaviour was unforgivable, they felt differently and had a different point of view (what they had done was forgivable to them).
Once Kat had accepted both of these ‘truths’, she immediately became clear, stopped beating herself up for not being able to forgive them and made a decision that they were not the friends she thought they were and did not want a close relationship with them now. She was able to let go of her judgements and feelings towards them and - more importantly - how she felt about herself, and move on.
Related articles from our experts
- Mental health - emotions and the effect on the body
Angela Collinge23rd June, 2018
- Grief - our own personal experience
Step1Counselling. Isabel Fulcher Registered MBACP18th June, 2018
- Coping with bereavement
Cate Campbell MA, MBACP (Accred), MCOSRT (Accred), MAFT3rd June, 2018
- Where do relationships begin?
Geoff Miles, Counsellor, Supervisor, Training Courses.16th July, 2018
- Why relationships need empathy
Susan Hooper MBACP12th July, 2018
- Who do you think you are? 'Connecting the dots' through therapeutic genograms
Cinzia Altobelli (MSc RGN UKCP reg Psychotherapist/Counsellor & Supervisor)12th July, 2018
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.