Fight or Forgive? Why We Withhold Forgiveness

“At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” - Marianne Williamson

Forgiving people who don’t deserve it -- those who ruined pieces of your past and stole your peace of mind -- is an immense undertaking. While we hear, maybe even know, that forgiveness sets us free, our BS meter amps out on this notion. And, if one more supposedly actualized person tells us to “let go” or “move on,” they may need to forgive us after a front choke hold.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” because he knew forgiveness is a herculean task. Here are 5 reasons why forgiveness is so damn difficult even though you know it will bring you peace.

Reason 1: You have to be angry and grieve first.

Here’s the thing: you cannot really forgive someone before you are ready. You have to back yourself into an angry, rage-filled corner and grieve both injustice and what’s been lost. For some people, this takes a lifetime. For some, it never happens.

If you try to forgive too soon, you’ll know it’s false, because the current of anger will boil beneath or you’ll be thinking the forgiveness comes with caveats. It doesn't mean you shouldn’t try and practice and imagine life after forgiveness. When you’re ready it may feel more like a decision. Until then, it’ll be a wall to scale. Collect your gear and courage and don’t beat yourself up for not being Gandhi.

Reason 2: You think it excuses their behavior and someone needs to hold them accountable.

They’re still accountable even after you move on. And you’re not going to suddenly let them back in to hurt you again just because you forgive them. Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz says, “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” Meaning forgiveness isn’t the get-out-of-jail-free pass for injustice. Their shitty actions stay on their record indefinitely. They don’t get let back into your life, and you don’t have to act like it never happened. You still control the relationship, even after forgiveness comes into the picture.

Reason 3: You can’t stand to give them the satisfaction.

“Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much.” - Oscar Wilde

You may think it will set them free if they hear or know that you forgive them. It’s not true. Both of you, the wrongdoer and the forgiver control only your own emotional sphere. This is why people say forgiveness is for you. When you forgive your Dad for leaving you at age 7, you’re only setting him free to walk through his own darkness.  

Reason 4: You want to keep them in your life.

Forgiving someone (and not forgetting) means letting them go and making them irrelevant in your life. When you forgive someone who really screwed up your life, the person you forgive is kicked out of the metaphorical car and left on the side of the road, (where they are welcome to choke on dust and car fumes as you drive away). This can actually make you feel a bit righteous at first, but if this person was once your soulmate or your mother, righteousness is quickly replaced by sadness. They say anger is sadness turned outward. When you turn off the anger and let the person go, you’re going to have to face the sadness of true loss.

Reason 5: You can’t forgive yourself.

We love to place blame and you have rightly blamed them. You may, however, secretly believe that if they are forgiven then the blame goes elsewhere. Will it land back on you? Maybe a small part of you is still seven, wondering if the way you misbehaved drove Dad away. Maybe you married someone terrible and are beating yourself up for not noticing their patterns and lies.

You didn’t deserve what happened. The universe is not punishing you with an abusive relationship or a narcissistic parent. Sometimes rotten people get away with being rotten and then carry on being shitty humans. So, forgive yourself first.  

What matters most is that you realize... you deserve happiness. So untether yourself from the wrongs of your past and the damaged people that carried out the wrongdoing. When you forgive people and their actions, you’re not changing the past or excusing injustice, but you are changing your future.

Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis