Forgiveness, is it possible.

In psychotherapy, it is often desired to have the patient forgive. This is a broad concept encompassing forgiveness of self and of others.

Quite simply, when we do not forgive, then anger, resentment, bitterness… these things grow within us. They can become quite driving, damaging to our bodies and mind. Dealing with them, without sorting them out can lead to depression, substance abuse and more.

Can we forgive? Is it important?

Forgiveness of self is very important. Forgiving others can allow you to move on, we are taught that we should forgive, this is true. We all can err, we can all make mistakes. Sometimes we are not in control, for various reasons, not the true person inside. Accidents can happen, mistakes can happen. Vocal outbursts, without thought can happen. There are so many considerations, variables, situations.

First we need to understand. There is a difference between accidental and deliberate. Deliberate also has a range, malicious, impulsive, uncontrolled.


To forgive the accidental act is much easier. Mistakes happen, we have made them. Some can be quite serious. But non deliberate actions are easier to forgive.

In therapy, to forgive allows for comfort. True forgiveness though, is difficult. You can say I forgive you, but if you do not feel this, you have not forgiven. You do not have to say you forgive someone however, just to feel it inside.

So, then, what is forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is just a word, it defines that we have accepted that an act occurred, we no longer feel anger or resentment. We accept that something has happened. Blame is no longer applied. The act or action, we do not have to accept or condone. To forgive does not mean that this was an acceptable occurrence. forgiveness is the release of negative damaging emotions.

So is this just playing with words?

Forgiving someone can be difficult. The action itself should not be analysed, but the situation that the person was in needs to be looked at. Perhaps what drove them. Empathy makes this easier. Were they under the influence of medication, drugs or emotions that were overpowering for them. On going actions, some act that was long term is more difficult to forgive, but the same model needs to be applied. To look at their situation, what drove them.

So this brings me to mental health, long term suffering, something that we strive to understand, to forgive, so we can move on, to allow a tormenting memory to fade is often not very easy. Can we look at the mental health of our tormentor?

To explain how long term abuse can occur is so difficult. To allow forgiveness for this action, virtually impossible, if our tormentor had an untreated illness, this can be something we can latch on to, to allow for the how could this happen thoughts to rest.

Abuse is never acceptable. 

To understand what drove someone to preform an action, sometimes is the road to forgiveness. This is not always possible though. 

When abused, mentally, physically, sexually, forgiveness is difficult, when this has occurred over a longer period of  time, forgiveness becomes much more challenging.

Should we forgive. hmmmmm. no, not always. 

Then acceptance is important.

If there is a chance that a patient can forgive, then truly this is a route to follow, remember forgiveness is not of the action, but of the person. True forgiveness allows a release, it allows healing.

Complicated though, why should we forgive someone that abused us.

Often though, our tormentor may not have changed, may not acknowledge that their actions were wrong or happened even. We can try to empathise with their situation, perhaps they are still untreated. Forgiveness becomes much much more difficult. To tell them you forgive them, will wash over them, the patient will not feel release.

We often want to lash back, to seek revenge.

Acceptance can help us overcome this. If our tormentor is one that will not change, we need to move on. They do not have to be a part of our life. let go.

To lie awake at night, plotting the others doom…. is toxic.

We need to remove ourselves from harm, if the tormentor is not one to change, we need to step away, to protect ourselves. This may involve police intervention. We must be safe however.

To accept that an action occurred, that there may be reasons for it, or there may not be, that we may not know why it happened, is important, it is a form of forgiveness, though the same feeling of contentment may not occur. To accept can allow us to stop planning revenge.

There are times when forgiveness is just not possible, we can not empathise with the person. We don’t have to justify their actions.

So we can accept that an action happened, that it was wrong.


Lets twist them around now, acceptance does not mean that we condone the action, only that it happened. We can not change this. We let go of blame, again we are not accepting that this action was proper, only that it happened. To keep blaming ourselves or our tormentor is also toxic. We have to let go as we can not change what happened. It is in the past.

We can forgive, by understanding, possibly, the state someone was in, we do not have to tell them that we forgive them. But to feel this can be healing. To understand that what drove them to abuse was, perhaps beyond their control, perhaps still is, but we understand this. We are removed from harm, from future harm, we are safe. We are not forgiving the action, we are not saying that this was ok, because it wasn’t. Only that we have managed to feel compassion, to partially understand the persons state. 

Forgiveness is not acceptance that something was ok, forgiveness is the release of resentment. To let go. Yes it happened. Yes it was terrible, but it is now, in the past. We are moving on, we can not change the past.

Acceptance does not mean we accept that the action was justified or right, only that it occurred. Some memories become buried, the mind hides them, acceptance becomes a different issue. Perhaps they are still tormenting us, dividing us, but until they are released, acceptance is not forthcoming. This involves a different form of therapy, to release these memories, so they can be dealt with. Hidden memories are really not hiding too well.

We need to replace anger with compassion. When we can. But anger needs to be left behind. Yes we are justified in being angry, but now it is not helping us. this emotion is toxic. 

We also need to accept that there are times when we DO NOT FORGIVE. Because this too, is acceptable.

Complicated isn’t it?

Forgiveness too, is not on and off, not instant, it is not simple, black or white. So, for some this can be difficult, to see the grey. Forgiving then, becomes incredibly difficult for the patient. 

Forgiving is letting go of the anger. It is not forgetting. To forgive is not to ask to forget, we can not forget. We may not be able to understand, we can let go though, that it happened, it is past, we are now safe, it was wrong yes. To forgive does not mean we now like the person, perhaps we can understand what drove them. 

Forgiveness happens in stages, I am safe, releasing the anger, it is in the past, IT WAS NOT MY FAULT.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. They do not need to be told at all. It is more “letting go” letting the raw emotions go, the anger, resentment. The past can not be changed or justified. Abuse is not acceptable. The abuser does not need to be a part of our life now, we can forgive, truly, understand their mind was not in the right place, but we do not need to accept them back into our life either.

So what is forgiveness? Letting go of the anger, the resentment, the need for revenge. Forgiveness is letting go, because holding on is toxic.



About sensuousamberville

I am a Practitioner, teacher and student. I think we should always be students, we should keep our minds open, to continue to learn. :-) Now a mother of two little ones.

9 responses »

  1. Hmmm…..this is an interesting blog post. I wonder, is it possible to move on and be healthy, letting go of the emotions of anger and resentment without forgiving? Or rather is it necessary to “forgive” in order to move on to become healthy? I know the saying that time heals all wounds (not that I necessarily agree 100% with it), but there is a bit of truth in it. As time goes by the intensity of feelings do subside. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the same as forgiveness is it? It seems to me that some things are simply unforgivable (and no need to dwell on what they may be); and yet we do move on and we do heal in mind and spirit even if we have not forgiven. I guess I am wondering out loud – if you don’t forgive, are you destined to never be able to move on? In other words, is forgiveness a prerequisite to being able to move on and live a happy and healthy life?

    Thanks for the very informative post Amber. *s*

  2. Sometimes time does not numb but causes anger and resentment to fester and grow, to the point they become all-consuming. To truly forgive, can help remove these toxic feelings to allow for the future. We have to remember though, we are not forgiving the act, but removing anger and resentment from our self. Possibly feeling compassion toward the abuser, but this is difficult. to separate the act from the person.

    So, in answer to your question, can we move on, this depends on the definition you use for forgiveness. Moving on with anger left behind, because it does not help us, is important. If we continue to allow the act to torment us, then we become our own abuser.

  3. “Forgiving is letting go of the anger. It is not forgetting. To forgive is not to ask to forget, we can not forget.”
    There you go.
    I’m not quite sure when in history “forgive” became the first step in the “forgive and forget” process. Probably cooked up by someone who had forgotten exactly how much forgiveness they were asking for.
    My wife Liz and her brother Joe, the one who penetrated her digitally when she was five or six:
    she has indeed forgiven him. She came to the realization that he likely did not come up with the idea on his own, that there was very likely something in his past that caused him in turn to drag her into the realm of his illness.
    She has no plans to forget it. She pretty much had for a number of years, but there were triggers that brought it to the surface…
    … and after a sister’s funeral in Denver almost ten years ago he made it very, very clear that he indeed remembered, that he held no guilt or remorse for it and he very obviously started tossing that in her face.
    The best we can figure out is that she did have recollections of what happened, had mentioned it to another brother and the third sister to explain in advance any discomfort she might exhibit around Joe… and why she was taking six Xanax a day in anticipation of seeing him. Ten on the days she did see him.
    Someone called Joe on the carpet over it, and he decided to exact his sick revenge on her for having shared what was likely “their little secret”. And he did it in a roundabout sort of a way, in front of family, with a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” attitude toward Liz.
    It was hard enough to forget it without someone running interference, but her faith in God, her love of His word led her towards forgiveness.
    Six suicide attempts and eight hospitalizations since and she still can’t forget, nor should she be expected to.
    It’s like I’ve told Liz repeatedly: I was abusive when I drank. I haven’t drank in thirty-six years. I would hope by now she has forgiven me, but if I were ever to stumble through the front door with liquor on my breath, all bets are off. Grab the baseball bat just in case I insist on acting out.

    I’ll also say that Liz has gotten me to forgive Joe for what he did to her and how it impacted our lives together over the past forty years.
    But just to be clear, on the day of the funeral, when Joe started pushing all of Liz’s buttons and I had finally had my fill of it…
    … in front of the same family members who weren’t picking up on the hints and references he was tossing out for Liz’s benefit I asked him “so, uhhhhhh, did you end up finger-f—ing your daughter as many times as you did your sister?”
    And believe it or not, more people were offended by my phrasing than they were with the idea behind it.
    I just wanted to make sure they didn’t forget having heard it.

  4. This is why, often it is best to forgive, if possible, but not to tell the abuser, but to remove them from your life. Perhaps you can sense their mind set, understand that their mind was not what it should be, to find a way to forgive them, not the act, but what perhaps drove them to it. When they feel no remorse when you face them, likely their mind set has not changed, they remain untreated, now you have a new abuse to contend with and the old ones, the memories are refreshed, though they are never forgotten, refreshing them brings back the raw emotions. Leaving the raw emotions behind is the route to healing, the route to removing the nightmares, the night terrors, the hypervigilance, but so hard to do when they are refreshed.

    Perhaps the abuser is family, most child abuse is, this does not mean they need to remain a part of your life. It is difficult with family as it is hidden, we protect family, perhaps we shouldn’t.

    36 years 🙂 That is wonderful *hugs*

  5. The topic of forgiveness is very important to me at the mo, so I just had to revisit and read through your post again.

    There seems to be such a wide and varied interpretation of what forgiveness actually is. My initial gut instinct feels that some of it can sound a little contradictory, particularly around childhood abuse.

    It strikes me that, if forgiveness is about a whole load of other things from accepting something happened in the past to releasing blame, anger and resentments, then the process of actually “forgiving” the abuser is only a very small part of it. Yet, it feels as if so much of the process hangs on that condition.

    In my case, I think I can work towards understanding what sort of upbringing ‘they’ experienced and the impact that had on their own children. However, for some other people, when abuse was deliberate and prolonged, that might be too big an expectation. I know of other bloggers who, forgiving their abuser, might even be inappropriate. But does that then exclude them from the healing process of forgiveness?

    I’ve come across loads of people who are on a journey of healing from the past, but are stuck on this notion of forgiveness. I have been stuck there for decades. Maybe too much emphasis is put on forgiving an abuser, when forgiveness is about so much more.

    Sorry if my comment is rather long, but it is all part of my journey and I thank you for what you’ve contributed to that ;0)

    • I know this topic is on your mind Cat, hence the reason for my post.

      If we simplify the word to mean to forgive the person but not the action, forgiving when you understand their mind was not in the right place, does this make it easier? Sometimes it is not so much forgiving, but just understanding that it was not you, but a distorted mind that caused so much pain. It is very important to understand that it was not you Cat.

      There are times though when telling a person that they do not have to forgive their abuser, empowers them. But to release their raw emotion that is making their mind circle the act, to let it go. Not to forget the act, we can not do that, but the anger though justified, needs to fade, it is not helping them, it is keeping it fresh.

      Forgiveness is but a word. In this case it does mean more than forgiving your abuser, so much more. It is more about understanding and releasing.

      I like long comments Cat, you may have noticed I have left a few. 🙂

  6. “Forgiveness is not acceptance that something was ok, forgiveness is the release of resentment. To let go. Yes it happened. Yes it was terrible, but it is now, in the past. We are moving on, we can not change the past.”

    Yes. This is what I needed to learn. It took a long time but I was able to forgive and now look at my ex with pity because he doesn’t realise what he has done to people who he supposedly loves/ed. I chose not to look too far into whether he knew exactly what he was doing when he mentally and emotionally abused me but accepted that he did it and stopped blaming myself. That was the biggest hurdle of all toward learning to forgive.
    But the forgiveness was so freeing. 🙂

    • Sometimes, just finding a way to understand it a tiny bit allows you to move on, again not that it was an ok thing, but mostly where their mind was at the time, it also allows you to realize that it was not you that caused it. Then you can try to let go of the anger.

      so freeing, yes. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Memories can torment us | sensuousamberville

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