Q: I know I am supposed to forgive, and normally I am a very forgiving person, but there is someone who hurt me and I just can’t forgive them. So, what can someone in my situation do?
A: For starters, you might consider the answer to the following question: can someone tell a lie and not know they are telling a lie? The answer to that question is Yes and No. Anyone who says they can’t forgive is lying to themselves. And at some level they know it, though perhaps not consciously.
You said, “I can’t forgive” right after affirming that you are “normally” “a very forgiving person.” That’s a contradiction. Of course you can forgive. The fact that you’ve done it before proves that you are capable of forgiving others. It’s just that in this case, you’re choosing not to. You don’t want to forgive.
Okay, so here we are. At this point, if you are not willing to admit that yes, you can forgive – that the real issue is that you don’t want to forgive – we’ve reached a dead-end for this conversation.
Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiving others is an ability that everyone has. If you are willing to admit that you can forgive, the next step in blasting through this obstacle is making clear to yourself – for sure – your reason(s) for being unwilling to do it.
By the way, I know that forgiving others is very difficult, especially if you aren’t in the practice of doing it. In this case, forgiving the other person would obviously be tough to do. Otherwise you wouldn’t say you can’t. Just know that difficult and impossible are not the same. And although your pain is very real, you need to know that others have been faced with forgiveness challenges that are likely much more difficult than yours.
For example, in a future post we’ll discuss survivors of the Holocaust who forgave the Nazi murderers who killed these survivors’ family members. If others have found a way to forgive under seemingly impossible circumstances, so can you. The good news is that the more times you do it, the sooner you’ll find yourself in a forgiveness mindset (and “heartset”) where you’re able to just let things go without a second thought.
So yes, forgiving others is difficult, but it’s not impossible. In some cases, it is very hard to do (adults who were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood, women who’ve been raped or been the victim of other forms of violence, people who’ve been maliciously betrayed by a friend or spouse… to name a few), but those of us who want to blast past life’s obstacles refuse to allow an offence to hold us back, no matter how horrible it is.
You can’t forgive? Oh, yes you can. Don’t lie to yourself any longer. You can forgive. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. And again. And again.
For perspective, consider a couple questions: Do you think you’d like yourself more, or do you think you’d like yourself less, if you became a person who quickly and easily forgave others, no matter what the offence? Do you think others would like you and respect you more, or less, if you became a person who quickly lets go of grievances?