Forgiveness: Healing Yourself

Forgiveness is your choice. Forgiveness is all about healing your pain. Forgiveness is not something you are doing for the other person. Forgiveness is your path to emotional freedom from resentment.

In Janis Abrahms Spring’s book How Can I Forgive You, she describes how to find a good resolution. She states that forgiveness done with the right intent can have a positive outcome. Done with too easily and the result is resentment. Abrahms Spring explains four types of forgiveness:

Refusal to Forgive

The refusal to forgive is understandable, yet harmful, resolving nothing. It is a defensive strategy to protect the injured party from further pain, using anger or resentment as a shield. Taking such a hard stance gives him or her the illusion that this somehow gives them power over the person that hurt them.

Cheap Forgiveness

Forgiving too hastily doesn’t acknowledge the hurt. Premature forgiveness, she notes, is a ‘cheap’ substitute since there is no pressure on the person who acted wrongly to make amends. Bypassing this step often boomerangs on the person who impulsively forgives and results in an internal struggle. Whether the forgiveness stems from background, social or religious influences, it cycles back to bouts of hating the other person or hating themselves for not being “able” to forgive, or both.

Genuine Forgiveness

This is the ideal situation for both the injured party and the offender. Abrahms Spring offers a road map to making this happen. It requires both parties to work toward some form of reconciliation. The injured party expresses the depth of their emotional pain directly to the person who hurt them either in person or in writing. The “victim” voices their pain, regret, anger, fear, and disillusionment. In this scenario, the offender is willing to apologize repeatedly and sincerely. He/she expresses remorse, acknowledges the feelings of the wounded party and offers restitution. This process may require time and the guidance of a professional counselor, depending on the level of betrayal. When Genuine Forgiveness occurs, both parties can heal and move forward toward emotional recovery.


Some circumstances make it impossible for the offender to participate in repairing the relationship. For example, ex-spouses who cannot communicate, if addiction or mental illness is involved or when the offender is not interested or is unavailable.

A practical alternative for the injured person is to strive for Acceptance vs. Genuine Forgiveness. Knowing that the person who caused harm is unavailable to work through the offense, the injured party acknowledges the limits of the other person and focuses on healing themselves.

There are ten steps in this journey:

  • Honoring the full sweep of your emotions
  • Giving up the need for revenge (while seeking just resolution)
  • Reengaging with life
  • Protecting yourself from future abuse
  • Framing the offender’s behavior in terms of their own personal struggles
  • Looking at your own contribution to the injury
  • Challenging false assumptions about what happened
  • Looking at the good and the bad about the offender, separate from the offense
  • Deciding what type of relationship you want with the offender
  • Forgiving yourself for ways you’ve blamed and shamed yourself with regard to the injury.

This is a wise and useful formula that can be applied to many circumstances in which a mound of hurt is blocking the road to healing.

By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW

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