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7 Misconceptions About Forgiveness

How we define forgiveness prevents us from being willing to do it and setting our souls free.

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Who could you forgive?

Do you cringe when you are told that you need to forgive? Do you believe that if you forgive that you’re “letting them off the hook” or that they deserve punishment instead? The problem might be a misunderstanding about what forgiveness is and what it is not. It isn’t only our family members and friends who provide us with opportunities to practice forgiveness. Consider persons who, in the following situations, cause harm and provoke resentment:

  • professionals who harm us through their incompetence or negligence such as a doctor who misdiagnoses us

  • careless or impaired drivers who involve us or a loved one in a devastating accident

  • persons in authority who not only fail but who refuse to protect us from harm, as in sexual abuse situations

  • life, fate, the universe or God who allows us to be involved in a devastating accident, to contract some serious illness, or to lose a loved one.

Myths about forgiveness

It’s hard enough to forgive when we have an accurate understanding of what forgiveness is and, more importantly, what it is not. If you’ve somehow absorbed any of the following beliefs about forgiveness, it’s no wonder that you believe it to be both undesirable and impossible:

  1. absolving the offender, excusing him or her from blame, guilt or responsibility

  2. letting the offender off the hook

  3. glossing over the offence

  4. justifying the offender

  5. denying or minimizing the hurt endured and the harm suffered

  6. ignoring or forgetting what the offender did and the outcome

  7. symbolically or actually releasing the offender from having to carry the burden of the suffering he/she caused

Along with a false understanding of the nature of forgiveness, there are other reasons we deliberately withhold forgiveness from the one who harmed us or those we care about. We see denying forgiveness as a way to:

  • force the offender to keep suffering

  • gain control over a situation, we feel we had no control over

  • take care of, honour and validate our own wound

  • proclaim that our suffering exists and will always matter

  • hold on to our rightness

  • remain justified in our version of the truth

Genuine Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an act of the will, independent of emotions. It precedes and is a prerequisite for the healing of the soul and possibly the relationship as well. It is a choice to let go of the desire for revenge.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. — What Is Forgiveness?

Reconciliation VS Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a feeling and it does not mean that everything goes back to how it was before you were hurt. There were significant consequences for what was done and one of these is a loss of trust. Forgiveness does not include restoring trust; once broken, trust needs to be earned. It is a gift we give to another. Unlike forgiveness, trusting someone is never something we are required to do.

Forgiveness does not negate the need for justice. A good parent forgives a child’s misbehaviour but does not withhold punishment, a valuable life lesson that decisions have consequences. An offender may express remorse when confronted by the one he or she harmed but remorse in itself is not repentance. Experiencing the consequence of one’s actions will distress the offender. It may not lead to repentance which, by definition, includes a consistent change of behaviour.

From a Christian Perspective

We are warned that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. This is because the mercy of God will not penetrate an unforgiving heart. The Lord’s Prayer includes this phrase: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we pray the Lord’s prayer while refusing to forgive, we are asking to not be forgiven for our sins. Unforgiveness results in:

  • spiritual darkness and demonic oppression

  • poisoning of the soul which can destroy both emotional and physical health.

  • prevents growth in our intimacy with the Lord

Forgiving is an opportunity to share in Jesus’ redemptive healing work.

In his mysterious wisdom and profound love, when the Father allows someone to hurt or oppose us in some way, He is entrusting that person to our prayers. When our enemy causes us to suffer unjustly, our faith tells us that this was allowed to happen so that we might participate in the mystery of the Cross. Somehow, like those who offered their lives for our faith, the mystery of redemption is being renewed through our own sufferings. — Prayer and the Struggle to Forgive

*Originally published at on February 10, 2020.


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