Forgiveness – What it is and What it Isn’t

Sandy was sexually abused by her uncle between the ages of 5 and 7.

Tom’s wife, Helen, had an affair with his best friend.

Andy was repeatedly bullied and beaten by an older brother until he became big enough and strong enough to stand up for himself.

Each one of these people has a clear reason to be hurt and angry for the treatment that they received by someone with the power to affect them very intensely. They are all on a journey to discover ways to forgive their perpetrator, in their own heart and in their own heads, even if their offender never finds out.

Could you do that? Is it even a good idea to invite the thought of forgiveness for Sandy, Tom and Andy?

True forgiveness brings about an inner peace in your heart and in your mind. It allows you to be different than the events in your life. You no longer define yourself by your injuries.

Let’s talk for a minute about the idea of forgiveness, what it is… and what it isn’t.


Forgiveness isn’t:

Forgetting. The offense happened and affected your life. Shake hands with that experience but develop a richer and fuller story about yourself, about who you are and what your life is about.

Condoning. There was nothing okay about what happened and forgiveness does not mean that you find a reason to explain, excuse or even to accept part of the blame.

Letting the offender off the hook. You can choose what relationship, if any, you want to have with the perpetrator. You can choose to involve family or legal authorities if needed. You can take control of what, if any, consequences there should be because of the offense, and then let go.

Reconciling. Some offenses require cutting off and do not allow for any reconciliation. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to reconcile.

Allowing it to happen again. With forgiveness, also comes a need to learn self-protection and self-care. It is important to keep from harm’s way and any chance of being hurt or abused again.


Forgiveness is:

Letting go of the desire for revenge, not investing any energy in fantasizing or planning ways to get back at the offender. It is reinvesting that energy in taking care of yourself in protective and healthy ways.

It starts with a decision to forgive and does not “just happen” over time.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It is a walk, not the destination. Forgiveness is a journey.

Forgiveness involves protecting yourself and not letting the offense continue. It may mean a cut-off from the perpetrator or finding very different ways to be around him or her.

It is more about you than the person you are forgiving. Most likely, you will never tell the offender of your forgiveness, rather you will engage in life with a freer heart and mind.

True forgiveness brings about an inner peace in your heart and in your mind. It allows you to be different than the events in your life. You no longer define yourself by your injuries.

Consider forgiveness with some of those who injured you. Would you be healthier if you could let go of the impact of those injuries on you today?

Would you like to explore this more fully? We would be glad to talk more with you about this. Contact us through our online counseling site, [].

Sally Connolly is a family and marriage therapist who lives in Louisville, Kentucky and specializes in relationship work. She and her husband, family therapist John Turner, have conducted workshops on developing healthy relationships for couples and singles. She has taught at the University of Louisville and The Louisville Seminary.

Read more of her articles at

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