The Forgiveness Trap

As a therapist I hear people talk about forgiving their parents, their abusers, their spouses, teachers, etc.

Forgiveness is in my opinion a religious, spiritual experience and post healing experience. Too often I see people that have had their child murdered or abused to immeadiately exclaim forgiveness to the person that harmed their child. In my experience, forgiveness is often used as a bi pass to try and avoid the painful feelings that must be worked though in order to let go of the harm and heal. 

As a therapist, I think forgiveness is the wrong goal. I believe the real goal is Acceptance. Acceptance is admitting that it happened to you and that it hurt. It has possibly altered your life forever and that you not only survived but it is part of the reason you are the person that you are now. 

Acceptance requires that you process the pain, all of it. Acceptance requires that you own the anger, all of it. Acceptance means that you have come to a place that it no longer controls you and that you can look at the abuser in the face and not give them your power anymore. Acceptance means that it is part of your past. 

Forgiveness is about the other. If they ask for forgiveness it is something you may or may not give them. It is not required on your part and should only be given honestly. Giving forgiveness too soon or at all may mean not giving the abuser really the opportunity own their responsibility and consequently avoid their healing. 

We are a product of our past. Denying it, trying to avoid it or trying to skip the pain is not useful and in the long run disabling. Acceptance means healing. 


“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”

― Oprah Winfrey