It’s Okay To Not Forgive Someone

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 

I struggle with forgiveness. There are plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of forgiving someone. The act of shifting negative feelings into positive ones seems like a healthy and ideal thing to do. Forgiving someone means releasing resentment in order to make room for compassion and understanding. I know too much anger and negativity spent on another person is toxic, but I don’t think I have to forgive that person in order to find peace. Nor do I think everyone is entitled to be forgiven.

I had a traumatic childhood, and while I am pretty resilient given my history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, I am not free from the anxiety and depression that accompanies post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My childhood would not have been abusive if it hadn’t been for the abusers who committed terrible and sick acts against me. These people have all asked for forgiveness, but I haven’t given it to them. For years I tried. I thought I had to find a way to reconcile what had happened to me by being the bigger person and accepting an apology. I thought part of my healing and growth would be in saying, “I forgive you.”

But hearing the words “I’m sorry” from the people who beat me, sexually assaulted me, and manipulated my emotions for their narcissistic advantage has always fallen flat on my ears. Forgiving someone is not condoning their behavior, but, in my experience, forgiving the really hurtful things that have been done to me has been accompanied by a lack of accountability from my offenders. And often with forgiveness comes forgetfulness. Every act of abuse done to me has impacted my life. All of my relationships are influenced by my childhood. Yes, I have worked hard to understand these correlations, and I rarely play the victim role, but if I can never forget what has happened to me, I sure as shit don’t want to give permission to my abusers to forget either.

Trần Toàn/Unsplash

Saying “I’m sorry” just doesn’t cut it sometimes, and knowing that has empowered me and provided self-worth.

I have given myself permission not to forgive, not just because people in my life haven’t accepted blame in the way I think they should, but because it took me a really long time to find the justified anger toward those who hurt me.

For years, I wanted nothing more than to feel something other than guilt or shame or sadness. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to resent and hate. Those feelings helped me push through to a layer of understanding that helped me know that what happened to me was not my fault. Holding onto that anger was not about holding onto grudges; it was about finding ways to forgive myself for feeling like I had done something wrong.

I was a victim. I am a survivor. I have every right to be angry.

I have every right to say “goodbye” instead of “I forgive you” to toxic people in my life. And I am under no obligation to justify my decision to do so.

I have nearly eliminated all toxic people from my life. I have surrounded myself with safe and loving friends, but I am careful in those close relationships to distinguish between everyday human mistakes and the small hurts that are part of life versus what I experienced as a child and young adult. It’s on me to learn to trust, not just others’ intentions, but their ability to truly feel remorse without needing me to do the emotional work to make them feel better. I am also learning to trust that most things are not about me. Sometimes I find myself hurt by another’s words or actions and quickly realize that my hurt has little to do with what they’ve said or done and everything to do with my own ongoing healing from old wounds.

Now, sometimes people are just assholes and hurting others comes easy; for those offenders, I am clear what their motivations are and am in no position to let them off the hook. I have been rejected over and over because of my sexuality and gender identity. I am queer and nonbinary, and part of my advocacy work—for myself and the LGBTQIA+ community—requires me to educate those who want to be accepting but need some help. Who I am also means constantly trying to rid myself of the weight of emotional labor, hateful comments, and threats to my safety.

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I have found more peace in being okay with not forgiving someone than with letting go of wanting the human decency I deserve in terms of living my authentic life. Sometimes forgiving someone feels like letting them off the hook, and I just can’t do that. Folks need to take an honest look at themselves and do better.

For the record, I am not perfect. I fuck up often. I say I am sorry. I do my best to learn from my mistakes. The hardest thing for me to do is to hold space for others to be hurt by me. I work on it, though, and I accept if someone isn’t ready to forgive me. I don’t need their forgiveness to do better.

I have struggled so long with allowing myself to feel emotions that would benefit my growth and well-being. I have spent unhealthy amounts of time trying to force myself to feel something I thought I should. Forgiveness is not something I am going to force. But I also don’t want to dwell in toxicity. I confront my emotions and those whose words and actions have impacted me.

Instead of forgiveness, I strive for healthy boundaries and growth.

I then make the best decisions for me in terms of a person’s value in my life. If you are someone I can grow with, teach, and learn from in really vulnerable ways, then sweet. If you are someone waiting for my forgiveness because that’s the only way you’re willing to move forward in our relationship, then it’s best to not hold your breath. I appreciate your ability to say you’re sorry, because that is hard and humbling at times, but know I may never fully accept your apology.

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