How To Free Yourself With Forgiveness—Even If You'll Never Get An Apology

Suffering from emotional pain, whether due to betrayal or wrongdoing by a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend, can feel like constantly toting around a weighty amount of baggage. There doesn’t seem to be any respite from the pain, and no emotional exit ramp in sight you can take to suddenly feel better. Your feelings are constantly with you. This individual wounded you profoundly, and maybe someday in the future they’ll acknowledge their actions. Or maybe they won’t.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
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A large part of life is realizing that while we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we respond to them. In the midst of this pain, forgiveness might be the furthest thing from our minds. We’re not only sad, we’re angry. We’d rather get even than do them the favor of forgiveness. But forgiveness benefits our healing process more than we might initially think. In fact, freeing ourselves with forgiveness – even if we never get an apology – might be the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Know What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Many people equate forgiveness with weakness. If a person has hurt us, why would we ever consider forgiving them? Surely, that makes us the weaker of the two, and not only have we been hurt by them, but we’re now sanctioning their behavior.

This kind of thinking operates on the basis that forgiving someone automatically means that we’re in denial or that we approve of their behavior. We might even feel like we’ve just given them a blank check to steamroll over our emotions even more.

But forgiveness in actuality requires an inordinate amount of strength. It takes a strong person to forgive another, and forgiving them does not mean that we approve of their actions, or that what they did to us really wasn’t that bad. It means that we’ve chosen peace over bitterness and strength over weakness. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we’re giving them a free pass, but that we’re choosing to move on when we could wallow or linger in our pain.

The Difference Between Forgiveness and Trust

The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, has sold millions of copies since it was published in 2002, and though the book approaches large themes from a religious perspective, it has resonated with many regardless of their faith. In his writing, Warren makes a key distinction between forgiveness and trust, which we might believe to be the same thing, making us hesitant to forgive. “Forgiveness does not mean the instant restoration of trust. Forgiveness is instant. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Forgiveness is based on grace. Trust is built on works. You earn trust. You don't earn forgiveness,” Warren writes. Forgiveness, whether the person who has wronged us asks for it or not, is an action on our part, not theirs. And while trust may never be rebuilt between us, forgiveness is in our hands and can be beneficial for our emotional health.

“Forgiveness is instant. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Forgiveness is based on grace. Trust is built on works.”

Grieve Your Relationship

If this wrongdoing has broken your heart or caused you considerable pain, that likely means this person means a lot to you. Whether there is a possibility of rebuilding trust or reconciling with them or not, whatever the future looks like for the both of you, grieve your relationship. Recognize that it will never be the way it once was because of this incident, and that’s okay. Grieve your love for this person and your feelings for them. Whether your relationship is repairable or irretrievably broken, begin to pick up the pieces. While you may feel pity or even hatred towards the other person, these feelings likely won’t last forever. Treasure your memories of the past, and even be hopeful about the future if you can. But be honest with yourself about what this pain has done to you and your ability to care for them.

Embrace the Process

As Warren said, forgiveness is instantaneous, but the process isn’t. We might make the decision to forgive, but we will still have to undergo healing, with forgiveness waiting for us on the other side of that journey. This could take considerable time, and it’s something we won’t want to rush. If we make the mistake of thinking we’re “over it” or hold no ill will towards this person and we try to go back to normal right away, we may be in for a painful and avoidable reminder. Getting ready to forgive someone takes time. And that time really serves us and our emotional restoration more than anything else.

Distract Yourself

In dealing with the emotional fallout of this pain, you may know that you need to forgive but find it hard to. This emotional intelligence is valuable to have but might lead you to punish yourself even more. Perhaps if you’d been a better person, this wrongdoing wouldn’t have occurred in the first place. 

Again, forgiveness is immediate, but the healing journey is a process that takes time. If we’re finding it extremely difficult to forgive and blaming ourselves for not being able to let go, we can remind ourselves of our other qualities and attributes. We are worthy of love and attention no matter what. Despite this pain, we are still capable of loving and caring for others. We will be happy again, despite this time. This is one season of our life and merely one chapter, and this pain is not the sum of all our parts.

Let Go of the Pain

Forgiveness in many ways is an act for ourselves rather than for others. It’s unhealthy, not to mention stressful and frustrating, to carry the burden of pain and suffering around with us everywhere we go. The pain might never dissipate completely, but a large part of it will over time. Research on stress suggests that forgiveness has a myriad of benefits for us, including better quality of sleep, decreased anxiety, and increased feelings of self-esteem. “Forgiveness is an inside job,” says Kim Engel, a licensed therapist.

Forgiveness in many ways is an act for ourselves rather than for others. 

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Empathy is not just a buzzword we hear from armchair psychologists on social media. Before it was appropriated by TikTok behavior experts, it was an invaluable ability used to describe how deeply we relate to others and their experiences. Forgiveness is a gift, and empathy is as well. While we might spend our time hating the person who has hurt us, we might try seeing things from their perspective. While they’ve hurt us, we’ve probably hurt others in our life too. Placing ourselves in their shoes doesn’t mean we condone their behavior, but that we try to understand it as an act of empathy.

Know That You’ll Feel Better (Eventually)

However trite, time heals all wounds. We might never forget, but we can certainly forgive, if not for others, than for ourselves. At its worst, the pain will not last forever, and eventually, if we’re lucky, the hurt we feel will be a distant memory.

Closing Thoughts

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we can do as humans, almost harder than the pain we probably feel. Anger, frustration, stress, pity, and overwhelming sadness are all inevitable feelings we might be confronted with. But after those feelings subside, what are we left with? How do we heal our relationship, or have the strength and courage to move on? All these questions are answered through forgiveness. Our pain is great, but so is our strength. 

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