Is It OK Not to Forgive Someone?

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Have you been stuck in unforgiveness? You may be asking, “Why should I forgive?” Or, maybe, you are 100% sure you shouldn’t forgive. Unforgiveness may seem right, especially if you don’t spend much time around someone who hurt you. What’s the point when you don’t even see them? On the other hand, can unforgiveness be a hindrance and hold you back? That’s why I ask, “Is it okay to not forgive someone?”

In my therapy practice, I do not hear clients or couples asking much if they should forgive. It is usually assumed that they should or shouldn’t, depending on what the client believes. In this post I will give you my professional opinion and explore others who I have worked with have said. In short, I believe that it is not okay to not forgive your spouse, your partner, or anyone else. Let’s explore together why that is the case.

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is when you as a person let go of the necessary need for a person to make up for what they did. I heard one person put it this way:

“Think about the judicial system. When you commit a crime, you go before a judge. The judge tells you how long of a prison sentence you will have to serve or how much your fine will cost. Depending on that judge, if he is very forgiving and gracious, he may decide to pardon you. A pardon is when they forgive you of all debts and let you go free.”

This is a legal example of forgiveness. The judge decided to erase the crime from the record. They are “free to go.” When you, as a spouse, choose to forgive your husband, you are DECIDING to move past what happened and not continue to bring it up.

Forgiving and Forgetting…

I know this sounds a lot like “forgiving and forgetting.” Many of my clients have concerns about the forgetting part. I encourage them by saying that the goal is not to forget. Forgetting is impossible. God gave you an amazing brain. It can store massive amounts of memory. The truth is that your brain is not created to forget things easily. Your brain can dump unused information, but when you consistently have the same thoughts, your brain believes that information must be important.

In the case of hurt, trauma, pain, or fear, thoughts that go along with these feelings tend to register as more important. This may be because we feel the need to overcome these feelings. Thus, we tend to have thoughts about pain and hurt more often because we are trying to resolve the pain.

Regardless of how hard it is to do away with these painful thoughts, moving forward, choosing not to remember, or deciding you will not hold something against your spouse are very different than forgetting. These are choices. The decision to forgive is a decision to put away the hurt and pain. This decision says I am not going to hold this against the other person. You are freeing them from the need for them to give you back your peace or what they stole from you.

What does unforgiveness do to you?

Unforgiveness is toxic. I know, I am hitting you hard at this point, but it’s true. Unforgiveness is only hurting you. When you have not forgiven someone, you are usually holding that tension, frustration, and hurt in your body. But, the person who you won’t forgive, may not even be thinking about what they did wrong. What does that say about who unforgiveness is doing damage to?

Have you ever hurt someone and then not thought about it till it was brought back up to you? Do you get it now? The offending party doesn’t even know it’s bothering you so much. Forgiveness is solely on you! Unforgiveness is taking your peace. How do I know? I have lived it.

Living with the burden of holding onto what someone else did to you causes increased bitterness and resentment. You are living in the past. It’s holding you in a moment in time when the hurtful event happened. Why do I say you are living in the past? It is really hard to focus on present-day stuff when you have past hurts that are plaguing you.

How is unforgiveness hurting me if I don’t think about the hurt?

Just because you are not thinking about what happened to you does not mean you it is not affecting you. We hold stress and tension in our bodies. When you are hurt and do not forgive, you continue to hold the memory of that event. This creates tension. Tension can affect you physically as well as mentally.

Spiritually you are also affected by unforgiveness. The Bible says that if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15). I would also agree that you are sitting in pride when you don’t forgive. Why? Because you see someone else’s behavior as worse than yours. In this case, you are judging them. The Bible calls us to “not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1, NIV). Spiritually, we put ourselves, unknowingly sometimes, into a compromised position with God. Humility and love are so important. If we come from a position of love, we are more likely to see our offender’s pain and struggle.

Freedom in Forgiveness

I find that when people will choose to forgive they feel free. Why? Because they have released themselves from the bondage of the past. They have opened the door to think and focus on other things. Their body now can be freed of the tension and stress that comes with fighting for compensation for their hurts. Freedom to live in the present and to stay connected to God is so important. Try it. Forgive each person who has hurt you. One at a time.

How do I forgive?

Forgiving is not complicated. It does take effort and intentionality. If you are serious about forgiving then let’s give you a little help. Let’s start by saying the following out loud (Preferably when you are alone). “I forgive _______  for _______. I choose to release the need for compensation for my hurts and I lay down my pain at your feet Jesus. I choose to not pick it back up again.”

Now, choose not to pick that back up again. Choose to focus on the here and now. You can choose not to get offended! If you would like a resource to help with this, go read Unoffendable by Brant Hansen. Get it on Amazon. Another resource that helps with understanding how getting offended affects you is The Bait of Satan by John Bevere. Get this resource on Amazon too.

Conclusion

Unforgiveness unfortunately hurts only the one who does not forgive. Yes, you have been hurt. No one is saying you haven’t been hurt. So what do you do? It is okay to set boundaries so you don’t get hurt that way again! Please do! But for your health and the ability to live a fruitful life, forgive your spouse, partner, or offender. You deserve to live in freedom. For more on forgiveness read our post about forgiving when your spouse lies to you.

Brandon Coussens, LMFT

Brandon Coussens, LMFT

Author:

Brandon Coussens is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Legacy Marriage Resources, LLC located in Augusta, GA. Find out more about him.

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