Why Is It So Hard To Forgive?

Written by Lynette Hoy NCC, LCPC

forgive-pgHuman behavior suggests that people are “hard-wired” to retaliate when they have been hurt by another person.  Our pride or self-esteem is injured. Our expectations or dreams are disappointed.  We lose something very valuable to us.  We want recompense for the damages.

But there are other resistances which block our motivation to forgive.  Automatic thoughts or beliefs impede us from forgiving others.  We tell ourselves, “I won’t forgive because he/she never accepts responsibility for what he/she does” or  “I would be a hypocrite if I forgave because I do not feel like forgiving” or  “Forgiving is only for weak people”.

Explanations for behavior can also get in the way. When someone hurts us or lets us down  we tend to assign internal causes for behavior to others.  We argue that it is based on personality or character traits.  We tell ourselves, “he’s just so forgetful or careless” or “she doesn’t appreciate me” or “she did that purposefully”.   We judge them harshly.

But when we do something wrong or hurtful/disappointing we tend to excuse our own behavior by attributing external causes. In those cases we say  “my child made a mess” or  “there was a car accident on the highway.”  We tend to let ourselves off the hook and give ourselves permission to fail.

This is what psychologists call the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. We assign total responsibility or blame to others for their behavior while explaining away our own negative actions in terms of situational factors.  In other words, it’s not our fault because….

It’s important to note that understanding and accepting the error in behavior does not relieve the offending person of moral responsibility.  Forgiving someone does not cancel out the consequences of their actions. The goal is to promote empathy and forgiveness and look more realistically at the hurtful events from their point of view.” This involves thinking the best of people rather than jumping to harsh conclusions about their character or intentions.

Lack of empathy (empathy is the psychological highway to forgive others) for others can also get in the way of our ability to forgive.  We can develop empathy for others by beginning to change our way of thinking.  It is impossible to fully know why a person acted the way that they did.  Make room from grace.

When have you been able to have empathy for someone who has hurt you?  Ask yourself “do I want things bitter or better?”  Forgiveness has a huge impact on our own health and feelings.  Forgiveness is not so much about the other person as it is about our own hearts.  Forgiveness is for our benefit, but so often things get in the way.  Think of a time when you have needed forgiveness.

Don’t let resentment imprison you for life, it will destroy you and your other relationships. Lewis Smedes wrote:  “To forgive is to set the prisoner free…and to discover that the prisoner was you.”   Let go of the pain.  Give it to God. For God alone understands more than anyone the pain and humiliation you feel.  Jesus felt more pain, rejection and humiliation than any person.

Letting go of your hurts is often not an overnight experience.  It takes time, but as you work toward it you’ll find that it is worth the effort.  Ask God to give you the grace to forgive.

The ability to forgive is rooted in being forgiven ourselves. In the Bible it says that God loves the world so much that he sent his only son so that we could be forgiven.  As people we all make mistakes, not one of us can live up to the standard God set on our own.  But God promises that if we accept what Jesus did for us, we can be forgiven. The slate can be wiped clean no matter what has happened in the past.  God promises us strength for today and bright hope for the future.  Whatever happened in your yesterdays God can take care of all of your tomorrows.

You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of woman you want me to be.

If this prayer expresses the desire of your heart, pray it right now and Christ will come into your life as He promised. If you invited Jesus Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.

73 Responses to “Why Is It So Hard To Forgive?”

  • Aldo says:

    Fabian,it is regrettable that something like that happened. Hopefully, you have forgiven her for any harsh feelings you may believe she harbors toward you, and that you have forgiven yourself for believing that you brought it all about. Forgiveness is the great elixir.

    Also, the author of the article included a prayer at its end that would, if said with a humble and contrite heart, bring freedom from the regrets you are feeling.

    You see Fabian, Jesus is the answer to all your problems, whether they be big or small, financial or habitual, domestic or physical. He wants to be your redeemer, your healer, and your deliverer. Turn your life over to Him, and trust Him to bring about what He knows is best for you.

    I pray that you say the prayer.

  • Fabian says:

    I do remember how great our love with my girlfriend was, its was unconditional love that you feel inside your heart. But it happen some mistakes for a certain condition that made me to abuse her and called her “cheap”. Well I find my self angry until I had no control for my furious made me to abuse her that way. We felt so weak and she tried to move on and she didn’t find that love we had. I had tried to forget her but deeply still believe we love each other but that word is an obstacle. We tried to re union again but still its hard for her to forgive me and honestly I regret the day I abused her.

  • Aldo says:

    Rohan Zener, Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross for your sins and the sins of all mankind. Those who accept Him receive that forgiveness. The upright staff of the cross symbolizes our relationship with God, which Christ purchased for us with His blood. The crossbeam symbolizes the relationship we have with one another. The cross itself is the symbol of the forgiveness we received, only and if we forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven. Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” And, Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

  • Elkay says:

    Mrs. Palmer, I am sorry this has happened to you and your sister and a good thing you can do now is to look forward to the day when your relations are more normal and dwell on that. I do not know your sister’s emotional makeup but obviously you cannot force her to forgive you nor to communicate with you. However, you can write her an openly candid letter that says you are very sorry for saying what you did, you did not mean it, you know it hurt her and that what you did was wrong. Explain how you feel now, how you are suffering and how badly you want to be back in a loving sister-friendship with her. Ask her what you can do to make things right again and finally ask her to forgive you. Wait a week or so and then, after much prayer, call her again.

    I hope your church has a woman’s group where you can find some prayer support while you wait and I also encourage you to hit the “Talk to a Mentor” button on this page and one of our mentors will come alongside you in confidence by email.

    “Heavenly Father, Mrs. Palmer has hurt her sister and is suffering emotionally as she needs for her sister to forgive her. You alone know all the details and feelings in both of these women, what is best for both and how to bring about the right means and time for reconciliation. You are the God of peace and as she waits for their friendship to be restored we ask that Your peace, the peace which surpasses all understanding, guards her heart and mind through Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. For it in His name that we pray. Amen.”

  • I have hurt my sister very badly I lashed out in anger and told her to stuff her life. I feel terrible as I am a long term christian and I have hurt people before but not in such a way as this she told not to contact but I rang to say I was sorry but I havent heard from her she is not a christian I know I have behaved badly and what she did did not really warrant what I said to her both of us are suffering now emotionally and I am geting depressed about what I have done now.

  • […] hurt in the first place. You may even see forgiveness as the ultimate betrayal of yourself. If you struggle with forgiveness, this might be […]

  • […] hurt in the first place. You may even see forgiveness as the ultimate betrayal of yourself. If you struggle with forgiveness, this might be […]

  • Victoria says:

    Hi Martin Heins’s wife, I can relate to you so well. My husband’s family is evil to me except my father-in-law. How can you forgive these people if they do not know how to even acknowledge it? Same as you, I am tired of being treated as if I am nothing. And same as you, I am a peace loving person. Its just that this people are full of insecurities and hang-ups in life and they are making me as their outlet to release these and I think I do not deserve this nor anyone does.

  • Kathryn Kathryn says:

    Wow! This blog has impacted me this morning. I am one of those who find it hard to forgive, especially those who are closest to me. I’m guilty of making all sorts of excuses not to forgive BUT I am working on it with God’s help. Thanks for your comment Rohan. I do not agree with it but I can sort of understand where you are coming from. My own experience tells me that forgiving others lifts a whole burden from my soul. I have often encouraged others to forgive because I know it is the right thing to do or they end up being bitter and twisted.That results in them being even more hurt. Then I realise what a hypocrite that makes me and therefore I need that healing for myself,
    K.Lee, I am glad you read the prayer and yes, it does say woman (which is a bit strange) but there could be all sorts of reasons for it couldn’t there? Do you have any other comments that you would like to share? My last one here is about empathy. So different from sympathy which is much easier to offer but empathy costs because we need to suffer with those who suffer, mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are full of joy.

  • Rohan Zener says:

    Forgiving is not so much a difficult move, as a dumb one. None are more hopeleßly imprisoned, than those who falsely believe they are free. So those who forgive are too, hopeleß prisoners to their offenders.

    “We had forgotten our past, and now it was costing us our future…and even our souls.” – Lorne Lanning, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

  • K.lee says:

    Why does the prayer only say woman on this page?

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Mrs. Heins, so how has your husband’s post impacted you? Have you talked with him about it? Martin posted a while ago; have you seen any changes in his attitude/actions since April?

    You will notice in my response to Martin that I focussed on the things that he needed to do rather than on what you need to change. Similarly, my response to you is going to deal less with Martin and his family and more on what you can do differently.

    It is so good to hear that you are seeking God’s intervention in this area of your life. He is the one who can help us determine what is the best way to handle every circumstance. His Spirit helps us understand how to apply different truths from the Bible to our relationships today. When I look at the events of people’s lives recorded in the Bible I see that you are not alone in being insulted and ridiculed; it seems that all of the heros of scripture faced significant abuse from the people around them. I would think that you could get some good ideas of how to handle that from the examples of people like Joseph, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Stephen, Paul, and even Jesus Himself. How do you see those people responding to the hurtful words and actions of others?

    Let me pray for you: Dear Jesus, I thank You for the example You have given us for how to love. More than that, You transform our hearts so that we can be conduits of Your love to other people. I pray for Mrs. Heins and ask that You would help bring peace to the family. Your desire is that they would show love to one another and that they would live at peace with each other, and yet that seems to be far from the reality thee. I pray that You would work in all of their lives and break down the animosity that they have for one another. I pray that You would protect Mrs Heins from the hurtful words and actions of her in-laws, and that she would transform her attitudes and actions so that she can become a catalyst for the healing that needs to happen in this family. Help her to depend on Your Spirit’s leading in her life and that Your Word would speak clearly into her circumstances. Use this to help refine her character so that it more clearly reflects Yours. I pray this with confidence because I know that this is Your desire. Thank You, amen.

    Mrs Heins, there is an article that may help give you some ideas about dealing with conflicts http://thelife.com/challenges/8-tips-for-fights-between-friends. There are a lot of other very helpful series and challenges on that site as well. I would encourage you to do some exploring there and allow Jesus to speak to you through the articles there. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

  • Martin Heins's wife says:

    Hi M.Jantzen and Jamie

    This is Martin Heins’s wife. Martin doesn’t know it, but I accidentally stumbled upon his post.

    Let me give my version of the story. I met Martin at the tender age of 17 years old and ever since that time his mother always made it clear in her actions and her words (even to my own mother) that I am not good enough for Martin. She bad-mouthed me with his brothers and to my mind she poisoned them. They, particularly, their eldest brother would gossip about me with his mother. I was even told that she made fun of how I cried infront of her and our Pastor. I educated myself and this just caused further problems because now they felt intimidated as Martin and I were acquiring wealth (no we are not millionnaires) that they didn’t have. Martin’s mother particularly saw me as an intruder who was taking her son and his money away from her. This is just a tit-bit of what I have been through over the past 18 years.

    Martin, while he is a loving husband, he has let me down many a times by allowing his family to bad mouth me in his presence. I would then leave with my tail in between my legs as I would also say nothing. It would only be when we arrived at home when he would acknowledge that he saw and heard what they had said or done, but that he was to scared to do anything about it. Thus, i was sacrificed all these years. I was stepped on all the years.

    I have gone back many a times to them, even apologising to them when I didn’t feel I should have done so, but it was all thrown back in my face. I felt kicked in the teeth, while my husband just looked on as I, his wife, was ‘beaten’ for no reason. Yes, for no reason and Martin has agreed many times.

    All in all, I perhaps do have a problem with forgiving, but I am tired of being insulted and ridiculed. I don’t believe that this is what God wants for my life.

    Martin’s family will even insult him calling him ‘weak’ and he would just say nothing.

    Just today, Martin and I were talking about how our own christian values and principles clash with that off his families. To type it all here would take me a couple of months.

    Yes I am not perfect, but my goodness I am a human being and I have my limits. I am tired of being treated like I am nothing.

    I pray often about my situation often to God…it is definitely still a work in progress.

    I am a peach loving person myself

  • Chris says:

    larentho…sorry for your stuggling situation….we know as fathers, we may not agree with them. we may even be right but nevertheless we should always hold them in respect for who they are in bringing us into the world and being a father to us albeit an imperfect one. as you show your father the love of jesus who lives within you and refrain from arguing, i believe he will begin to want what you have. we need to as sons, stand on the promise of acts 16.31 for our families because no matter how hard it is to at times have a relationship with them, we surely dont want to see them miss heaven. so keep that in mind the next time you see your father, see him through jesus eyes of compassion who said…father forgive them. they do not understand what they are doing and we could add, saying. praying now jesus helps you to be jesus to your father for his salvation and your perfection in christ!

  • Chris says:

    r….sorry you are struggling…why not share what happened so we can find a specific solution to your specific situation. thanks!

  • r says:

    I cant forgive !!!!

  • Chris says:

    vickie…i regret to hear of this situation…relationships can be challenging even when we are seeking Gods will in them. they need to be taken very slowly so that our emotions dont get hurt in the process if it doesnt work out. the way you describe this person, it sounds as if he isnt walking very closely to christ if he caused you some much anguish in deciding to end this. we need to keep in mind as christians to only consider another true Christian as the only possible marriage candidate possible for us and to watch closely for the fruits of christ or lack thereof to determine if whom we are with is truly a Christian. romans 8.28 always applies to any experience we have in life as we continue learning from our life experiences and applying more godly wisdom where needed. james 1. we shouldnt confuse anger with lack of forgiveness. you have the right to feel anger in the way he ended this in a non-Christian manner. as you pray through your anger then, you can through the grace of christ reléase this person back to christ who is the only judge of all. John 5. by releasing yourself from judging his wrong-doing and leaving the issue and person with jesus to decide, you can then move forward in your life and be expectingly praying for jesus true choice of a husband for you. james 4, Matthew 18. praying the holy spirit console you today and bring you his peace, amen!

  • larentho says:

    Hi there,

    My father is a very bad man, he’s worldly and does not believe in God and has a relationship with Jesus. however he claims he does and uses the whole ”christian appearance to fool other believers” at one point he did go to church and was doing very well but then his worldly ways got back to him and has been down-hill since ( so to speak)

    Growing up and seeing him become this way is very hard – it has caused damage in the way i see him as a father and a role model… now becoming a man and having children of my own – i feel my dad gets jealous with me as im becoming the man he probably once dreamed to be and he knows i have a good head on me… however this causes conflict between him and i, as he feels at the end of the day i am his son and that i should never be over the top smarter or he thinks im trying to over him making him look like a bad man, to be honest we had an argument a month ago and i find it hard to forgive someone who my whole life so far when we have argued or got in to a bit of a heated almost physical fight i find i always go back to forgiving him, but not once has he come to me and asked for forgiveness or said he was sorry?? … is it just me or does forgiving him 70000000000 not working… as i find its a cycle of me making up and saying sorry then again it happens 3 months down the track .. . its not that i forget ive tried in last 20 years and it just seems he gets bitter and more frustrated with his own personal life he feels to put his anger easier on me,as i’m meant to be the forgiving guy right? and will step down and humble it but i find im not the cause of this …… i keep the peace .. we haven’t talked lately as its awkward

  • Vickie says:

    I actually am the kind of person who embraces forgiveness with ease. I love to maintain peace with all humans but recently, out of the hurt, pains, humiliation and rejection I suffered from my now ex, I find it hard to let go of resentment and anger. Even though I try to pretend but it doesn’t just work. I think the issue is in the forgetting and this has affected me so well (health-wise and emotionally) I feel revenge and rage in me especially whenever I see him. I really want to forgive and forget but how can I achieve this? It is only God who can grant me this grace

  • lizzy says:

    People don’t forgive because of pride, they think that their status is so important than forgiving, but we are not the same, some can forgive now and others is takes a long time to heal that scar.

  • Shelley says:

    Thank you Jesse for your comment. I just want to encourage you and anyone who is reading this, that God is a forgiving God and He loves both YOU and me, but He dose say that if we make a mistake we are to ask Him for forgiveness, when someone dose something to us we are to for give them, as God will take care of that person, but we are accountable to Him.

  • Jesse says:

    I’m very confused about this:
    “Forgiving someone does not cancel out the consequences of their actions.”

    I don’t think you can say “I forgive you” then suddenly punish him/her anyway due to the past.
    God said he forgive sins, and that means letting the past go and starting a new; Jesus cleans out our sins, and gives us another chance to heaven.

    Saying “forgiving sin” but then still must be punish doesn’t really sound like Jesus.

    Unless your talking about responsible to avoid further sins rather than putting someone in jail when the person already changed and wants another chance.
    Forgiving of course doesn’t mean it’s “ok” to re offend, but I do believe forgiving is to also let go of the charges too from you. Otherwise if not, that’s like saying Jesus will punish you anyway when you die.
    That’s what it just sounds like to me. Haha

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