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October 14, 2020

No, You Don’t Need to Forgive Them to Move On.

If the gurus are to be believed, one of the keys to the healing process (and, indeed, happiness as whole) is forgiveness.

We do not forgive for another’s benefit—we do it for our own.

It’s a way of freeing ourselves from the pain another has caused us, or to cut the toxic bonds that unhealthily bind us to that same person. Simply put, forgiveness enables us to move on.

But there’s a catch: it has to be genuine. It can’t be a fake, pseudo-forgiveness; it’s got to be heartfelt. Unless your forgiveness is real, there’s no moving on. No healing. 

You can say, “I forgive you” all you want, but if you don’t truly believe it, you’re stuck there. False forgiveness serves no purpose; it’s empty, and those toxic ties remain steadfastly in place.

However, for me, there’s an in-built problem with that:

What if you want to move on, but can’t forgive?

And it’s not about being petty, or stuck in the past, or not letting things go; it’s a genuine belief that what someone else did shouldn’t be forgiven. It was a big thing, and it destroyed you.

Even worse, they don’t seem to care. We all make mistakes, we all cause hurt, but when someone knows they did, and they still don’t care? They know they hurt you, and yet they didn’t do a single thing about it? So, now you’ve got to forgive them both for the “thing” they actually did, and then for not caring about the pain it caused you?

For a start, forgiving them is showing them a compassion they didn’t give you. That might give you the moral high ground, but boy, it’s a tricky act to actually pull off. And secondly, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some genuinely compassionate people, but that double-dose of forgiveness is a tall ask even for them.

So, what do you do in that situation? What do you when you want to move on, but you also know that you can’t forgive?

Well, at the risk of being too simplistic, you do both: you move on without forgiving. Because the experts who propound the importance of forgiveness are not wholly right.

Yes, if you can find it in yourself to forgive, then forgive. Because let’s not a lie: moving on will be easier if you can do it with compassion. If you can, do so.

But, if you can’t? If that “thing” was something reprehensible, something that goes against everything you believe? Then don’t.

Don’t forgive.

Although it helps, moving on doesn’t require forgiveness. It just doesn’t. You don’t have to forgive someone to move on from them. It’s quite possible to cut someone out of your life and not have the warm glow of forgiveness accompanying it.

It’s harder, but not impossible.

But, what do you replace the forgiveness with? It’s less cuddly and fuzzy, but logic. Rationality. Instead of forgiveness, you move on because it’s in your own, best self-interest. Instead of being like the Buddha, it’s time to channel your inner-Spock.

You move on because the knowledge of the “thing” they did burns brightly. And you keep moving because you never want to experience it again. To be honest, forgiveness doesn’t even come into it. You simply don’t want to go through that experience all over again, thank you very much.

Self-centered? Unquestionably. But so is forgiveness—it works because you’re switching the focus from them onto you. Logic serves the same purpose.

There is, obviously, a danger here. Forgiveness allows release; it allows you to let go of that person and their actions. Anything else might inspire rumination, obsession. But, again, it doesn’t have to. It all depends on how you reframe the situation, what language you surround your “moving on” with.

Saying to yourself, “I don’t forgive them, but I wish them the best, and now I’m moving on,” is an entirely different inner-monologue than, “I hate them for what they did.” The first allows freedom; with the second, you’re going nowhere. 

And that’s key: although you may not be able to forgive them, you can’t allow yourself to hate them. Hate is corrosive, it infects everything, and it’ll keep you in the very place you’re trying to move away from. Moving on may not require forgiveness, but it does require some degree of ambivalence—of detachment. Luckily, there is way to culture it:


Read about what happened.

Don’t fixate on the specifics of what your “thing” is or was; study that issue as a whole. 

Knowledge is power.

When you first start looking into this field, it’ll hurt or trigger you. But that sensation lessens the more you read. And, although you still might not be able to find forgiveness, although it might still hurt, you might find understanding. And that will lead to two things: 

First, whatever your “thing” was, you’re going to find it probably isn’t that uncommon. No, that won’t take away the pain in its entirety, but knowing that others have also endured it will give you a small sense of solidarity—you’re not alone.

Second, you’ll also realize it wasn’t you. It wasn’t your fault. The “thing” that happened to you has happened to millions of others too; unless you have the ability to inhabit several thousand bodies simultaneously, you didn’t make that “thing” happen. It probably happened because it’s a “thing” humans do.

It sounds like an academic exercise and, to a certain extent, it is. But it does instill a certain degree of detachment. It takes the edge off the anger, or hurt, or confusion. It allows you to step away from a particular person (or people), and see the situation objectively. Well, as objectively as you can.

You might not be able to find forgiveness, but finding understanding will help you move on.

And, who knows, just because you can’t forgive now doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to. As the years roll by, you might find yourself softening—an action that seems impossible to forgive at this moment could be one that is easy to forgive a year from now.

But, for now? Moving on doesn’t require forgiveness. 

If you can find it, then great. But you can also move on by researching your “thing,” by focusing on logic, and by creating detachment. 

Because forgiveness is not obligatory to the healing process. You don’t need to forgive to move on.

You just need to want to move on. And there’s plenty of ways to do that.


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