Practical Wisdom

Why is it so hard to forgive others?

by on Oct.10, 2009, under Uncategorized

Why is it so hard to forgive another for something they’ve said or done?  Why do we hold grudges and allow painful rifts in relationships to continue and even worsen over time?

Although there are many answers to this question, let’s consider this one for now.  It is very difficult to forgive someone you are currently angry or upset with.  Beneath anger is some kind of pain, hurt, fear or unmet need.  If we are still feeling pain we believe was caused by something another has done (or not done) to us, we subconsciously want them to feel the same kind of pain we are experiencing.  Deep down, we want them to know, understand and experience the consequences of their actions.  Often, we want them to suffer even MORE than we are.

Unfortunately, if our intention, be it conscious or unconscious, is for them to suffer, they will almost certainly sense this and feel the need to defend themselves.  No one likes to be seen or labeled as the villain, even if there is good reason.  When they sense our negative intention toward them, part of their defensive reaction will be to see us as the “guilty one” in their mind.  They will be far more likely to judge you in return than they are to understand your pain, feel remorse and apologize.

This dynamic can escalate very quickly and lead to a continuation or deepening of the conflict and discord which can even lead to the destruction of an otherwise good relationship.

A more wise approach would be to pause and consider what we really want.  What is your highest intention for this relationship? What could you say or do that would be give you the best chance of getting the result you are looking for?  Chances are, that person did not intend to hurt or disappoint us.  When the time is right, have a respectful conversation holding the intention of finding out what they were thinking and of informing them of your internal experience.  What you want is for them to understand…. not to make them feel judged.  Avoid any kind of blame or “attack” language.  This will only increase the defensiveness and escalate the problem.

If we are successful in helping the other understand our pain or discomfort, which are nearly always based on some misunderstanding or unspoken feelings, they are much more likely to actually feel remorse and to join you in resolving the difficulty.

We’ll address this more in future posts.  Your comments/questions are welcome!

1 Comment for this entry

  • Michelle

    Hi Chris! I attended a Wimberly retreat that you co-facilitated sometime around 2003. It was such a wonderful catalyst for moving my life forward – thanks from 6 years in the future! I just read your post and wanted to share some thoughts. I have been thinking about holding feelings of anger and non-acceptance lately and I think that having trouble forgiving fits right in. I love that you are advocating expressing feelings of conflict, as this is one of my personal challenges. I would like to add on to the idea of coming from your highest self.

    A lot of times when we are having trouble forgiving, it is because at some level we don’t want to accept something. One might ask, what is the thing that I don’t want to accept in this situation? Or what am I holding onto that I wish were different? Then if we can observe that thing as something outside of ourselves, we can begin to perhaps understand more of where the other person is coming from as well as where we are coming from, perhaps even something that has nothing to do with the current situation. From here we can begin to change our perception of the situation. With this compassion and perception shift, we can begin to release the need to hold on to the feelings of unforgiving or non-acceptance. This is not the same as giving into a disagreement or your ideals – it’s just being able to step back and get more perspective on where they are coming from and you are coming from. You can tell this when you begin to feel lighter or more hopeful and less negative about the situation. It is really important to express your feelings for both releasing and developing a more understanding and connected relationship. If you can approach them after having cultivated a better internal understanding and compassion of the situation, and they cannot meet you in resolution, at least you have found your own peace around the situation. But they can probably sense your calmer and more compassionate resolve and will be more likely to meet you in resolution.

    Like I said, been thinking about this stuff lately!
    Love and Peace.

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