We often hear about the importance of forgiving others – and that’s true. Practicing forgiveness can be beneficial to emotional well-being and even to your physical health. But too often, we have a limited understanding of forgiveness that doesn’t go much beyond feeling better about a person or situation.

Sometimes forgiveness even becomes distorted and unhealthy, making healing even more difficult. It’s important to understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t so that we can truly recover from life’s painful circumstances and move forward in our relationships.

You Can’t Truly Forgive and Forget

“Forgive and forget” is an old adage that sounds nice on the surface, but can be responsible for an unhealthy, harmful concept of forgiveness. Why? Forgiving others is not about pretending nothing ever happened, or acting like something painful doesn’t bother you.

Forgiveness isn’t an excuse for toxic relationships, or a pass for abusive behavior. It’s okay to remember something that caused you pain and to feel that pain when you’re around the person who wronged you. In fact, it’s natural. Feeling pain doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven, or that you will be unable to forgive.

What Does It Mean to Forgive?

Forgiveness goes beyond feeling that you have forgiven someone, or feeling like you should be more forgiving. The meaning of  the word “forgive” includes the following deeper ideas:

  • Letting go of resentment: You don’t have to have warm feelings for someone in order to forgive them, but you should be working toward letting go of resentful or bitter feelings.
  • Giving up the need for payback: If you have forgiven someone, they are no longer in your debt. Payback is not necessary. You don’t require that they pay you back for something they owe you. You don’t insist on getting even, or having something harmful happen to them in return.

Healthy Forgiveness is a Process

As with any healing after pain, trauma, or the fracturing of a close relationship, learning to forgive takes time. Even if we acknowledge we forgive someone, the painful feelings we have about what they’ve done won’t immediately subside. In some cases, those feelings will always remain.

There are a few things to remember as you work on forgiving others:

  • You’ll have to confront the deeper issue. Particularly if you are working to forgive deep hurts like abuse, abandonment, or betrayal, you will need to work with someone who can help you navigate that pain and help you come up with specific ways you can practice forgiveness while feeling emotionally safe.
  • It’s a decision, not a feeling. You can decide to forgive each day, and that decision may come easier some days than others. Give yourself time, space, and kindness as you work to forgive.
  • Forgiveness is an act of self-care. Even if you struggle to forgive someone fully, any effort to let go of resentment is going to help you heal and create more space for the healthier relationships in your life.
  • Keep the faith. For many of us, forgiveness is a part of our faith tradition. Praying to forgive someone can go a long way toward helping you find peace.

TheHopeLine can help you make a path to forgiveness, even when it feels impossible. Forgiveness looks different for everyone and we all need help to forgive. Email a mentor or live chat with us to discover how you can free yourself from bitterness and practice forgiveness without re-entering a toxic or abusive relationship,

Learn more about forgiveness by searching our library of blogs, ebooks, podcasts, and more with questions like:

  • How Do I Know if I’ve Forgiven Someone?
  • I’ve Forgiven My Ex: Should We Get Back Together?
  • Why Should I Forgive My Parent for Their Addiction?

Most Recent Blogs on Forgiveness

Tough Relationships: How God’s Love Helps Us Forgive


Maybe you’ve got a tough relationship with your parents. Maybe you’ve recently been through a breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend and it still stings. Whatever your relationship challenges are, I know it can’t be easy to hear people talking about “letting go” or telling you to “forgive and forget.”..Read more

Feeling Guilty: Is Guilt Ever Good for You?


There have been plenty of times I’ve messed up in my friendships, in my marriage, or with people at work. Often, after a difficult conversation or interaction with someone, I get that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can sometimes get stuck in a rut of asking..Read more

Silence the Voice of Comparision


I’ve always loved photography. The way a picture can say so much without using a single word is such a beautiful thing. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not a professional photographer (unless you count my ability to utilize a well-placed filter). Nope, I’m actually not very gifted in this..Read more

Should I Forgive Myself? And If So, How?


Have you ever really blown it?  Like really blown it… Did you find it difficult to move on from that, even after you’ve confessed and repented before God and with whomever you may have offended?  Does it haunt you at night and follow you throughout the day? The Shame of Past Guilt..Read more

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Finding Hope After Abuse from Her Father


Life of Abuse I was raised in a very dysfunctional family. My parents fought all the time and my dad was very abusive in all ways. My mom took this abuse all through the marriage for 32 years. I had no choice but to live with this. I only had..Read more

God Forgives


I had a struggle for a long time but at the very moment I’m typing this I know I’m free in Jesus Name. Before, I always thought that God was getting tired of forgiving me because I always fail him and I would always do that sin over and over again...Read more

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Free eBook: Understanding a Relationship with God

A guide to understanding the basics of Christianity and a meaningful relationship with God.  Do You Feel Like Life is Meaningless? Are you wondering what your purpose is? Do you have questions about what Christians believe or what it means to be a Christian? At TheHopeLine we believe real and lasting HOPE can only come […]

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