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Why Sometimes It’s Better to Just Move On and Not Forgive.

They say it’s best to forgive and forget.

“The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” — 
Mahatma Gandhi

In fact, the results of a study performed in 2014 suggest that “when people have forgiven the person who wronged them, their memories related to the offense become more susceptible to forgetting. When people have not forgiven their transgressor, however, they are less successful in suppressing details related to the offense.”

Dr. Saima Noreen, who led the study, said: “It is well established learning to forgive others can have positive benefits for an individual’s physical and mental health. The ability to forget upsetting memories may provide an effective coping strategy that enables people to move on with their lives.”

That sounds like useful information. When I have trouble forgetting a past event perhaps I will forgive the person that committed it.

Furthermore, I agree that it is indeed weak when you never forgive someone that has wronged you.

Yet, that does not mean that every transgression needs forgiving. Nor does it mean that every transgressor should be forgiven.

I recently received the following text from someone that I was close with for well over 20 years:

As can be seen, I did not respond. Let me explain why.


In the course of your daily life you will quickly encounter people that resemble and act similarly to other people that you know.

Many of the situations that you find yourself in such as confrontations, arguments, and trying times will have common themes to them.

That’s why we generalize or stereotype. It makes life easier to deal with to come up with a set of guiding principles and to apply those principles to the same types of issues or people.

Generally, that is a useful habit to develop and employ. Many of the self-help memes and quotes that you see online are like this, as is much of the advice that you come across in self-help literature.

That is, they are well-intended generalizations that contain good advice and are intended to apply to some of life’s most common issues. A one-size fits all approach.

However, as we all know, but often forget, each one of us is unique. Each person that we meet is unique.

Unfortunately, because each person that we meet is unique, and because we are unique, we will find ourselves in unique situations where relying on that generalized advice is not helpful, and may even be damaging.

Of course, the internet does contain many great repositories of good advice, and I urge any and all to seek answers online with people and places that have earned your trust.

Regardless of what advice you receive think about it carefully. Advice can sound great on a superficial level, but not apply to your situation upon further reflection.

For example, it might not be a good idea to forgive someone, either now or in the future, for these reasons:

  1. The insufficient apology — “I’m sorry you were offended.” The person making the apology is sorry you were offended, but not sorry for their actions. Apologies can be a very powerful statement of someone’s intent, but only if the person is meaningful and sincere, which means acknowledging that the person did something wrong.
  2. All talk, no action — An apology is a bunch of words. It’s important that those words are meaningful and sincere, but that’s merely the appetizer to the main course, which is even more meaningful action that supports the words.
  3. It’s too early — Part of our uniqueness is that some of us may deal with difficult situations in different ways. Some people need longer to process and overcome a difficult event. They may not be ready for an apology, and they may be even less ready to forgive.
  4. Pattern of Repeat Behavior — We can all spew out a few words when it suits our interests. Real change towards another person that we have hurt is infinitely harder. If you’ve already apologized once to someone and hurt them again your credibility is likely less than zero so there’s little reason for someone to forgive you.
  5. The Apology is Untimely — Sometimes it’s simply too late for an apology. Once someone has healed from the transgression on their own an apology is hardly meaningful to that person.
  6. Silent Forgiveness is an Option — While forgiveness can and sometimes does help you feel better about a situation, the forgiveness doesn’t have to be communicated to the person that wronged you. You can forgive people and still cut them out of your life.
No credit. Hopefully I will be forgiven.

In my case with the text that I received I chose not to respond for a few reasons.

While the apology is decent it’s also very general. Rather than list out the specific reasons for the apology it’s a blanket apology.

What this person is apologizing for might not be what I feel needs to be apologized for. Perhaps a dialogue would normally be in order to flesh this out, but not in this instance.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

As I know this person very well, I know that while the person may believe the apology to be sincere, past actions demonstrate that no real change in behavior is likely to occur.

I have heard this person tell me their intentions many times, only for the intended action to never come to pass.

To add insult to injury, when called out on this patter of behavior, this person typically answered by saying that they had good intentions, as if that mattered.

Nor do I need any help with forgetting the incidents that occurred. It took awhile but I made my own peace with what occurred.

An apology is not necessary, and would not change anything for myself. While it may make that person feel better I see that as this person’s responsibility; not mine.

Moreover, this person was given nearly two years to apologize and make meaningful changes. Finally, when that did not happen, I decided to make permanent changes in my life.

Finally, I know that responding to this text would only encourage this person to keep contacting me. This person would feel the door is now open to resume communications if I responded in any way.

Neither I nor anyone else that knows me wants that. Hence, no response, and the delete button on my phone just got a workout.

You might believe that forgiving someone is the best course in a particular situation, but do not let people push you into doing so, and do not jump at the chance to do so, until you have carefully thought about if that’s truly what’s best for you.