Forgiveness is perhaps one of the most difficult things we can learn to do in our lifetimes. When we are hurt, or those we love our hurt, our defenses automatically go up to protect us from being hurt again. We find it hard to forgive and to trust again. However, by allowing fear, distrust and even hatred to fester, we cannot fully heal ourselves. By not forgiving, we are not hurting the person who wronged us. We are actually doing the most damage to ourselves.

Keeping this in mind, it is important to know what forgiveness is and is not. Dr. Sidney B. Simon makes 10 very important distinctions to help us recognize what forgiveness is not, and what forgiveness really is.


Forgiveness is not forgetting.  By forgiving the people who hurt us, we do not erase painful past experiences.  We cannot forget, nor should we.  Those experiences have a great deal to teach us, both about not being victimized again and about not victimizing others.


Forgiveness is not condoning.  When we forgive, we lessen the past’s impact on both our present and future.  But we are not saying that what was done to us was, in any way, acceptable or unimportant.  True forgiveness cannot occur while we are in any way denying, minimizing, justifying, or condoning the actions that harmed us.


Forgiveness is not absolution.  We do not absolve the offenders from responsibility for their actions.  They are still responsible and must make their own peace with the past.


Forgiveness is not a form of self-sacrifice. It is not smiling and saying it is all right when it is not or getting by somehow in spite of the pain.  The “grin and bear it” approach to forgiveness makes life less joyful and more difficult.  Actual forgiveness has the opposite effect.  We either forgive or we don’t.  Being honest about the fact that we are not ready yet to forgive is better than pretending.


Forgiveness is not a clear-cut, one-time decision.  It cannot be forced.  Forgiveness comes as a result of confronting painful past experiences and healing old wounds.  It is a process of heading out to a more positive future.


Forgiveness is a by-product of an ongoing healing process.  We find it waiting for us when we reach a point where we stop expecting “them” to pay for what they did or make it up to us in some way.


Forgiveness is a sign of positive self-esteem.  It is no longer building our identity around something that happened to us in the past, realizing that there is more to us and more we can do.  It is right to stop being hurt by events that were unfair in the first place and to choose to heal instead.


Forgiveness is letting go of the intense emotions attached to incidents from our past.  We still remember what happened but we stop allowing past pain to dictate how we live our life today and what will happen to us in the future.


Forgiveness is recognizing that we no longer need our hatred, grudges, and self-pity.  We do not need them as an excuse for getting less out of life than we want or deserve.  We do not need them as a weapon to punish people who hurt us or to keep others from getting close.  We do not need them as an identity.


Forgiveness is no longer wanting to punish the people who hurt us. 


I have had many occasions to forgive, and to seek forgiveness, in my lifetime. I think everyone has! When I think back on the greatest wrongs done against me, I certainly remember them. However, I have learned to let go of the intense emotions attached to those very incidents. One of the greatest tools I have personally found that has helped me to forgive a bit more easily is empathy. I think about the wrongs I have committed toward others. Every single time I did something that later required forgiveness, I was in a state of intense emotion and felt hurt or trapped, and I let vengeance or anger get the best of me. However, what was really going on inside of me were feelings of vulnerability, fear, and mistrust.


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