How Far Should Forgiveness Go?

Forgiveness is important when there is a purpose behind it.

In my recent article, forgiveness was shown to be an effective means for the healing process. However, it was presented in a way that is rarely discussed and that way is self-forgiveness as the first step. The emphasis is generally concentrated on one’s ability to forgive others which often includes those who’ve harmed or abused you.

This can be difficult for many and the reasons are completely understandable. Especially when this remedy is spoken by someone who has earned our respect. If we’ve deemed them virtuous or devout, we don’t question their words but rather examine our own fortitude and determination when we can’t seem to fulfill that command.

So let’s start by asking the question “why should we forgive”?

There are at least two reasons which come to mind. The first, and I believe most valuable, is to heal and restore ourselves. Harboring an inordinate amount of anger, hate, or other destructive emotions can figuratively tie our hands creating mental boundaries and barricades. The second reason to forgive would be to help the offender. Perhaps his guilt prompted a change in behavior and forgiving them can help facilitate those efforts. However, forgiving others – especially those who have brutally abused you – can be a complicated and problematic situation. One thing I will NEVER do is tell my clients that they MUST forgive their abusers in order to heal. Personally, I think this is the worst counsel you could ever tell someone who was terribly mistreated.

I cannot nor would I want to imagine the appalling events some have suffered especially as an innocent child. Having the audacity to tell someone they MUST do anything of this sort would in truth, be using a shaming technique on them. “If you do not forgive them, then you will not be able to move forward.”

Think about that statement for a moment. Saying that to someone IS abuse!

What I am not saying is that they should never forgive their abusers. It will happen if it needs to. At fourteen, I was verbally rebuked by someone I highly respected. That incident had a drastically negative impact on me for the next several decades. When I discussed it with my therapist, it became clear to me that I needed to forgive myself for believing what I was told. The man had passed away several decades earlier and frankly if there were an opportunity to forgive him, I don’t think he would accept it. However, I no longer blame him for the negative impact so forgiving him really is a moot point.

In many cases, we prolong the damage by believing harmful and destructive thoughts about ourselves. This is why it’s crucial to start by forgiving us. If eventually, it becomes crucial to forgive others, we can then work on that. It is not always an easy answer but it is crucial for our own healing.


John Dunia
John Dunia
John has a passion; and that is helping others heal from past difficulties and abuses. Healing became important when he realized how much it freed him from his own past and now works to help others experience that liberation. The key to his success was discovering that the most debilitating damage was his own shame and the destructive things he believed about who he was. Throughout his own healing journey, he became hyper-aware of how shame was affecting him while having little clue of its presence. Others noticed these changes and reached out to him for help. His methods were so effective that he made it a mission to shift his career into helping others. Adopting the term “ShameDoctor”, he continues to teach others to empower themselves through his remarkably effective techniques. “Shame is one of the biggest yet least talked about issues we face as individuals and society yet so very little is mentioned about it.” It is his purpose to change the way the world perceives shame and promote helpful and viable techniques to heal and overcome those past struggles. John’s book, “Shame On Me – Healing a Life of Shame-Based thinking” was self-published in 2016. In addition to working with clients, John also writes healing and insightful articles each week. He is also looking forward to speaking on the topics of shame and healing throughout the globe.

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  1. The forgiving process is what essentially allows forgiveness to benefit us. Forgetfulness is, obviously, what it’s not about. But the forgiving process length is crucial. If we dwell too much in our pains, or in someone else’s “evil”, we can suffer too much or develop callouses, and neither is convenient. One has to move on as quickly as possible. A broken or shattered glass is of no use. Thanks for thoughts and the other comments too. Ragnar.

    • Thank you for your response, as well, Ragnar. It’s important that I hear other’s perspectives; especially if I will be helping others in their own healing journeys

  2. Blessings John, how timely this article has come to my attention as I just returned from a Two Day Retreat where the topic was Humiliation, being Humble, and learning to FORGIVE, which encompasses these two powerful words. What you stated above is exactly what many of us walked away with which is a gift to one’s walk in life, providing they don’t leave what they have learned behind. We must put into practice that which we learn that is good for us.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Lynn. Healing is an important subject and one that is very close to my heart. The word gets used a lot; especially lately but I rarely find people offering positive ways or techniques to do so. Nearly everyone has something from the past that needs healing and I especially want to help those who feel blocked or stifled by it. That is the kind of challenge I enjoy.

    • As I’ve written in previous posts, when we forgive, it is more for our own benefit rather than for others. The not-forgetting is again, for our own benefit so we can become aware of and stave off a similar type of abuse.
      Thanks for your comment.