Have you ever had someone you forgave just not seem to accept your forgiveness? Forgiveness is such an awesome concept that I don’t think many of us really understand it or accept it as much as we should. It’s one of the things that, as a relationships writer, I get asked about a lot.
I’ve had times when I have had to ask forgiveness, and times when I have had to forgive really big things. There are times when, if I had not forgiven, I wouldn’t have been able to move forward with my life. If you’re unable to forgive you can get stuck in a dark place for a long time, your anger and hate blinding you from seeing or accepting good.
But if you’re unable to accept forgiveness, you can also get stuck. In giving you forgiveness the one you hurt opens the door to freedom, but you stay in that cage because you want to. Being unable to accept forgiveness looks different, depending on the person. When I’ve seen it personally in my life, it means one of a couple things.
They keep beating themselves up:
You can only say “I forgive you” so many times. If you’re truly giving the person a clean slate, having them continue to beat themselves up is not only harmful to them, it can transform from them hurting you to making it all about them. Instead of your hurt, it becomes about their sorrow in hurting you. This can be a selfish act, especially when you were the one harmed and forgave as God would have us do but now you have to keep telling the person it’s done. It forces you both to re-live the situation.
They pretend as if it never happened:
While you should move forward after forgiveness, there are times when having the one who hurt you totally act as if they didn’t is also harmful to the relationship. This is when they deny they ever hurt you, and if it ever gets brought up for some reason the act of hurt is erased completely.
While it’s one thing to forgive and wipe the slate clean, the one who hurt you needs to learn from the mistake so they can make a different choice next time. If they pretend they never did it, they are likely to repeat it.
Note that I’m not saying the one who hurt you needs to beat themselves up over it or continually apologize. I’m saying that they need to understand what they did so they can accept the forgiveness and try not to rewrite history to make it look like they didn’t hurt you.
They hurt you again (or try to):
Another weird thing is when you forgive someone, but they hurt you again, just because you forgave. This is the result of pretending, as I talked about earlier.
I’ve seen people purposely hurt the person who just forgave them. The root of the problem is that they either can’t forgive themselves (so in hurting you again they want a more stern “punishment”) or they are angry that you forgave. They want you to not move on with your life and so they hurt you again thinking they will get a different response from you.
They change the story, so they can be the victim:
This is when the one who hurt you tries to rewrite history. Your forgiveness prompts them to latch on to your story, making it as if they, too, were suffering (instead of you suffering at their hand). They do this perhaps because they like seeing the reaction you get from people when you forgive, so they want that, too.
Or maybe they can’t quite admit what they did, they are in denial or ashamed, so instead they try to change the story of what happened, little by little over time, until suddenly they are the one who was hurt. They’ve wiped you out of the story completely or they are there side by side with you, instead of it being them hurting you and you forgiving.
When someone will not accept my forgiveness, I can’t help thinking of the times I do this to God. How many times do I deny I did something because I know I’m forgiven? How many times do I change the story in my mind so I couldn’t possibly have done that thing He forgave me for? How many times do I beat myself up, even though He’s forgiven me so that He and I can move forward in our relationship?
When looking at the behaviors we deal with in other people, we need to acknowledge that all of us have probably been on both sides of some of these situations. We can’t look at other people’s behavior without also looking at ours. So when someone acts strangely, like in the case of not accepting forgiveness, it’s worth a quick check of your own life, to see when you might have done this with someone else or with God.
This teaching God we have wants us to see the things we do so we can learn from them and so we can forgive others.