The importance of moving on from unforgiveness

Image: Sergey Furtaev/

Everyone has a grievance story, yours may be killing you’. That’s what a psychologist friend of mine, Dick Tibbits, says after his study of forgiveness. In simple terms: Unforgiveness destroys relationships.

Tibbits wrote the book Forgive to Live and provides some compelling insights into what forgiveness is —and isn’t—why we should practice it, and how to go about it.

He tells countless stories of people who have finally been able to move forward by putting the past behind them.

Misconceptions about forgiveness

Forgiving is not forgetting. It doesn’t wipe our memory. Our limbic system is actually designed to remember things that make us feel strongly.

Forgiveness also doesn’t excuse or endorse the actions of others and imply it was or is OK.

And it doesn’t negate the consequences of the wrong—perpetrators need not, and often should not, be excused from the consequences of their actions.

What is forgiveness?

Tibbits explains forgiveness as ‘giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me’. Essentially, forgiveness is a circuit breaker of the vicious cycle that unforgiveness creates.

It’s consciously choosing to move from a negative place of revenge to a positive place of freedom.

Interestingly, forgiveness doesn’t even necessarily involve communicating with the person we’re forgiving or them requesting to be forgiven. Rather, it’s a conscious decision that we make to put the past behind us and move forward more positively and constructively.

‘Have you forgiven your captors?’

The story is told of two former prisoners of war. One asked the other, ‘Have you forgiven your captors?’

‘Never, I will never forgive them.’

‘Then they still hold you captive.’

It can be hard to do, but forgiveness liberates the forgiver.

Moving on

While there are incredible stories of people who have been able to move on from unimaginable wrong and hurt, lack of forgiveness affects us all.

An unwillingness to forgive relatively ‘small’ things can lead to cycles of forgiveness that ravage relationships.

Hurt people hurt people! That’s a reality.

Often unforgiveness abounds not so much for a malicious act, but for unmet expectations. We think to ourselves, ‘They should have done this’ or, ‘They should know’ or, ‘They should have met my needs—and they didn’t’.

We live in a world of high expectations. The media has a lot to answer for as it portrays an unrealistic picture of what our lives should look like.

We can find ourselves resenting those—especially those closest to us—who seem to be getting in the way of the perfect life we feel entitled to.

Forgiving yourself

Finally, sometimes the person we need to forgive is our self. There are times we need to stop hurting ourselves for the hurts we’ve caused. While we can’t change the past, we can change the future.

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to consult Dr Tibbits’ work to help you move on to a more positive place.

Darren Morton is the lead researcher at the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education and the author of live More Active.

Category: Attitude, Connecting, Emotional Health

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