Why I can’t forgive you

In order to bestow forgiveness, a person has to have some very particular underlying beliefs and ideas in the first place. As I don’t, and therefore can’t, I thought it might be interesting to pick through the mechanics a bit.

It has come to my attention in the last few months that to be able to forgive, you have to feel that something else should have happened. You have to believe that the other person shares your sense of what should have happened, and that they would have preferred to get it right and do the thing that would have fitted with that. From that place, (as far as I can make out) you forgive the shortcoming, the mistake, and everyone moves on.

I automatically differentiate between things I need and want, and the actual shape of my interactions with people. Entitlement doesn’t feature much, for a whole array of historical reasons. Consequently, if something goes wrong I tend not to see this as an accidental departure from the real relationship, but as a reflection of it. I make sense of my interactions with people based not on what I think should happen, but on what happens. It means that forgetting, letting me down, being less than fair or kind to me is likely to just be quietly recognised as how things are between us. It is absolutely not a coincidence that I tend to be wary, distant and closed with most people.

My suspicion is that if you carry an ideal about, then however wonky the reality is, you’ll probably do a better job of holding positive and open sorts of connections with other people. Failure to live up to expectation might seem more temporary, more transient from that perspective, and be easier both to point out and to then let go of. What point is there in making a fuss about how someone treats you, if you start with the belief that how they treat you is an expression of how they feel about you? Ask them to do differently and you’re asking them (from that way of looking at things)to be dishonest with you.

I don’t think I fall into the trap of expecting people to know what I want and need. It’s very easy to go round getting cross with people when you think they should know your foibles, weaknesses and whatnot. It’s more about things that could be applied to anyone. Are they kind to me? Do they keep promises? Do they ask more of me than I can give and respond badly when I can’t keep up? Do they only seem to value me in so far as I am useful to them? Are they patient when I struggle? When I am in pain, are they gentle with me, or is that just another inconvenience to get cross about?

It says something about my history that for me, kindness is not a reasonable expectation, nor do I feel entitled to expect people will be careful round me around distress, pain, exhaustion and other limits. I’m used to being asked for more than I am equal to by people for whom I mostly seem to be a resource. Observation suggests that people who feel entitlement do not tend to accept that sort of thing and are much better at holding their boundaries, but for long periods of time my sense of place seemed wholly dependent on utility, and it’s hard to break with that.

To forgive you, I would have to start from a place of thinking that I deserved something better. I find it hard to imagine I deserve other than I get. It seems to me a fair measure of how people around me and groups I interact with relate to me. It seems like a measure of who I am. People who offer to forgive may be in a better place than people who don’t, on the whole.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Why I can’t forgive you

  • derynguest

    It seems that much of the advice ‘out there’ recommends forgiveness in order to move on (in may case from failed relationship), but I struggle heavily with this. When what happened is still not okay, when betrayal and deceit has been in play, the heart finds it difficult to forgive, even if the head accepts that not-forgiving continues to bind one to the betraying person. I was intrigued by your opening para on sharing a vision of what should have happened. If the other person does not have that vision, again, forgiveness seems hard to deliver.

    • Nimue Brown

      I would entirely agree that, as a separate issue, there are contexts in which forgiveness seems to be far too much like condoning and letting people off the hook. Knowing you have been wronged is essential if you want to not have that happened again, and holding on to that can make a lot of very positive difference in a person’s life, sometimes.

  • biahelvetti

    Forgiveness has been a difficult issue for me too – all my life really. Personally I can’t settle on a ‘philosophy’ about it or a hard and fast way to deal with it though, I tend to assess each situation separately (rules and me don’t mix. Ever!) Perhaps it is simply one of those tools to be picked up and used only when it is useful?

  • 3X3

    I am willing to Forgive if the Person who Behaved Badly does something to atone for their Mistake. If the Person continues to Behave Badly and acts like they could not give a toss whether they get Forgiven or not, then I wont Forgive them.


    • Nimue Brown

      Willingness to change is really important. We’re all flawed and we all mess up, and yes indeed the person who comes back and tries to do something different I am at least open to (which is often about as good as I get). It’s amazing how many people think that saying sorry makes it ok to do the exact same thing all over again…

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