July 17, 2013

Can You Forgive Too Much?

How forgiving are you?

This morning I had breakfast with my dear friend Lana, and over scrambled eggs and porridge we discussed forgiveness. Why and when and how do we forgive? And is it possible to forgive too easily?

I have people in my life who have hurt me down time and time again, and yet I'll forgive them repeatedly, because I know that they have 'issues'. They might have serious problems, or an illness, or have had a difficult childhood, and I feel that this affords them a certain leeway on my part.

But then there are people who will disappoint me once, and I will wipe them from my life forever. And it's not because the transgression is so great; it's because I cannot excuse their behaviour on any grounds.

But why? Why can I forgive some people and not others?

I guess I see people as having a certain degree of emotional handicap, similar to the system used in golf. If you have a serious handicap - depression, for example, or trauma or addiction - then I will give you far more leeway than someone with a very mild handicap. What this means, effectively, is that I may forgive way too much if I perceive you as being very damaged, or needy.

Lana is extremely forgiving (I know this because she is still friends with me), however she disagrees with my notion of emotional handicap. She argues that adults need to be responsible for themselves. Being damaged or having problems doesn't give you the right to be a bad friend, a nasty colleague, an abusive parent, a cruel boss.

So where do we draw the line? Can empathy and sympathy stretch too far? And when does forgiveness undermine our own self-respect? Are there times when it's best to refuse to wipe the slate clean?

I don't know. But you might. Thoughts?


  1. Oooh - that's a big one Kerri!

    I find that if I 'understand' a person (ie I know their background, know where certain behaviour comes from ,,, regardless of whether that behaviour is caused by upbringing or illness) I can forgive a LOT.

    So I tend to forgive to a very high threshold point, but once you've crossed that point (pretty hard!) that's it, I am done with you forever.

  2. I feel that if the tag "family" is attached to someone we are therefore expected to forgive anything and everything. I for one let family members get away with things I would NEVER accept in others. Is this right or wrong ... I'm not sure ... but sometimes it feels very, very wrong.

  3. Lana (Sharpest Pencil)July 17, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    To continue our breakfast conversation and flesh my thoughts out a bit more now that I am no longer watching you gag over the worst eggs in the world - I have forgiven far too many for really bad things that they have done. But after MUCH therapy and many years I'm over that. And I'm not even sure if it's always forgiveness as such I just think that if a person has treated you badly they can't (and shouldn't) be excused just because they've had a rough past.
    *takes another spoon of sawdust and berries, er I mean porridge*

  4. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Even if we say we forgive we never really forget. I tend to tread very carefully (or perhaps a great distance away) from those who have been dishonest, hurtful or undeserving of trust. I think moving so many times has taught me not to waste my time with those who have let me down. It sounds brutal but life is just too short. xx

  5. Yes. I agree with you. Important to keep toxic people out of your life. I'm learning too x

  6. Seriously - how GROSS were those eggs? I am going to begin my quest to not be so forgiving by NEVER going back to that café again. Clearly they were having a bad day, but that is no excuse for that kind of plate. xxxxxxxxx

  7. That is such a good point. And I don't know the answer x

  8. I had (past tense) someone in my life who was using their emotional handicap as an excuse for bad behavior. There comes a point, where it's just plain 'arseholery'.

    I tend to be too trusting and forgiving, but I'm finally standing up for myself & I feel stronger already.

  9. That all makes a lot of sense. And I am keeping on your good side x

  10. I think there are two extremes here. Sure I forgive people who perhaps constantly forget things or make excuses, and then there are those who emotionally or physically hurt. The first extreme I think life is too short to hold grudges over menial things and I'm more forgiving the older I get. But the other extreme, no way. Thankfully I only have one person in my life I will never forgive.

  11. There's so many types of forgiveness too...

    There's the "unconditional" forgiveness...

    There's the "forgive but not forget" forgiveness...

    There's the "I'm going to let go of these feelings, but not really forgive the act" forgiveness...

    There's the "I can't even remember why I'm angry with you" forgiveness

    And then there's "aw fuckit, I just can't be bothered anymore" forgiveness...

  12. Wow. Excellent summation JJ. Thanks

  13. Dying to know who and why, but I shall refrain from asking x

  14. YES. Exactly. And I'm happy for you x

  15. Hi Kerri I have just spent today thinking about this. I also tend to forgive too easily when I know someone has issues.Sometimes i think it is because I am too nice!Someone did something really bad and nasty but because of her circumstances( breast cancer) I forgave her and then I felt worse after. Sometimes I don't know where sympathy- empathy boundary ends! But I am getting tougher and starting to not let these people stay in my life. Life is too short and I just end up feeling worse.

  16. Hi Kerri I have just spent today thinking about this. I also tend to forgive too easily when I know someone has issues.Sometimes i think it is because I am too nice!Someone did something really bad and nasty but because of her circumstances( breast cancer) I forgave her and then I felt worse after. Sometimes I don't know where sympathy- empathy boundary ends! But I am getting tougher and starting to not let these people stay in my life. Life is too short and I just end up feeling worse.

  17. Depends on many things, whether it's family, how close the friendship is, how much you want them in your life. Is it going to hurt more not to have them there. I am pretty forgiving so not the best person to give advice on this he he Yolanda

  18. I don't think I'm very good at forgiving at all. I used to be, but then I got betrayed a few times too many and now forgiveness seems to elude me. I hope I can find it again. Do you give lessons?

  19. I'm trying to be LESS forgiving! We should get together in a blender!

  20. Life is too short. I think we get better at setting boundaries as we get older. x

  21. The older I get the more this problem arises, I find. We have a family member who has (as we eventually found out) been lying to us all for years. We have all come to his aid and given emotional, physical and financial assistance to him only to find out his life was a lie. I have never told anyone what eventually happened as I am too ashamed and I have friends who don't understand why I have dropped this family member completely from my life. I just cannot forgive him.

    I find it funny (peculiar) that other "forgive forget" situations we (husband & I) have don't seem to be measured by gravity of "the crime". Major instances get a free pass and relatively minor ones become all out war! Wierd!

    Really great topic! I wish I could elaborate. I would love to know what everyone thinks.

  22. I can forgive, I just can't forget. Must have been an elephant in a previous life. xxx

  23. Forgive, just don't forget - but for the 'right' reasons:
    1. a lesson (for you)
    2. remembering that life is too short to bear grudges

    LCM x

  24. I agree with Lana to a degree, I believe all people have issues or something happen in their life but it isn't an excuse to treat others badly, just because they have been treated bad. To me it should be more incentive to treat others better as you know what it feels like to be hard done by or wronged.

    I personally am terrible at holding grudges with those I am close to or have been there for me, often I let things go I really probably shouldn't but I don't seem to have the ability to stay resentful or angry. However, if I don't hold a person close to me I can also wipe them quickly without a thought.

    My we are complicated creatures aren't we!!!

  25. The "level" of forgiveness can sometimes reflect the "level" of remorse by the person looking for forgiveness.

  26. A very challenging topic, an idea I am currently working with is the cost of not practicing forgiveness, the cost of carrying anger/hurt/sadness in your heart can be significant. Forgiveness does not mean that you accept what the other did, that you agree with it, or that it is ok. It is choosing to no longer carry the pain because of what they did. Forgiveness may not mean re-kindling a relationship, I believe we can forgive another even if we do not continue to spend time with them.

  27. I am beginning to believe you can be too forgiving. After promising my mother something for a year, then breaking that promise, my mother simply explained that my father knows she will forgive him as she always does (Catholic Guilt). And he has done it before. And he'll do it again. But, being married for fifty years, maybe being too forgiving is a good thing.

    I don't know. Either.

  28. I forgive less and less these days, unless it's all too hard and its just easier to let them carry on but never trust them again.

  29. I think we forgive based on our tolerance for that person and what they offer to our lives. Maybe less about emotional handicap and more about the general feeling we have about them. For me I've come to realise that no one is a perfect friend, perfect person, or perfect anything and because of that we have to weigh up the value they add to our lives vs how much and to what extent they disappoint us. I agree with Lana- don't forgive based on emotional handicap- if in fact that is what it is. But I think our gut often speaks for us and tells us to forgive when it's worthwhile.

  30. Two months before my wedding I found out my sister was sleeping with my fiancé.
    I forgave her ....because she was my sister,you know how we allow family to treat us in a way we would never let a friend.Him I got rid of.
    That was over twenty five years ago and it still physically hurts in my heart when I think of it.
    I know I have never been the same since.My happy go lucky trust everyone was gone.My spark was taken from me.
    By forgiving her the family stayed the same,no sides needed to be taken,no boat was rocked,which was the positive thing.
    If I had have been an orphan things would have been different!
    The negative thing was I had to keep seeing her,the reminder of my hurt,because she was family.
    So while we can forgive others,we can never forget as the hurt is etched in our heart forever.
    When we forgive,then the anger slowly goes and it doesn't consume us.
    The sad fact is she never forgave herself.
    I believe when it comes to forgiving,we need to always forgive ourselves,or else part of us is missing in our relationships.The anger eats into us and affects our whole life.
    We then need to own our mistake so we can grow from it..do and be better.
    Like the saying goes....we have to love ourselves before we can love another.

  31. This is hard, as I have grown up a bit I have decided that to forgive certain people who have continued to hurt you time and time again is too hard, and I have ended up losing self-respect in the process. Now I am trying to finally release myself from a man who has proved that no matter how many chances I give him he cannot show me the same love I showed him. So I think while I don't bear him ill will, I can't let him back in my life because he has hurt me too many times. And to forgive him again would be to lose myself! It's a tricky one though. What do you think? xxxxx

  32. I am kind of in between. I agree that adults need to learn that their bad behavior is not excused because of personal problems, but I feel that if it's an OCCASIONAL screw up then I would more readily forgive my damaged friend than my "normal" one.


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