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Should You Forgive Someone Who Harmed You?

DSC08453After interpersonal trauma, it is understandably very difficult to forgive the person who harmed you. This is especially true when the abuser never acknowledges what they did or faces consequences for the harm done. It can feel like the only thing tying them to the crime is the anger of their victim.

The problem, of course, is that the survivor’s anger hurts the survivor far more than the abuser. Anger doesn’t hold the perpetrator accountable. It can’t make them sorry. It doesn’t make them pay. If it could, there would probably less repeat offenders.

Anger can, however, consume the person who is angry. It takes a great deal of energy to hold onto it, energy that the survivor is spending on their perpetrator instead of themselves. And you deserve better.

Myth: Forgiveness means they’re getting off the hook

Your anger never had them on the hook. Whether or not you feel angry has nothing to do with whether they did it, how bad it was, whether they feel bad or how evil they are.

And forgiving the offender doesn’t mean stopping legal consequences. It is possible to forgive an offender while still ensuring that he goes to prison, or pays restitution or whatever the legal consequence.

Myth: They’re not sorry and I can never trust them again, so I can’t forgive them

Forgiveness actually has nothing to do with the person who abused you and everything to do with healing yourself. You don’t have to trust, or even engage with, the abuser ever again. It has nothing to do with what they did or what they will do. It is unrelated to whether they paid or will pay for their abuse. It doesn’t mean letting them off the hook.

It has only to do with how you choose to spend your energy. It simply means letting go of the time, energy and mindspace that you give to this person. It means acknowledging that you are more important than they are and you deserve to heal. It means that you deserve to walk away from what happened.


Myth: What they did was unforgivable

Forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with what happened, only with how you heal. Some people feel that if they are able to heal and let go of their anger, then what happened will be diminished somehow. It’s like their hurt and anger is the only thing that can communicate the magnitude of what happened.

But interpersonal trauma is terrible and both research and my personal experience find that recovery has less to do with what happened than the person it happened to. We don’t know why, but remaining injured is not a sign that the injury was worse.


Should You Forgive Someone Who Harmed You?

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). Should You Forgive Someone Who Harmed You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2015
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