Close Connections: To forgive or not to forgive – that is the question!


By Nancy Norman

Shakespeare will forgive me, I’m sure. It really was Hamlet’s dilemma: to forgive life or choose death.

In close relationships, there’s no shortage of things to hold a grudge about. I always assume forgiving is the best answer. But there are those who argue that forgiveness isn’t necessarily the right course of action.

So which to choose? This column lists some reasons for and against forgiving.

Forgiving is a choice, an action of mind and heart. When we feel deeply wronged, it is obviously not easy. As Christian counselor, Dr. Deborah Newman, puts it, “Forgiveness is not an action we take without agony of the soul.”

Here are some reasons people decide to forgive:

  • Medical evidence indicates that long-held resentments cause health problems, particularly for the heart.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., said “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
  • Dwelling on being wronged encourages a victim stance: helplessness, fear and being on guard for the next hurt.
  • Spending time and energy on revenge fantasies (unless you’re writing a screenplay) precludes following dreams.
  • Forgiving other people’s “sins” helps us forgive our own and move forward more confidently, yet humbly.
  • Forgiveness helps us learn empathy, arguably the most powerful of all human relationship skills.
  • It’s possible to forgive without forgetting.
  • Forgiving does not necessitate continuing a relationship with the person forgiven.
  • A feeling of self-righteousness can be gained by seeing oneself as a “forgiving sort.”

Here are some reasons people do not forgive:

  • The wrong is so diabolical, to forgive would be an intolerable injustice. As concentration camp liberator, Chaim Herzog (later sixth president of Israel), says, “I do not bring forgiveness with me, nor forgetfulness. The only ones who can forgive are dead; the living have no right to forget.”
  • Not forgiving the transgressor may be the only way a survivor of abuse can lay claim to a “self.”
  • Feeling “right” or superior supplies some people a moral code to hold onto or a feeling of self-worth.
  • Not forgiving may offer a trump card in a relationship, making the person holding a grudge feel more powerful and in control.
  • Holding fast to the other’s wrongdoing can allow a person to feel freer about not living up to his or her responsibilities.
  • Focusing on others’ “sins” may keep us from seeing our own.
  • Forgiving is a letting go which can create anxiety because we don’t know what will happen when we do.

Whichever choice we make, there are resources. The International Forgiveness Institute at the University of Wisconsin ( is dedicated to “helping people gain knowledge about forgiveness and use that knowledge for personal, group and societal renewal.” And there’s the time-proven book by the somewhat misleading title, “Forgive and Forget,” by Lewis Smedes.

Next month we’ll explore ways to either forgive or remain unforgiving. As always, I welcome your comments.

Nancy Norman is a licensed clinical social worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at




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