The act of forgiving someone is often put on a pedestal. Self-help books and page-after-page of Pinterest quotes will tell you that no closure truly comes without first uttering “I forgive you.” Despite the phrase’s sterling reputation, psychologists say that not every hurtful scenario is resolved with three words. In reality, it’s more complicated than a cut-and-dry “forgive and forget.”
“Forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with how the person who hurt you feelings. It’s about how you feel,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a psychologist based in Chicago. After someone stomps all over your feelings and apologizes, you’re left at a crossroads. “The point is for you to be able to move on with your life and have some peace, so if you’re truly moving on, forgiveness might not be necessary. If you’re still hurting, then it might help to forgive someone,” says Dr. Daramus. Letting them off the hook isn’t compulsory; it’s a personal choice.
“The point is for you to be able to move on with your life and have some peace, so if you’re truly moving on, forgiveness might not be necessary.” —Aimee Darmus, PsyD
Obviously, emotions are slippery. So instead of wading into your #feels and trying to navigate blindly, Dr. Daramus recommends visualizing what moving on might look like for you. “If you want to move forward without forgiving, you need to have goals, or at least vision for where you’re going,” she says. “Short-term goals help a lot because you can measure ‘moving on’ and know when you’re doing that.”
If a recent breakup ended on a particularly nasty note, this mini-goals may look like deleting old text messages, booking extra dinner dates with your friends, and casually dating other people. If you find that these micro-moving on tactics are doing all the healing leg work that you need, then that’s that. There’s no need to backpedal and forgive your significant other. Chances are, you might forgive them without ever seeing or speaking to them again. And that’s 100 percent okay.
“It’s up to you, whether or not to let someone know if you forgive them,” says the psychologist. “What’s best for you? Does forgiving feel strong, or are you forgiving them because you feel like a bad person for setting limits with them?” You’re only beholden to healing that makes sense to you.
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