How to forgive someone who keeps hurting you, and why, for the sake of your own wellbeing and peace of mind, you should make it a priority to do so.
How to Forgive Someone Who Keeps Hurting You
It’s not something I’m proud of, but… I have been known in my time to be a grudge-holder. I think it’s about self-preservation (I never really forget), and so I try not to beat myself up about it too much.
But there’s a very clear difference between those I forgive easily and those I struggle to:
If somebody does me wrong and is sorry, I forgive. Even if it takes a while for hurt / irritation / pride to dissipate, I forgive – with my whole heart.
Conversely, if somebody does wrong to me or my loved ones and shows zero remorse – saying sorry and being sorry are very different things – then I find it much, much harder.
It’s not the end of the world if you’re in a position to stop having contact with the person you’re in conflict with, but that’s not always practical.
And in those circumstances, you have to find a way to move forward.
When Being Two-Faced is The Lesser of Two Evils
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ll be very familiar with the negative connotations of being two-faced. There’s an unwritten rule starting in the school playground that it’s not cool, and we don’t do it.
Except very often we do. And even more often it’s actively encouraged.
If you’ve ever attended a family wedding then you will surely be aware of this phenomenon: where there are serious disagreements between relatives, both/all parties are usually urged to ‘please just get on’ for the sake of the family.
How to Forgive Someone You Can’t Avoid
Several years ago I found myself at the centre of a situation just like this.
It was extremely awkward and a very steep learning curve. I’d not asked for it, I was devastated by what had occurred, and yet I had to negotiate this unfamiliar territory with little experience and less wisdom.
My instinct was to avoid, avoid avoid!
But of course that’s not always possible, and there were some situations when I found myself facing three difficult choices:
- Avoid – and upset everybody because regardless of your reasons, you’re the one creating the drama by not being present (in my situation there was some irony to this).
- Attend – and upset everybody because you’re unable to face your adversary and be two-faced.
- Attend – and be two-faced. For a long time this felt like letting go of my integrity.
I used to be under the misapprehension that forgiveness is the same as absolution; but I’m more comfortable with another – arguably less noble – meaning:
‘To cease to feel resentment against.’
It took a while – several years in fact – but I now appreciate the value in ‘getting along’ with people I may not like or choose to associate with. Being polite to their face rather than telling them how I truly feel is not ‘two-faced’ in the traditional sense – it’s called being a grown-up.
Choosing Forgiveness and Letting Go of Grudges
I don’t want bitterness and anguish to blight my future, so I now make a conscious effort in all relationships to forgive and move on. Clinging to old resentments achieves nothing; it simply sucks the joy out of life for you and those around you.
My one caveat, before my husband reads this and accuses me of being disingenuous, is that I will still not choose to be around people who’ve repeatedly let me and/or my family down; I’m not a masochist.
Essentially, I’ve found that I can ‘fake it till I make it’, playing the part of somebody who has forgiven in order to avoid painful conflict has, over time, allowed me to truly forgive.
Not only does this version of forgiveness provide the capacity to please family, it means actively choosing peace and contentment.
I originally wrote this post several years ago, and a comment was left on social media asking me how to forgive somebody who keeps hurting you. I was literally asked the question ‘what are the steps?’ – so now I’m sharing my process below.
For me, the first step to forgiveness was realising that it’s not for the benefit of the person who has wronged you – they don’t even need to know they’ve been forgiven.
The Healthiest Way to Handle Disagreements
In relationships I care about my preference is always to discuss any issues, so we can iron them out and move forward without them hanging over us. Sweeping problems under the carpet rarely works in my experience.
In situations where having that awkward conversation is not an option, or when it fails to resolve the conflict, then it’s necessary to find a different way to move forward.
Cutting all ties is a luxury that’s not always available, with a colleague or family for example. When there’s no choice but to maintain contact with someone who has repeatedly let you down, it’s critical to your wellbeing to find a way to make peace with that scenario.
I found myself involved in a situation where I had to forgive somebody for the sake of my mental health, in order to be able to move on emotionally. But it wasn’t quite that simple.
Forgiving wasn’t really the issue, so much as how to move forward. Because forgiving doesn’t – cannot – always mean an immediate restoration of faith in the person who has hurt you.
For the sake of your wellbeing it sometimes becomes necessary to limit contact, because otherwise you can be drawn back into an unhealthy dynamic.
But how do you do that when the person is somebody you love, and who you cannot entirely avoid? When spending time with them is painful because while you have forgiven, you no longer trust them not to hurt you again?
This is different to the situation I’ve outlined above, in that there would be no requirement for being two-faced: your fondness would be genuine – yet cautious.
I had an epiphany, which helped me enormously.
A Different Way to Handle Disagreements, to Keep the Peace (and Your Sanity)
I mentioned above that the notion of being two-faced can be shortsighted, that seeing past a lack of respect for a person, and instead plastering on a smile and making small talk can actually be the more mature and appropriate behaviour in specific situations.
I’ve personally felt like a fraud and a hypocrite in those kinds of circumstances – yet I’ve known it’s for the best. The only person who feels icky is me, whereas ‘being true to myself’ would do nothing but make life difficult for everyone around us.
Forgiveness is a state of mind; it’s actively choosing not to hold onto the hurt any longer; it is not (necessarily) absolving somebody of their actions.
(Obviously this isn’t always the best course of action – if you feel zero sorrow about the fallout and aren’t trying to preserve anyone’s feelings, or if you never need be in the company of the other person then there’s little point in forcing yourself to pretend to like someone!)
But back to my epiphany.
How to Forgive in a Toxic Friendship You Can’t Leave
It occurred to me in the midst of this tricky situation that, while sometimes it’s necessary to consciously stop being invested in a friend or relative, you can go on enjoying their company when it’s unavoidable.
Essentially, I made the conscious decision to downgrade somebody I’d cared about very deeply to an acquaintance who’s fun to be around.
It doesn’t feel natural, and it’s not easy. But it was necessary – and it worked.
As a way of protecting myself from being repeatedly let down, I refuse to be emotionally invested in the relationship – yet superficially I continue to socialise and be friendly.
I don’t actively seek to spend time with the person in question because, over time, I’d inevitably find myself drawn to them and making an unhealthy attachment (again). But when I find myself thrown together with them it’s okay to make the most of that time and choose to enjoy it.
It’s not the way I’d choose for things to be; it’s not my preference. But it’s my life now.
Taking this attitude and severing my emotional attachment empowers me to take responsibility for my own feelings, and ultimately take away somebody else’s control and ability to hurt me.
The Exact Steps to Forgive Somebody Who Keeps Hurting You
So, when it comes to forgiving somebody who keeps hurting you, these are the exact steps I recommend:
- Recognise that the reason for forgiving them is to set you free;
- Choose to stop cultivating pain and bitterness;
- If you can, remove yourself from the situation;
- Accept that it’s sometimes the bigger thing to simply ‘get on’ when you have to;
- If necessary, allow yourself to have a genuine – but superficial – relationship.
It feels contradictory, but appreciating that it’s possible to like a person’s company while no longer being able to be invested in a relationship with them is very freeing.
Doing this is my personal version of forgiveness and being kind to myself.
Forgiveness is so difficult because it means putting compassion (and common sense!) above pride – and possibly integrity. But really it’s about perspective, and with a change in mindset anybody can learn how to forgive for the greater good: an easier life for your close ones – and for you too.