“I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who was not sorry,” ~ Unknown
I often see this quote, and when I read it, it resonates strongly.
I have been in quite a few different situations where someone has harmed me severely and never showed remorse or offered an apology. I then had to try to work my way through forgiveness alone, as holding onto the pain and resentment was hurting me far more than it was hurting them.
To entirely forgive someone who is not sorry and refuses to repent for what they have done can feel like an almost impossible task.
During childhood, many of us were taught that when we misbehaved and our words or actions hurt or offended someone, we should let them know that we are sorry and, in return, the person we had wronged would usually reply, “It’s okay, I forgive you.”
However, what we weren’t often taught is that it didn’t really matter whether we actually felt sorry or not. As long as the words were said, no one would really notice if they were shallow mutterings and there was no meaning to them.
In fact, I have heard many children—and adults—voice the word “sorry” with anger, attitude, and with a clear indication that they were not sorry at all. This may follow with sulking until the entire situation gets swept under a thick, heavy carpet until one day, something occurs to trigger its reappearance.
It is far easier to forget about an altercation when you aren’t sorry and you aren’t the one suffering.
There are also those apologies that start out with, “But…” The word but negates any offering that comes after it.
As we reach adulthood, we start to realize that there is far more substance to our interactions and dynamics with people than we were able to understand as children. Many of us become less naïve, particularly as we start to pay greater attention to actions, body language, energy, and the various subliminal messages that are hidden within everything people say or do.
When we grow up, we comprehend that “sorry” does not always mean that the person is sorry. Sometimes people do harm and neither say sorry nor mean it, as there isn’t a parent or someone standing behind them sharply nudging them to make sure they apologize so that everything will appear okay again.
Often the word sorry never appears, as not everyone wants to think about their actions and take accountability for what they have done.
A line from one of my favorite childhood movies, “The Parent Trap,” has remained with me and explains quite clearly how many people feel: “I’m not sorry, and I’d rather not lie.”
In these cases, what do we do when someone refuses to apologize, as they truly don’t feel sorry (or they won’t admit they do)? We still feel hurt, offended, angered or disappointed by his or her behavior.
When we cannot achieve external peace, we then need to do whatever we can to find inner peace, and this can be reached with empathy and compassion so that we can forgive the other person as well as ourselves.
Despite how badly we want to hear the word “sorry” from someone else, the only person we actually have to rationalize and reason with to regain harmony is ourselves.
When we feel hurt by another person and experience suffering, it is because we have placed an expectation on them to behave in a way that meets our standards. It doesn’t matter whether this is a stranger, a family member, a friend, or a lover—it all equates to the same.
People hurt, anger, or disappoint us because we expect more.
We expect to be treated respectfully, and when this doesn’t happen, we hope that we will receive an apology to explain why. This will then settle our emotions and assure us that they were in the wrong and we were right, that it won’t happen again, and that balance is restored as they have come to their senses and attempted to appease the situation.
Of course, this is not always what happens, and every situation won’t be dissipated just because of a five-letter word. However, that one word can go a long way to rebuilding whatever bridges have been damaged between two (or more) people.
Neither does that one word mean that the behavior expressed was excusable and that we have to instantly forget the injustice and act as though it never happened.
However, when someone opens up to us and is honest, vulnerable, and courageous and they accept that something they did has caused a negative effect, then healing and rebuilding can occur far more quickly and easily for all concerned.
If there is no apology, then we can work on healing ourselves and on processing what has taken place, and how we can understand what has caused the upset. We then give ourselves the opportunity to remove any internal tension and hopefully move past it.
We may hear people saying that a certain person doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. However, our forgiveness is more about finding peace within ourselves first, and is not beneficial only for the other person. Unless we reach a place of forgiveness within ourselves, our forgiveness won’t be truly given anyway, so it is imperative we first take time for deep introspection.
Just because we forgive does not mean we automatically need to drop all boundaries and allow people the opportunity to harm us over and over again. We can forgive someone entirely and still choose not to have a close connection with that person.
We don’t even need to contact the other person to let them know we have forgiven them. Reaching a stage of forgiveness is something we go through internally, so it is up to us to choose if and how we externalize how we feel.
Whether or not we continue to closely interact with someone we have forgiven who isn’t willing to be accountable will likely depend on a number of things, including the severity of the injustice and how badly it has affected our lives. We can forgive and heal from the trauma and still decide to maintain healthy boundaries if we feel that they are a risk to our emotional, mental, or physical health.
Sometimes an apology is empty, and at other times, it is loaded and sincere. There will also be times when the most significant apology is not the one that is voiced, but the one that is expressed through a visible change in behavior.
I would happily take changed behavior over a million voiced “sorry’s”.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to forgive someone, whether they are sorry or not, is by remembering this quote by an unknown writer, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently.”
We all mess up and make mistakes, and when we do, the length we are willing to go to make amends is really what counts toward whether our apology is heartfelt or not.
An apology is less about whether someone says the words, and more about whether they are truly sorry—and how they work on making things better.
It is often far easier to forgive someone who shows remorse than it is to forgive someone who doesn’t.
When there are no words and no changes in their behavior, we then have no other option than to work on forgiveness on our own.
Deciding to forgive someone won’t happen the moment we say we are ready to forgive. Like with most things, it is not about perfection but progression. So every time a memory pops into our head that reminds us of the incident, we can gently return to empathy and compassion to gain closure by repeating these words, “I forgive you, I am letting go and releasing myself from any pain and suffering,” instead of replaying painful words or actions.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” ~ Unknown
If someone intentionally caused us pain, then we are giving them what they hoped for by continuing to hold onto our suffering.
When we don’t work on forgiveness, we become emotionally anchored to the pain. Forgiveness frees us and prevents the betrayal from lingering on and affecting not only our past but also our present and future too.
Writing: Alex Myles
Main Image unsplash Mazhar Zandsalimi