Sometimes it’s okay not to forgive

As I travel from the U.S. to Ireland to scatter my husband’s ashes, all I can think about is that this incredible man is finally at rest.

He struggled to maintain a relationship with his children after his divorce from their mother, and when the grandchildren started coming along, he fully expected to be a part of their lives.  Unfortunately that wasn’t to be.

But he put all of that aside and lived his life to the fullest.  His motto in life was:  It is what it is.  So when he was no longer permitted to see his beloved granddaughter — a granddaughter who had been a part of his life for several years — he took it in stride and went on with his life.  He enjoyed his family and friends.  He enjoyed his hobbies.  He enjoyed life.

When he learned he had a life-ending disease, he made no effort to contact his daughter — the one who had ripped his grandchildren out of his life.  He had his reasons for that decision.  And, in the end, it was his decision — and his alone.  No one else had the right to make that decision for him.

And he was certainly entitled to make that decision as his life was ending.

He often said he could never forgive his daughter.  And you know what?  That is okay.  Why should he forgive someone who wasn’t sorry for the pain she caused?  When he learned he was dying, it was okay for him to — at long last — think about himself.  Throughout the 35 years he and I were together, he always put me and our family first.  And it was wonderful to see him — finally — thinking about himself for a change.  It was nice to see him in a better place, at peace with his decisions, rather than attempting to forgive some who wasn’t sorry for their behavior, and someone who continuously let him down.

Here’s a quote I found about forgiveness:

“Many people fail to realize that we all have our own ways of healing after being hurt or betrayed. While some people feel the need to forgive and let things go, others struggle to do so.  Those who do struggle shouldn’t be made to feel bad or inadequate. Does being unable to forgive someone make you a bad person? Of course not. Does it make you weak? Certainly not.”

My husband had his own way of dealing with the hurt that his own daughter brought on him.  He wasn’t a bad person because he couldn’t forgive her.  And he certainly wasn’t a weak person.  He was the strongest man I’ve ever known.

At the end of your life, it’s you who have to live with your feelings.  And my husband — wise man that he was — realized that.

And, at the end of his life, it was okay that he put himself first and remove the toxic people from his life.


An understudied form of child abuse and intimate terrorism: parental alienation

The scene: a bitter divorce, and a custody battle over the couple’s 7-year-old son. Awarded full custody, the mother—perhaps seeking revenge? – sets out to destroy the son’s relationship with his father. The mother tells the son lies about the father’s behavior, plants seeds of doubt about his fitness as a parent, and sabotages the father’s efforts to see his son. The son begins to believe the lies; as he grows up, his relationship with his father becomes strained.

According to Colorado State University social psychologist Jennifer Harman, about 22 million American , like that fictional father, have been the victims of behaviors that lead to something called . Having researched the phenomenon for several years, Harman is urging psychological, legal and child custodial disciplines to recognize parental alienation as a form of both child abuse and .

An associate professor in CSU’s Department of Psychology, Harman has authored a review article in Psychological Bulletindefining the behaviors associated with parental alienation and advocating for more research into its prevalence and outcomes. She and her co-authors explain how these behaviors are the source of long-term negative consequences for the psychological health and well-being of children and adults all over the world.

“We have to stop denying this exists,” said Harman, who previously co-authored a book about parental alienation with Zeynep Biringen, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “You have to treat an alienated parent like an abused person. You have to treat the child like an abused child. You take the child out of that abusive environment. You get treatment for the abusive parent, and you put the child in a safe environment—the healthier parent.”

In their new paper, Harman and co-authors Edward Kruk of University of British Columbia and Denise Hines of Clark University categorize parental alienation as an outcome of aggressive behaviors directed toward another individual, with the intent to cause harm. They draw direct lines between widely recognized patterns of abuse, like emotional or psychological aggression, and the  of alienating parents.

For example, psychological aggression is a common form of child maltreatment that involves “attacking a child’s emotional and social well-being.” In a similar manner, alienating parents terrorize their children by targeting the other parent, purposely creating fear that the other parent might be dangerous or unstable—when no evidence of such danger exists. Alienating parents will further reject, shame or guilt-trip their children for showing loyalty or warmth to the other parent.

The authors also argue that such alienating behaviors are abusive to the targeted parent, and they liken these behaviors to more familiar forms of intimate partner violence between spouses or dating partners.

Harman is an expert in power dynamics in human relationships. Her research has found that parental alienation is similar to what’s known as “intimate terrorism.” Intimate terrorism is chiefly characterized by a lopsided power dynamic, in which one partner subjugates the other through intimidation, coercion, or threats of (or actual) physical violence. Such a scenario is distinct from situational couple violence, in which both partners have relatively equal power in the relationship but cannot get along and resort to physical or emotional violence.

Analogously, children are used as weapons in the form of intimate terrorism known as parental alienation, Harman argues. The power imbalance in such intimate terrorism can be seen in custody disputes, in which one parent is awarded full custody of a child. This parent wields that court-ordained power to subjugate the other parent by withholding contact or actively seeking to destroy the other parent’s relationship with the child.

The family court systems see these situations every day, Harman says, but judges, lawyers and social workers aren’t attuned to the prevalence of parental alienation as  abuse or intimate partner abuse. Instead, such situations are regarded as simple custody disputes, or the inability of the parents to get along.

Harman says she’s hopeful her reframing of parental alienation will spur other social scientists to continue studying the problem. More research into this particular form of family violence will bring greater awareness, and may marshal resources to better identify and stop such behaviors.


Why you don’t “need” or “have to” forgive anyone if you don’t want or feel ready to

“I don’t know what happened between you two but you NEED to forgive him!”

“You’ll feel so much better if ONLY you can find forgiveness in your heart.”

“The Bible teaches us we need to forgive. Why can’t YOU do that with her?”

“Don’t you WANT to forgive and forget? It will make you the bigger person.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever been at the receiving end of comments like this? Or maybe have you ever told anyone else something to this effect? If so, today’s blog post is for you.

You see, in my work as a psychotherapist here at Evergreen Counseling and as a fellow human doing this whole life thing, there’s a subtle but pervasive pattern I see that happens in families and social groups all too often: forcing or shaming or blaming someone else into forgiveness before they feel truly ready to forgive.

I call this Forgiveness Shaming and Blaming and I think we need to talk about it.

Today I want to share with you what I think Forgiveness Shaming and Blaming is, how this happens, why this can be destructive, and why you actually don’t “need” or “have to” forgive anyone or anything if you truly don’t want or feel ready to.


What exactly *is* Forgiveness Shaming and Blaming?

Forgiveness Shaming and Blaming can look like any message you receive from someone that explicitly or implicitly asks or insists that you abandon your experience and act in a way that they find more preferable — in this case, practicing forgiveness when you don’t really feel ready or want to.

(The statements in this blog post’s intro are good examples of it.)

Forgiveness blaming and shaming can be subtle or overt and it can often be hard to see, particularly if you’re part of a family, community, religious group, or any other collective that all buys into the same belief: that you should forgive someone.


But why is this such a bad thing? Isn’t forgiveness a good thing?

Please understand I’m not at all devaluing forgiveness. I think forgiveness can be a beautiful process that can have a multitude of physiological and psychological benefits for the person who is self-directedly working towards and practicing it.

What I find troubling is when individuals, families, or groups send the message to a person who has suffered that they should or have to experience forgiveness before they’ve fully worked through all of the painful feelings of the event or events that may have happened to them. 

In these cases, asking/insisting that someone forgive before or even if they genuinely want and feel capable of doing so sends a message to those who’ve been hurt that they should, essentially, self-abandon and feel something other than what they genuinely feel. And this — pressure to self-abandon by rushing to forgiveness — is usually the very last thing victims of abuse, trauma, or painful life circumstances need.

The reality is that forgiveness often requires a deep process of grieving and healing that looks and feels different for everyone. There is no prescribed time frame, no generalized benchmark for the forgiveness process. It takes as long as it takes. And what’s more, some people may never get to the point where they feel like they can or want to forgive someone who has hurt them. And that’s okay, too.

But when individuals, families or groups send the message that forgiveness is the end goal and something someone should or must do, it can, in my opinion, often be detrimental and further emotionally damaging to people in pain.


Why do people shame and blame others into forgiveness?

In my experience as a psychotherapist, the reasons why some individuals, families, and groups shame or blame others into forgiveness are complex and varied.

  • Perhaps it’s about “keeping the family together.” After all it’s hard to pretend things are hunky dory when there’s a member of the family angry and hurting about the abuse he suffered at the hands of another family member…
  • Perhaps it’s because the person saying you “need” or “have to” forgive received those very same messages from her parents. Maybe this is all she knows to be true and is now projecting that belief onto you…
  • Perhaps it’s about a group staying comfortable. If victims step forward, speak out, and aren’t “forgiving” their abusers, institutions and groups may have to do the very hard work of self-reflection and systems change that led to the victimization in the first place…
  • Perhaps it’s hard and triggering for the other person to see you have your feelings of anger, grief, hurt.What does it bring up for them that you’re having these feelings and not willing/ready/able to forgive? What’s so intolerable about your feelings for them? 

There are a multitude of reasons why people may subtly or overtly, conscious or unconsciously shame or blame others into forgiveness and while it can be helpful to explore this, I think it’s far more important for you to be able to recognize when you’re personally being shamed, blamed or forced into forgiveness so that you can hold your boundaries, trust your own process, and heal according to your own timeline.


So what can I do when someone starts to shame or blame me into forgiveness?

I think the most important thing you can “do” when someone starts to subtly shame or blame you into forgiveness is to remember this:

You have a right to feel your feelings. All of them. You have a right to not forgive someone or something that’s hurt you. Whatever you feel about that right now is okay. Your healing process is your own and you don’t have to be anywhere other than where you are. You are not responsible for making anyone else feel comfortable by feeling something other than what you feel. You get to have your experience.

The more you can check in with yourself, trust and honor your own process, and allow yourself to believe that you get to have your experience, the more empowered you may be to 1) recognize when your experience or boundaries are being dismissed or crossed and 2) advocate or educate the other person about this if that’s what you need/want.

You know, in my experience, most people aren’t consciously or maliciously intending to shame or blame others into forgiveness. They simply don’t know what they don’t know and, in many cases, simply perpetuate the messages and beliefs that they themselves have received.

Finally, I want you to remember this: Even if you reach a place of forgiveness with someone, that doesn’t mean you have to allow them into your life. And what’s more, if you never reach a place of forgiveness with someone or something, that’s okay, too.

By:  Annie Wright


I’m Done

I'm done


Our targeted parent came to this conclusion several years before his death.  Sometimes you have to come to the realization that, no matter how hard you try, it’s simply impossible to maintain a relationship with certain individuals.

And there comes a point when you have to put your well being ahead of trying to stay connected to someone who only brings you pain and suffering.

Watching him the final years of his life, I’m glad our targeted parent finally came to that conclusion, and lived his last time here on earth with those who loved him, cared about him, and among those who only wished him peace and contentment.