Can You Forgive When There’s No Apology?
It can be hard to forgive, especially when the hurt is deep or when the offender doesn’t even apologize. But there is power that comes in being able to forgive, even when we never get an apology.
Most of us are taught to apologize from a young age. We bite a sibling, pull the cat’s tail, or push someone on the playground - some well-meaning adult intervenes and tells us, “Now, say you’re sorry.” Half-hearted apologies ensue along with forced hugs that all is right in the world. But something changes as we age. Apologies are harder to come by and pain cuts deeper than a tug on the tail of the family pet.
From our playground lessons, we’ve been conditioned that forgiveness follows an apology. But things change and people forget how to apologize; sometimes (often?) the offender doesn't even realize they've offended you. And our pain becomes “our problem.” We’re wrong for being hurt, and the result can leave us bitter.
When pain remains unforgiven, the matter is, in essence, unresolved in our hearts and minds. We wait for an apology in order to have closure. Wait long enough and our hearts become heavy, angry and resentful.
Maybe you were hurt as a child, maybe someone cheated on you or bullied you or even assaulted you. That pain can run really deep.
You can't even wrap your head around the fact that someone you loved could hurt you so badly when you didn’t do anything to deserve it. How could someone you love(d) hurt you so badly and not care?
That anger can bleed into all your other relationships. You might become angry, always carrying blame with you, blaming it on the perpetrator. Believing that if they would just admit they were wrong, your life would instantly be better. Maybe you even dream about revenge.
You might feel like you have a right to be angry. You have a right to hold a grudge.
Bitterness though, is an enemy of strength. You cannot be strong and move forward with your life while still dragging around the heaviness of the pain from your past. Bitterness, anger, and unresolved hurt actually weakens you. They keep you held down.
What they don’t teach you as a kid is that forgiveness is more for you than it is for the other person. Forgiveness is not, “I am OK with what you did.” It isn’t even, “I accept your apology.” It is, “I am not going to hold this against you anymore.”
This might take you years, maybe even decades, to reach the point where you realized you will never get that apology you think you need, but you have a choice. You can live your life angry, feeling abandoned, hurt or unloved, or you can recognize that this was their fault and leave them to live with that.
You don't have to rebuild a relationship with everyone you've forgiven. Just because you are at peace, doesn't mean they're not still toxic.
Forgiveness doesn’t free the other person; it frees you. This means you can forgive, and bring closure to a hurt that you are holding on to, even if the other person never reaches out in apology.
If you find it hard to forgive because the hurt cuts too deep, take time to heal, but remember that anger is not your strength. It takes a lot of grit and heaps of grace, but forgiveness brings strength that enables you to heal and move forward with your life without constantly waiting for an apology that may never come.