How to know if I've truly forgiven someone

This is something I have been wondering for a long time now. I have been abused in the past and I believe I’ve forgiven the person but I still don’t trust them. I don’t have any ill will towards them but at the same time their behavior has not changed so I don’t have any positive feelings towards them either. I don’t feel emotionally safe with this individual so the best that I do is act cordial with them. Is this true forgiveness? Or do I still have a grudge against them? Is there a difference between having emotional scars and wanting restitution?

I truly want to forgive because I don’t want this holding me back in my life and I don’t want to keep reliving the past. I’m just not sure what it means to really forgive someone when there’s such a gray area when it comes to emotional damage and holding a grudge.

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@Luna Praying for healing in your heart and mind :slight_smile: My opinion is that forgiveness is not about having positive feelings for someone or restoring a relationship when they refuse to repent / change. Forgiveness means that I can pray for those who have hurt me, “Lord, please have mercy in their lives and bring them to repentance.” It means I can desire for them the same grace that God has shown me.

But Christ also calls us to act justly and practice wisdom. We must set healthy boundaries in order to heal and if someone is doing evil, they should be brought to justice. The saints before the throne in Revelation cry out for God’s justice and in Scripture we see God bring justice upon those who oppress others.

  • abuse is never okay, emotional or physical
  • it is natural to desire justice
  • healthy boundaries are a must
  • it is not wise to trust someone who has a history of abusive or manipulative behavior - in fact I think distance would be good for healing

Video Resource on Overcoming a Grudge

I thought this video had some helpful ideas regarding overcoming a grudge. She did a thought exercise where she imagined what the people who kidnapped her husband must have been through as children to make them like this and it helped her developed empathy / let go of the anger. The video also had some helpful clarifications about the nature of forgiveness. The part about a healthy body I’m not sure about scientifically, but I thought the other points were helpful.

  • forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation
  • forgiveness does not mean condoning the bad behavior
  • forgiveness does not stop the pursuit of justice

Developing Empathy

I think what can help develop empathy is understanding that people are captives to the evil one. Reading the story of Casey Diaz - a man who was in maximum security prison for violent crimes and came to Jesus - helped me develop empathy as I read how he was neglected and his mother abused when he was a child.

2 Timothy 2:25-26 - Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Other Connect Threads

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@Luna Hi Luna, thank you for sharing your heart with us. Your desire to do what is right and the work of God in bringing healing in you is evident.
I am also someone with similar past and having had gone through years of work in this area, It is my hope to share some of my journey with you.

First, forgiveness is a choice. Jesus knows that if we don’t choose to forgive, we are only giving the people who had abused us more power over our lives, even if they are not physically present any longer or even if they’re not showing remorse of any kind. In choosing to do so, we are freed from the controlling effect of abuser and the person.

I can see you’ve had already made this decision for yourself and it is a liberating journey.

Back to your question…
There’s a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is having the relationship restored to what it was before. The Bible tells us God has forgiven us our sin and has restored us in the right relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus. We know we’re restored the relationship with Him as it was before the Fall in the Garden through Jesus.
We are all called to repent and be forgiven and restored with God.

In Matthew 18:22, we’re called to forgive. And forgiveness is alwasy costly, because you’re the person absobing the debt what that person owes you. Every time we forgive someone, you’re putting to death the opportunity to retaliate or demanding them to pay back what was lost to you.

In Romans 12:17-19, we are called to live in peace and as far as we can bear, especially if this is a family member. This is important to know we don’t need to act or love as if the abuse that happened doesn’t matter, because we don’t want to minimize it. But that doesn’t mean we can live or see or relate the person the same way as before either.

Drawing safe boundaries for yourself is the first step. Reaching out to other safe people to support you in this journey is very helpful too. We could only sometimes pray “Father, help me want to want to foegive.” And He will give us His power to do the rest.

I can tell you for me this has been a layer by layer experience, you know you’ve Fully forgiven someone when you no longer feel the controlling effect of the abuse over you or wrong done to you.

We can be tempted to find ways to numb our pain through unhealthy means.
I would to point you to another resource I have found my support group in Celebrate Recovery, it’s a ministry at local churches that we can find God’s healing from our hurts, freedom in Christ in our hang ups and habits.

Hope this helps.

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@Luna I think everyone can relate to the question of how to know if you’ve truly forgiven someone. And I’m so sorry that you experienced abuse.

Sean and Andi have provided some great feedback, a lot of wisdom in those responses.

It seems to me that your post is about three relationships–first, your relationship with God; second, your relationship with the abuser; and third, because abuse can do a great deal of damage to a person’s feeling of worth and their identity, your relationship with yourself.

Like many things in our Christian walk, things can be both a forever and a everyday choice. For example when we accept Christ and become His, in Him we are a new creation–our old self is gone. But we also find ourselves having to put our “self” to death continually with the choices we make. I think forgiveness is a bit like this. We can forgive an offender, and mean it with all our hearts, but because of pain and consequences of what the offense did to your life the memory is still there and ill feelings can keep surfacing. It seems natural to wonder have I really forgiven? I think the important thing was your choice to forgive, but it may be that throughout the process of healing and restoration you will have to continually choose to forgive. And I don’t mean this to say that you haven’t fully forgiven your abuser, but that because ill feelings may surface you may need the process of forgiving over and over as a reminder and affirmation of your choice to forgive. (I know what I’m trying to say, I’m just not sure if I’m doing it very well.)

Concerning your relationship with God. Everything about your post confirms this relationship is an important priority for you and the one you put first. I think this is an opportunity to allow God to do the “heavy lifting.” Since He knows you better than you know yourself, ask Him to bring you the peace of knowing you’ve forgiven to the depths of your being. Trust that He will bring you to this place, for we have His promise that He will complete His work in us.

Concerning your relationship with yourself. Healing from abuse is a long process, as Andi said, layers. Abuse creates a lot of survival/coping mechanisms in our person that may not be consistent with the wholeness in Christ we should all strive to attain, but it can take years to identify them and heal them. So extend yourself a lot of grace and a lot of time. Make yourself a priority in that process. Be safe. Set boundaries. Seek counseling. God is on your side. God is with you. God wants you to be FULLY restored.

Concerning your relationship with the abuser. You are obviously in a situation where this person cannot be entirely avoided. If this person’s behavior has not changed, then they have obviously not repented. And while God’s goal is also the full restoration of your abuser, that process can’t begin until they also reach out to God. Once at a revival I heard a pastor preach on forgiveness. He said if a dog bites you you can forgive the dog, but it doesn’t mean you have to put your hand out for the dog to bite you again. Protecting yourself from abuse does not mean you have not fully forgiven. If they repent and change and seek their own healing and restoration it may be possible for there to one day be a full reconciliation where your don’t feel a lack of trust with this person.

Another aspect of full restoration for you both, if your abuser takes the route of repentance and restoration, is forgetting. Another pastor said this biblical ‘forgetting’ is not erasing the memory but releasing the offender and the offense. It means that you let God’s grace be greater than the offense—in God’s forgiveness toward you and in your forgiveness toward another person. Grace and forgiveness shape the relationship, not past offenses.

My prayer for you, Luna, is that God reminds you everyday how special you are and how vital you are to the Kingdom. That step-by-step He will show you His fingerprints on your life in this healing process so you can know that if He was faithful to bring you through the last step He will be faithful to bring you through the next step. God’s peace in you and through you, Luna. You ARE in His grip.

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Someone asked me a question this morning in regards to the relationship between forgiveness and repentance. In response I sent this reply:

I’m thinking that forgiveness is the action of the offended. Repentance is the action of the offender. Each action is deliberate and need not depend on the other.
One thing that has helped me is to think of forgiveness as though extending a filled cup and letting go, regardless of whether it is accepted or not. It is the prerogative of the other person to accept.
I think we often confuse forgiveness as a “once and done” deal. In doing so, we hold ourselves to an unrealistic ideal. Rather, we should think of forgiveness as a continual exercise, truly a “seventy times seven” experience.
One question that I would like to have fleshed out is the role of “restoration of trust” in the experience of forgiveness and repentance. Considering our human experience and the forgiving our debtors, both parties are imperfect, subject to make mistakes, and often question motives and sincerity. When is trust over-extended in an attempt to forgive? When is trust under-extended as an attempt of prudence?

I’m interested in your input with special regards to the last two questions.

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@RustinW I’m not sure if it’s for someone specific that you are asking your questions, but I’d like to respond.

First let me say I think this statement if right on the nose.

And I certainly have had the experience of forgiveness being a process.

Trust is a great question. I’m thinking is very much depends on the circumstances. Is it a circumstance of being offended? Lied to? Spoken badly of? Trust violated? Or a serious situation involving abuse and/or violence? Does extending trust again put you in any physical peril, or it is more a matter of having hurt feelings?

Also, even with forgiveness, actions have consequences. And losing trust is definitely a consequence when we have wronged someone.

The ONE we can trust is the Lord. The circumstance and process of forgiveness can draw us more closely to the Lord. It can be an emotional roller coaster where we really need our ROCK to lean into. My experience is that when I’m “leaning in” and growing closer I become more in tune with hearing God and recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Concerning extending trust to the offender a lot would depend on whether the offender has acknowledged the offense and has repented with a contrite heart. If the offender shows no sign of taking responsibility for the offense I would not extend trust. But I can never be certain what is in the heart of another, rather than rely on my own instincts for extending trust, I would try to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, for God knows the heart of the offender. I would ask myself is my hesitancy to trust my own feelings or the prompting of the Holy Spirit? I would pray for God’s protection in the circumstance until I feel He has released me to trust again.

Another element in the process is seeking to understand the offender. Understanding will not change anything, but it may shed light on bad behavior. We are called to pray for our enemies. So certainly prayer for the offender, even when we are not yet able to trust them may bring changes in our heart and theirs.

Do you have any experience with trusting or not trusting that we could learn from?

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@RustinW There are quite a few dynamics that come to mind with those questions. Since that’s the case I’ll give more than one answer to them, even though I’m the questioner in this thread, haha lol I guess since I posted this I learned some things about forgiveness.

When it comes to trust you have to be careful and be aware of yourself and your bad habits/faults/misconceptions. Sometimes people hurt us and didn’t know that they did, because of that we have to be sure on our end to express more often if we’ve felt wronged in some way. Being upfront and honest prevents bitterness and unforgiveness sometimes. Also, we have to be sure we aren’t being selfish or hurtful as well. You hurt someone and then they hurt you, this is why it’s so important for people to create a healthy atmosphere to discuss these things with each other. Most people in this situation you can extend trust because most of the issues are from bad communication skills.

Sometimes we can cause our own hurt with expectations that weren’t even discussed. For example, I expected my forgiving to change the person I forgave. That didn’t happen and it created more hurt for me. Sometimes our expectations just set us up for a cycle of hurt if we don’t use wisdom and pray about our situation. We also take the focus off ourselves and how we need healing and make the focus the other person.

Other times if the person has a history of displaying that you can’t be emotionally safe with them then trust in my opinion would not be an option. I currently forgave someone who was abusive to me. I don’t trust them with my emotions or other things because their behavior has not changed and when I see some change it’s not long term. Instead, I created boundaries that I enforce with that individual. They don’t like it but its what has to be done.

It’s not easy to make that decision and I would tell anyone not to rush back into trusting a person and don’t be fooled that you have to trust them in order to forgive them. Trust and forgiveness are very different things. The person who abused me has an addiction. So right now I can’t even give the opportunity until I see that they are going to commit and make changes in their life.

With people who don’t have such a visible issue like that it takes time to see their intentions and to see if they will go back to their old ways. If you see they are consistent then you can extend some trust piece by piece.

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Hi Jennifer. What a well-thought out and prayerful response to Luna. I have a feeling you have been through this process of forgiveness because your words speak so directly to her question and doubts. I can sense your concern for her. Wise words for Luna to meditate on. Well done.

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Yes, Luna, boundaries are key.

Have you read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. I’ve found it to be an extremely helpful book. It’s written in a Christian perspective with God as a key component on every interhuman equation.