How NOT to Forgive Someone
By Thao Nguyen
I was listening to Usher’s “Confessions Part II” the other day and dramatically imagining myself being his betrayed girlfriend. I started thinking about whether I could ever forgive him (no) and what my reaction would be (lots of crying and screaming). The further I got into my Usher playlist (think “U Remind Me” and “You Make Me Wanna”) the more I noticed him making excuses for his bad behavior. This got me thinking about my thought process when I’m trying to forgive someone who’s done me wrong. It made me realize that the reason so many people have walked all over me is because I’ve fallen into the trap of confusing understanding for justification.
See, rather than trying to understand why people were doing things and later on discussing the problem with them, I was making excuses for their behavior. For example, a friend was constantly making passive aggressive comments towards me. I didn’t confront her or let her know that it bothered me. Instead, I made excuses for her behavior.
That’s just her personality and sense of humor.
She’s probably going through a tough time in her life.
Maybe I did something to piss her off and make her do this.
There are plenty of other instances where people have done worse things to me without me doing or saying anything about their actions. And my justifications of their actions meant I had a lot of people in my life who didn’t deserve to be there. I convinced myself that I was being understanding and forgiving, but in reality, I was only perpetuating their behavior and setting myself up to get hurt repeatedly.
Learning to be understanding instead of being a pushover required me to be better at communicating. Rather than assuming that someone had a valid excuse for what they were doing or saying and just brushing my feelings away, I had to engage in conversations with them about why they were acting a certain way and from there decide to forgive them. Going back to my earlier example, when my friend started making passive aggressive comments about me again recently, I asked her if she realized how she was coming off. It was an awkward conversation, I hate confrontation just as much as the next person, but it was necessary. It allowed me to truly see things from her point of view, and thus truly understand her side of the story. It turned out that she had no idea that what she was doing was wrong, which was why she never changed. Because we had this conversation, she was able to be more conscientious about how she came off, and I was able to appreciate our friendship more.
At the end of the day, you can’t understand someone based on assumptions. Forgiveness that is based on false assumptions can only last so long. Until honest conversations are had, understanding will never be reached and actions will rarely change. Sure, you can’t confront people every single time they’re short with you - sometimes it really is just a matter of a bad day. But when someone is continuously mistreating you, don’t just make excuses for them. Talk to them about it. Let them know how they’re making you feel and give them a chance to explain and change. Then, you can decide to forgive them or not. Forgiveness that is rooted in honesty will always be more valid and long lasting than any other kind of forgiveness.