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Two Types of Forgiveness

By: Dr. Jim Goldstein

Two Types of ForgivenessI think forgiveness is one of the hardest virtues to practice. We all know it is probably the right thing to do but there is something about doing it that brings up a lot of resistance. I’ve often wondered why this is so.

Sometimes we hesitate to forgive because we fear that if we forgive someone, we might be condoning what they did and perhaps giving them permission to do it again. We mistakenly believe that by not forgiving someone, we prevent them from hurting us anymore. I don’t think the two are related. I think those whom we haven’t forgiven still have the power to hurt us.

At times, we hold on to our resentments as a means of punishing those who have hurt or offended us. This doesn’t work too well either. It has been said that “resentment is a poison pill you take hoping the other person will die.” Unforgiven resentments tends to fester inside us robbing us of our health and peace of mind over time.

At other times, we don’t want to forgive because we might have to take responsibility for our part in the upsetting situation. Staying angry and hurt allows us to see ourselves as blameless victims and avoid confronting the issue of responsibility.

The First Type of Forgiveness – Healing from Hurts

In my Powerful Partnerships programI show people how to express what they are feeling inside, be it anger, fear, hurt, passion or joy in a way that heals them. When they are finished, they aren’t upset about that particular issue any more and the negative feelings they had don’t tend to get re-triggered by something that comes up later. They are able to say, “I still remember the incident but I don’t have any more emotional ‘charge’ on it now.” This is one type of forgiveness that I think is very useful, especially in a committed relationship. It requires self-expression to be successful. After practicing this for a while, my wife and I got to a place where our occasional arguments weren’t fueled by unforgiven feelings from the past. It became easier and easier to let things go and get back on the same team.

The Second Type of Forgiveness – Forgiveness as a State of Being

It wasn’t until I had children that I realized that there is another kind of forgiveness that has nothing to do with self expression or the healing of old hurts. In this experience, forgiveness is not something that you do or achieve, it’s a state of being. I was surprised to find that I held (and still hold) my children in a constant state of forgiveness. As they grew, I saw that they were often making mistakes or doing things that I didn’t like but I also knew that nothing they could do would ever need to be forgiven by me. My wife felt the same way and I’m sure parents everywhere know what I am talking about. Our children are already forgiven. For me, they exist in a constant state of forgiveness where the love between us can’t be broken regardless of their behavior on any given day. I don’t need to say or do anything to restore that connection because it is always there. I use to feel this especially when I would open the door to their bedroom at night and watch them as they slept. Whatever happened during that day I was always restored to a state of being where their innocence and my own were apparent. It felt like, “No harm, no foul, nothing to forgive, nothing to express—except love and gratitude.”

There is a big difference between the two types of forgiveness. In the first type, you believe that you’ve been hurt by someone and hopefully, you forgive them as you get over what is bothering you. The hurt is real and must be overcome and released somehow.

The second type of forgiveness is borne of the realization that, on another level, you are undamaged, always fine, the world is the way it is, and that is okay. You can forgive and accept it all because you are in touch with the part of you that can’t be damaged by anything. When I am conscious of this, I feel both forgiving and forgiven. I’m not there all the time but when I am, forgiveness feels like the most natural thing on earth.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about forgiveness or any of the above ideas. I look forward to your comments.


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