The only way that people can experience the benefits of forgiveness is to make the intensely personal journey themselves and freely choose to forgive. Pressuring or obligating people to forgive may do far more harm than good. A more positive approach can be taken by simply sharing your personal testimony about the value of forgiveness in your life, as well as your concern that a friend is suffering needlessly and forgiveness may help. Faith traditions consider forgiveness a virtue and central to their practices.
People who are pressured into forgiveness may give the outward appearance of forgiveness, but at the cost of denying their feelings about what happened to them. Especially if the pressure comes from authority figures—whether from family, faith communities, or the mental health profession—people who have been wronged may find it harder to turn to their social network for support. Turning feelings of anger, shame, and grief inward can harm people’s physical and mental well-being.
At its worst, pressure to forgive can contribute to:
- Blaming the victim
- Suppressing and denying negative feelings
- Excusing and tolerating inexcusable behavior
- Remaining in an unsafe or unhealthy situation and continuing to be harmed
It is more helpful to be a trusted friend and good listener. Forgiveness is a process, and listening as someone works their way toward forgiveness can be of profound help on their journey. And for those who have concluded that a wrong has crossed a line and is unforgivable, reaching a point of acceptance—of themselves and from others—may be enough.