Why Forgiving Doesn’t Heal You
Most of us know how important it is to forgive people who have sinned against us. But we often wonder why we continue to feel hurt, shame, guilt, fear, or anger after we’ve forgiven the one who hurt us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I’ve forgiven them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me,” or “I thought I dealt with that a long time ago, but it still hurts every time someone mentions it.”
It’s been said, “You know you’ve been healed when you can tell the story and it doesn’t hurt anymore.” It’s a simple idea but there’s a lot of truth to it. The barometer of emotional healing is how much discomfort you suffer when you re-live the memory of an event. If it’s painful to recall an event, you may have forgiven the person, but you haven’t been healed of the emotional trauma it caused. That’s because forgiveness frees the other person of the consequences of their offense, but it doesn’t address the wounds we receive from it.
Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) In this verse Jesus was not speaking of heaven’s power to forgive sin, but ours. Although sin has eternal consequences it also has temporal ones. When we choose to forgive others it frees them of the temporal consequences of their sin.
When someone sins against us in a way that causes us emotional pain, our soul suffers a wound in much the same way that our body would if they were to hit us with a baseball bat. Forgiving them does not heal the wound. But there is a way we can be healed of this trauma. In the same way that the suffering of Christ makes possible our physical healing, it also makes possible our emotional healing.
Most of us are familiar with the verse in Isaiah 53 that says, “By His stripes we are healed.” This verse is usually connected with physical healing. But this chapter opens with a different emphasis. Verse one says, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Grief and sorrow are emotions that need to be healed. In addition to paying for our physical healing, Jesus paid the price for our emotional healing.
Our body and soul do not automatically receive healing. Just as assistance from a believer is helpful in obtaining physical healing, another believer can assist us in receiving emotional healing. (It’s possible to receive any type of healing by yourself, though it is not common to be healed this way.)
Emotional healing may require us to repent of sinful attitudes we’ve been holding. It often requires Jesus to show us the truth about a lie we’ve believed, and it usually involves Him personally healing our wounded soul. It may also require us to forgive ourselves. (Some people find this to be the most difficult part of the process.)
Forgiving the person who wounded us is important, but it’s only the first step in the process of being healed.
I’ve often found that part one of the reasons people find forgiving the person who wounded them is because they feel it’s somehow letting them off the hook or saying it’s okay, what they did. We both know that is not the case at all. People have the person and the wound (hurt/grief) so tied up together that they don’t know how to separate the two. They are not one, which is what you are speaking about above. But, as you also did say, Jesus also “borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows.” This was for us, our emotional healing. The forgiveness of the person is part of this process but it is also separate.
The first part for me was forgiveness. The second part was acceptance. Acceptance was shown to me. I saw, and continue to see how deeply “wounded”, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, perpetrators are. The difficult part of the “acceptance” is that many of these people are not able to “see” their “wrongdoings”, because they are too self absorbed. This is especially difficult when these people are your family members. If one could understand this, then one can separate the person from the “wrongdoings”, because they themselves were once victims, but are unable to forgive others and therefore cannot forgive themselves. You can get past the trauma, by inwardly praying and empathizing with the perpetrator.
I always believed forgiving does not free the other party from consequences but instead indicates I am releasing them from me deciding. I am releasing trusting God to decide.
I went to a well respected counselor. When he asked a question I shared each time this sorrow I carried. After each appointment I felt confused disconnected vulnerable fearful. What is going on!?! Finally he looked at me and said “I don’t know why you are so pourous, so effected by this person”. I knew what was wrong. I’d compartmentalized the trauma in one part of my brain and sealed it off. When reopened my counselor missed every clue, every symptom. If he was a surgeon he be called blind and removed from practise!
Thanks to ministry from true counselors (appointed by God) I saw this quickly. Out $450, some time and aggravation but wiser.
Now when I feel the sting of the trauma I meditate on what God says instead of the wounding party. Meditating very specifically is like pouring warm oil on dry cracked winter skin and soaking in it:).
The forgiveness keeps me from a bitter angry heart. Love this!
I don’t know if you are familiar with Celebrate Recovery, but I Learn that the first step to receiving your healing is to surrender the hurt and step out of denial. I happen to eb attending CR and going through the steps. Thanks for sharing.
CR is awesome I have an aunt and uncle who are CR sponsors. Thanks for dropping by!
Thanks for this wonderful article Praying Medic….
my friend and mentor June Newman Davis she and her husband Norm were was sent all over the world by Father God minister with signs and wonders following as an apostle, she has the most incredible teaching from Scripture Keys ministries especially in her books Scripture Keys for Kingdom Living, Scripture Keys Power Manual, and Shaping of An Apostle on Tri- Lateral Forgiveness. She teaches to pray, Father I forgive them, You forgive them and forgive me for any bitterness, resentment or unforgiveness that I have held them in the bondage of judgment with. Until we release others and ourselves we are in a prison without bars and it keeps healing from totally manifesting.
Also Holy Spirit has helped me by directing my to R.T Kendall’s Totally Forgiving God, Totally Forgiving (Others) and How to Forgive Ourselves: Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes. Th
During a period of my life when I found myself in a position that required forgiveness, I learned that there’s a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I was taught – from the pulpit – that they were the same, but they’re not. In terms of offenses against me, forgiveness is for me, reconciliation is for the offender. Forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation requires two.
At the time I wrote the posts linked below, I categorized them as personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. A quick re-read indicates to me they need some cleaning up, but here they are, nevertheless:
Thank you for this word! So true–we think we are ‘automatically’ healed and set free when we forgive–but–the wounds are NOT automatically healed at all—it is a process like the healing of a wound. The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal.
I always asked, how long do I forgive, or repent until it feels better inside. And it just took time, and the filling of God through His word, and through the understanding of the process of healing and forgiveness. The more full of the Lord I became, the less those bad memories were inside me. He died for it all, and when we fill ourselves with the teachings of Him, the less room there is for the bad stuff.
I think this article touches on an incredibly important point, and I hadn’t really thought about it this way: healing *doesn’t* come from forgiveness (though forgiveness is a necessary prerequisite). Healing comes from confession…taking ownership of our own part in this life. That doesn’t mean every pain I experience gains access to my heart and my life because of my sin. Jesus experienced deep emotional pain, even though He never sinned. But the healing part of that process…the part about being able to move on…gets gummed up in us because of our sin, even if it’s nothing more than the demand for our own happiness. There’s nothing wrong with a desire for happiness, but when the demand for it drives denial and entitlement and a victim mentality, it becomes sin and blocks the healing process and fuels both bitterness and resentment toward the perpetrator, the world in general, and God specifically. Confession grounds us to the reality of suffering as a necessary part of life and growth. Confession cultivates humility, which enables us to recognize the fullness of the suffering we experience without needing to minimize it. When we can acknowledge the bigness of the problem without needing to shrink-it-or-die, we then start to see the even-bigger-ness of our God.
It helped me to think about how I so desperately needed God to forgive me of my sin. How wonderful the gift He give. Then I realized that whether the person who wounded me knows it or not, they need to be forgiven. And in that “temporal” sense, they need MY forgiveness. It is a gift I have the power to give. It helped me to know that I had something they needed and I had the power to give it or to with hold it. That need it, I have the power to give it, so I did. It was like I took back the power they stole from me when they wounded me.
I wondered if the writer had been reading my mind when I read this. As a former working counselor and a life time Christian I learned the power of working through my forgiveness the heart kind! Where when you see that person or thing it doesn’t give you that yuk feeling. I am happy others think the same way. As for the lady whose counselor didn’t understand I am sorry. I would try a Christian counselor trained in EMDR..much luck and God Bless everyone
I agree with Julia. I think forgiveness is turning over to God the responsibility for dealing with the people and situations that have wounded us. My sister gave me a book on how to forgive. After I read it, as I lay on my bed each evening, the Holy Spirit would remind me of an event or situation and ask me to turn it over to Him to deal with. Some things took longer than others, but eventually I would release the person or situation to Him. At that moment of forgiveness, the pain associated would simply dissolve and disappear. The same event that was so painful a moment previous immediately ceased to hurt. That was nearly 40 years ago and none of those hurts have returned. The process is still working for me today, though “you need to forgive” is more likely how the Holy Spirit addresses it to me these days, and He will say it any time of day! Usually I can be quick about it, but a few things have taken time. Fortunately, He is still patient with me.