Sorry, Not Sorry.

Apologies are made every single day, often without giving it any conscious thought.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women generally apologize more frequently than men. Some research suggests this is because men and women have different ‘thresholds’ for what warrants an apology. Women feel remorse over more minor slights, while men save their apologies for more serious offenses.

Receiving an apology can bring about a range of emotions: relief, gratitude, or even resentment when the apology is half-hearted or not accompanied by a change in the behavior that hurt you in the first place.

Hearing someone say “I’m sorry” doesn’t always heal the wound, but it does feel good to have your hurt feelings validated and acknowledged.

But what do you do when someone hurts you and either refuses to apologize, insists that there was no harm intended, or doesn’t even acknowledge the transgression? Can you forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness, or who doesn’t seem to be sorry at all?

I was sharing this thought with a friend and she equated this to loving the unlovable.

Scripture directs us to 1 Corinthians 13 which presents a difficult challenge for Christians: loving the unlovable.  This chapter is about showing Biblical love to everyone, including those who—because of their actions, words, and attitudes—don’t seem to deserve this love. According to 1 Corinthians 13, believers are to love the unlovable.  We are to love people who do not appreciate our love, do not reciprocate in kind, are demanding, and think of themselves as entitled.

Easy. Right?

Paul was writing to the Corinthian church because he wanted them to understand what selfless love looked like. Paul wanted the people of the Corinthian church to display the type of selfless love that Christians are called to live in their everyday lives.

That means you are patient and understanding with everyone – even those who are difficult to love.

People are not perfect. They may have wronged you and have imperfections that will sometimes cause you to be irritated. We are called to forgive and move on. God forgives us for everything we have done against Him, so surely we can forgive others and not keep a record of what someone did against us.

Biblical love has a high standard and we might not ever be able to selflessly love like Corinthians tells us to, but we must strive to love like this.

We must strive to love the way Paul calls us to love because this is the love that God has shown to each of us.

Finding the Path to Forgiveness

Knowing that forgiving others is good for us is one thing, but it’s quite another to put into practice.

Forgiveness begins with removing any expectation of remorse or reconciliation, and acknowledging that forgiveness does not rely on participation from the other person.

Forgiveness is Something You Do for Yourself

Professor Robert Enright, a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness and the author of 8 Keys to Forgiveness, believes the concept needs to be reframed as something you do primarily for your own peace and well-being.

Enright describes forgiveness as a special kind of moral virtue, in which we are making a conscious decision to give grace and kindness to someone who has been unfair to us.

Enright does not suggest ignoring the pain the other person has caused us, as we need to honor emotions as a healthy part of the healing process. However, eventually, we must make a decision to move on.

Clinging to resentment or anger indefinitely will not change the person who hurt us, but it may do damage to your own mental health.

Enright’s research indicates that forgiveness, with or without an apology, has far greater benefits for us than stubbornly waiting for an expression of remorse. Forgiveness can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and even heal from substance addiction.

Below are the Eight Keys to Forgiveness, by Robert Enright with tips on how you can start including ongoing forgiveness in your life.

  1. Know what forgiveness is and why it matters

Forgiveness is an act of mercy that you extend to someone who has hurt you. Understand that forgiveness will ultimately help you to heal and move on with your life.

This might look like deciding to let go of the pain a loved one has caused you for the sake of your own inner peace, and being able to redirect your energy to things that make your life more fulfilling.

  1. Strengthen your forgiveness muscles

The same way our physical body needs time and exercise to become stronger, we can work to improve our forgiving ‘muscles’.

Practice forgiveness by changing your inner dialogue, and refrain from talking negatively about people who have hurt you. You don’t have to say nice things about them, but resisting the urge to complain or berate people behind their back will strengthen your loving and forgiving emotions.

“Giving love when it’s unnecessary helps to build the love muscle,” said Enright.

“If you practice small acts of forgiveness and mercy — extending care when someone harms you — in everyday life, this too will help. Perhaps you can refrain from honking when someone cuts you off in traffic, or hold your tongue when your spouse snaps at you and extend a hug instead.”

  1. Address your own inner pain

Reflecting on who has hurt you and how is not a comfortable exercise, but it can yield some helpful insight into your inner turmoil. Doing this with the help of a mental health professional can help you to delve deeper into the true cause of your pain.

Sometimes, the things people do to hurt us are not objectively cruel or unjust. Perhaps they hurt you through carelessness, or unknowingly activated a personal trigger for you, or neglected you in a time of need.

Understanding these nuances does not invalidate the real harm done to you, but it can help you to start tending to your own needs and support you through the forgiveness process.

  1. Use empathy to develop a forgiving mind

Empathy and forgiveness are closely linked, and learning to practice empathy for those who hurt us helps us learn how to forgive more freely.

Extending compassion to someone who has wronged us does not need to involve any direct interaction with this person. Rather, you can imagine or reflect on what you know about them and consider how their actions may have been caused by their own personal traumas, insecurities, and emotional wounds.

Thinking about why they may behave the way they do, and recognizing your shared desire for love and safety, can be a powerful first step in letting go of harmful anger and resentment.

  1. Find meaning in your suffering

Suffering is a part of life, and pretending otherwise only sets us up for disappointment and a worldview skewed by toxic positivity.

Finding meaning or value from your suffering does not mean invalidating or minimizing your pain. For some, it might mean sharing your experience to help others through activism. For others, it’s reflecting on how your suffering has changed you for the better; perhaps through becoming more resilient and self-sufficient.

Using your suffering to become more compassionate and loving to others is a powerful way to strengthen your ability to forgive.

  1. Call upon other strengths when forgiveness is hard

For some, forgiveness simply won’t feel like an option in the here and now – and don’t force it if it feels impossible.

Instead, acknowledge that forgiveness can take time and effort, and consider all of your other strengths that you can use to help you.

Use your courage and patience to allow yourself the time you need to move on, call on your wisdom to reflect on all the ways forgiveness will heal your pain, and practice humility to understand that all humans are prone to making mistakes.

  1. Forgive yourself

If you find it hard to forgive others, reflect on how forgiving you are to yourself. People who hold onto grudges for dear life often have quite a critical inner dialogue and may struggle to love themselves and embrace their own imperfections.

Moving away from punishing ourselves when we slip up and forgiving ourselves can go a long way in being more loving to ourselves and others.

  1. Develop a forgiving heart

Extending love to people who have hurt you may sound impossible, but it is a powerful way to live in a world often characterized by cruelty.

Overcoming suffering and loving people who are flawed and sometimes hurtful develops emotional maturity and resilience.

Allowing feelings of bitterness or dislike to live in our hearts will only do us harm while learning to give love and forgiveness freely can open our hearts and allow us to love more deeply, free of expectations or conditions.

. . .

One of the best ways to shine the light of Christ for others is to set an example that reflects his image in how you interact with others. Ideally, when other people see us in action, they will see a reflection of Christ. Think of it this way.  We are children of God the Father; there should be a family resemblance.  As children of God, we should reflect the image of Christ in all we do.  This is best done by setting a Christ-like example. The Bible is replete with guidance concerning the importance of setting a good example.  In fact, James 4:17 makes clear knowing the right thing to do but failing to do it is a sin. Therefore, not only is setting a Christ-like example the right thing to do, but failing to set such an example is a sin.

For Christians, doing the “right thing” as stated in James 4:17 means doing what is pleasing to God.  This verse makes no exceptions for the times when you are dealing with unlovable people. Unfortunately, you cannot count on all people you interact with playing fair and treating you well.

Some people you interact with will be concerned only about satisfying their own appetites, ambitions, and self-interest.  Those who get in the way of these self-serving types are considered an enemy to be attacked.   When you are attacked by someone, it is only natural to want to respond in kind. As appealing as this kind of response can be, it is the opposite of how we, as Christians, are called to respond.

A better response is one pleasing to Christ, one that reflects His love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13.  Learning to respond in this way is not easy. In fact, for most of us, it is downright difficult.  However, it might make you feel better to know that setting a Christ-like example does not mean allowing predatory people to use you as a doormat. Rather, it means standing firm in your faith and setting the type of example that might convince them there is a better way.

As a final thought, but unquestionably the most important point, we can only be more like Jesus because as believers the Spirit of God is alive inside of us. 1 John 4:16-21 reminds us that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

For God and you,

Deb Bostwick