Forgiveness is a complex and loaded topic especially to blog about briefly so I’ve decided to forgive myself (!) for not shortening this blog and accept that I have a lot to say on this topic that I hope can be helpful to you.


When the Jewish holidays roll around this time of year – there’s no escaping the topic of repentance and forgiveness. The holidays can be a wonderful time to introspect but it depends upon how we approach our feelings and whether we do it with gentleness or with pressure and guilt.


In some communities, there’s a custom to ask others if they forgive you for any hurts you’ve caused them and for you to of course say “of course!”.Also, everyone from your mom to your butcher can have an opinion on who YOU should forgive (go cut the meat and stop worrying about MY forgiveness habits would you?!)   which can only make you more anxious and distance you from what YOU “you should just make up with him.. it’s Rosh Hashannah!”. There’s an expectation on some level for both of you to “let go and forgive” which leads some people to feel compelled to scour their conscience and ask “have I forgiven everyone?” and then guilt themselves if they can’t do this.


But sometimes…you find a certain resistance inside and you just can’t seem to let go of that hurt from last year or last week or three years ago…what to do?


Well …welcome to being  a human being where you can’t always fit yourself into a mold of shoulds!. So rather than making yourself feel guilty or “shoulding” yourself into it- I want to suggest that you clear some quiet time to reflect on your feelings. Here are some things to consider and reflect on that can support you as you do this:


1) Spend some quality time with your heart: Ask yourself these questions: What’s still bothering me here?  Why might I still be holding onto my anger/ hurt/ judgement of this person? Does it feel unfinished? What am I hoping will happen here? What do I feel I need to have things feel more resolved? How is my holding onto this anger serving me in some way?  What does it do for me?


Be open and gentle with yourself in this process. See what the pain is and see if you might be holding onto this hurt longer than you need to.  Open to whatever sensations, feelings and answers (or confusion/ uncertainty) come up and allow whatever they are- so you can get clearer before you do anything. 


Then consider: have you tried to talk about your feelings with the person who hurt you (this is not always a good idea; it depends on whether that person is someone who CAN hear you, what stance you take with them e.g.accusatory? open? etc.). If not -what stops you? Maybe you still feel you need some acknowledgement from the person that they get how they’ve hurt you or maybe you may feel you need more time to sort it out. Try to be honest with yourself about HOW long you’ve been carrying this around?… are you needing more time to sort out your feelings or just stewing….?!


Most importantly, see if/ what you can learn more about your own process here. If you’re still holding on- what does your holding or judging teach you about you in relationships? If you judge someone- maybe it’s because you have similarly high expectations of you (and what if you could soften those a bit?!! and if you can see what that might be about for you).


2) See if you have  grudge collecting tendencies (and don’t shame yourself if you do. Just notice.). What if the person who upset you already apologized and you still cant let go? .


Consider-  How does this serve me to carry these grudges or judgements about them around with me?.. (and it likely does in SOME way or you wouldn’t be holding it!) What am I afraid I will lose if I let go? Is there a way I have a tendency to do this often- feel hurt very frequently- and if so what can I learn about me from this pattern I have? I wonder why I hold on so tight to my hurt? Keep an eye out for whether you seem to feel slighted VERY often. This could be something to address in therapy that will help you learn about yourself.


Sometimes we feel we need to hold onto our anger as a protection against being hurt again by that person. “If I stay angry at him- he can’t hurt me again.”. (After all anger can feel easier to feel than hurt!)  And then you might consider that. What is it about this relationship or about me or both of us that makes me feel I need to protect myself? You want to gently inquire layer by layer with kindness into your experiences as if you are talking to a small child and trying to find out what happened at school that made him so upset today.


In treating ourselves kindly- new petals open up inside our hearts- of us revealing our inner process. Maybe some compassion develops for ourselves.. “wow I guess I feel very fragile.. that I feel I can easily be hurt..”  Maybe you haven’t yet learned other ways to feel you can take care of yourself (by expressing your feelings further to another, writing them down, crying about the hurt or by sitting with yourself and feeling WITH your own pain instead of just waiting for the other to make it better….).


Maybe you don’t need as much protection as you think or it might make you curious about your fragility-” why do I feel I need so much assurance of safety from others? Something must have led me to feel this sensitive to being hurt. ” This may relate to how you grew up and you may have good reasons for your fear that are worth looking at and understanding if they are blocking you from letting go in current relationships.


3) See if you can befriend your ego! In referring to the ego here- I mean the part that makes us worry A LOT about how we look to others…. The part that can get very worried at times that we are defined only by how people see us (which is very limiting). The ego holds soo tight, it can’t think of other options for living… for learning, for forgiving ourselves.. knowing we are not defined by each moment. It has an urgent tone and forgets that there are many ways we can handle things and many aspects to us beyond this difficult moment or interaction.


The ego is often at play when your fear comes up saying “if I let go of this.. this person will think I’m a pushover…”  Okay. So try to be nice to this scared part of yourself. Work with this. ..(don’t ignore it.. try to see if you can sit beside it and hear its pain.. “I get scared if I forgive him- he will stomp all over me next time..”)  Don’t forget you always have options! If they hurt you repeatedly and you have not been able to get anywhere in discussing the impact it has on you- you can always opt out of the relationship or create more boundaries in it.


Also…ou might see if this issue has some levels to it that are familiar from your upbringing.. we sometimes have this irrational fear “I will lose myself if I let down my guard… “ Can we challenge this belief and see if its true.. ?


If you grew up in a house where your parent was always making you feel you were WRONG.. you may struggle to let go of  your hurt because you were never allowed to feel it.. or to feel you had a right to your feelings. This is worth tending to and exploring -not prematurely dropping when you still have feelings about how things were then. You may need time to feel and heal that pain which will down the road help you see how you might be still using your childhood defense in your adult relationships. You may not yet feel you have enough ground under you to let go. So wait .. but continue to explore…and work on it.


4) Consider the severity of the hurt There are so many different levels of hurt. If you’ve been abused by a parent or partner- the forgiveness can take years and you need to give yourself the space and time in which to heal. (And whether you forgive- is a complex topic). So try to be kind and not guilt yourself if you feel in your heart that you’re not ready. This is forgiving yourself for being human and for having many feelings for good reason….and this is an important forgiveness and compassion for yourself.


5) An inability to forgive sometimes teaches us that something needs to change

Sometimes in a friendship or other relationship-  something happens that feels so egregious- where your trust in the other feels betrayed  in such a deep way that things may feel irreversible. In this case to try and  force the friendship can be to betray yourself in some way.


Some hurts are bottom lines and you feel you can’t go back to the relationship like if someone is chronically hurtful or angry and unable to control their temper towards you or they betray you over and over again and it feels intolerable. More hurts happening overall than positive feelings with little interest in mending things.  So then what? Well if you’ve looked at it and learned enough about yourself  from it- sometimes the wisest thing is to end that relationship. This may be a way of respecting yourself.


But this too requires really looking honestly.. is this typical of you? If this is a pattern you keep repeating- where people hurt you and you quickly drop them… then this may be more about you and your self protection. Maybe you have fears about relationships, fears that you need others to MAKE you feel safe.. that YOU can’t make you safe and this something for you to explore about trust.


6) Forgiving but not forgetting- in some relationships may be wise – if they have been strong and you have a lot of history together- but feel there is a chronic area where you keep getting hurt- it may be wise to  kind of “file that hurt in a folder”. Not in a grudge collecting way, but in a way that keeps you aware of the limits of that relationship are..  eg “I can’t talk to him about this topic.. I usually feel he doesn’t hear me  when I do.. I’ll talk to someone else about it..  but I value this relationship enough to learn to adjust my expectations of what I can get and can’t get here”.


With parents who continue to be unconscious and hurtful, it may be wise to have boundaries  for yourself and recognize ” I only spend time with her for x amount of time before she insults me but I do want to still have some connection so I will have to remain aware of her tendency and work around it”. To force yourself to “drop it” prematurely and not have your feelings about being hurt- isn’t being kind to yourself.


7) Letting go of hurt- is a kind of softening to ourselves and to the other. When we know we value a relationship- even though the person has hurt us- it can take great courage to allow ourselves to soften to our own pain and to the fact that we all hurt each other. We hurt others… they hurt us.


My smartest therapist always said “relationships are sloppy” and I love this. It gives us permission to do our best and also to know we do mess up sometimes. . We say mean things, we do unconscious things that hurt others often unintentionally, we joke and accidentally insult someone with it.. we gossip because we have nothing to say… we DO stuff because we are human.


And what do we want when we mess up? That someone will overlook it and say “yeah.. you screwed up.. but I forgive you.. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”


When we can accept our our humanity- really ALLOW that we do mess up.. that we can and we will – but recognize our own desire to be forgiven and accepted and excused… something shifts inside us and we can open to ourselves and the other. In doing so we also have the power to forgive another and grant them relief from their own distress sometimes- about hurting us. This is really something.


Consider:  “what would I want? Would I want someone to overlook some things with me sometimes if I hurt them ? “ “maybe give me the benefit of the doubt that I didn’t mean to hurt them?” (I’m not advocating condoning when you feel the other hasn’t taken accountability; this is more about sometimes overlooking hurts). Most people are doing what makes sense to them. If they knew better – really understood the depth of how they are hurting you- they might be able to cut it out.


When you hurt someone unintentionally- you are often stuck in your own way of viewing things and can’t see any other way. Life is about this expansion to include the other.. to see what they feel and to know we sometimes just miss each other. Our intention to be kind and our love for one another overall (which if you can connect with the love you usually feel in a good relationship) is what matters.


Here is something I find inspiring to keep in mind- if you are a religious person trying to work with your guilt or if you prefer- to work with your own “inner father”…


It’s from Rabbi Debra Orenstein’s website:

QUOTE:, When Jews appear for Divine judgment, the angels say to them: “Don’t be afraid, the Judge…is your Father.” –Midrash Tehillim

COMMENT: In approaching wrongdoing and repentance, do you feel, as well as believe, that God is as intimate and forgiving with you as a loving father would be with his child? Can you fully embrace – and be embraced by – God’s care? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


If God is not your thing.. I would modify it- can you embrace your own experience as a compassionate father/ mother to your own inner child?


So don’t let anyone bully you into forgiving superficially. You are your heart’s guardian.. not your mother… or your butcher..  Trust yourself, be really honest in your reflections and turn inward for the answer.


May the new year help you embrace and accept all that you feel, and guide  you to deeper levels of compassion for yourself – which is the only way real change can happen and the only way we can forgive others.