Why People Don’t Forgive

Why People Don’t Forgive

In my NLP Coaching practice, I sometimes have client for whom forgiveness must be resolved before any significant results are possible.  Without intervention, some people will live a lifetime with the ongoing emotional burden of resentment because they do not and/or cannot forgive.

It is my experience that forgiveness happens in a moment. It may take years to build up to the moment and when it occurs, it happens in a flash and it is visible in the body.  As an NLP Master Trainer, I teach my NLP Coaching students to look for and recognize this moment of change in a person from the subtle physiological cues.

At the moment of Forgiveness, a client’s eyes may get wide or blink a number of times. The face goes white, muscles relax, and take on a hypnotic mask quality.  The mouth may open and close. Sometimes the whole body will shape, like a tremor or series of tremors moving though the body.  A sharp inhalation of breath is not uncommon. These physical affects are typically not conscious to the person and they are observable by anyone trained to look for them.

Assuming that the level of forgiveness is Unconditional Forgiveness, the client immediately feels better, shoulders go back, breath become deep, eyes focus and the client invariably reports ‘knowing’ that everything will be different from this moment forward.  Even a shift from one level of forgive to another will cause a big shift in behavior for the forgiver.  However, only Unconditional Forgiveness we would consider is true forgiveness.

“Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your
– Anne Landers

Here are some reasons why people do not forgive:
1. The violator does not deserve forgiveness.
2. If I stay angry, I have control over the situation.
3. I want to get even first.
4. I’m not willing to ‘forgive and forget.’
5. They might do it again.
6. The person is not alive (not here now).

Here are ways to counter the objections to forgiving:

1. Do it for yourself. The primary problem with failure that reasons not to forgive is simply that they do not work.  The only one suffering in most cases is the person who has not forgiven.  Forgiveness is not for the other person; it does the most for the forgiver.

2. Take your power back. The intention to stay angry is supposed to give control and restore the feeling of choice in the matter, but that is an internal state that comes from creating, enforcing, and maintaining boundaries.  Wouldn’t it better to stop giving your power away to the violator.

3. Decide you are safe and stick to your resolve.  Getting even won’t give you the safety and strength you are seeking.

4. Separate forgiving and forgetting. One thing has nothing to do with the other.  People often collapse one onto the other thinking that they have to forget.  That’s not smart.

5. Put the past in the past.  Deal with any new incident as a new and separate thing. This often happens in families with abuse and one sibling or other family member is trying to protect another.  Do what’s smart to protect people and `yes,’ the person could probably do it again, but when you have expressed yourself fully and the past is cleaned up, the old emotions don’t come up anymore to cloud your ability to think and act appropriately.

6. Do it for you! Do it anyway!

Additional notes: When the reasons for failing to forgive are fully addressed,  Unconditional Forgiveness is much easier.  I will ask my client, “Are you willing to forgive?”  Assuming the `yes’ response, I ask “When?”  Assuming the person says `Now,’ I ask, “Have you?”  If `no,’ I either go back to find out what was missed in the `Reasons for Not Forgiving’ or nail down a specific time
to forgive.  The alternative choice is to settle for any higher level of forgiveness on the chart. Even a shift from one level to a higher level will have big impact on behavior.  If the answer is “yes” I am done and we celebrate and I give positive suggestions about how life will be different from this moment onward. Most often, I do not assume that the “yes” response is valid quite yet.  I ask, “Did you?,” and I check (calibrate) for congruence.  I want to make sure there is no wiggle room or that some other part of the person does not have an objection.

By Bill Thomason
NLP Success Coach
Certified NLP Master Trainer
Reference: adapted from early work by Steve and ConnieRae Andreas