An Attempt to Define Forgiveness

I believe forgiveness may be one of the most difficult concepts for people to comprehend let alone implement. I struggle to understand what it means and how to describe why it is so important. This post, felt impossible to write for these reasons. But, I know that it is a fundamental component to emotional well-being.

So, how do people go about forgiving?

That is the type of question that only the person asking can ever answer. Forgiveness is nuanced and much like Love it must be self-defined. Without forgiveness we become hardened and resentful and I do not see how that benefits anyone; particularly, the person(s) wronged. I do know it’s a process that unfolds painfully, uniquely, and organically. It’s personal and can not really be captured in words. In my own experience, it has been a slow shift. For some it take as little as a few moments and for others, it takes years or a even a lifetime. I believe people can shift in and out of feelings of forgiveness and that is okay. One moment a person may feel like they have reached forgiveness and the next sadness or anger returns and it feels like forgiveness is impossible again.

What follows are some of the words/phrases I associate with forgiveness. Further, I added the words/phrases that I feel do not capture the process of forgiveness.

Forgiveness (I think it should be capitalized)


  1. Freedom
  2. Act of self-love
  3. Letting go
  4. Moving on
  5. Understanding
  6. Courage (immense courage)
  7. Compassion
  8. Happiness
  9. Accepting the past as the past
  10. Faith
  11. Hope
  12. Peace
  13. One day at a time
  14. Gradual
  15. Patience
  16. Evolution

What Forgiveness is NOT:

  1. Not being mad/sad/enraged anymore
  2. Forgetting
  3. Accepting the behavior
  4. Saying it’s okay
  5. Done all at once
  6. A destination that once you’ve arrived you’re there forever

In the end, forgiveness is a personal journey that belongs to you and only you. No one can tell you when, how, or if it is even possible. But, it might just be one of the greatest acts of self-compassion.

“It’s not just other people we need to forgive. We also need to forgive ourselves. For all the things we did not do. All the things we should have done”
― Mitch AlbomTuesdays with Morrie

“We are calling for him tonight on this thin phone line
As usual we’re having ourselves one hell of a time
And the planes keep flying right over our heads
No matter how loud we shout, hey, hey, hey
And we keep waving and waving our arms in the air
But we’re all tired out”

– Patty Griffin, Forgiveness


2 thoughts on “An Attempt to Define Forgiveness

  1. What about Mercy? I too have struggled with the concept of forgiveness. Thank you for writing this post, it helped crystallize a few things for me. I guess, I understand it intellectually, but emotionally, I am afraid, I don’t. But not giving up the struggle…


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