Is Forgiveness Always the Best Option?

“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

Oscar Wilde


Do we always have to forgive?……

Can we ignore the shoulds, oughts and have-to’s, the pressure from some religions and from the often well-meaning, peacemakers ?

Even time-worn sayings urge us to ‘forgive and forget:’

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” (Alexander Pope)

“Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” (Desmond Tutu)

“The weak can never forgive.” (Gandhi)

“Only the brave know how to forgive. … A coward never forgave; it is not in his nature.” (Laurence Sterne)

Without forgiveness, the famous quotes imply, we are weak, cowardly, hopeless.

It is hard to find quotations about not forgiving. There are exceptions:

I will remember and recover, not forgive and forget. (Dalai Lama)

“If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.” (Robert Brault)

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” (C.S. Lewis)

Whilst forgiveness may bring considerable benefits at the right time and in the appropriate situation, it is important that people do not feel pushed into this, to please others.

Perhaps there is no single answer to the difficult question of ‘Should we forgive?’ In reality, there are many ways of thinking about this. Each situation is different.

It is impossible to ‘advise’ on whether someone’ought’ to forgive another who has wronged them. We cannot know what is right for anyone else.

We do not have to forgive. Forgiveness is an individual choice and needs to be done for the benefit of the self. It may not always be helpful.

The Role of Psychotherapy.

It is hard to generalize about forgiveness; there are different levels of offence and ways of receiving others’ behaviour. Some things may feel unforgivable. For those who may have been severely abused, victimised, betrayed, or whose loved ones have been injured or murdered, perhaps, most understandably, forgiveness may be unthinkable. It may also be contraindicated for some people.

Forgiveness might not always  be healing or releasing. It could be disempowering. Not forgiving may actually give a hurt person something to hold onto, some personal power, in a situation where they have felt powerless.

It would be detrimental if one were made to feel bad about not forgiving. It would also be a denial of the depth of pain that has been suffered. One cannot merely ‘forget’ this.

Such ‘bygones’ are not ‘bygones’ when they still hurt and when there are reminders through dreams, flashbacks and terrible memories. Forgiveness needs to be an inner decision, made voluntarily and at a time when the trauma survivor is ready.

What is crucial is that thoughts and feelings accompanying a lack of forgiveness are prevented from ruling- and ruining- one’s life. 

Feeling grudges, remaining angry and ruminating bitterly over many years, is traumatic and self-destructive. Psychotherapy can enable people understand, work through and let go of such issues, so that they do not take over as much. 

Whilst the memories will never disappear, (can some things ever be forgotten?they may become less potent and people can feel freer as a result. They are helped to  manage the memories better.

Once worked through, vengefulness towards another matters less. They become less significant, their power has gone. They may not be as prominent in one’s thoughts.


Can you forgive someone who has not expressed regret or apologised?


If the offending individual has not apologised, some people will never forgive. Yet it is still possible for others to find forgiveness within them, even when the offence has been serious. They do this for themselves, for their own healing:


Sometimes, people feel they cannot move on without forgiving. This is fine, but, especially if the wounds have been deep, there needs to be an awareness that maybe they might not be able to trust that person again.

The forgiven one does not have be in the other’s life, or to be fully reconciled. Sometimes the relationship survives, but is different. Perhaps it will be reduced in terms of time spent or the quality will change.

Things will have altered; depending on the degree of pain caused, the experience of feeling wronged might mean that the bond has been altered forever. Forgiveness is different from reconciliation.

Feeling Able to Forgive and be Reconciled.


Image: Pinterest

Forgiveness can be a difficult process. It is important from the beginning that the hurt suffered is acknowledged by the survivor of that hurt. It is also part of the forgiveness process to grieve the betrayal, disappointment, loss, emotional or physical damage.

Emotions like anger, retaliatory feelings, rage and murderousness might arise, as well as sorrow and anguish.

Such feelings need expression,  preferably to the perpetrator. This is frequently not possible, but it can still be cathartic if such pent-up feelings are revealed in therapy or to another empathic person.

The process of forgiveness takes time, as does rebuilding trust. It does not mean that one pardons, disregards or condones what has been done, or absolves the perpetrator of all responsibility.

Perhaps there might, however, develop some objective understanding of what prompted the other to behave as they did. In time, it may be that such awareness produces new attitudes of increasing goodwill towards the offending person. Rumi has said “From understanding comes love.”

It is important also to have some insight into one’s own personal reactions to the hurt or betrayal that has occurred.

Forgiveness can have considerable therapeutic benefits. Research has indicated that

“…developing a more forgiving coping style may help minimize stress-related disorders.”

On a hopeful, yet still realistic note, I end this post with this thoughtful quotation:

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ― Louis B. Smedes


Would anyone reading this be willing to share their experience of forgiving/not forgiving in the comments box below? It would be helpful to hear people’s view and experiences if possible.

10 Ways Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Could Help You

‘We repeat what we don’t repair.’

Christine Langley-Obaugh



‘I can see no way out but through.’

Robert Frost



When we come into psychotherapy with a plethora of issues, we hope it will ameliorate our pain. Obviously, how much this is achieved will depend on both patient and therapist. Not everyone who has psychotherapy will experience all the benefits listed below.

As we have seen, the research evidence does indicate that psychoanalytic psychotherapy can be very effective.

It might help us to –

1. Gain self-understanding and awareness, through various techniques and therapeutic experiences, over time. This self- understanding often lasts and develops throughout our life, once we have the tools to apply it.

2. Help us feel accepted and learn to accept ourselves and others.

3. Give us alternative viewpoints; to soften a black and white approach to life and to accept there are no absolutes, only shades of grey. Assist us in accepting we-and those around us- are not perfect, but may be ‘good enough.’

4. Identify and explore difficult and often conflicting feelings and come to understand them. In doing this, gently challenge the defences we have built up in order to avoid painful feelings.

5. Talk about fears, fantasies, dreams and wishes as a way of understanding what might be happening in the unconscious. This might be influencing us and our behaviour without our awareness.  Feel more comfortable with and accepting of difficult material and issues that might arise during therapy.



                                          ‘The Royal Road to the Unconscious.’ Clipart.

‘Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.’



6. Understand the relationship between past and present and how past experiences affect the present in terms of behaviour, feelings and ways of relating to others. Patterns of behaviour that may be adversely affecting our lives and relationships are repeated unless they are identified and brought into awareness. These patterns will be recognised and explored in therapy.

7.  Understand how we relate to others; the therapist will use the transference. She will explore the patient/therapist relationship as a way of understanding how the patient relates generally in his/her life.

8. Comprehend that what we fear outside of ourselves may actually have originated in our internal world. This actually gives us more power to deal with such fears.

‘…our internal landscape begins to develop at birth and is a compilation of early relationships that have left their imprint on our being. Good and not so good. Our internal world is made up of real others (our parents, caretakers, siblings, teachers, places and things etc.) and our experience of them, our emotional reactions and feelings which become the fabric of the relational memories that have been taken in. So our internal world represents our intake of interactions and relationships as they have been experienced and understood at an implicit level.’



9. Develop confidence, self esteem and a feeling of self worth, through being heard and accepted in a non-judgemental atmosphere. Enable us to benefit from and enjoy our relationships more.


10. Through understanding, to either be able to forgive, or, if not, to be able to manage the pain of the past with more strength and fortitude, so that it does not affect one’s present.




Has psychoanalytic psychotherapy helped you? Please leave a response on the comments box below. Thank you. Linda.

Empathy: What is it and How Can We Show It? Find Out How Therapists Do This.



“Can I see anothers woe,
And not be in sorrow too.
Can I see anothers grief,
And not seek for kind relief.

On Anothers Sorrow
William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience


What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to put oneself into the world of another, in both a thinking and feeling way, as far as that is possible. It is really trying to understand how that other person sees and experiences the world.

There is a difference between empathy and sympathy or compassion. Sympathy is feeling affected by and sorry for someone’s situation. Compassion is feeling caring concern towards them and their plight and wanting to offer help. Empathy is a more total experience of someone else’s perspective, an intense attunement, putting oneself in another person’s shoes.

Empathy has been thought of as a natural aspect of most people’s personality, a fundamental, innate part of us that enables us to relate to and socialise with others. However, some recent research has indicated that it is mostly a learnt quality, influenced by upbringing and environmental factors.

This, and other research projects now mean that scientists can actually witness the areas of the brain involved with empathy:

With the technological advances of the 21st century, studies began using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to research empathy, frequently using empathy for pain as their experimental paradigm. Two seminal studies (Decety and Jackson,
2004; Singer et al., 2004) simultaneously posited that a specic set of regions of the pain matrix(specically the anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] and anterior insula [AI]) are activated both by experiencing pain and by watching others experience pain.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Image:Flickr. The City Project.

Science has revealed that there are neurological indications that can be detected when a person is feeling empathy:

Whether it’s watching a friend get a paper cut or staring at a photo of a child refugee, observing someone else’s suffering can evoke a deep sense of distress and sadness — almost as if it’s happening to us. In the past, this might have been explained simply as empathy, the ability to experience the feelings of others, but over the last 20 years, neuroscientists have been able to pinpoint some of the specific regions of the brain responsible for this sense of interconnectedness.


Why does Empathy matter? What are its effects in Psychotherapy?

Being understood is in itself a highly therapeutic experience; feeling that another has really ‘heard’ you and comprehended both the thoughts and feelings that you have expressed can only improve one’s state of mind.

Many well-known psychotherapists have underlined the crucial importance of empathy as a core skill:


“…deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift one can give to another.”

(Carl Rogers.)

Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.

“The empathic understanding of the experience of other human beings is as basic an endowment of man as his vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell”

Heinz Kohut


People often feel better after one or two sessions of therapy; this is most likely because of the fact that they have felt really heard. This is frequently an enormous relief, a new and freeing experience for many people, who might never have felt such care and attentiveness from another.

Obviously, empathy alone is not enough to bring about real lasting change; there are many other therapeutic aspects of the process.

However, empathy is important in helping create a vital sense of acceptance as an individual, validation, and safety, all through the process of psychotherapy. Without it, there can be no progress, no healing, no real connection:

“For it is an immutable truth, that ‘WHAT COMES FROM THE HEART THAT ALONE GOES TO THE HEART.’  (Coleridge)

How to show Empathy.

Therapist’s self-reflection is crucial, achieved through introspection, their own therapy and through regular individual and group casework supervision. In this way, a therapist can work though any personal blocks and obstacles that might be in the way of showing empathy to all kinds of others.

For example, if a therapist had struggles with a dominating father, then it might be difficult to show empathy to what is perceived as a dominating man in the therapy room.

Empathy can be shown in a variety of ways, both verbal and non verbal. For instance, showing a non-judgemental attitude is crucial. This is achieved through:

1.Body languagean accepting, open stance (arms and legs relaxed, unfolded), eye-contact, (but not staring) nodding supportively, mirroring the client’s body language and expression (subtly), having an accepting and warm facial expression.

2.Demonstrating understanding : gentle and accepting tone of voice, lack of judgement, never interrupting the client and allowing the client space and time to talk. The counsellor will often reflect and paraphrase the client’s thoughts and feelings to show this understanding.

3.Listening skills:There are several ways in which the therapist or counsellor can demonstrate that they are really listening. These are both verbal and non verbal. Listening and attending skills are crucial for the client to feel heard and validated.


Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible
Comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weight thoughts,
Nor measure words–but pouring them
All right out–just as they are
Chaff and grain together,
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them,
Keep what is worth keeping,
And with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

George Eliot.


Have you experienced real empathy in psychotherapy or counselling? Can you say how it helped? Leave a comment below.



Image: Flickr. University of Hawaii.