Forgiveness as Empathy


I wrote about how I didn’t understand forgiveness. When it comes to things as serious as major betrayal, assault, abuse, and murder, all of the cliches about forgiveness — forgive and forget, forgive but don’t forget, hate the sin but love the sinner — feel naive.

Within the context of a loving relationship, forgiveness makes sense to me. Forgiveness and reconciliation and deep love go hand in hand.

Within the context of abused and abuser — within a context where reconciliation is dangerous or not possible — forgiveness makes no sense.

A friend of mind suggested that a key component to forgiveness is empathy. It’s not reconciliation, or being an active part of your abuser’s healing, and it’s certainly not excusing or rationalizing their behavior. I guess, the way I’m thinking of it, it’s a honest awareness that humans are a mix of good and bad.

But it’s not saying, “Well, I’m a bad person too,” because the abused is not an abuser, and that’s a night and day difference. It’s not being okay with what they did. It’s not necessarily having pitying feelings. It’s not feeling guilty that you ever felt negative feelings toward them.

It’s just seeing the other person as human.

Not a demon. Not a “sinner just like me.”

A human.

To know what that mean, I think, requires knowing that you’re a human too, which is how forgiveness can be a process, and only comes after your own healing.

These are just my preliminary thoughts. What do you think?


15 thoughts on “Forgiveness as Empathy

  1. Marc and Ann

    First, thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your humility to admit, you don’t know all the answers yet! Great blog! Forgiveness is a process, forgiveness takes time, forgiveness may or may not include empathy, but forgiveness says that those who have been hurt often hurt others. Those who are healed can help others heal. Continue your journey of healing, continue your journey of forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enaid hiraeth

    I think that you have given so many an additional and very healthy, healing way to work through forgiveness. It does not mean reconciliation. It does not mean forgetting. It means letting go, forgiving again every day if necessary. It means finding peace in the midst of great storms and heartache.


  3. korie

    Yes. This is definitely my stance on forgiveness. I think forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator and everything to do with the victim- meaning, no conversation must take place, no contact need be mad, no mercy or removal of consequences, no reconciliation. Those things aren’t forgiveness. I think the thing that helped me to understand forgiveness is being healed from my own hurt. Forgiveness is difficult when you’re consistently dealing with triggers and nightmares and other residual effects of abuse. Once those faded (for me), I had more freedom, including freedom to forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mrs. Q

    Good food for thought. Now that I Jesus in my heart, forgiveness isn’t a process for me anymore. I don’t need to spend time processing forgiveness because He does it for me. There is this song by Christian rapper Trip Lee where he says “you don’t know what He did for me.” This exemplifies how changed I am because I see that most crappy behavior comes from sin. I don’t mean hellfire kind of stuff but our mistakes, even extreme ones. “Let those who can see…see.” God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, for example, would mess up…from murder to idolatry, and would eventually be back in His favor…every time! This is amazing love. To me love is at the root of forgiveness, and I believe every single person deserves it, even when I lose sight of His love.


  5. warmgrayblog

    For myself, forgiving others is vital for my own personal health. It would mean I am not longer holding on to whatever may have happened. Working in the counseling field I know that others think we all have the right to forgive or not and it’s ok to not forgive. I think it boils down to what helps each individual heal. I also think personal and spiritual beliefs can play into how we respindle to situations also.


  6. orthocursion

    Hello, Bailey,

    If I understand what you are suggesting, I fully agree. Empathy is a useful word for me to express how I relate to forgiveness.

    For me, forgiveness has been a reaching out (mentally or psychologically, at least) to another person—reclaiming that person as a “human”, as you say. (It does not even matter if that person has “harmed” me in any way). Forgiveness (for me) represents a matter of simply reaching out and accepting them as they are—regardless of what that means. Perhaps more importantly, at the same time, we open ourselves to all others.

    Of course this does not entail the addition of jumping back into the relationship—which might be dangerous or in some way injurious. But neither is such a possibility excluded. The specifics depend on the situation.

    The key to forgiveness, I think, is the openness in ourselves that leads to an internal release of our own feelings of hurt, loss, betrayal, violation, etc. This release is required to reconnect with ourselves, to heal, to become whole again. The event first becomes self “forgiveness” (which is to say, self-loving) which, in turn, is required in order to ever–if possible–extend that love (unconditional openness) to the other person – loving our “neighbor” as ourselves.

    I hope you can use some of these ideas to forge/expand your own.

    Be well


  7. Elizabeth

    This is something that, as I said last time, I’ve been mulling over a lot as well. One thing to point out (which isn’t a contrary thought, just an additional one), is when you say “Forgiveness and reconciliation and deep love go hand in hand…within the context of the abused and abuser…forgiveness makes no sense” you seem to categorize “deep love” and abusive relationships as two separate things which never intersect. The truth is, many times the abused *does* feel deep love for their abuser, which is, in part, why they stay. 1 Peter 4:8 — “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”. This is why I truly believe for many abused women, they must face a paradigm shift in which their confrontation/leaving of the abuser is seen as an act of love towards their abuser.

    Anyways, getting off track. I think you’re on to something with empathy, but I truly believe “Christian” forgiveness is even more radical — as another commenter said, the root is *love*. Not only to recognize their humanity but to love that humanity within them. I think a part of that process for me was letting go of fear — fear that God would show mercy to them, that God would love them “too much” (more than me?), that God’s justice would not be just. Once I recognized that forgiveness was part of God’s lovingkindness towards me as well as “my enemy”, I was able to open up towards the process of forgiveness.

    Loving this exploration of forgiveness.


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