October 20, 2022

Toxic Forgiveness: Why we Need to Stop Pretending we’re “Over It.”

I’m a cross between a grudge-holder and a people-pleaser.

And on any given day, I can be equally committed to both.

So…forgiveness has always been tough for me.

When I’m hurt or betrayed, it’s innate in me to want to forgive whoever inflicted that pain. I consider myself a good person, someone with a kind heart—and those kind of people forgive, right?

We don’t let a mistake, a poor choice, a disagreement (or even a few of those) eat away at our relationships or our sanity, right? We heal and work through the issues. And then we choose to forgive.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself in the moment. When I don’t want to come across as an insensitive, unforgiving troll.

And that’s when the grudge-holder appears. Because oftentimes, I’m still pissed off. I’m still in disbelief. I’m still disappointed. I still don’t know if I can trust this person. If I can have this person in my life. If I even want to.

So I find myself stuck, halfway between not really forgiving and not really forgetting—and getting angrier by the second.

I recently saw an Instagram post from therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab that speaks to this no-man’s land that exists somewhere between my head and my heart. And she gave it a name: toxic forgiveness.


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This has been me in so many situations.

I want to forgive because it feels like proof (mostly to myself) that I’ve moved on, that I’m over it, that I’m emotionally mature enough to not hold on to the pain or anger or sadness someone caused me weeks or months or years ago. But pretending to forgive or forget when all that hurt is still swimming right below the surface (hell, sometimes floating right on the surface) is pretty much the opposite of emotional maturity.

And beyond that, it’s unhealthy.

I was interested to hear more of what Tawwab had to say about toxic forgiveness, so I tuned in to this week’s “Red Table Talk” on my lunch break. Tawwab joined the red table to chat with Jada Pinkett-Smith, Gammy, Sheree Zampino (Will Smith’s ex-wife), and actress Jana Kramer about what she calls her “unforgiveness revolution.”

Here are some of Tawwab’s most beneficial quotes from the conversation:

“How do you forget these big things? Now, you can forgive, but I haven’t figured out a way to erase memory…That is the grace that you’re offering the other person: ‘I forgive you, I don’t have to bring these things up, but I also don’t have to forget about it.”

“I think we’re very rushed about feelings…it’s this whole culture of immediate.”

“[A healthy version of forgiveness] is the acceptance of the event. It is learning to be less angry, feeling less consumed but feeling flat for some things that might not be possible.”

“Just because we don’t forgive a person, we can still be kind. We can be pleasant. I think we believe that unforgiveness is being mean toward people.”

“I think about things as ‘healing’ and not always ‘healed’…I think sometimes we get very fixated on being done with the work and ‘I have forgiven.’ It’s like ‘I am forgiving.’ ‘I am healing.’ ‘I am doing better. But I’m not done.”

Watch the full episode below:

(Can’t see the video? Watch here.)


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