One of the most dangerous things about forgiveness is that it undercuts your ability to let go of your pent-up emotions. How can you acknowledge your anger against a parent whom you’ve already forgiven? Responsibility can go only one of two places: outward, onto the people who have hurt you, or inward, into yourself. Someone’s got to be responsible. So you may forgive your parents but end up hating yourself all the more in the exchange.
I also noticed that many clients rushed to forgiveness to avoid much of the painful work of therapy. They believed that by forgiving they could find a shortcut to feeling better. A handful of them “forgave,” left therapy, and wound up sinking even deeper into depression or anxiety.
Several of these clients clung to their fantasies: “All I have to do is forgive and I will be healed. I will have wonderful mental health, everybody is going to love everybody, we’ll hug a lot, and we’ll finally be happy.” Clients all too often discovered that the empty promise of forgiveness had merely set them up for bitter disappointment. Some of them experienced a rush of well-being, but it didn’t last because nothing had really changed in the way they felt or in their family interactions.