Forgiveness When the Other Person Isn’t Sorry

How to Approach Forgiveness When They’re Not Sorry (Forgiveness Series Video 4)

Our counseling and therapy clients can struggle with how to approach forgiveness when the other person isn’t sorry. What do you do if the other person feels no remorse? What if having contact with them puts you at risk of further harm? How about when the other person isn’t available? These situations present considerable challenges to those wishing to move forward in life.

Drawing from the work of forgiveness expert Janis Abrahms-Spring, I previously shared about other approaches to forgiveness that end up causing more harm. If you haven’t seen them yet, you can check them out here!

In this fourth video of our forgiveness series, I share about acceptance. As taught by Abrahms-Spring, acceptance is a healthy approach to forgiveness when the other person isn’t willing or available to help you heal. When it’s not safe to continue a relationship, moving toward acceptance can also be a life-affirming approach that keeps you safe. Acceptance can restore you to a sense of freedom, wholeness, empowerment, and possibility.

To learn more about this vital topic, watch our 8-minute video above, or keep reading!

Reclaiming Our Freedom through Acceptance

We want to reclaim our freedom in life. We don’t want to stay imprisoned by events from our past. While this process isn’t easy, we can learn how to move into a life congruent with our values. When it’s not safe to continue in a relationship with the other person, our freedom lies in acceptance. In other words, we only have control over how we understand what happened, and how we cope, and how we transcend that event.

Defining Acceptance

The word acceptance can feel loaded. So I want to clarify what I mean by the term first.

What Acceptance Isn’t

To clarify, acceptance doesn’t mean approval. It doesn’t mean that we don’t hold other person isn’t responsible for their actions. We can still seek justice, while letting go of our need for vengeance.

Acceptance doesn’t mean putting ourselves back in harms way. We need to be wise. As Brené Brown has taught, not everyone has earned the right to our vulnerability.

Acceptance Means Honoring the True Impact

Some people tend to dismiss the importance of their hurt, acting as if their experiences don’t merit being taken seriously. Life isn’t about creating a hierarchy of suffering where some people’s pain is worthy of our compassion, and where we deem other people’s pain insignificant.

“With Acceptance, you appreciate the magnitude of the wrong that was done to you and give full voice to the violation. You refuse to let go of your grievance until you’ve grasped its meaning and understood its effect on you. You may need to replay the injury again and again until the whole truth sinks in. “

– Janis Abrahms-Spring, How Can I Forgive You?

Acceptance Involves Grieving

It can take time to acknowledge how something has affected us. Sometimes the losses and the hurt comes in waves, or it catches us unawares. We need to make room for these feelings as they come, and not rush the process. Denial or trying to move too quickly rarely leads to better healing.

“You’re likely to experience many losses at this time—losses regarding the way you know yourself and the person who harmed you, losses regarding the way you think about people and the world you live in. Whatever is gone or changed has to be acknowledged and grieved.”

– Janis Abrahms-Spring

Support Can Help Us Heal

Honoring the true impact of the hurt and allowing ourselves to grieve doesn’t mean that we’re going to live in that space of pain forever. It means that we allow ourselves to feel. If the prospect of allowing one’s self feels overwhelming, it’s a good sign that professional support could help.

We make sense of life through telling our stories. Therefore, finding safe people with whom we can tell our story can help us in the healing process. These safe people might be a friend, a therapist, or a trusted spiritual leader who can make room for our pain.

Acceptance Helps Us See the Big Picture

As we move deeper into the acceptance process, it can help to take a step back and see the broader context of the situation and the offending party. From a safe distance, we can try to understand what may have lead the person to their harmful behaviors. Once again, this doesn’t excuse their behavior. You can still hold the other person accountable.

Another application of seeing the big picture is seeing ourselves as part of the human family. This means that we’re just as susceptible to the hurts and injustices of life as anyone else. None of us are so privileged as to go through life without any bruises. This isn’t to minimize our pain! This means that everyone’s suffering deserves compassion—including our own.

We can exercise this compassion when we forgive ourselves for our part (when we had one) in allowing the injury to happen. Perhaps we did the best we could with what we knew then—and now we know how to handle things differently. Let’s give ourselves the grace of coming to terms with our own imperfections. We can then recommit to living in a way that allows us to stand up for our own dignity. Then we can commit to living in a way that moves us forward.

“Acceptance is not a failure to forgive but an equally powerful way of healing an injury when the person who hurt you fails to participate in the process. Acceptance is not an inferior, immature, or morally deficient reaction. It is a wise and proactive alternative.”

Janis Abrahms-Spring, How Can I Forgive You?

What Kind of Relationship is Safe?

When we still have a relationship with the person who hurt us, we need to consider carefully what that relationship should look like. It can’t stay just the same if we want to heal. Maybe we need to create boundaries that can reduce the chance of ongoing harm.

Sometimes we’re not able to reconcile, because the other person isn’t willing to do their part. In these situations, we may need to end our relationship with the other person and move forward on our own path. We can’t take responsibility for how the other person responds.

Acceptance & Moving Forward

If the other person won’t engage in a sincere process of reconciliation, we can do the work to free ourselves and move forward. In order to stay committed to living a life based on our deepest values, we may need to let the other person go. We can leave the other person in the arms of the universe. We can concern ourselves with things we can actually influence: our own healing and our own dedication to adding goodness to the world.

Also, be sure to watch our final video on how to achieve genuine forgiveness.

If you need help with the process of acceptance and moving forward, call us! In a compassionate way, we’d love to help coming to terms with your pain so you can live with more freedom and joy.



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About Paul Sigafus

I'm Paul - the Director of Colorado Counseling Center and a Certified EFT Couples Therapist & Supervisor. My passion is helping people learn how to love each other and themselves, because I know from personal experience that the best way to grow stronger is to grow together. My enthusiasm for being a marriage counselor notwithstanding, I find my greatest joy and passion in life in loving my wife and children, and in creating with them a life full of warmth, love, joy, gratitude, and togetherness.

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