Why Cheap Forgiveness Doesn’t Work

Why Cheap Forgiveness Doesn’t Work (Forgiveness Series Video 2)

In this second video of our forgiveness series, we define “cheap forgiveness,” identify where it comes from, explain why cheap forgiveness doesn’t work, and describe how it can actually end up hurting you and your relationship. Watch the video above or keep reading to learn more! (If you missed it, here’s our first video introducing our series on how to forgive.)

Cheap Forgiveness

As author Janis Abrahms-Spring describes in her book How Can I Forgive You, cheap forgiveness happens when we grant a quick-and-easy pardon without coming to terms with the damage they caused, and without understanding how it all happened in the first place.

Where Does Cheap Forgiveness Come From?

Here are a few of the factors that can contribute to a person granting cheap–and ineffective–forgiveness.

  • Conflict Avoidance: Most of us don’t enjoy conflict—so we think that “just moving on” is our best option. While that might work with minor issues in our relationships, for bigger hurts, our relationship deserves something deeper and more real.
  • Passive-Aggressive Behavior: This happens when we claim to forgive—we say the right words—but we still make the other person pay the price in other ways. We don’t address the issues directly, so they still control our interactions.
  • Alcoholism, Substance Addiction, & Abusive Relationships: When you’re in a relationship where your partner is abusing drugs or alcohol, or where a person is acting in abusive ways, a lot of things go awry. The offending parties in these situations often try to convince the other person that nothing wrong is happening—this is crazy-making, and can cause you to question whether things are really that bad at all. Clearly, this prevents real healing and growth, since the problem remains unacknowledged.

The Results of Cheap Forgiveness

Whatever the causes, cheap forgiveness doesn’t lead to increased safety, dignity, growth, or healing. It comes at a tremendous cost. In a way, it’s like sweeping broken glass under the rug—one that everyone still has to walk on. The cuts keep happing. The hurt continues. No one grows. No one heals.

Cheap Forgiveness: A Counterfeit of Mercy

So cheap forgiveness is a poor counterfeit of real mercy. It isn’t merciful to the offending party, because they aren’t really allowed the dignity of being responsible for their own hurtful behavior. They aren’t allowed the full possibility of becoming a kinder, more thoughtful, more responsible human being.

Cheap forgiveness also prevents real mercy toward the one who’s been hurt. Without responsibility and a real reckoning with what has happened, it’s hard to understand how you got there and what needs to change in order for healing to begin.

Although cheap forgiveness can seem like an attractive option in the short run, it carries a heavy long-term cost. It typically leads to some combination of ongoing hurt, despair, resentment, and loss of self-respect and dignity.

Real Healing

Don’t shortchange your self by accepting or granting cheap forgiveness—if both people are willing to do the work, real healing is possible. Your relationships are worthy of the best possibilities. If you’re in the Denver, Centennial, or Castle Rock areas, we’d love to help! Just make an marriage counseling or individual therapy appointment by clicking one of the buttons below.



In my next video and post, I’ll describe another pitfall: when we refuse to forgive.

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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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