Why Is It So Hard to Forgive Someone? (17 Reasons)

People often say “forgive and forget,” as if it’s easy to just let go and be the bigger person all the time. But if it really were that simple, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

Truth is, many of us find it hard to forgive because it really tests us in many ways. It makes us question what we think is right or wrong and how we deal with our feelings. Often, we hold onto our hurt not because we want to but because we’re not sure how to release it, or we’re scared of what might happen when we do.

What if these difficult feelings are actually trying to teach us something? What if the challenge of forgiveness is really about our own healing more than anything else?

Keep reading to understand why forgiveness can feel so hard—and how letting go might be the best thing we can do for ourselves.

The Pain Is Still Too Raw

When someone hurts us, the pain can feel fresh for a long time. It’s like when you get a cut—it stings sharply at first. That’s very much how emotional pain works. If you find it hard to forgive, it might be because that emotional ‘cut’ hasn’t healed yet.

Right now, your first job is to be kind to yourself. Healing takes time, and it’s okay not to rush this process. Trying to forgive when you’re not ready can sometimes make things feel worse.

There’s also a layer of self-protection in this intense pain. It’s a natural response to try and shield ourselves from being hurt again. Holding back on forgiveness isn’t your heart being stubborn but is simply trying to keep you safe. 

The Betrayal Feels Too Deep

Betrayal cuts deep, especially when the person who hurt you was someone you were close to—a partner, family member, or close friend. It’s not just about what was done but who did it.

The pain can make you question everything you thought you knew about that person and your relationship. And sometimes, the pain is just so intense that the thought of forgiveness feels like a betrayal of yourself.

Trust is one of those things that, once broken, changes the entire landscape of a relationship. Remember, forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean trusting again immediately or ever—it’s about letting go of the burden of bitterness for your own well-being.

You Haven’t Fully Processed Your Emotions

When we talk about forgiveness, we often skip straight to the part where we’re supposed to let go of our anger and hurt, but it’s not that simple, is it? 

If you’re finding it hard to forgive, it could be because there’s a whirlwind of emotions that you haven’t fully dealt with yet. Maybe you’re still figuring out how you feel, or perhaps the emotional impact was so huge that you’re not even sure where to start.

Processing emotions is not something that comes with a manual. It’s different for everyone. Maybe you need to talk it out with someone, write it down, or find a quiet moment to reflect.

Rushing through your emotional processing can leave unresolved feelings that might pop up later. It’s perfectly fine if you take longer to process your emotions than expected. Forgiving may come in time, but right now, focus on understanding your own emotions portion by portion.

We Relive The Hurtful Memory

It’s like a broken record player, stuck on repeat. We replay the scene of the hurt, the words spoken, the actions taken—again and again in our minds. It’s as if by constantly revisiting the memory, we can somehow change the outcome or find a new understanding that will ease the pain.

Reliving these memories can sometimes make us feel like we’re right back in that painful moment, making forgiveness feel far out of reach. It’s like every time you want to move forward, your mind pulls you two steps back.

Breaking this cycle often requires conscious effort, such as therapy or mindfulness, where you learn to acknowledge the memory but not let it hold the same emotional control over you.

We Feel That Forgiving Makes Us Vulnerable

Forgiving someone can feel scary. It can feel like we’re letting go of our anger, and that might make us feel exposed and vulnerable. Like we’re opening ourselves up to getting hurt all over again.

We might worry that forgiving makes us look weak—that it means we’re letting the other person win. But remember, forgiveness is not about them; it’s about you. It’s about choosing to let go of the anger and hurt that’s weighing you down.

Here’s the thing: you don’t even have to tell the person you forgive them. They don’t have to know, especially if they haven’t even apologized for what they did. You can forgive for yourself—to release yourself from the burden of anger.

And remember, no one said you have to forgive the person directly. You can focus on forgiving the situation itself—that the event happened, that you got hurt. This can be a way to find peace and move on without feeling like you’re approving of what they did.

Holding Onto Anger Feels Safer

Anger can feel like a protective barrier, cushioning you from further hurt. This can be especially true if the person who wronged you hasn’t changed their behavior or doesn’t seem to understand the depth of your pain. 

But while anger is a natural response to being hurt, holding onto it for too long can become a heavy burden.

  • It drains your energy.
  • It can stop you from feeling happy and connected in other parts of your life.
  • It can make you feel stressed and can even be bad for your health.
  • It just keeps you stuck in the past.

You can say to yourself, “It’s okay that I feel this way right now.” Over time, you might start looking at what’s under that anger—maybe you’re scared, sad, or disappointed—and slowly, you might find ways to let some of that anger go.

"Withholding forgiveness is our way to reclaim a sense of power and control. We let ourselves be vulnerable enough to be hurt, and refusing to let go of anger and resentment can be our way to protect ourselves and somehow "hurt the other person back" or "make them pay for what they did" in hopes that will make us feel better.

Additionally, many people think that forgiving the person who hurt us means we’re letting them off the hook. However, the truth that many people don’t realize is that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, not to the person who hurt you."

Ashley Kreze | Registered Clinical Counselor | Registered Psychotherapist | Director, Real Life Counseling

Fear Of Being Hurt Again

If someone has hurt you once, it’s natural to fear it happening again. You might build walls around your heart, push people away, or avoid situations that remind you of the past. All in an attempt to protect yourself from further pain.

Understandably, this fear can make forgiveness seem risky. What if you let your guard down and get hurt all over again? It’s a valid concern, and it’s important to acknowledge this fear rather than try to ignore it.

However, living in constant fear can prevent you from experiencing the joy of connection and trust. Remember, forgiveness isn’t about becoming naive or letting people walk all over you. It’s about releasing yourself from the fear that’s holding you back.

You Are Scared Of The Emotions That Might Rise Up

Sometimes, what scares us most is the uncertainty of what we’ll feel if we actually try to forgive. What if the process brings up a tidal wave of emotions—anger, sadness, pain, and more anger—that you thought you’d moved past?

A helpful way to manage this is to take things slowly. You don’t have to rush into fully forgiving someone all at once. Think about it like dipping your toes in the water before jumping into the pool. Testing the waters with smaller acts of letting go can help you gauge how ready you are to face bigger emotions.

But remember this: you are stronger than you think. You’ve already come so far, and you have the strength to face these emotions. And working through them, even if it’s difficult, is how you can truly forgive and move forward.

You Haven’t Forgiven Yourself Yet

Often, one big reason you find it so hard to forgive others is that you are still being hard on yourself. Maybe you blame yourself for not seeing the signs, for trusting too much, or for not acting differently.

This self-blame is a heavy burden, and it can block you from offering forgiveness other than to yourself. After all, how can you forgive someone else if you haven’t forgiven yourself?

It’s important to remember that we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Before you can truly forgive someone else, consider if you need to extend that same compassion to yourself.

"We don't forgive ourselves for getting into that relationship, for taking that job, for not speaking up for ourselves, for not honoring ourselves, not respecting our time. We don't forgive ourselves for all the times we've abandoned ourselves or withheld from ourselves.

If you want to truly forgive another, you must first forgive yourself.

Bring to mind whatever role you played in the situation where you think someone else did something "unforgivable." Then say to yourself, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Because that's the truth.

Even events such as being sexually assaulted—it seemed like a good idea at the time to not fight the attacker. For whatever reason. It seemed like a good idea at the time to live.

Forgive yourself for making the choices you made because they truly did seem like a good idea at the time—or you wouldn't have made that choice.

Does that mean you'll always make that choice? No, often you'll make a different choice, although sometimes you may make the same choice again. Why? Because it will seem like a good idea at the time."

Paula Langguth Ryan | Sr. Negotiator | Mediator | Communications Expert, Compassionate Mediators

A Sense Of Injustice

Forgiving can feel impossible when it feels like justice hasn’t been served. It’s like seeing someone break the rules and not get any consequences.

This sense of injustice can make you hold on to your anger and hurt because it seems unfair to let go when nothing has been made right. You might feel that by forgiving, you’re ignoring the need for fairness.

However, clinging to that sense of injustice can keep you trapped in the past. It can consume you, make it hard to move forward and prevent you from finding peace. And here’s the thing—forgiveness doesn’t erase the injustice. What it does is help you to focus on healing instead of waiting for something that might not happen.

"Since we were kids, we were taught that things in life should be fair. And for the most part, it’s a good thing; it teaches us to be team players, good citizens, and kind human beings. 

However, holding tight on this sense of fairness... hold us back when we experience unfortunate events in our life that we perceive as unfair.

One of these experiences is being hurt or offended by someone, especially when we did nothing wrong to "deserve it". If we are convinced that things in life should and must be fair all the time, this situation of injustice brings imbalance to the world.

Our internal sense of justice goes against the idea of forgiveness; instead, our instinctive reaction is exactly the opposite—we feel the need to make things even. That is what makes forgiveness so hard—it’s contrary to our automatic reaction that comes from our deep belief of what’s fair."

Ashley Kreze | Registered Clinical Counselor | Registered Psychotherapist | Director, Real Life Counseling

You Are Addicted To The Benefits

Sometimes, without realizing it, you might find it hard to forgive because you see some benefits in holding on to the grievance. Here are a few reasons this might happen:

  • You get sympathy from others every time you share your story.
  • You feel validated when you tell others about your pain.

It’s easy to get caught in this cycle, where the pain of the past becomes a part of who we are. We might even avoid forgiveness because it feels like we’re losing a part of ourselves, that we’re somehow betraying the memory of what happened.

It can be scary to step out of this pattern, as it may feel like you’re losing something. But the truth is, you gain so much more—peace, freedom, and a stronger sense of self that isn’t tied to past hurts.

Confusing Forgiveness With Forgetting

A common hurdle in forgiving someone is the misconception that to forgive is to forget. This isn’t true. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you erase the memory or pretend it didn’t happen. Rather, it’s about letting go of the hold that memory has on your life.

Think of it like this: Imagine you have a backpack filled with rocks, each rock representing a hurt or a grievance. Holding onto unforgiveness is like carrying that heavy backpack everywhere you go.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is like putting the backpack down. You don’t forget the rocks exist—you just choose to stop carrying them around with you.

Pressure From Others To Forgive

Often, the people around us might push us to forgive, thinking it’s for our best. They might say things like, “Just let it go, you’ll feel better,” or, “It’s not good to hold on to anger.”

While they usually mean well, this pressure can make the process of forgiveness even harder. Feeling rushed to forgive before you’re ready can lead to unresolved feelings and a sense of doing it for others, not for yourself.

Remember, forgiveness is a personal journey, and it happens on your own timeline. Nobody else can tell you when or how to forgive. You don’t have to rush into forgiveness just because someone else thinks you should.

We Are Waiting For A Sincere Apology

It’s natural to want an apology from the person who hurt you. A sincere apology can be a powerful step towards healing and reconciliation. However, waiting for an apology can become a major obstacle to forgiveness.

Sometimes, the apology never comes. Perhaps the person who hurt you doesn’t realize the extent of their actions, or they’re simply not capable of offering a genuine apology. And sometimes, even if they do apologize, it might not meet your expectations or fully address the pain they caused.

You can choose to forgive, even in the absence of an apology. Forgiveness, in this sense, is more about reclaiming your own emotional space and less about the actions of others.

You Don’t Know How To Forgive

Maybe the hardest part about forgiveness isn’t the emotions themselves, but simply not knowing where to begin. You might be thinking, “Okay, I want to forgive, but how do I actually do it?”

  • Acknowledge the hurt: Recognize and accept that the hurt happened.
  • Express your feelings: Writing them down or speaking them out can help you see what emotions you need to address.
  • Decide to forgive: Make a conscious decision that you want to forgive, even if you don’t know all the steps.
  • Seek understanding: Sometimes, understanding the situation or the person who hurt you can help.
  • Let go of the outcome: Forgiveness doesn’t have to lead to reconciliation. Sometimes, it’s just about finding peace within yourself.

These steps don’t have to happen all at once, and they don’t need to be perfect. Forgiveness is a process, often a gradual one, that looks a little different for everyone.

We Don’t Think We Should

Sometimes, we get stuck simply because we believe we shouldn’t have to forgive. We might tell ourselves, “They don’t deserve my forgiveness,” or “What they did was unforgivable.”

And it’s true—some actions are truly horrific, and it’s understandable to feel that forgiveness is impossible.

In this case, it might help to redefine what forgiveness means to you. It can be more about freeing yourself from the negative emotions that bind you to the past. Don’t let rigid ideas about who deserves forgiveness prevent you from finding peace.

You Are Trying To Reach A Destination That Doesn’t Exist

Many people envision a moment when they’ll feel completely at peace with what happened, but in reality, forgiveness can be more complex and non-linear. It’s not about reaching a perfect state where the past no longer affects you because such a state may not exist.

Here are a few insights on this:

  • Forgiveness can be revisited and felt differently over time.
  • Some days, forgiveness feels closer; other days, it feels far away.
  • External stresses and changes can affect how forgiveness feels.

Accepting that forgiveness is a journey rather than a final stop can take away some of the pressure. It becomes less about achieving a specific state and more about gradually reducing the emotional hold of past events.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is forgiveness necessary for healing?

It’s a common belief that you have to forgive to heal, but it’s not always so simple. You can heal from hurt without forgiving the person who hurt you. Focusing on taking care of yourself and processing your emotions is a big part of healing, whether you choose to forgive or not.

What if I forgive them, and they hurt me again?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let someone continue to hurt you. It’s about releasing yourself from the burden of anger, not about giving them a free pass to repeat their behavior. You can forgive someone and still set boundaries to protect yourself.

How do I know if I’ve truly forgiven someone?

There’s no single answer to this. Forgiveness is a process, and it can look different for everyone. But some signs might include feeling a sense of peace, being able to think about the situation without intense anger, and having the desire to move forward with your life without being defined by the past.

Can forgiveness be revoked?

Once you forgive someone, you usually think of it as a final decision. But feelings can be tricky and change over time.

If something happens that reminds you of the hurt, you might feel upset again. This doesn’t mean you’ve taken back your forgiveness, but it might mean you have more to work through.

Forgiveness can be a process rather than a one-time thing.

Final Thoughts

Forgiveness is complicated, and it can make us feel a lot of different things. What matters most is how you feel about forgiveness because it’s a personal journey.

Here’s something I’ve learned: forgiveness looks different for everyone. One person might forgive quickly, while another might need a long time. Someone might forgive and still walk away from the relationship, while another might forgive and try to rebuild. There’s no single right way to forgive.

But I think the goal of forgiveness, no matter how we see it, is to free ourselves from the hold of the past. It’s about letting go of anger and resentment and taking steps toward being at peace.

Maybe what makes forgiveness so hard is thinking we have to forgive the person who hurt us—but that’s not always necessary.

Sometimes, forgiveness means accepting what happened—they did you wrong, and you were hurt. In this case, maybe forgiving the situation is what helps you move on. You don’t even have to call it “forgiveness” if that word doesn’t quite fit.

Don’t rush your feelings or push yourself to heal faster than you’re ready. It’s okay to take your time. Every small step towards whatever you choose to call your process—whether it’s forgiveness, acceptance, or simply moving on—is a step towards a happier you.

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Clariza is a passionate writer and editor who firmly believes that words have great power. She has a degree in BS Psychology, which gives her an in-depth understanding of the complexities of human behavior. As a woman of science and art, she fused her love for both fields in crafting insightful articles on lifestyle, mental health, and social justice to inspire others and advocate for change.

In her leisure time, you can find her sitting in the corner of her favorite coffee shop downtown, deeply immersed in her bubble of thoughts. Being an art enthusiast that she is, she finds bliss in exploring the rich world of fiction writing and diverse art forms.