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How to react when someone won’t forgive you

Updated: Jan 30

The research of forgiveness - A short paper


Forgiveness is associated with greater relationship satisfaction, while the opposite - holding a grudge and ruminating, can have major effects on relationships and physical health. Studies have shown that forgiveness reduces stress and boosts the immune system. From a research perspective it makes sense to forgive, but this is often easier said than done when emotions are involved.

Being unforgiving is associated with reliving and rehearsing the situation over and over in your mind. This is obviously very painful to live with, while suppressing those emotions may lead to harsh beliefs about relationships or others. Healing is personal power, and much of that is lost when someone else is in control of your emotional welfare.

-          Being unforgiving can create issues around vulnerability and openness with others, and even hatred towards a particular person or group – this can manifest into unhealthy long-term beliefs, behaviours, and contemptuous attitudes.

The nature of forgiveness


Forgiveness creates a space for healing, it is a choice. A choice that will prevent harmful emotions from being projected onto other people where it is no longer relevant. This is often the case when unhealed trauma rears its head, often in the way of a trigger, in situations where that trauma is no longer present.

-          Not forgiving yourself can be as painful as someone else not forgiving you. Shame and guilt are often the nature of this pain. Accepting that you are an imperfect human who can make mistakes takes courage. Growth happens when we realise our mistakes and learn from them in order not to repeat harmful choices.

Forgiveness can come from the understanding that sometimes people do or say awful things out of pain and environmental conditioning. This does not mean that what happened was ok, it’s simply the acknowledgement that sometimes things occur in this world because of personal pain, environment, and ignorance.


If there is one thing to take away from this reading it is that:


Forgiveness is a personal experience. It can only be realised, not forced. Its nature is acceptance and wisdom - the decision to heal and move forward. It is the ultimate gesture of compassion for oneself, and for the other.



What forgives is not: Enabling abuse or that what happened was ok.


Remember, forgiveness does not mean that you think what had happened was ok. Forgiveness means that even though something happened that was harmful or not ok to you, despite that, you’re choosing to move on and heal from it through change.


Compassion is essential - Affirmations


Affirmations can be powerful; they can shift your perception and calm you down through word and soothing prayer – They may also have an extraordinary effect on calming and soothing others. Affirmations are sayings or prayers that bring healing or positive energy to an intention or situation. Compassion is an important part of forgiveness, especially forgiving oneself.  Affirmations are valuable if you are trying to communicate a particular message and apologise.

Affirmations that acknowledge a person’s pain, and then state a positive intention can activate a person’s healing centre and help them feel loved and understood.

Think of a time when you were not able to forgive someone else right away, try to remember how this felt for you, and a time when a person gave affirmations of love and understanding to you.


Affirmation to cultivate compassion between another “I know you have been hurt, and I am deeply sorry. I want you to know that I understand what I did hurt you, and I will be more sensitive in the future” this is a very good affirmation to use because it acknowledges, and then it sets a positive intention for moving forward.

Affirmation to cultivate compassion for oneself: I am an imperfect human being, and I know that I will make mistakes in this life. I can learn from my mistakes and continue to better myself so that those around me, including myself, can be at peace. Every experience is an opportunity to learn more about myself, and how I affect others. I am worthy of love and compassion, and the other is also worthy of love and compassion.




I want to fix the situation – what do I do?


Give the person space and focus on self-care

Rumination is one of the more difficult things that happen when were upset or waiting on another person. Repeating what was said or done in your mind while your emotions create more negative energy encourages resentment and anger and increases the chances of confronting the others involved when what is needed right now is space.

It’s essential that if you begin to ruminate within your thoughts that you shift your focus on something else.

Say “These are just thoughts, I will let them come and go without entertaining them, I know my emotions are creating these thoughts” and then when negative or emotional thoughts arise, just say “thinking “and let them go. Every time something arises in your thoughts practice saying “thinking” and letting go.

This doesn’t mean your ignoring the situation, rather you’re choosing not to ruminate and make it worse than it already is. Focus on something you would normally enjoy even if you’re not in the mood or take this time to get some things done you may have been putting off – which can make you feel good as well. Understand that this situation will not last forever.

Let the person know that you are here for them, but do not try to start a conversation until you know for sure they have calmed down and are feeling more open. Stay in another room or stay with some family or a friend for a few days – sometimes the distance from someone we care about can shift the perspective to a more compassionate and loving one. If in a relationship or close friendship in which your used to spending a lot of time together, this time apart allows the opportunity to miss one another.





Psychologists and spiritual leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh (also renowned as the father of mindfulness by his followers) has spoken about the 3-day rule after an argument or disagreement. The 3-day rule proposes that you attempt communication after 3 days of no communication or agreeing not to speak about the issue for that time.

A conversation should then be opened, or if a person needs more time, to let the other know after 3 days. This reassures the others involved that communication is on the table, but not at this time, and may prevent resentment and confusion in the long run. 3 days also give plenty of space to calm down and reflect when the mind has more clarity.





What to do when they are still silent after 3 days?


You can try approaching them again, or if at a distance, sending them a message – you might feel annoyed that they haven’t come to you yet, but try not to approach them in this mindset or that annoyance may run over into your words and tone.

Chances are they are avoiding, distracting, or are still unable to deal with the situation and forgive you. If they are calm now, ask them if they would like to talk. Reassure them that you are happy to give them space, however, let them know that it has been 3 days and you would prefer to talk about things while the situation is still fresh. If the person is capable of listening, you can ask them if they would be able to listen to how you are feeling instead, sometimes your own vulnerability can open some doors between you.

This is also an opportunity to say some of those affirmations from earlier, and to talk about some of your own reflections.

If they refuse to speak to you, leave you in confusion, or outright ignore you then you may want to consider No-Contact for a while. 

If you don’t know much about no contact you can try looking this up online, there is plenty about it, mostly aimed towards relationships but can also apply to other types of relations as well. Essentially, you cut off contact but remain open. You physically remove yourself from this person if possible, and you refrain from messaging or interacting with them.

This person may just need more time, are thinking about their options, or may be going through something internal that they may need to heal on their own. Spending time apart may be good for you both and give that person a chance to miss your presence.

The severity and intensity of the situation may determine how long the waiting period will be, or why this person hasn’t forgiven you yet.

Patience and understanding will help you and the other person in the waiting period. The more persistent you are when they clearly want space, the less likely they may be willing to be open.


What if I feel angry or resentful after waiting for them?


Resentment is a powerful way the ego protects itself. Resentment keeps us in self-righteous thinking, self-preoccupation, and anger to protect our pride and perceptions of justice in the situation. We often feel resentment when we feel misunderstood, rejected, neglected, de-valued and abused.

These heavy emotions supressed can lead to self-defeating or harmful behaviours like revenge, lying, addictions, avoidance, and so on. If you both ended up in a disagreement and both were at fault, yet only one apologised and waited for the other, this can be especially true.

If they are ready but you are not, make that clear.


Work on yourself


This is especially important if you made a mistake and are aware that your behaviours or decisions were harmful, take the time apart to work on yourself. Spend time in reflection, evaluate your decisions and beliefs. Compromise, trust, and growth are important qualities in relationships. Sometimes the best apology is changed behaviour.


Don’t flood the other person


Avoid flooding. Flooding is when a person becomes too overwhelmed by what is happening or what is being said and shuts down or reacts intensely. This can sometimes lead to stonewalling. Stonewalling is like the silent treatment but can also come with the refusal to discuss a situation or to answer questions.

The person may respond but may blatantly avoid discussing the situation with you or be very cold and distant. Flooding can happen from any kind of outside stimuli, often ones that evoke emotions or the fight and flight response. If the person is already overwhelmed from what hurt them in the first place, anything you say may increase those feelings especially if you yourself are emotional.

To avoid flooding, if it is clear the person is not wanting to speak or to listen, do not provoke, yell, coerce, or try to persuade right now. Signs a person is feeling flooded could be:

·         Stonewalling

·         Body changes - such as sweating or increased heartrate

·         Shutting down or not responding

·         Saying less and less as time goes by

·         Closed off body language like folding arms or turning away

·         Begins to cry

·         Becomes fatigued or closes eyes

If you notice any of these things, it is best to say, “I understand your overwhelmed right now, let’s take some space” and come back together after a break. You should also consider if the way you are communicating is contributing to the flooding.


Understand that forgiveness is a personal journey and not your responsibility


This one may be particularly hard if you are a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) as the tendency to help, fix, or express emotions are often strongly held in HSPs.

To see a loved one in pain or being distant can be distressing to a highly sensitive person or an empath who feels all these emotions and stimuli very deeply, even to the point of feeling them personally.

It is important to remind yourself that their ability to forgive is their own responsibility, it is not your decision to make. You may have influence in the decision, especially if you have done whatever you can to apologise or correct the situation, but at some point, you must step back and allow them to meet their own conclusions.

Clouding another person’s judgment and encouraging forgiveness may influence them but the result may not come from their own personal conclusion which is why allowing them to reflect and make that choice should be given.


Forgive yourself for what happened


If you want someone to be forgiving, you should also be able to forgive yourself. If you did something that was especially harmful and hurtful, reflect on the experience and the reasons why you may have done what you did.

These experiences can teach us much about ourselves and those we love. We also learn not to take those we love for granted as we see the results of our actions.


It’s ok to feel wronged and hurt yourself, and still apologise


Apologising does not mean you are right or wrong, it means you are choosing to heal the situation and begin a conversation, rather than hold onto anger and hatred

If the situation happens to be a disagreement in which both people feel hurt, sometimes a battle of pride and ego can begin where someone waits for the other, and then only then decides to apologise or empathise. Apologising might feel like you were the one in the wrong and admitting they were right.

In fact, it takes great courage and maturity to apologise, even though you feel hurt. It also takes great understanding and wisdom to understand that apologising is the recognition of someone else’s pain and is not about being right or wrong.

However, reflective apologies such as stating your part in the situation can be very helpful in healing the bond between you both and lets the other person know you see your role.


What if they decide they do not want to forgive me?


It may happen. It really depends. Emotions may still be high, or the person may need a longer period away from you or the situation, this is fine.

However, this is not always the case. Moving on in any relationship be it family or friendship, without forgiveness, points to a lack of trust and unwillingness to repair the bond. If the person would like to move forward, but not cannot be forgiving it would most likely lead to resentments and other underlying issues – possibly even leading to deceitful behaviours.

You must ask yourself if that is something you’re ok with, if not, then maybe it is best to go your separate ways, at least for now. Depending on what happened and the intensity of it may be the leading factor in this decision.


They forgave me, but their distant


If they decide to forgive you, don’t take this for granted. They may still need time to heal and your role in this will be important. The respect and patience you give to them will bring faith and trust back into the connection.

This doesn’t mean they should berate you and make you feel bad for what you’ve done, chances are you’ve already done this with yourself, but a certain amount of understanding and empathy will be needed from your end.

A healed person may become more neutral towards what used to hurt them when they begin healing those wounds, or just feel those emotions at a less intensity as before. The past may be brought up less and less as wounds begin to heal. This takes time and varies from person to person, but also depends on the severity of the situation.

For example, someone who may have slandered you when angry may be an awful feeling but may still not be as intense as someone lying to you or talking about you behind your back. Many of these situations damage trust, and trust takes time to create. So be patient and don’t become frustrated. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? No matter how apologetic you were, only they can determine when their truly ready to rebuild.

Relationships of all sorts take work. They require everyone involved to make it so. Compassion, patience, and understanding are essential products to these relationship dynamics and the situations they create. Being forgiven is healing, as well as being the one to forgive. Never underestimate the power of your words and intentions.



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