How to Forgive People From a Distance

  Often I am asked the question, “How do I resolve feelings of anger and hurt from a person who wronged me and is unwilling to repair the offense?” In some cases, the offender is deceased, leaving no opportunity for closure.  While in other situations, the perpetuator of the offense sees no harm in their actions, feels justified, and projects blame on the wounded person. Sometimes we experience deep hurts in interpersonal relationships.  This often happens in response to an act of misconduct: betrayal of trust, abusive conduct, abandonment, disloyalty, or some form of disparaging behavior.  What often exacerbates the problem is a refusal on the part of the offender to acknowledge, accept responsibility, and/or attempt to repair the wound.  This leaves the wounded person in a position of having to bring closure to the matter alone. Unacknowledged, non-repaired offenses often perpetuate the pain suffered by individuals on the receiving end.  I have counseled many people who admit being hampered in life by untreated emotional wounds.  They report feelings of anger, bitterness, and admit difficulty trusting others or letting people get too close.  It’s as if they are emotionally frozen in time, re-wounded by memories of past offense(s). So, when I’m asked the question, “How do I resolve these feelings…” I refer to the best model of forgiveness I have ever encountered.  Forgiving from a distance was modeled by Jesus Christ when he died on a cross for the sins of man.  The first words he uttered in his agony was, “Forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing.” This was not a statement of denial on his part.  The people who crucified him knew what they were doing.  However, they did not know who they were doing it to!  They did not believe he was the Son of God.  So, while they hurled insults at him, he forgave them from a distance.   Sometimes in order to move past unresolved offenses we have to forgive people from a distance.  I want to explain why this is important, what this means, and how to do it.

Why Forgive People From A Distance

It is for your benefit that you forgive from a distance.

The answer to the why question is important to understand.   The residual effects of unresolved offenses hurt only you.  The individual(s) who wounded you are not likely bothered by the matter.  Notice how they go on with their lives as if nothing is wrong?  It’s as if they hit a pedestrian while driving without even noticing.  They just continue down the road without any concern that the person they struck is injured.

Holding on to unresolved offenses perpetuates the harm caused by the person(s) who hurt you.

Being angry and bitter gives them indirect power over your life.  Think about it.  When you dwell on the offense and the person(s) who caused it, wishing for revenge, or waiting for an apology, you give them control over your thoughts and feelings.  Dwelling can lead to symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, and physiological problems as well.  Forgiving from a distance is for your benefit, not the benefit of the offender.

What it Means to Forgive People From a Distance

Forgiving someone does not equate with trusting them.

This is especially true of individuals who are not seeking to repair the harm.  People who do not repair offenses are untrustworthy.  Allowing them back into the inner circle of your life is unwise and will likely put you at risk for future harm.  These individuals are better served on the periphery of your relational circle where you limit the frequency and quality of interaction you have with them, if any at all.

Forgiving means you process the pain and let go of the offense.

Notice I said it is a process of letting go.  When you approach this from a position of doing it for yourself, not the person, it will be easier to let go of the residual feelings.  I will address this in the next section on how to forgive people from a distance.

Forgiving means you choose not to hold on to the anger and hurt.

You let it go.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold the person(s) responsible for their actions.  The facts are the facts.  They remain responsible for what they did wrong to you.  However, you are not waiting for them to accept responsibility before you move on with your life.  Instead, you forgive them from a distance, let go of the hurt, and focus on what is good about your life today.

How to Forgive People From a Distance

Note: The approach I offer below has a spiritual focus to it.  If you don’t ascribe to spiritual beliefs or values this exercise may not appeal to you. The purpose of the following exercise is to use a spiritual approach of processing the residual effects of unresolved offenses, by filtering painful emotions toward God.  An initial goal is to express and release offenses, including the associated thoughts and feelings, to God.  A secondary goal is to extend forgiveness to the guilty person(s) from a distance. Remember, forgiving from a distance is not giving the guilty party a pass on the offense.  It is processing the offense and subsequent feelings with God in place of the offender.  You can express to God in written form what you would like to say to the individual who hurt you.  Don’t hold back.  God knows your thoughts and feelings anyway and he can handle them. Below is a format designed to assist you in the process of letting out, letting go, and letting in.  The letting out and letting go is the lingering effects of the offense.  Under each section are some starter sentences.  They will help kickstart your engine so you can begin the cathartic process of releasing the hurtful feelings.  You can write a paragraph or more on each statement.  The purpose is to get out as much of the emotional infection as you can.  The sentences that begin with “I give you…” are intended for you to release to God the negative feelings associated with the offense.  At the end of each section is also an area for you to ask God for something in exchange. This approach to forgiving people from a distance may take some time.  Remember, this is a process.  You may want to do this over several days, taking one section at a time.  It will be emotionally draining, but it will have a lifting effect as well.  You will likely feel a weight lifted from you as you release the hurt and let go of the offense.

What I am angry about…(this is the who and what was done)

I am angry at… I am angry that… I resent… I wish… I give you… I want… Help me to forgive…

What I am hurt about…(how the person(s) hurt you)

I feel hurt because… This pain makes me want to… This hurt is affecting me in… I give you… I want… Help me to forgive…

What I feel unsettled about…(how the matter affects you today)

I feel worried… I am unsettled about… I feel guilty… Please forgive me for… I ask you to help me with…

What I want going forward…(what you want to do to move forward)

I want to be able to… I want to change… I want to focus on… I choose to forgive… I ask you to give me… Conclusion Forgiving from a distance is a way for you to be released from offenses that continue to cause you pain and hinder your ability to embrace life.  On both a personal and professional level, I have found this approach to be the single-most effective means to be liberated from hurts of the past.  In many cases, working through this exercise with a professional counselor yields even greater results.  This is due largely to the ability of having another person validate your feelings and process your hurts. If you are struggling due to the lingering effects of unresolved offenses, I recommend you follow the steps offered here.  For those who prefer to follow this process under the guide of a professional counselor, do not hesitate to contact me at LifeWork Counseling.  My background in pastoral ministry may assist you in approaching this process from a spiritual perspective.