When Not to Forgive

Cover of "How Can I Forgive You?: The Cou...

Cover via Amazon


As a  consequence of my relationship with my ex husband, the narcissist with Antisocial personality disorder, which has spanned on and off, some twenty-six years, I have learned the hard way that forgiveness is not always the right move.

Specifically, when you are dealing with a person with Narcissistic and/or Antisocial personality disorders, forgiving them is probably not in your best interest.

We are taught to forgive. Many of us were raised in the Christian faith, the main tenet of which is that, as Christians, we must forgive those who wrong us.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18:21-22, KJV

When my ex husband returned into my life after an absence of eighteen years and asked me forgiveness for the action of twenty years before, I forgave him. Our culture values forgiveness. We see the theme of forgiveness and redemption in movies and on television and we hear it in pop music lyrics.

We are steeped in what we believe to be a concrete fact; that people who screw up and mess up our lives have a right to be forgiven if they have stopped the offending behavior, demonstrated self-reflection, and asked for forgiveness.

To not forgive under such conditions would be considered cruel and selfish.

And yet, I say to all who read this, that you should not forgive the person in your life with Narcissistic and/or Antisocial personality disorder if to grant forgiveness will result in this person regaining access to you in any way.

If you want to spiritually forgive the person because you understand that they are not in control of their actions, that’s fine, as long as you don’t let them back into your life.

I have not this person who has damaged my life with his behavior. This is the first time in my life which I have not forgiven someone. Forgiving him when he came back into my life in 2007 was probably the worst mistake of my life. Or, perhaps I could have forgiven him, but told him to stay away from me.  Forgiving him and offering him a second chance was just an abominable decision on my part.

Yet, I received so much positive feedback for forgiving him. From friends, from family. “Isn’t that wonderful, that you are giving him a second chance!” Yes, he was Lazarus, raised from the dead by the power of my forgiveness.

I believe that we attribute some miraculous spiritual power to forgiveness. As if my forgiving him for abandoning me and our infant daughter to a life of crime could somehow invest a mantle of spiritual grace onto him, the forgiven one, and ensure that his path from thence on would be a holy one. A person can only be worthy of forgiveness through their actions. We forget this in our desire to be kind, and let them off the hook, by granting forgiveness based on a verbal request accompanied by self-reflective jargon. We forget that we, the wronged, have some rights here. We have the right to not believe the supplicant, the right to keep ourselves safe from further harm, and essentially, the right to NOT forgive.

Last year, I was struggling with my inability to forgive this person when I came across the book, How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To, by Janis A. Spring. Spring presents the option of not forgiving someone who has harmed you, but, instead, reaching closure through a process of letting go. I went with this option and did not forgive him. I chose to not forgive consciously and deliberately.

If he wants forgiveness for what he has done to me, then he can ask it himself, from whichever higher power he chooses. (However, we know that for the Narcissist, there is no higher power beyond himself.)

How can you accept the forgiveness of a person with Narcissistic and/or Antisocial personality disorder when they are such pathological liars, anyway? What is an apology from such a person worth? From the former ‘love of my life’ it was worth nothing.



14 thoughts on “When Not to Forgive

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  6. Slightly improved version! Pls remove this line and previous comment!

    I am not sure what it really means to forgive, but I do regard it as against my principles to ‘forgive’ an offender who neither shows genuine remorse or offers an authentic apology. Countless times, I have been criticized and my moral character has been denigrated by a self-appointed ‘moral authority’ who has mindlessly internalized social norms or religious dogma that I mindfully disagree with, such as the ‘obligation’ to ‘forgive and forget’ under all circumstances. Such a person may self righteously condemn an abuse victim who will not ‘forgive’ without commenting on the real bad guy, the abuser, who has no remorse. Judgmental focus on the victim effectively turns the tables so that the victim looks like the wrongdoer; one who can be admonished for ‘holding a grudge’, refusing to ‘move on’, and accused of sabotaging a possible conflict resolution. Meanwhile, the offender walks away, free to commit the same crime again. And again.

    • You are right. The dogmatic command to ‘forgive and forget’ under all sorts of circumstances wreaks havoc within the minds of victims, many of whom were abused by men/women whom they still love. There needs to be some education, starting with children, about how to identify these types of predators and how to protect yourself from them, including practicing non forgiveness. Non forgiveness as a method of self protection should be considered socially acceptable, and yet it isn’t really.


  7. Yes, far too many aspects of American culture effectively support psychopathic behaviors. It is unfortunate and discouraging that such values and beliefs are widespread, and so deeply internalized in individuals, that the loudest support for a system that is inhumane and covert often comes from its unassuming victims. Education, awareness, and alertness is needed. Let’s do it!

    • I think the underlying problem is the assumption, in our culture, that deep down, everyone is good, or means well, etc. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It’s like looking through the world with rose colored glasses. We are too naive.

  8. I think there are two separate concepts here – forgiveness and reconciliation.

    The forgiveness part is one thing; forgiveness is a solo act, a change of inner state, a letting go of being wronged. I see forgiveness as a positive endpoint to the difficult ordeal of emotionally processing nastiness another person has committed against you.

    Reconciliation is letting the person who has wronged you back into your life; forgiveness and reconciliation are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but reconciliation is truly optional.

    I think a lot of people experience a lot of emotional agony when trying to “forgive” because they have trouble distinguishing forgiveness and reconciliation as two separate acts. And maybe the agony is for good reason; there are just some things you can’t give a person a pass on, nor should you, and if your mind and body are becoming stressed at the prospect of letting that person back into your life, then I believe you shouldn’t go there.

  9. Thank you for blog and this post. It touches on a incredibly painful experience that is very similar to mine. I do believe it’s natural for non Ns to want to forgive, but as you say, if you extend such a generous thing to this type of person you are letting yourself in for a whole lot of pain, even if they’ve discarded you for good and they don’t directly acknowledge it, because you know deep down that to them it’s meaningless and in their eyes makes you even contemptible than they obviously thought you were in the first place. But, I’ve come to believe that forgiveness can be something we can come to privately for our own sake, so that we can hopefully let go of the extensive damage they’ve caused us. I have to agree with Jerkbusters: forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean restoration of the relationship in any way, shape or form. Mine seems to have done away with me for good and I should be grateful. I suppose I’m still hurt and angry that I didn’t walk away from the situation, when deep down I knew it was the only decent thing to do for myself and my life. It sickens me, but it’s important not to confuse the anger and hurt with thinking that you somehow miss the person and that they could heal your pain by coming back into your life because nothing will change for the better. Thankfully, after three bad years, I’m finally coming to a place where I’m only afraid that he’ll deign to contact me again one day when the nightmare has faded. Ironically, the problem is that non Ns don’t harbour the same resentment, bitterness, pettiness and need for revenge as Ns. It’s a real struggle because I don’t want to become that sort of person, but at the same time I want to move on with my life.

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