Helping to Forgive Without an Apology

forgive without apology

Forgiving someone is about healing. Many would find comfort if they could forget hurtful actions perpetrated on others, but instead, they must live with the consequences. Without forgiveness, a person is left to realize that their deed is a mark their victim may never erase. Thus, despite apologies and promises to right the wrong, the act may never be forgiven.

There is a saying “forgive and forget,” but can or must a person forgive and forget? Those who were wronged by an act or words may choose not to forgive the person who inflicted pain on them. However, if they do decide to forgive the person, they may not forget.

Psychological Harm

Those with a substance use disorder (SUD) carry a great deal of psychological pain, as documented on the Mee-Bunney Psychological Pain Assessment Scale. When a person’s level of psychological distress is high, the person can benefit from clinical interventions. In addition, those with a SUD can experience depression, anxiety, or hopelessness due to a harmful transgression.

The emotional damage of a harmful transgression can become an obstacle for those who seek to come to terms with the betrayal. Before a person can forgive another, they must understand what happened and how they want to respond.


Forgiveness is often confused with similar terms, like:

  • Pardoning
  • Condoning 
  • Excusing 
  • Forgetting 
  • Denial 

Forgiveness is not any of the above. To forgive is to release the harm, the pain, or the judgment to begin the healing process. Your client can decide what their definition of forgiveness is and how they choose to forgive a betrayal.

When your client decides to forgive a person, they should understand they don’t have to forget what was said or done. Perhaps they chose not to tell a person they forgive them; that’s okay. Let your client know that they are still entitled to carry feelings about the event if they decide to forgive someone. 

When your client chooses to ignore someone, they may be avoiding the betrayal or in denial. Another approach some can take is forgiving the person while also addressing the need to work on behaviors. There are instances when forgiveness includes ending a relationship. 

Working Through Pain

There are several different types of harm done to others. For instance, a spouse can cheat, a friend betrays a person’s confidence, or a parent/family member lets a person down. Your client can struggle with responding to the act of betrayal because they may believe they must forgive and forget. They don’t have to forgive or forget. How they choose to respond is their decision regardless of what others say. However, for them to heal, learning how to forgive is essential.

Individual therapy is a personal approach to guiding your client through their feelings of betrayal. You can focus on the particular event and discuss how the transgression made them feel and how they want to approach their feelings. This is an excellent time to assess the emotional or physical damage and help put the offense and pain into context. Let them take their time processing their thoughts and feelings. In the meantime, you can work with your client to discover healthy coping skills if any feelings arise later.

Healing Through Forgiveness

Perhaps your client hasn’t faced or isn’t ready to face what happened to them. Guide your client through the healing process at your client’s pace. Many people experience different stages of emotions when betrayed, like: 

  • Some may want revenge to continue to hold onto their feelings of hurt
  • Some like the attention that comes with being the “victim” 
  • Others may not know how they feel or what they should do to help heal. 
  • Then some think they are better than the person who harmed them. 

5 Questions for Clients to Consider About Forgiveness

You can aid your client in identifying their thoughts, feelings, boundaries, needs, and wants. 

These questions can help facilitate the conversation:

#1. Do they want to forgive the person who betrayed them?

Suppose they are not willing to forgive the person yet. Ask them why. Perhaps because they are deeply wounded, the abuse was severe, or the person didn’t apologize.

#2. Are they ready to accept the situation?

If your client isn’t ready to accept the situation, they may be in denial. Help them work through the crisis, healthily express their emotions, and detail what they need to forgive the person.

#3. Did the experience change them?

Some people change as a result of a betrayal. Maybe they use the hurt to learn and grow or connect with themselves. Discuss how an adverse event can push someone to adopt healthy habits and make changes that benefit their life.

#4. Why do they think the other person hurt them?

If the person were abusive, this question would not apply. For those hurt by a non-violent action, ask them if they considered why the person betrayed them. What was the purpose of the betrayal? When discussing this, remind them they are not to blame for the person’s actions.

#5. Do they want to tell the person they forgive them?

Your client does not need to tell the person they forgive them. Instead, they can find forgiveness in themselves and move forward. You can guide them to saying that they forgive the person and why out loud or to themselves. They are under no obligation to tell or explain why they forgive the betrayal.

Forgiveness is personal. The act of forgiving is a healing step for some. Whenever your client decides to forgive, someone knows that they achieved this decision by processing their hurt and coming to terms with what happened.

An act of betrayal causes harm to another. The initial reactions of pain, confusion, depression, anxiety, or the need for revenge can fade away. However, the decision to forgive someone can take time. The process of forgiveness can evoke the need to talk with a professional about the event. A therapist can help guide a person through their feelings, boundaries, needs, or wants. While undergoing therapy, your client can also address any negative behaviors associated with their betrayal. These behaviors include self-harm such as substance abuse. Alta Centers focuses on the unique needs of those experiencing a substance use disorder. Our private location in the Hollywood Hills , Los Angeles , California provides detox services, inpatient rehab, dual diagnosis, group therapies. We understand the difficulties that can arise after a person experiences a betrayal. Alta Centers aids their clients in assessing the causes of their substance use disorder. For more information and help, call us today at (888) 202-2583.

About Alta Centers

Alta Centers Detox is Los Angeles Addiction Treatment and Recovery center .