How many confessions and apologies have you heard recently?

I can barely keep track as the latest string of public figures flood the media with such statements.

The confession and apology are only the beginning. Next comes the request for a degree of understanding, compassion and forgiveness. Often, the depth of forgiveness reflects the sincerity of the apology, but not always. Some people forgive individuals who express no regret for terrible actions because forgiveness grants peace and freedom to move on.

Why do so many attempts to forgive fail? Consider the following examples of how people bestow forgiveness—from going through the motions to meaning what they say—for the answer:

1. You’re going to have to prove to me that this will not happen again.

  • Grade: F
  • Translation: Nothing has changed. You are still guilty.

2. I forgive you but can’t forget what happened.

  • Grade: F
  • Translation: I will never get over this; therefore, I will always blame you for what happened. Count on me to bring this up again and again.

3. I forgive you, but you should not expect the others to let you off the hook.

  • Grade: F
  • Translation: I believe they are justified in not forgiving you. A part of me doesn’t.

4. I forgive you now, but if this ever happens again, I will not forgive you then.

  • Grade: D
  • Translation: I’m already anticipating the next time this will happen and blaming you.

5. I forgive you, even though you don’t deserve it.

  • Grade: D
  • Translation: I’m a better person than you are, which is the reason I’m forgiving you.

6. I forgive you, but our relationship is over.

  • Grade: A-F
  • Translation A: I sincerely forgive you, but I must protect myself by maintaining a safe distance between us.
  • Translation F: I will eventually let go of this but want to make you suffer.

7. I forgive you but need some time away from you to get over it.

  • Grade: A-C
  • Translation A: I forgive you for the incident but legitimately need time to heal.
  • Translation C: I want to forgive you but I’m not there yet.

8. I appreciate your apology. It means a great deal to me.

  • Grade: C+
  • Translation: Your apology is a first step in the process, but I have not yet forgiven you.

9. What you did is forgiven.

  • Grade: B
  • Translation: I acknowledge that your actions are forgivable, and I am almost at the point of forgiving you.

10. I forgive you.

  • Grade: A
  • Translation: I have decided to forgive you unconditionally.

Real forgiveness is unconditional, although the full extent of it often requires time and a concerted effort. The payoff, nevertheless, can be extraordinary, especially for those who are harmed. Why wouldn’t we, then, aim to choose words that empower the process of forgiveness to succeed?

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at www.writelady.com.