6 signs you’re too forgiving for your own good, according to psychology

Forgiveness is hard. Incredibly so.

And yet many people seem to forgive as if at the push of a button. Before you know it, they’ve moved on and brushed the whole issue under the carpet.

Until they get into an argument and use it as an attack against the other person, that is.

Or until the same problem occurs again and again, giving rise to resentment that manifests as passive-aggressive digs.

Or until they realize they haven’t actually forgiven at all – they’ve just decided to leave it in the past so that they don’t have to deal with the painful process of true forgiveness.

So, are you too forgiving for your own good?

Here are the 6 signs.

1) You minimize the severity of other people’s mistakes

When you forgive too easily, there’s usually more to it than the kindness of your heart.

This isn’t to say you’re not kind, of course. However, forgiveness is an extremely intricate and long process, especially if you’ve been hurt pretty badly, which means that moving on too quickly could signal you haven’t really dug to the painful core of things.

And one such reason is that you don’t want to admit just how serious and impactful the other person’s action has been.

Look, I’ve been there.

I know what it’s like when you desperately don’t want to recognize just how badly hurt you are and when you’d come up with anything to rationalize and excuse the behavior of someone you love dearly in the hopes that they still are who you once believed them to be.

According to psychotherapist Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, here are just some of the ways you might minimize other people’s mistakes in order to avoid the pain:

  • Intellectualizing (you try to explain the person’s harmful behavior using logic without realizing that there is simply no excuse – they are an adult who should know how to treat others with respect, even when upset)
  • Desensitization (you feel numb or diminish your emotional reaction; this often happens to people who grew up in turbulent homes or experienced domestic violence)
  • Self-blame (you blame yourself for the other person’s behavior even though their mistakes are their responsibility and no one else’s)
  • Denial (you convince yourself you’re remembering it wrong)

None of these pave the way to genuine forgiveness. They are coping mechanisms that help you deal with pain in a way that isn’t beneficial in the long run.

2) You often suppress your anger and hurt

As someone who used to be a huge people-pleaser, I know what it feels like when you swallow down your anger just so that you don’t have to deal with it.

And I can assure you that not only does it not lead to forgiveness but it actually distances you further from it.

The truth is that your anger isn’t some horrible dark monster that needs to be avoided or suppressed at all costs.

As psychologist  Bernard Golden, Ph.D., explains, “Our feelings provide us important information about our inner landscape. Our anger is typically a reaction to some form of emotional pain: i.e., feeling disrespected, powerless, diminished, shame, guilt, or sadness. However, our feelings and thoughts seek to be acknowledged and honored.”

Your anger may feel severely uncomfortable in the body, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s actually the emotion that loves you the most because it flares up when you feel disrespected, hurt, betrayed, or otherwise wounded.

It’s a feeling that shows you your worth.

And when it doesn’t get acknowledged, it doesn’t just go away. It turns into pestering resentment, which is the complete opposite of forgiveness.

3) You are terrified of conflict

So, why would you suppress your anger in the first place?

Because you don’t want to get into an argument. Because you’re worried other people may react negatively if you bring up your concerns or set some boundaries. Because you’d rather suffer in silence than upset someone.

You may come across as incredibly forgiving, but the truth is that you just… don’t want to fight.

But did you know that conflict can actually be a good thing?

I know. I was shocked when I first heard the news, too.

Bruce Wilson, PhD, gets to the bottom of it when he says, “Conflict-avoidant people often have an extreme fear of disappointing or being abandoned by others. Devaluing themselves in order to get along will only lead to others devaluing them as well. Despite the urge to avoid conflict, differences of opinion have the potential to expand people’s thinking.”

Conflict can bring you closer if you both approach it in an emotionally mature and respectful manner.

And if setting new boundaries or telling someone their actions hurt you destroys the relationship… was it a healthy relationship in the first place?

Just some food for thought.

4) You don’t honor your boundaries

traits of people who forgive easily 6 signs you're too forgiving for your own good, according to psychology

In her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab highlights how important it is not only to communicate your boundaries but also to uphold them in the face of pushback.

Unfortunately, this is where many people stumble and fall. Instead of refreshing their boundaries or showing others there are clear consequences for breaking them, they think to themselves, “Oh, they probably just forgot. Let’s wait and see if they remember next time. It’s not that big a deal.”

On and on they repeat the pattern, and two months or four years down the line, they realize their boundaries have become extremely flexible, their nature too forgiving.

If someone crosses your explicitly communicated boundaries, tell them. And if they continue to try to push you, set a healthy ultimatum (example: “I told you I didn’t want to talk about person X in this way. If you talk about them again, I’ll leave the conversation”).

The final step is to actually stick to that ultimatum by taking concrete action.

If you constantly forgive others for pushing your limits, you are disrespecting yourself. In doing so, you are sending a signal that others are free to do so as well.

If you continually forgive someone who keeps hurting you, it’s not real forgiveness. It’s avoidance.

5) You often feel overwhelmed and helpless

When you’re too forgiving for your own good, you might feel like your relationships with others are out of your hands because you know that every issue will inevitably end up with your decision to bottle it all up and move on.

In a way, you feel like your actions are already predetermined, and this makes you feel incredibly helpless, not to mention exhausted.

But you know what?

That’s people-pleasing and the victim mindset talking.

The truth is that your fate absolutely is in your hands. While you may not be able to influence everything that happens to you, you can always choose how you’ll react to external circumstances.

You can choose whether you’ll face your fear of conflict, whether you’ll cut off toxic relationships, and whether you’ll deal with your pain in an open and accepting manner.

What you can’t choose is instant forgiveness. Forgiveness is rooted in empathy and self-compassion; it’s a gift from the highest version of yourself.

In order to forgive, you’ve got to face the pain that you are forgiving someone for.

6) Your forgiveness doesn’t come from a place of empathy and understanding

Psychologist  Rubin Khoddam Ph.D. writes, “The act of forgiving is one of realizing that holding onto the anger and resentment no longer carries the same weight on us. Instead of seeing something as good or bad, we begin to see things with full acceptance, as they are, however that is.”

Forgiveness isn’t a quick decision to stop talking about something or to distract yourself. It’s not the choice to stay in a relationship with someone in spite of what they’ve done. It’s not saying that what happened was okay. It wasn’t.

Forgiveness is the ability to process your pain, look after yourself in a compassionate and gentle way, release your anger and resentment, and then gain the ability to view the situation from a bird’s point of view.

You don’t necessarily have to reconcile with the person who wronged you. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – excuse their behavior.

Ultimately, the point of forgiveness isn’t to make the other person’s life easier. It’s to take the weight off your own shoulders. You are the one who reaps the benefits of true forgiveness.

As Khoddam says, “Psychologically, when people reported higher levels of forgiveness, they also tended to report better health habits and decreased depression, anxiety, and anger levels.”

Forgiveness is incredibly powerful. But you can’t rush it and you can’t fake it. You’ve got to let it take its course.

If you are too forgiving for your own good, it might mean you’re actually running away from – rather than toward – true forgiveness.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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