Since childhood, most of us have been socialized to “forgive and forget.” We’ve been told that to do anything else risks our mental health and causes emotional pain. But is that actually good advice? Does forgiving someone actually increase our mental stability?
Join us as today’s guest explains why this simplistic idea doesn’t always work for people and how it is absolutely possible to move on with your life in a healthy way without offering forgiveness.
Kate Schroeder is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and owner of Transformation Counseling, LLC. With over 25 years in the mental health field, her clinical background includes experience as a school counselor, mental health therapist in an urban university’s counseling center, clinical researcher, and individual, couples, group, and family therapist. Within these settings, Kate has provided dedicated counseling for clients experiencing difficulties in areas including complex PTSD (C-PTSD), depression and anxiety, family and childhood conflicts, interpersonal relationships, grief and trauma, and various other interpersonal conflicts. Through personalized and experiential psychotherapy methods as well as the use of both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram typology system of personality, Kate works with individuals to identify and address deep, long standing pain points that lead to profound, lasting solutions.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling into the show today we have Kate Schroeder. Kate is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and author of the book “F**k Forgiveness: Why You Don’t Need to Forgive and Forget to Move On.” Kate, welcome to the show.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Hi, Gabe. Thanks so much for having me. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m very excited to be here.
Gabe Howard: I have to tell you, Kate, the gold standard of living a healthy life has always been, at least in my world, forgive and forget. I’ve heard it a million times, going all the way back to my childhood. And in fact, the message has been so pervasive in my life that when I saw your information come across my desk to be a guest on the show, I had this immediate reaction like you were a quack selling magical crystals. Are you telling us that forgive and forget is questionable advice?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Well, you know, Gabe, I realized pretty early on in my life that I was not born into this world to tell people what they wanted to hear necessarily. And, the thing about forgiveness is that contrary to popular opinion, it’s just not necessary to have to forgive other people in order to heal and transform your life. I’m not saying that you can’t do that. But what I’m saying is this idea that in order to be able to move on in a healthy, stable kind of way, that you have to first forgive. It’s nonsense. You know, feeling pressured to do anything is often an indication that you might actually be better off not doing the very thing you think that you need to do. And there’s research out there that shows it validates it backs up this idea that forgiving and being pressured into forgiving and even the lack of forgiveness isn’t necessary. It doesn’t necessarily have a causal relationship on depression and things of that sort. So, I believe that despite all of the messages we’ve heard throughout life from leaders and teachers and parents and self-help gurus, religions, that it’s not necessary to free up energy and move forward to forgive. You don’t have to do that necessarily. I disagree. It doesn’t mean you can’t. But what I’m saying, what I’m focused on more is the place in people where they feel like they have to do this. I always tell people, if you’re facing some issue or decision in your life and you don’t feel like you have a choice around it, that’s a place worth being very curious about and diving in more deeply to explore.
Gabe Howard: There’s a popular meme on social media. It said to not forgive somebody is letting them live rent free in your head. When I first read that, I was like, That’s a really good point. Why am I letting them live rent free in my head? But then as I was doing research for this show and as you’re talking, I was thinking, wait a minute, why am I forgiving people who don’t deserve forgiveness? Now I’m angry for another reason. Where’s the middle ground there? Because I really sincerely, Kate, see the logic of if you don’t forgive somebody and you stay angry at them, that’s going to take a piece of you. It takes effort to have that emotion.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Absolutely. I appreciate the question because I think there’s a piece so many of us miss in the world. And this is how we were taught from little bitty all the way up until adulthood, is that, first of all, this whole idea of forgiveness isn’t even about the other person, quite honestly. So, if somebody’s done something to harm me and I’m wrestling with this idea of forgiveness inside of me, should I? Should I not? That is all indicative of something happening inside of me that has absolutely nothing to do with the person over there who’s done this shitty thing to me. This is about me and this idea that not forgiving means you’re going to give people rent free space in your head, it’s okay to what extent I see that. But what happens? The reason people say we get rent free is we get stuck on feelings or issues is because we actually aren’t able to feel. In this case, say our anger, you know, we’re all up here in this cognitive wrestling match with what this person did and didn’t do. And should I have said this or didn’t do this? And gosh darn it, why do they say that? You know, when we’re stewing and spinning around in the cognitive experience of anything emotionally, we’re going to stay stuck. That’s just feelings 101. Because feelings aren’t cognitive experiences. Feelings are energetic. Emotion is energy and emotion. Feelings are energetic experiences, responses to the outside world that happen inside of us. And so, this whole idea of mental gymnastics around, do I forgive? Do I not forgive? Is actually a process that happens.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: I call it an impasse place. It’s a process that happens that actually keeps us out of feeling whatever that feeling is in response to the transgression. And that’s what keeps us stuck. So, this idea of, well, just hit the gas pedal. Go ahead. Fast forward, forgive them and move on. We don’t move on. So, busting through the stop sign, forgiving somebody before we feel ready is actually going to 100% ensure that the feeling is going to come back up. We’re not going to get over it fully. The truth is, if we have enough support emotionally and sometimes, well, many times people don’t have those resources inside of them, that’s why they get stuck. That’s why we need to reach out to other people, professionals who can help us navigate our feelings. If we can’t feel our feelings, we give people free space in our head.
Gabe Howard: Now, I was raised Catholic much like you, but am now non-practicing. And forgiveness was a core component of Catholicism is a core component is near, as I can tell, of Christianity, fully admitting that I’m not an expert. And telling people, hey, you don’t have to forgive, it sort of flies in the face of a lot of religious teachings. Can you talk about that for a moment?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Absolutely. You know, I just did an interview on The Catholic Channel about this, and I was really pleased that they had invited me on to talk about it because, you know, different obviously different religions teach different things about forgiveness or not, but I believe, this is my this is based on my personal experiences. This is based on all of my professional experiences and training and so on. Any time we force or impose a way of being on another person, that is a form of acting out. Acting out is this idea of causing harm to someone. And it’s not always intentional, right? So, people say, Well, I didn’t mean to do that. And great, I understand. But unconscious acting out is as impactful as conscious acting out. So anytime and without creating a big controversy, I think any time any religion imposes and doesn’t allow choice, right. So says something like this is the way we do it. And if you don’t do it the way we do it, you’re not part of us. So, there’s not a lot of heart in that. There’s a lot of rigidity and dogma and hierarchy. For some people that might be okay. For some people they might say, this works for me. I like that, that rigidity and that structure. But what I find is the whole other facet of people who say that never worked for me. I always felt marginalized, I felt judged, I felt like I could never get it right. I felt like I could never fit in anything, whether it’s religion, societal standards, etc., that doesn’t allow for a person to have some choice.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: It’s a form of acting out. Now I get it that we have to have structure and we have to have rules and guidelines and regulations and all of that. But can we make room within those structures for people to interpret that in the ways that actually fit for them? And that’s where I think that there’s been harm done in religions by imposing certain ways to quote-unquote, get to heaven or to have a clear conscience That’s very frightening and debilitating. And sadly, you know, and again, I’m not a expert on all of the religions, but sadly, often kids get this when they’re very young and very impressionable. And so rather than saying, okay, here’s the one way, why can’t we say this is one of the ways, this is what we believe, this is how it works for us, take what works for you, leave what doesn’t. And it’s an interesting thing because in many cases people are going to buy in. So, what I’m saying is people need the freedom within a system to be able to make it theirs. The one size fits all, this is how it’s got to b, if you don’t tick off the boxes, you’re not one of us, is incredibly harmful for people’s mental health. And it really creates havoc when there is no choice.
Gabe Howard: I’m starting to see why this is such a complicated topic. And
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Yes.
Gabe Howard: I have to tell you, at the beginning of this show and at the beginning of reading your book, I thought, well, this is really simple. Just forgive people. I want to be forgiven. Other people want to forgiven. Just forgive and forget and move on. And everybody will hold hands and sing. And it really is just so incredibly complicated. And I really do agree with you that we’re doing such a disservice to people by just sort of waving our hands and saying, well, you need to forgive them as if all of the reasons that they need forgiveness are almost secondary to this idea that the onus is on the person who can give the forgiveness rather than the onus is on the person who needs to earn the forgiveness. And it’s a lot to take in. And I imagine that many of our listeners are thinking, I don’t know, because if they were like me, they were told their whole life that forgiveness is divine, forgiveness is divine, forgive and forget, move on. And now there’s just so much to think about.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Absolutely. I’m glad you bring that up, because you know what? You’re right, especially this idea of forgiveness. It is such a complex thing. You know, developing emotional health means, in my opinion, having that ability to hold others accountable. And when you feel naturally inclined to do so, you may then put effort into repairing the connection with the understanding that this still doesn’t mean you have to forgive to experience growth. I think the whole idea of forgiveness, I think the intention of it is really wonderful. I mean, the way I interpret that now as an adult on this side of many, many decades of my own internal personal healing and growth is that the whole premise, the whole energy and forgiveness is let’s repair, let’s repair connection. And isn’t that one of the most beautiful things in the world? But what I’ve found is that in most cases where people feel stuck around forgiveness, it’s much more about them not being able to tolerate their feelings either what they’ve done around being upset by what’s been done to them. And in these cases, it’s really not most mentally or emotionally prudent to just forgive and forget. This is how co-dependents are born, but rather, what if we asked ourselves what it would look like if, instead of rushing to forgive, we worked on building support for our feelings around what happened and let them be the guiding principles for what needs to happen next? Because after all, truthfully, we’re only able to move on when it’s time to move on. Not because we’ve been told to
Gabe Howard: And we’re back with the author of “F**k Forgiveness: Why You Don’t Need to Forgive and Forget to Move On,” Kate Schroeder. Do we need to forgive someone in order to move on with our lives in a healthy way?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: You know, I don’t believe that we do need to. I think that what often happens for people is when we are able to really sink into and feel our feelings. And, you know, I think one of the tricky things when people hear that phrase feel our feelings. If people get concerned that if they go there, they’re never going to come back. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Feelings are discrete experiences. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. If we have adequate emotional support, we move through it effortlessly. But when we don’t, we get hung up. And so, what I find is that as people begin to really start to work on supporting their feelings and the experiences that are unique to them is that people begin to have more heart and more empathy for others who have harmed them. And empathy doesn’t mean condoning something. Empathy means, okay, I can understand why that person may have said that thing to me. I don’t like it. I’m not okay with it. I’m not going to absolve them of the responsibility of that impact. But I also don’t have to stay stuck with that because I’ve made room for my feeling in my experience. So, what I think is much more healthy for folks is to, and this happens only by working on that deeper personal growth and healing experience, is that we begin to have more empathy. We begin to understand, we begin to have perspective when we’re in knee deep in the middle of a feeling, it’s very difficult to have perspective because those are two very different experiences. Perspective is more of a rational cognitive process and feelings are not. And so, I don’t think that forgiveness is necessarily the goal If you get there and that works for you, fantastic. But what I think is a far more healthier approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing is learning how to have empathy. And that’s not something we can force. It’s something that happens organically as we begin to have more connection to the feelings inside of us and empathy for ourselves and all the ways we’ve been put together in the world.
Gabe Howard: As we’ve been talking about for this whole show, the whole world wants us to forgive. And they tell us that by forgiving, we will we will be better, we’ll have better mental health, we’ll be happier, our lives will improve. But I’ve got to ask, is forgiving someone before we’re truly ready actually a good thing or are there mental health consequences in forgiving too soon?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: So, I believe that there absolutely are mental health consequences by forgiving too soon. What I want to say to underline all of that is that I don’t believe people are malicious or mal-intended or any of that sort. I do think people’s intentions are fantastic. I think religions and teachers and all of that who have prophesized that we need to forgive. I think intentions are well, I think the delivery is off. So, I want to say that first. But think about forgiveness. There’s this implication that in the process of forgiving somebody, you’re essentially wiping the slate clean. So, there’s nobody in your in your energy field. They can move on, you can move on. But therein lies the biggest problem of all, because by not holding people accountable for their actions, both on a personal level, but then even in the bigger context of the world, the world continues to be filled then with energy of emotional irresponsibility. And this idea that there’s no lasting impact on a person if you do something wrong or to harm them, because all you have to do is just go ask for forgiveness or just forgive them and let it go. And what’s the impetus then for living a life of emotional consciousness, nurturing your self-awareness, having heart, and most importantly, taking responsibility for the consequences and the impact of your actions.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: So, by working hard to be as conscious as you can about your impact in both positive and negative ways, what we’re doing in that case is developing emotional responsibility and awareness around the fact that we have an impact on people no matter what we do. And yes, we are human, so that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to overstep our boundaries at times or step on people’s toes. But really, rather than forgiveness, what needs to happen, I think, is the beginning, the initiation of a repair between two or three or four people. It needs to come from the part of the person who caused harm in the first place. So, in many cases, people are willing to do that. They’re willing to explore their own experience and say, Hey, why was I such an asshole about that? Or gosh, you know, I don’t feel so great about how I just dealt with my partner or my kids and, you know, with adequate tools and adequate support processes, they begin to learn about what the underlying deeper intentions and motivations were. Maybe they had a rotten day, maybe they were feeling frightened, maybe they were frustrated, or maybe this is a topic that needs to be broached, and their skills about doing it just needs some help.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: But the point is, is that anything forced either way, somebody says, Hey, I need to forgive you, or somebody comes and says, Hey, will you forgive me if either end of that spectrum takes a next step before they truly feel ready? That is really not a true repair. It’s a I like to say it’s a repair made under duress. And the thing about emotions is that we often underestimate their presence. Right? People say, well, it’s just a little bit irritated and it’s like, you know what? You’re either irritated or you’re not. It’s kind of like being pregnant. You can’t be not pregnant and kind of you either are or you’re not. So even a little bit of irritation or a little bit of hurt or a little bit of frustration or pure sadness is pivotal. We need to make room for that. Very few people grow up in families where it is perfectly welcomed and accepted and supported to have feelings and to learn from them. And so even though we grow up and become adults and. May be highly successful in many facets of our lives. So many people are walking around as cognitive adults, but emotional children. And that’s why we struggle. That’s what that dissonance is all about.
Gabe Howard: There does come a time when people are ready to forgive. How will they know that? I don’t want anybody listening to think, oh, wow, I was going to call my sibling uncle and mom, dad after ten years and forgive them. But now that I’m listening to this, I think I’m just bowing down to peer pressure. I want people to have a really full featured idea and understand that, hey, you can make the decision to forgive, but how will they know if that if that decision is pure or impacted by this forgive and forget mentality that we’ve been discussing?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: The first thing I always emphasize is that no matter what a person’s choice is about anything, there is not a right or wrong to it. Right. There may be things that choices and decisions we make that feel more satisfying and less satisfying. But the only place right and wrong exists in the world is in math. Okay. And I know that’s a pretty controversial thing to say, that there’s not a right and wrong, but what I’m saying is that there are satisfying and dissatisfying ways to navigate, respond to our world. And right and wrong, really, I feel like it’s very much connected to this idea of forgiveness as well, that we learn that there’s a right way to be alive and conduct ourselves and there’s a wrong way. And boy, does that tangle people up in knots.
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Many people see forgiveness or this idea of forgiveness as a cognitive rational process, which actually could not be further from the truth about how feelings and emotions work. Forgiveness, true forgiveness includes this energy of feelings and emotions, not thoughts. And if it happens and it’s done authentically, it also includes energy from our heart. It’s something that naturally occurs when someone’s been able to unravel, unwrap, reflect, integrate the feelings they’ve had around what’s happened. And in some cases, it takes tremendous emotional stamina, emotional courage, emotional support, and also requires people to experience and endure difficult feelings in order to get to that place about what’s next. Sometimes it’s not that complicated, but the problem is many people find that they’re not able to withstand that process and they move away. They kind of shy away from the thought of being with difficult or discomforting kinds of feelings. So, a person’s inability to forgive organically is actually a sign that they still need support with emotionally navigating this experience. It’s not a fault of character. And some people get hung up here, in some cases for hours, days, months, years, decades, even lifetime. And it’s the inability to feel feelings that’s going to be the thing that hold you back, not the inability to forgive.
Gabe Howard: Kate, thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find you online and learn more about you?
Kate Schroeder, M.ED., LPC, NCC: Yeah. Gabe, thanks so much for having me. This has been a fantastic conversation. People can find me on my website. That’s www.KateSchroederLPC. My practice is called Transformation Counseling and I’m also on Facebook. I’m also on Instagram. I would love to talk with anybody who’s interested about this, even if you don’t agree with me. Give me a call. Let’s talk about it.
Gabe Howard: And of course, her book is called “F**k Forgiveness: Why You Don’t Need to Forgive and Forget to Move On.” And I’m sure you can get that on Amazon because, well, everything is on Amazon. Kate, thank you so much for being here and thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, but you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And hey, can you do me a personal favor? Recommend the show whether it’s on social media, an email, hell, send a text. Recommending the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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