Judgment, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Trust

"Forgiveness is the scalpel that punctures the hate and hurt to release the infection of resentment and bitterness. Then healing can begin."

There are a myriad of ways to respond to a moral injustice.

But, for us to truly heal and be free, we must eventually forgive the offender.

Let’s begin with a common misconception of forgiveness, namely that it means I therefore must reconcile with the offender. This article's graphic depicts how that is not the case. Sometimes, the people who hurt us have not changed their disposition, which means it is not safe for me to seek emotional repair with them. In fact, it is wise to have some boundary for self-protection. For some, this insight is enough to help them move toward forgiveness. Others stay stuck in a state of unforgiveness.


It is okay and healthy to be angry about the offense and how it has affected you. However, it is harmful to carry the anger over time, letting it morph into judgments and bitterness that weigh down the heart. Unforgiveness is a major block to emotional healing.

Good vs. Sinful Judgment

It makes sense for me to judge others’ actions when I am wronged, and to judge them in a way that discerns what is helpful vs hurtful so that I can set up good boundaries with them. However, sinful judgment is when I condemn them (judge them as wholly bad and undeserving of grace or mercy). This judgment involves self-righteousness, where I view myself as morally superior, and that I would not have acted as they if I had been dealt the same life circumstances.

"Forgiveness requires a relational stance of accepting the inherent worth of another person even after judging the wrong action."

Why do I stay stuck in judgment?

Staying in a state of judgment and unforgiveness may be a response to the emotional wound and impact of the wrongdoing. Judging may help me feel:

  • more safe
  • less powerless
  • better than them
  • keep me from being like them
  • contribute to their punishment or justice
  • somehow get them to eventually change

and on and on. However, as McCullough, Sandage, and Worthington indicate:

"Hate and unforgiveness are like addiction. They make us feel better immediately, but in the long run they destroy."

If I give up judging the other, then I may have to find a different way of feeling safe, in control, etc - a way that makes me feel genuinely safe and in control over the long term.

I also have to let go of doing God’s job as Judge. This is not letting the wrongdoer off the hook, but giving over authority to Christ, the Just Judge. The following aphorism has been helpful to me and my clients:

“Lord, you are the Just Judge, you take care of it!”

Finally, if we are working toward forgiving parents, there are other processing blocks that have to do with letting go of them being the parent they should have been, or being hesitant to let go of the hurt/debt due to unmet needs that surface (Type A wounds) if I move to forgive.


Forgiveness is the better response to injustice. Forgiveness means releasing your right to claim a debt owed you because of the injustice. It is of course important to acknowledge the debt first, as opposed to “stuffing it” or too quickly “letting it go.” There is a whole process to forgiveness that involves facing the pain, working through the stuck defensive reactions, renouncing lies about self, renouncing judgments towards the other, and asking God to forgive and bless the person in the opposite way that they hurt you.

You can find a great protocol for working toward forgiveness here. Before working through any step by step approach, remember that forgiveness is a grace that is received. We cannot wish or will away an injustice on our own.


Reconciling with the offender involves a personal connection where the offender acknowledges their wrongdoing by name without excuse or defensiveness. The person wronged is able to express their hurt, how the wrongdoing impacted them, and what they need/request for restitution. The offender empathizes and expresses remorse, and asks what they can do to make up for the harm caused. They then express a firm commitment to avoid wrongdoing in the future. There is a giving and receiving of forgiveness. A conjoint session of therapy can help facilitate this process.

You can find a step-by-step protocol for working toward reconciliation here.

Restoration of Trust

After reconciliation, it is important that both parties are open to restoration of trust. This requires proof of changed behavior that lasts over an extended period of time. Individual therapy can help to resolve the underlying heart dynamics that led to the wrongdoing, so that genuine change can take place.

Here are some equations that my prove helpful, with the last two taken from the first resource listed below.

Judgment = Condemnation + Self-Righteousness
Forgiveness = Letting Go of Judgment/Bitterness/Debt
Reconciliation = Confession, Repentance, and Restitution + Forgiveness
Restoration of Trust = Reconciliation + Changed Behavior over time

Find more depth info about the process of inner healing prayer and judgments and bitterness as clutter for the heart here - an article by Dr. Karl Lehman.

Other quotes on forgiveness (including at the beginning of this article) taken from

Michael E. McCullough; Steven J. Sandage; Everett L. Worthington Jr.. To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past. Kindle Edition.

Image link to bio for Marcel Lanahan, LMHC

Dr. Marcel Lanahan

Founder, Lead Clinician

Marcel is a Catholic therapist, husband, and father of five. He is dedicated to supporting fellow Catholics with guidance on their healing journeys.

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