Why Is It Harder to Forgive Family Members?


photo of 3 family members

Forgiveness is never easy. Being hurt or wronged by someone else is difficult, and it is human nature to feel pain. Yet sometimes, when friends, co-workers, or others have wronged you, forgiving them may seem easier than when you have been hurt by a family member. Why is it harder to forgive family members?

Greater Emotional Investment, Greater Pain

The most obvious answer as to why forgiveness is more difficult with family members than with others is that with your family, being hurt is more painful because you have a greater emotional investment in the relationship. As families, you may have the expectation of treating one another the best because of the strong emotional and physical ties, yet often, you end up hurting each other the most because you develop some level of tolerance or indifference given the quantity of time spent together.

Experiencing the emotional highs and lows of life with family members binds you together like no other relationship. Yet, it is this very bond that makes it much more difficult to forgive each other when there is pain inflicted within family relationships.

Why It Is More Important to Forgive Family Members

Forgiving family members is more important than forgiving others for the same reasons that family-induced pain can be more painful: family bonds are stronger. A lack of forgiveness can not only weaken those relationships, but also perhaps even destroy them. Friends will come and go, but relationships with your family members are the most important to maintain.

Forgiveness within families has been shown to increase positive family functioning, while a lack of forgiveness does the opposite. Spouses who can forgive one another create improved relationships not only with each other, but also with their children. Your child will cope better with both family and life problems when forgiveness is taught and practiced within the home.

The ability to forgive is particularly healing when there is drug or alcohol abuse within the family. While forgiveness is not to be confused with permission, forgiving one another is key in the healing process for not only the individual but also the entire family. While behaviors during substance abuse are often very painful for family members, forgiveness, particularly when sought after by the individual, has the power to heal and perhaps even strengthen family bonds.

Why Should I Forgive My Adolescent?

Parents can be especially hurt when their child abuses substances and indulges in behaviors that are very detrimental and painful to the family. As parents, you have provided for their emotional and temporal needs, often at great sacrifice. That your child might behave this way toward you seems not only very ungrateful but also incredibly painful.

However, offering forgiveness for the pain they have caused benefits you the most. Being willing to forgive allows you to be a better parent for them. Forgiving offers some measure of understanding that they, too, are hurting, yet allows you to move forward with structure and boundaries that are fair and helpful for them in their recovery.

Why Teens Need Forgiveness Most of All

Offering forgiveness to teens can be one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer. Giving nice gifts and offering temporal support help a child feel supported, but being willing to offer the olive branch when they have hurt you demonstrates unconditional love. Telling them “I love you, no matter what” is one thing, but being willing to back that up with genuine forgiveness teaches them that they are truly loved and valued. Demonstrating unconditional love and forgiving your child may seem like the hardest thing you can do, but holding a grudge is actually more painful for everyone in the long run.

Again, forgiveness is not permission to hurt you again. Offering consequences, structure, and support in recovery are part of the forgiveness process. Forgiveness means that you do not hold their past actions against them, while consequences and discipline mean that you love them enough to help them in their recovery process. Adolescents in recovery need love and forgiveness in order for them to love and forgive themselves and to be able to move forward in their own lives.

What if My Forgiveness Is Not Accepted?

Sometimes when you offer forgiveness, even in families, it is not accepted. That is each individual’s right, even if it seems ungrateful or cruel. Sometimes words or reactions you had to a family member’s behaviors may still hurt them, or they are simply not ready or able to accept your forgiveness. Offering your forgiveness without strings attached is harder in families, but also allows you to heal from the pain they caused you. This includes your child, even if it may hurt if they do not accept the forgiveness you offer.

Why is it harder to forgive family members? The emotional investment increases the amount of pain that you feel, particularly when it is your own child who hurts you. However, it is more important to forgive family members, especially teens, even for the behaviors surrounding substance abuse. Your forgiveness can bring them love and healing if accepted, but most importantly, it brings healing to you and makes you a better parent. Family involvement is part of the treatment process at Sustain Recovery. Our residential treatment program gives you and your adolescent the time and opportunity to begin healing, and the extended care allows families to gradually reintegrate for best success. Contact us at (949) 407-9052 to learn more about our adolescent treatment programs and whether or not they are right for your family. Helping kids take responsibility for their lives while mending relationships with their families is what we do best.