Can You Forgive Someone Who Has Not Directly Hurt You?


, ,
can you forgive someone who has not directly hurt you

Have you ever had to forgive someone who did not hurt you directly, but rather hurt someone close to you? Did you ever forgive someone who was indirectly unfair to you?

Often people ask if they can go ahead and forgive someone who was not directly unjust to them.

Here are some examples:

  • My daughter was bullied at school. It is up to her whether or not she will forgive. I cannot do that for her because I was not the one injured.
  • I am upset with Politicians X and Y. They have not, personally, injured me and so I am not able to forgive them.
  • My great-grandparents were oppressed by certain laws in their country. My great-grandparents are now deceased. It really was up to them to forgive or not forgive. I now cannot stand in their place and forgive those oppressors.

These kinds of issues can become a struggle for people primarily because they are used to thinking of forgiveness this way: When I, personally, have been offended by someone, then I can go ahead and forgive if I wish to do so.

In other words, it is assumed that no one else can enter this forgiveness process unless they, too, were directly injured by the other person. Yet, thinking in this 21st century has emerged that challenges this conventional set of ideas. The approach comes to us from Trudy Govier (2002), a philosopher in Canada, who has written the book, Forgiveness, and Revenge.

In that book, Dr. Govier talks about primary, secondary, and tertiary forgiveness. 

Related: Forgiving and Letting Go Those Who Have Hurt You

Primary Forgiveness 

This is a commonly understood approach. I have been directly hurt by a person and so it is my prerogative to forgive or not.

By this, I mean that the injured person can decide to give up resentment and to offer goodness of some kind to the offending person, without excusing, necessarily reconciling, and without abandoning a quest for justice.

forgive someone

Secondary Forgiveness 

This occurs when you are hurt because of a person’s actions toward a loved one. In other words, the mother truly is offended and hurt when someone bullies her daughter in school. It is secondary in the sense that the mother was not directly bullied.

Yet, the fact that she is resentful and legitimately so because of the actions toward her daughter, the mother then can go ahead and forgive the one who bullies. It is important to note that the mother is not forgiving the one who bullies on behalf of the daughter. It still is up to the daughter to offer primary forgiveness or not. It is the daughter’s choice. The mother’s forgiveness does not substitute for the daughter’s response.

Tertiary Forgiveness 

This occurs when an even more distant person engages in unjust actions. Suppose Person A is very upset with a political decision that goes against his philosophies of life. Those decisions were made politically far from Person A’s home. The politicians do not even know Person A and likely they never have met.

Even so, if Person A is offended by the politicians’ actions, this is a legitimate forum for Person A to begin the forgiveness process if he so chooses? Why? It is because there is an injustice, directly affecting Person A, even though those actions by the politicians are indirect and not personal actions toward him.

Related: 8 Reasons Why You Should Forgive The People Who Hurt You

Another kind of tertiary forgiveness occurs when historical events are long past, had a direct influence on one’s own ethnic group, but not on the self. It is here that people reason that they must let the past alone and dismiss forgiveness because the current generation cannot even identify those involved, either as perpetrators or victims.

As in the case above, if a contemporary person still is feeling offended by people’s actions in the distant past toward one’s own group, it is rationally justified to forgive precisely because there is resentment over an unjust incident. In this case, it may be more difficult to forgive because there are no concretely-identified people to forgive.

Yet, the actions did involve real people acting in truly unjust ways and so one can now, in the present, offer forgiveness toward those persons as persons, even if they cannot be identified.

It is even possible for one’s group to forgive other groups that are currently acting unjustly or acted this way in the past, even in the distant past (Enright et al., 2016). We will leave the subtleties of group forgiveness for another time since this is not the central focus of this essay.

If secondary or tertiary forgiving were impossible, this would leave people now with much-unresolved resentment, even hatred, that could chip away at their well-being. The resentment could be displaced onto one’s partner or onto one’s children or co-workers.

Want to know more about the importance of forgiving someone? Check this video out below!

Even though those causing the resentment may have long passed away, the resentment lives on. Forgiveness can be a way of freeing oneself from the indirect actions of others that happened recently or toward people of the distant past who still are having an influence on one’s own happiness in the present.


Enright, R.D., Lee, Y.R., Hirshberg, M.J., Litts, B.K., Schirmer, E.B., Irwin, A.J., Klatt, J., Hunt, J., & Song, J.Y. (2016). Examining group forgiveness: Conceptual and empirical issues. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 22, 153-162. DOI:

Govier, T. (2002). Forgiveness and revenge. New York: Routledge.

Written By Robert Enright
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
can you forgive someone who has not directly hurt you pin

— Share —

— About the Author —

Up Next

Decoding Referent Power Meaning: 8 Key Aspects and Its Historic Impact on Leadership Dynamics

Decoding Referent Power Meaning: Eight Key Aspects and Examples

Have you ever wondered why certain individuals have a remarkable ability to inspire and motivate others? What makes them so influential and respected? The answer lies in a concept known as referent power. Let’s explore referent power meaning, and its significance in leadership and the workplace to illustrate its impact.

What is Referent Power?

Referent power meaning: Referent power is a form of influence that stems from an individual’s likability, charisma, and personal connection with others. 

Up Next

When No Place Feels Like Home: 3 Ways To Find Where You Belong

Ways To Find Where You Belong: No Place Feels Like Home

To find where you belong, can be a nuanced journey, often filled with self-discovery and realizations about what makes a place feel like home. Here are three insightful ways to navigate this path, uncovering where you genuinely belong and creating a sanctuary that resonates with your inner self.

What do you do when NO place feels like home? What if when watching Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz clicking the heels of her ruby slippers three times and crying out that famous line – “there’s no place like home” – you found yourself shaking your head, feeling very much alone, and silently wishing that you HAD a place – ANY PLACE – that felt like home?

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.

Up Next

From Sidelines To Spotlight: 5 Steps To Getting A Seat At The Table (Where You Belong)

Steps To Getting A Seat At The Table Where You Belong

Getting a seat at the table isn’t merely about occupying a chair, but about having a voice and influencing decisions. Follow these five steps to transition from a spectator to a key player, and not just get a seat at the table, but also make sure that your insights are heard and valued.

One of my favourite movies is the 1995 comedy Home for the Holidays. Claudia, played by Holly Hunter, heads to her childhood home for Thanksgiving with her dysfunctional family.

If you haven’t seen this flick, I highly recommend that you do. Especially if at one time or another, you’ve found yourself back at home, being treated like the child you once were, and maybe even sitting at the k

Up Next

How To Get Women To Approach You: 20 Tips To Become A Chick Magnet

How To Get Women To Approach You: Science Backed Tips

Have you ever wondered why some individuals seem to effortlessly attract others? The secret often lies not in chasing, but in drawing people towards them. Let us explore how to get women to approach you.

Do You Know How to Get Women to Approach You?

So how can you make women approach you? Picture this: You’re at your favorite café, sipping on a latte and reading a book. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot an attractive woman. Instead of mustering the courage to approach her, imagine if she came over and struck up a

Up Next

Spiritual Meaning Of Hawks: 12 Deep Dream Interpretations

Spiritual Meaning Of Hawks: Deep Dream Interpretations

Have you spotted a hawk or dreamed about it during a crucial period? According to the spiritual meaning of hawks, you might need to focus on the bigger picture! 

Hawks, with their keen eyes and majestic flight patterns, have long been revered across cultures for their spiritual significance.

Many believe that these powerful birds serve as

Up Next

How To Calm Down Quickly? 5 Best Tried And Tested Self-Calming Methods

How To Calm Down Quickly? Five Best Self-Calming Methods

We all have moments when we feel extremely overwhelmed and stressed out, and no matter how hard we try, it feels impossible to calm down quickly. So, how to calm down quickly? This article is going to talk about some of the most effective ways to calm down quickly, that won’t be hard on you but will also be good for you in the long run. . 

When you experience intense anxiety, anger, or sadness, you might need to calm yourself. Do you know how? It’s important that you find self calming methods that work best for you. Give these methods a try!

How To Calm Down Quickly? 5 Best Self Calming Methods

Up Next

What Is Identity Diffusion And How To Find Yourself

What Is Identity Diffusion? Four Powerful Ways To Find Yourself

Have you ever found yourself questioning who you truly are? Feeling lost and uncertain about your identity is a common experience that many adults face at some point in their lives. This phenomenon is known as identity diffusion. Let’s explore what is identity diffusion and how to find yourself.

What is Identity Diffusion?

Identity diffusion is a concept that explores the complexities of self-discovery and personal growth. It refers to a <