Rachel Miller in Vox:
Forgiveness is often viewed as the “happily ever after” ending in a story of wrongdoing or injustice. Someone enacts harm, the typical arc goes, but eventually sees the error of their ways and offers a heartfelt apology. “Can you ever forgive me?” Then you, the hurt person, are faced with a choice: Show them mercy — granting yourself peace in the process — or hold a grudge forever. The choice is yours, and it’s one many of us assume starts with remorse and a plea for grace.
It’s reasonable to expect an apology when you’re the one who has been hurt or betrayed. But that’s not how it works in practice. In fact, therapist Harriet Lerner writes in her book Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, the worse the offense, the more difficult it can be to get an apology from the person who harmed you. In those instances, Lerner writes, “Their shame leads to denial and self-deception that overrides their ability to orient toward reality.” And beyond this, there are other reasons you might be unable to get the apology you deserve. Maybe the other person isn’t aware of the harm they did to you, or they’ve disappeared, making contact impossible, or they’ve died.
Unfortunately, that puts you in a tough spot. How do you forgive someone who isn’t all that sorry, or who you can’t actually engage with?