Real forgiveness is never toxic, says UW–Madison’s Enright to Men’s Health

Can forgiveness ever be detrimental to your well-being?

Robert Enright

A recent story in Men’s Health magazine that takes on the concept of “toxic forgiveness” consulted with UW–Madison’s Robert Enright, an expert in forgiveness science and professor in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology.

“Toxic forgiveness” refers to forgiving someone when you still feel hurt or haven’t gotten closure, explains the story. This can cause trauma or even erode your mental health.

But Enright says the whole idea that forgiveness could be toxic is a “misunderstanding of what forgiving another person actually is.”

“Forgiveness properly understood and practiced is never toxic,” he explains. “The distortion of the meaning of forgiveness can give forgiveness an unwarranted bad reputation.”

Enright explains that what’s described as toxic forgiveness is actually appeasement. It’s “about letting go of what happened, so the other doesn’t get angry,” he says. “Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting go of a situation.”

Enright calls forgiveness a “moral virtue to be good to others for the other’s sake.” It’s about “bringing justice to a situation.”

“Forgiveness really isn’t about you,” he says. “It’s for the other person, but you reap the benefits.”

Enright identifies four steps to start to forgive someone who has wronged you. They are:

  • Recognize the injustice
  • Decide you want to forgive
  • Reframe how you think about the other person
  • Express goodness to the other person

To learn more, check out the full article at

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