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How to Forgive Someone Who Isn't Sorry

Originally posted in September 2019

From Our Mailbag:

Hi Dr. Ben,

I'm 59 years old and am hoping that you can help me with an issue that has been a heavy burden almost all my life.

I know from following your work for many years that you've read The Glass Castle.  My parents were very much like the parents in that memoir.  They put themselves first throughout my childhood.  My brothers and I grew up with very little and there were times when we went days being hungry.  None of us went to college - there wasn't any money for it and we didn't think of borrowing from banks or the government.

I worked full time in a restaurant from the time I graduated high school until my late 30s when I was blessed with the windfall of my life - the owners of the restaurant wanted to retire and they offered to sell it to me and two others who worked there.  It took the three of us a little over 10 years to pay off the loan but it was mostly good times.

I am still a part owner and continue to enjoy the work.  Through much sacrifice, regular saving, and following a financial investment plan, I became financially free a few years ago.  

The issue is that all these years and especially now, my parents have heavily leaned on me for financial support.  I go between being happy that I can help them and feeling terribly used.  I know you understand because I read your article on giving and the resentment that it can cause.  My parents are in their early 80s now and rely on social security plus what I can give them to live comfortably.
I can go for weeks or months being happy to help them and then something they say can cause me to explode with anger.  What it comes down to is that they have never shown remorse over neglecting us when we were young.  From the way they speak about the past it's as though they think they were great parents which makes my blood boil.
I don't want to carry this until I die.  I want to be over it.  I want to forgive them.  I just don't know how.
Thank you for reading this far and for any ideas you might have.


Emily M.


Hi Emily,

Thank you for writing in to ask for my thoughts on your inner conflict.

My sense is that what you need most to get over the hurt you have felt for so long is to feel like your parents are truly sorry for neglecting you and putting their own wants ahead of taking care of your and your brothers' essential needs as you grew up.  Now that they're leaning on you for support even though they weren't there for you when you most needed them, it feels impossible to avoid feeling hurt and resentful sometimes.

We've thought a lot about how things were and we realize that we made some selfish choices, that we put ourselves and what we wanted far ahead of what was best for you and your brothers, and we're truly sorry.  We're also sorry to be a financial burden to you in our old age - we didn't plan responsibly or make necessary sacrifices for these years and we recognize how unfair it is to ask you to support us the way that you have been.

If your parents could express this to you and you could really feel that they are truly sorry, I'm guessing that this would be more than enough for you to find the peace that you are seeking, to be able to truly forgive them once and for all. It's clear from your message that you are a thoughtful and generous person.  Hard-working, too.  

Because you asked for my thoughts, and it makes me a little sad to share them, I have to say that based on my own life experiences, this type of apology probably isn't coming.
For your parents and others who consistently put their own wants ahead of everything else, even the basic needs of their growing children, I don't believe that their minds and hearts are conditioned to process your upbringing as you have.  You wrote yourself that there are indications that your parents feel that they were great parents.  So clearly, they see and process the world differently than you, I, and others do.

Put another way, if a person were capable of fully feeling your pain, hurt, and resentment while knowing that they were a primary cause of your suffering, and if they also had the capacity to take full ownership of this and apologize from the heart, they most likely wouldn't have made the choices they did to neglect and hurt you as they did.

So for you to find lasting peace, I think it would be helpful for you to come to terms with the strong likelihood that your parents will never fully acknowledge or own their shortcomings and express heartfelt and unconditional remorse.
If by some miracle they are able to do this one day, this will be a great gift, of course, but you should fully expect that such a day will never arrive.  

So how do you find peace?  Being the firstborn son of a Korean family, I have some experience with the struggle that you are experiencing. Though I don't have any sure-fire strategies to suggest, here are a few ideas worth considering as you look to shift your mental health and well-being for the better:

First, it might be helpful to consciously spend less time with your parents.  This doesn't mean that you need to shut your emotional core down and stop caring about them or cease supporting them.  Just look to reduce the frequency with which you interact with them, at least for the short term.  It doesn't help them or you to continue to spend regular time together in person or on the phone only to have your hurt and resentment continue to grow and for you to experience your occasional eruptions.
Second, do a little more than you normally would to be kind and helpful to others you interact with or randomly bump into.  Anonymous giving is powerful in this regard - something as simple as covering a person's coffee or tea going through a drive thru is likely to take up some space within your spirit, leaving a little less room for hurt and resentment to exist and grow.
Third, spend a little time each day thinking about something you wish to be forgiven for and then ask for this forgiveness while in meditation or prayer.   Ask for the grace to be forgiven and to feel free.  

Next, imagine speaking with your parents again and think of a way that you can consciously slow down time and increase the space between feeling triggered and the next words or actions you choose.  Within this space, consciously put your mind's focus on a word or an image that reminds you of your wish to be at peace.  Have this word or image ready at all times and practice jumping right to it in your mind whenever you begin to feel your hurt and resentment stir.  After restraining yourself, end the interaction by wishing them a good day with no hints of animus. Hopefully, succeeding at showing this type of restraint will bring you some fulfillment, knowing that you are improving in your ability to widen the space between stimulus and response and being more conscious in your chosen responses. And maybe, just maybe, in doing this multiple times, your parents will begin to consciously or subconsciously learn which words and actions they might avoid in order to enjoy your company for a little longer during future conversations and visits.
Clearly, you still deeply care about your parents - I believe many others in your circumstances would stop interacting with their parents entirely, and this might just be the sensible thing to do, especially if it allows a person to better maintain their mental health and well being and take care of their most important responsibilities like being a good parent themselves.  So on behalf of the world, I salute you for your compassion and patience.

To others who might stumble upon this, if you have a suggestion for Emily, an action step that you have found to be helpful in transcending similar feelings of hurt and resentment, please consider sharing via the comments section below or in the comments section under this video at our YouTube channel. Many thanks.   


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WOW. I'm also 59 years old. been married for 43. My husband and I are very different. I've always been somewhat of a fitness enthusiast. He, not so much. For more than three decades I begged him to change, come to the gym with me, Etc. There were a lot of things he couldn't do with our children because of his physical condition. 3 years ago he suffered a massive heart attack and some neurological issues. He now has CHF. The consistent corrective action offered by doctors was exercise exercise exercise. For a while 2 years ago I actually got him to the gym for a few months on the exercise bike everyday and he improved significantly, his cardiologist was thrilled.

I asked about CO-Q10 as ubiquinol and we added that to his regimen, as well as doing a ton of research myself and fine-tuning his diet accordingly. He has had dozens of physical therapists at home and outpatient as well as 7 PT rehabs.

Despite it all, he continues to refuse to accept or acknowledge that hard work is his only choice to prolong his life, yet says he wants to do so. He chose to go to a nursing home for PT rehab 6 months ago and has gotten worse instead of better, now he's considered long-term care. I go there twice a day, in the morning before work and in the evening after I get off. I beg on a daily basis for him to work harder try harder but to no avail.

The hardest thing in the world is watching someone that you care about go downhill I absolutely identify with Emily's situation. In my case I also have to advocate for him and constantly battle with nurses CNAs doctors physical therapists Etc.

He says that he will try harder if he comes home, but this has been repeated several times so I desperately want to believe him but I know deep down that it won't happen. I have found that a few things help my mood.

Number one, I draw enjoyment from my part time job. My presence is valued and I appreciate that. It might sound superfluous, but I make a point to consciously recognize compliments and pleasantries extended by my coworkers everyday. I also use chewable theanine from Natural Factors, 100 mg before I head in to visit him twice daily.AND; I got a library card. Remember those? Most larger metropolitan areas have pretty nice libraries, and the whole environment is quiet and relaxing while simultaneously interesting people watching. The luxury of turning off your cell phone and sitting in a chair in a quiet place and reading a book and turning the pages even for an hour is great.

This past week I also started working on getting a visiting caregiver to go to the nursing home three mornings a week for a few hours in my place. Sadly, the hourly expense is almost twice what I make at the job, but it will be worth it just to reduce the stress by a few hours a week. So I feel like spending less time definitely makes me feel less resentful.

I hope any of these suggestions help, and thank you for video I really needed to hear that this morning. DJ

I have also used dr. Ben's adrenal refresh formula. It seems to be a little stronger so I generally save it for events I know are going to be stressful, his doctor appointments and stuff like that. Thanks

Please try and understand that a good diet could
Help turn you and your husbands life around!
Please check out "The how not to die" book and cookbook
And reap their rewards. Bon Appetit!

Hi Emily -

I’m so pleased I found your story. It has elements of a story I know all too well, and have spent years trying to understand in hopes of closing old wounds. You may find my story interesting. Maybe even helpful.

After long smoldering resentment and eventual estrangement from my once adoring daughter, I found part of the answer by considering not only myself and my daughter, but my parents, grandparents and my wife’s family. It explained quite a lot.

When I was a young man of 17, had finished high school and the following Summer had come and gone, my Father asked “So, Rick, what will you do now?” He explained he was a bit surprised when his Father asked the same quest of him years before, then he made his plans to leave the family farm, and seek work in Connecticut. ‘There is the world! Take it!’

Attitudes toward men, women, children, religion, and social class were heavily influenced by Victorian era standards in Dad’s youth. Men and women’s roles, were dictated by social convention, and they were rigid. “Everyone” knew what was expected of them. Those who fell afoul of accepted norms brought shame on the family, were ostracized, and mended their ways or were banned.

Men supported their families; women raised the children. Children performed assigned tasks, were generally expected to be seen, but not heard, and were referred to their catechisms to answer questions of ‘place’, morality, and thought. At the time of my youth, questions of “right” and “wrong” were easily defined - - every thought word and deed either pleased God, or displeased God. Any ‘good’ act, was only what was expected, any ‘bad’ act (evil creatures that we are) would be forgiven, if acknowledged, confessed, and repented. Children were fed, housed, clothed and generally ignored by their fathers, unless they ‘got in trouble’, in which case they were disciplined. Kindness, warmth, was in short supply, but always understood to be present, and unreservedly displayed at Christmas.

Dad was an exceptionally bright and inventive man. He lived on a prosperous dairy farm and his grandfather was a pillar in the small rural Maine farming community. After High School, he enrolled in the University of Maine, but after his first year two tragedies struck - - - First the hoof-and-mouth disease struck the dairy herd, which had to be destroyed and buried - - - no insurance in those days. Loss of the herd was followed by the Great Depression. Dad left school, and went to work on A WPA project, cutting fire-roads through the woods of Maine. He was paid enough for soap and tooth-paste.
The job covered his meals and logging-camp ‘lodging’. The balance of his pay was sent directly back to the farm to keep it afloat.

And so, when Dad, in a rare display of sharing feelings said one day, ‘it may not look like a lot to you, and I can understand that, but for a poor kid from Maine, I have built a house, fed and clothed you and your seven brothers and sisters, and that looks pretty good to me.’ In that moment I saw my Dad for the first time, and was proud of him, and ashamed I had ever felt differently.

As a child from a family of 8 it was understood that if I wanted much beyond food, shelter, clothing, an annual trip 300 miles north to my Grandmother’s farm, maybe a dollar to spend at Old Orchard Beach along the way - - I would work for it. I began at 4, delivering daily newspapers to three closest neighbors, a spin-off from my big brother’s larger newspaper route. My 25 cents profit was split, .10 church, .10 Savings, .05 for my very own. I worked every day from then, until I joined the Navy, in 1964.

And so I learned about ‘family’, and ‘need’ and ‘giving’ and much more. I have learned that norms and expectations change with time, and it is sometimes worthwhile to consider what time and circumstance has done to change attitudes. My Father gave to his family without further thought. It was necessary. When I was still struggling to make $425/month mortgage payments, I managed to send my Mother an occasional $40 0r $50 (which she never asked for or expected, but always appreciated).

I have come to believe that giving freely, without expectation of any return (including thanks) is its’ own reward and, once given, should never be thought of again. I supported my parents in a small way, I don’t believe my siblings did - - - their loss.

My children’s resentment for lack of tenderness, care, time, consideration - - - those things they lavish upon their own children? I can learn from them, and realize they are probably doing a better job providing ‘happiness’ to their families than I did, as I spent most of my working life getting money, and leaving their care to their mother.

As objectively as I can, I have tried to put aside guilt, and feelings of self-serving exoneration to reach a conclusions that allows me to sleep soundly. It is this; We all live with imperfect knowledge of each other, and are often surprised by the goodness we discover accidently. Continue to hunt for that goodness, and believe those we love try to do ‘good’, but you can’t expect them to give you what they were never given - -

Mr. Kelley,

This is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I am going to save your comments and read them again over the next few days as I go through some issues of not feeling appreciated for sacrifices I've made.

Dear Emily,
First of all, I think you are doing an amazing job caring for your parents now that they are elderly and vulnerable. Most people don't have perfect relationships with their parents and parents will always be able to push our buttons. Accepting that your parents did the best they could and seeing them as just ordinary people as is the mark of emotional takes a long while to get there in my own experience. Both my parents are gone now. They were difficult in many ways. Accepting your parents, with all their flaws and all the bits you dislke is not easy. Perhaps it is more realistic to simply accept that getting angry or upset is part of life. We live in a world where we are always taught to be positive and optimistic and grateful. Buddhists are taught that all of life is suffering. I like to posit myself somewhere in the be grateful for all the wonderful people in my life and many other things and to accept all the hardship that has befallen me. Everyone suffers in their own way. We can never know what is in another's mind and heart-even our loved ones-and for all you know your parents may have many regrets they are unable to face or verbalise. Accept your parents as they are and accept they will upset you from time to time. If you have siblings debrief with them if you can. Do not demand perfection of yourself, in either your actions or emotions. Don't think too much of the past or worry too much about the future. If your parents don't express gratitude to you it's possible they feel it and express it to others. It's not uncommon for a parent to be cantankerous and insufferable with loved ones and yet when they are out of earshot to brag about their fine children and their accomplishments. Your compassion is wonderful and humbling. :)


I am a man in my late fifties. My parents were divorced when I was two and, for the longest time, I felt abandoned. I grew up with my maternal grandmother and then later in my teens, after both my parents remarried, I lived between their homes and the homes of relatives, never quite settling until I went off to college. I was blessed to have grown up with my grandmother and her values.

After high school, I was told, there was no money to send me for any higher education. I somehow got a government scholarship to college and after graduating and working for two years, I moved to Canada where I started and ran my business for over 20 years. All four of my parents had at one point or another come and visited me. They have now all passed away, leaving me with nothing.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and chose to treat my illness with the mind, body and spirit approach. I not only kind of stopped the progress of my illness, but I also learned to forgive everything and everybody who has ever done me wrong. This was more for me than for them. I no longer carry the baggage I used to and I no longer have anger. I am much calmer. This was not easy, but happened with time.
Thoughts are thoughts and when thoughts of regret creep in, I acknowledge them, remember that I have forgiven and move on. I am 58 and still cry during movies showing family love, reunions, parental love, etc. But I remind myself of my journey, smile and move on.

I realized, it is not what others do or say that is important. It is how I lead my life and treat others. My parents were victims of their circumstance. I am now the master of mine. It is important that I learn from their mistakes to be better than they were and accept who, where, what and how I am.

It is not easy, but good diet, meditation, mindfulness, acceptance, surrender, gratefulness and the combination of all of those have led me to where I am today. I turned out better than my parents. They taught me how not to be.

I live a simple life, now retired as a disabled man and I am glad and grateful for everything.

Thank you for reading my story and I hope that it will help others to move on in their lives.

I find myself now in that place you were once at - finding my mindfulness, meditation and letting go. Thank you for sharing your very inspiring and hard lived history. I’m thinking of the words “a blessing and a curse” at the same time. You’ve overcome so much - the question is, would life have had much more quality and joy without that experience? Wish I knew.

About two and a half years later, I found this. Thanks internet continuity and Ben Kim. :)

A particular thanks to you, Richard Kelley, for giving me a perspective on my relationship with my own dad. Know that through your thoughtful posting, you've helped me see my own dad in a more understanding and loving light.

3 or more decades ago.., i read a book.., and am not able to recall the author.. I think it might have been called 'Making Peace with Your Parents'. It suggested .., if i remember correctly.., taking a time in a meditative space.., to imagine your parents in front of you.., looking at you and listening to you.., perhaps asking how you are. Thank thenm for asking and as well for their listening.., and tell them what is in your heart. See them as really paying attention to your words. Take your time. Sometimes just seeing them hearing you is enough. You can also imagine they respond.., perhaps sadly saying.., that they never knew.., and how much they never saw how you were then.., and if it seems fitting.., thet they love you and are truly sorry they were not able to do more of what you needed. Perhaps you can find the book and read more of what they suggest. I did not have the difficulties you experienced, but I did long for greater connection to my parents that did not seem possible in ordinary busy life. AndI felt doing this imaginary sharing, and hearing their imagined response was helpful. Thank you Dr Kim for this venue and your good words.

In my book "Rise and Shine: Reclaiming Our Rightful Place" I mentioned a sentence that was a life-saver for me many years ago..."How Can I fault myself for something I did while I was learning!" Each of us is on the planet because we're learning. So I chose to reclaim the energy I had expended counter-productively by judging myself for a choice I made while I was learning and extended the compassion to myself, as I would want to have it extended to me. By the same token, am I willing to extend the same non-judgment to others who are also learning ...'How can I judge you for something you did while you were learning!" Let's also keep in mind that, if my lesson to heal in this chapter of my one ongoing lifetime, is to learn forgiveness, would I not draw "role-players" into my life who would set-up the scenario by which I have the opportunity to learn forgiveness? Extending forgiveness doesn't let the other person "off the hook;" they are still responsible for their actions, without my being their judge, jury, and executioner. Forgiveness frees-up the resistant energy I had been carrying, possibly creating a toxic experience of dis-ease in my body, so that wellness and peace of mind are my momently experience! If I choose to not let go the resentment, I get to draw another opportunity to forgive at another time...with different role players. Why not take advantage of THIS opportunity right now...give YOURSELF the healing now and give your parents a bouquet of flowers in gratitude for what you've learned! Namaste'.