How Faux-giveness Creates Anxiety and Stunts Spiritual Growth

How Faux-giveness Creates Anxiety and Stunts Spiritual Growth


If you accept apologies even when you don't feel like it, you might be practicing “faux-giveness.” Learn how to change that pattern and live with less stress.

“Sorry,” she said. “It’s okay,” I lied.

Whether a stranger spills coffee on you or you catch a close friend spilling your secret, when someone wrongs you, the offender’s likely response is to express regret. This isn’t surprising since, as inherently social beings, apologizing is an act that allows us to integrate into communities and maintain relationships.

Over time, religious teachings and etiquette norms have fortified this behavior, socializing us to apologize early and often. Today, we offer it both appropriately (to right our wrongs and repair relationships) and unnecessarily (as a tool to appease others, mitigate conflict, and gain social favor). Regardless of obligation or motivation, whether we’re truly sorry for our actions or just sorry we were caught, we apologize.

Why Some People Over-Apologize

While a sincere apology fosters goodwill and reconciliation, doing so excessively is a behavior associated with codependency, weak interpersonal boundaries, and low self-esteem. But saying “sorry” is only the first variable in a two-part social equation that needs solving; the second being how we answer. Unfortunately, the same social construct that has conditioned us to over-apologize also dictates the appropriate response: Receive the apology and forgive, with any variation of “It’s okay” being an acceptable answer.

But, what if it’s not?

Like our apologies, saying “It’s okay” or “I forgive you” may be genuinely expressed or simply a reflexed response, and if over-apologizing is negatively impactful, the same rationale suggests that over or falsely forgiving could have harmful consequences as well.

So why do we do it?

We don’t “faux-give” because we’re all a bunch of liars, incapable of honest relationships. As with apologizing, it’s what we believe we’re supposed to do.

Our desire to forgive, and to do so quickly, is understandable; we’re taught to believe that to be a “good person,” not only are we under a mandate to offer an apology, but we’re obligated to forgive our offender under all circumstances—even if an apology isn’t extended. Moreover, research on forgiveness finds that it’s beneficial to our health since forgiving releases feelings of anger and resentment, which, when unattended, remain swirling inside of us like a silent tornado.

By nurturing forgiveness, we gain mental, physical, and spiritual health benefits, such as better relationships, fewer symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure, improved self-esteem, a stronger immune system, less anxiety, less stress, and better sleep. But such benefits cannot be reaped with false words, because only when our forgiveness is authentic can we receive its gifts.

The Downfalls of Faux-giveness

In addition to the desirable emotional and physical health benefits, the moral message of forgiveness reinforces our compliance. Though we may be earnest in our intentions, a disingenuous announcement of forgiveness ignites a physiological chain reaction beginning with the activation of our fight-or-flight response. That’s because when we faux-give, we are not only feeling hurt, but we’re now lying, both to ourselves and to others.

Just as we wouldn’t want someone to proclaim their love for us if they don’t truly feel that way, we shouldn’t want to be told we’re forgiven if we’re not. When we behave this way, we are acting outside of our personal integrity—a state in which our personal values are exemplified through word and action, expressed through attributes including honesty, dependability, good judgment, and respect.

When what we say or do is not in alignment with what we believe and value, we are out of our integrity. Our body notifies us through the expression of physical unease and emotional distress, and while we are aware of this discomfort, we may not realize the source. Just as with any activated warning system, ignoring our bodily alarm risks destructive consequences. However, we can silence our internal alarm by acknowledging our unease and speaking our truth, thereby returning to a state of integrity.

What Is Integrity?

In her book Rising Strong, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown advocates for integrity, defining it as “choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” Though it may be socially acceptable, disingenuous forgiveness compromises our integrity and denies us the opportunity to grow. Our true feelings go unexpressed, we remain hurt, and negative feelings toward the offender are compounded. With this internal conflict, we may adopt a victim mentality, feel disappointed in ourselves, and experience increased stress and anxiety.

Offer Faux-giveness → Out of Integrity → Internal Conflict → Stress → Anxiety

However, when we express our hurt and align with our integrity, we release heavy feelings of conflict, anger, and turmoil. This allows us to live in our power, create space to process our pain, own our healing, and cultivate authentic forgiveness. In addition, a 2012 study in The European Journal of Social Psychology revealed psychological benefits, too: 95 percent of participants who refused to express remorse showed signs of “greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power/control and integrity.”

Refuse Faux-giveness → In Integrity → Process → Heal → True Forgiveness

This isn’t to say that we should withhold forgiveness as to means of manipulation, but rather as an alternative approach that allows us to have autonomy over our experience so that we’re able to process within our integrity, sidestep undue stress and anxiety, and arrive at forgiveness authentically.

How to Stop Faux-giveness to Prevent Anxiety

If you suspect that false or excessive forgiving may be causal to your anxiety, perhaps it’s time to adopt a new view. Here’s how:

1. Remove forgiveness as a moral measure. We aren’t “bad” if we don’t feel forgiveness, don’t forgive someone who has harmed us, or don’t feel conflicted. Plus, falsely pronouncing forgiveness out of moral obligation only intensifies internal conflict (because now you’re lying about it!).

2. Lift the misplaced burden of immediate forgiveness on the aggrieved. The offender doesn’t dictate the details of another person’s healing. Genuine forgiveness is an intimate act and is determined by the person who has been hurt.

3. Practice integrity. Speak up for yourself. Instead of just saying “It’s okay” or “I forgive you” when it’s not true, opt instead to stay in your integrity. You can do this by acknowledging the action in a way that doesn’t extend false forgiveness while also telling the truth. (E.g., “I appreciate your apology; however, I’m hurt and need time to process this.”) When seeking forgiveness, don’t expect it immediately; allow the other person time and space.

Should you choose to modify your forgiveness behaviors, be prepared: It isn’t easy. It may initially be uncomfortable for both parties, instigate social commentary, and solicit character judgment from incredulous others. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it.

When we reject faux-giveness, we choose our integrity over making others comfortable, honor our truth, align with our values, create space to reflect, commune with our higher power, experience authentic forgiveness, and grow spiritually.

As tempting as it may be to reflexively give and receive forgiveness, remember that, while it may assuage an uncomfortable moment, this feeling will be fleeting if it isn’t true. Though it takes time—sometimes years—to achieve, the journey to forgiveness offers invaluable benefits for both parties, ultimately enhancing our overall wellbeing and fostering a deeper, more meaningful, and less anxious human experience.

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