Compassion and Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking a lot about compassion throughout this pandemic. How we all are quicker to become dysregulated and how it is also taking longer to return to a state of regulation. How this means that we need to have compassion for others and compassion for ourselves as none of us are at our best.

Then I was listening to Dr. Tyler Black on this episode of CBC’s The Current. Dr. Tyler Black is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and the Medical Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Emergency Department at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. Dr. Black talked about forgiveness and how we need to be more forgiving of people during the pandemic.

That got me thinking about the relationship between compassion and forgiveness. As I was pondering these things, something occurred. A good friend made some comments that hurt me. All of a sudden, these questions and wonderings became very real.

Compassion is noticing and being open to suffering and possessing a desire to relieve it. Gilbert and Choden (2014) note that compassion is “tuning into and being moved by and empathic toward pain and difficulties” and then “cultivating the qualities of wise engagement and kindness” (p. 2). Forgiveness can be described as letting go. Jack Kornfield (2008) writes, “forgiveness simply means never putting another person out of our heart” (p. 31).

As social beings who need each other in order to survive, humans and other higher primates have developed ways to maintain relationships and community cohesion. Compassion and forgiveness help us stay connected when there has been conflict. Relationships can be repaired and restored when we are able to forgive, and compassion plays a large role in our ability to forgive.

It is possible to feel compassion and not forgive; we can feel empathy for another and wish them relief from their suffering and not feel able or ready to let go and forgive them. However, when we have feelings of compassion towards a transgressor – when we are able to identify with them – we are more likely to forgive.

Understanding another’s discomfort and suffering and not wanting to see them remain in that place, allows us to forgive. At the same time, forgiveness is an act of compassion towards ourselves. It is uncomfortable and stressful for us when there has been a disruption in a relationship. Forgiving the transgressor allows us to be at peace in ourselves again as well.

Living as we are in the middle of a pandemic and all the uncertainty and stress that brings, there are going to be many times our compassion is called upon.

After sitting with my friend’s comments for a bit, I have decided to focus on the compassion that I feel and forgive. None of us are at our best and I know that we are all affected by our current collective situation. And as Jack Kornfield said, I do not want to put my friend out of my heart.


Gilbert, P., & Choden. (2014). Mindful compassion: How the science of compassion can help you understand your emotions, live in the present, and connect deeply with others. New Harbinger Publications.

Kornfield, J. (2008). The art of forgiveness, lovingkindness, and peace. New York: Bantam Books.

Worthington, E. L., Jr., O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Sharp, C., Murray, R., & Yi, E. (2005). Compassion and forgiveness: Implications for psychotherapy. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy (p. 168–192). Routledge.