Forgiveness is an essential step for recovering from a traumatic event, and unfortunately, most people seem to struggle with it. One of the biggest problems, it seems to me, is a misunderstanding of what forgiveness actually is. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting the event, pretending it didn’t hurt you, or even telling the person who wronged you that you forgive them. Rather, forgiveness is simply accepting what happened and letting go of all the negative thoughts you have associated with it.
But it’s still not easy. So how do you forgive?
There may not be any easy way, but here are just a couple of things to consider. First, acknowledge that by not forgiving, you’re in effect voluntarily putting yourself in a far worse place, because you’re allowing what could be a one-off hurtful event to continue to cause you harm. And ironically, by not forgiving, you’re letting whoever wronged you have even more power over you.
But that’s just scratching the surface. And so to hopefully give you a wide range of ideas and possibly inspiration for forgiving someone who may have wronged you, this article is a compilation of stories, tips and advice from a wide range of different people on how to forgive. We’ve had some great submissions already, and I’ll continue to update this article as more come in (click here to make a submission).
Here are the best comments we’ve received so far. I invite you to have a good read through them, and hopefully, you’ll pick up 1 or 2 good ideas that can help you.
I once read about a teacher who visually showed her students how not forgiving someone could drag them down and get in the way of their happiness. She gave each student a sack of potatoes and asked them to write the names of someone they haven’t forgiven—someone who perhaps has made them mad or angry. Then she asks them to put the potatoes in the sack and carry it around the room. Pretty soon the burden of carrying around the weight of not forgiving became very clear.
As Desmond and Mpho Tutu remind us in The Book of Forgiving: “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness….”
This really hit home for me after I received a letter from a woman who read one of my books. She had been molested twice when she was twelve years old. She was now 67 and she had never told anyone about it. Her unwillingness to forgive those who had harmed her was zapping her life. For years she was angry and full of rage until she read the quotation by Dale Carnegie in my book.
The quotation was: “When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness. Our enemies would dance with joy if only they knew how they were worrying us, lacerating us, and getting even with us! Our hate is not hurting them at all, but our hate is turning our days and nights into a hellish turmoil.”
After reading it, the woman said that the words impacted her in a profound way. It gave her courage and enabled her to forgive her abductor. “I’ve taken my power back,” she wrote, “and it has changed my life.”
--Allen Klein, allenklein.com
Forgiveness is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. We may even ask ourselves, why would I forgive someone who has done me wrong? Wouldn't I be letting them off the hook? Do they even deserve it? You may not feel the other person deserves the gift of forgiveness. But what about you? Don't you deserve to liberate yourself by exercising this gift? Sometimes it is important to remind ourselves that when we don't forgive, we decide to drink this poison expecting it to affect the other party.
Forgiveness begins by acknowledging the hurt and pain while making a conscious effort to reduce their intensity. Start by visualizing what your life could look like without the influence of the pain that person caused. Next, consider the goals and aspirations of which you have lost sight. How would you feel? What could be accomplished by choosing to release yourself from this invisible prison? Last, use this as fuel to motivate, empower, and assist you in taking back control of your life. Forgiveness is a choice but can be the most transformative choice you make.
--Crystal Lockett-Thomas, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, BC-TMH, Bright Futures Family Counseling
Connect with the wrongdoer's point of view, and then internalize and understand that if the roles were reversed, you would be capable of doing the same thing he/she did to you.
Although this is easier said than done, if you can put yourself in the other's shoes, it can give you tremendous power to let it go eventually. Forgiveness is all about rebuilding trust with the other person. By first understanding where the other person came from and why they did what they did, you can pave the path to forgiveness.
--Aviram K., Woof & Beyond
Young children have the perfect tip for how to be forgiving. Children don't hold grudges because they'd rather be happy than right. We forget that concept as the years pass by from toddlerhood to the teenage years.
We focus on becoming masterful with skills, respected by peers and potential employers, and to become powerful adults. The competitiveness involved with all that too often includes making the choice to be angry, frustrated, or somehow upset with people who slowed down our progress or prevented it altogether. The self-inflicted misery doesn't help us to advance in life. Therapists know all about that. Clients have long memories of who hurt them, and how, that it was inexcusable, etc. But let's look back at how youngsters deal with emotional pain and forgiveness. They don't spend time in therapy, they make positive, rewarding choices instead. Children holler I hate you but they forgive/forget as soon as the hated person gives them a treat or a sign of love. Adults, however, tend to draw lines in emotional or spiritual sand and forbid you from crossing it. They're willing to remain miserable in order to be right. Their argument must stand, their ultimatums obeyed, even if they lose friends and other relationships. They want to win the argument, whatever it is.
Rethink your priorities. You don't need to remain estranged from someone. You can let bygones be bygone. Life has do-overs. Start some. Your forgiveness, your willingness to start anew just might refresh your soul. Over time, before or after reopening a severed relationship, you might decide to see the situation from the other person's point of view. It's a phenomenon that lifts emotional weight from forgiving hearts. Even if you never see things from another person's perspective, you can release the pointless anger clogging your mind just because you want to. There's no point in letting bitter memories live rent-free in a space that has far nobler things to do, pleasant thoughts to cherish, and many upbeat goals to achieve.
If you hunger for revenge on or against someone, do it with a sense of healing emotional humor: Succeed anyway. Bounce back from adversity like a Weeble Wobble toy. Refuse to let emotions or other people prevent your progress in life. The people who hurt you might stew in anger or disappointed surprise that you thrive despite setbacks, punishing themselves with negative thoughts. You won't feel tempted to nurture a sense of anger if that happens - and even if it doesn't. You'll enjoy successes no matter what anyone thinks. Happiness is more important than winning arguments or settling scores. Your memories of factual events can remain neutral and fact-oriented. There's no need to let emotions set dysfunctional agendas. Bounce back and move on to better things.
--Yocheved Golani, e-counseling.com
The first thing we have to understand is that when we are holding a grudge, keep on being angry or waiting for an apology that may never come, we are holding ourselves hostage within the memory of that incident. We replay the incident over and over in our mind and with that feel the pain time and time again. That is not healthy.
The other thing we have to look at is why we often don't allow ourselves to let the memory of an incident go. Let's look at sexual assault. Many survivors believe that by forgiving their attacker, they are saying that the incident lost its severity, which is not true at all. The severity of an assault will never be diminished, even if we allowed ourselves to let it go and move on.
Forgiveness, as I have experienced myself and have been passing on to my clients, means allowing ourselves to let it go. Rather than looking at it from a point of forgiving another person, we should focus our attention inward and towards release. Rather than trying to force ourselves to say 'I forgive you' we should have a dialogue with ourselves allowing ourselves to disconnect from the pain the other person caused by saying: 'I release you. The memory of what you did has no power over me anymore.'
Essentially, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, and everything with ourselves. Finding peace from that situation within ourselves is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
--Sandra Cooze, Rise Above Your Story
Time heals all wounds they say, and it's absolutely true.
The first step in forgiving is giving time not just to yourself, but the person you’re trying to forgive, by doing that you’re like stitching an open wound instead of just putting a band aid on it, because the truth is you can’t really forgive somebody if you could still feel that anger within your heart. Let the unwanted emotions settle, because eventually it will.
Love yourself more, and in time all the hate will subside, and you will be able to get to know more of yourself and the world, and that kind of wisdom will be able to help you move on.
The final step is communication. As a speech therapist, the main thing that we teach is communication and it’s not easy, and I can just imagine how hard it is to talk to somebody who left a scar in your heart, but when you have the right mindset and you’re all healed from the dark past you will be able to confront the person you’re trying to forgive, but you have to consider if that person is able to handle a mature conversation. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to communicate and say “I forgive you” if you feel that the one you’re trying to forgive is still immature, the most important thing is that your heart is free from anger, and that you feel that peace from within.
--Michelle Lachman, M.S., CCC-SLP, BetterSpeech.com
Forgiveness is the only tool humans have, to regain their power after an event has happened. Forgiveness gives us back our power, so that we can powerfully chose how we will respond to whatever happened to us. Without forgiveness, we are trapped in an infinite loop of victimhood and despair. It doesn't change what's happened, feelings, etc.. and it's not a amnesia pill. You may have to give yourself a recharge a few times.when that person/or event comes up. Forgiveness, is just the power one needs, so that they can powerfully chose how they will move forward. It has helped me to create a new relationship with my dad, after my parents divorced etc.. such that I've come to realize he did the best he could with what he had. His love for me is genuine.and I can accept him as whole and complete just as he is.
--Earl Jones, farmersagent.com
Within the Invisible Illness community there is a lot of pain, both physically and emotionally. By definition we don't look sick, so we spend years of our lives being gaslighted and treated as hypochondriacs. Once we receive our diagnosis we find a sliver of internal peace. Feeling vindicated, justified, and proud for knowing our bodies better than those on the outside of it, we run to parents, friends, and previous doctors showing them proof our illnesses weren't all in our heads or some way to seek attention.
As we finish explaining what we have, we wait for them to respond with an apology and genuine acceptance they were wrong. That rarely happens. Many people don't believe what they can't see with their own eyes. So it falls on us to forgive absent them seeking that forgiveness from us.
When I am approached by newly diagnosed Spoonies struggling with anger and resentment, I remind them how both those things can make our illnesses worse. Holding on to those negative feelings can literally make us sicker by causing Fibro Flares. If we value ourselves, forgiving and letting go has to be part of our treatment plan, just like medications and physical therapy. It's not easy, but talking it through with other Spoonies who understand and empathize can help. I am also a huge proponent for therapy in order to process these feelings of disappointment and hurt, the gaslighting often being traumatic in scale.
--Talia Miele, TaliaMiele.com
I have experienced several deep, wounding attacks from people who were once close to me. Two things helped me escape the bitterness that fought to take root in my soul and heart. First, I had to choose to forgive for my OWN good, not for theirs. These people will probably never apologize or even admit their wrongdoing. I may never speak to them again in my life. But harboring unforgiveness doesn’t affect them - it affects ME. How dare they continue to harm my life? Choosing to forgive, and recognizing that forgiveness and moving on was for my own good, was the best step I took.
The other beneficial step was finding a safe person to share my store with. I learned that if I had to pay for a safe space (i.e. counseling), it was far better than the mental, emotional, and physical price that years of trauma and hurt would cost me and my family.
--Clarissa Sidhom, Modern Hipster Mama
A common conversation I have with people struggling with forgiveness is the misleading and perhaps dangerous association forgiveness has with forgetting. Almost everyone has heard the phrase “forgive and forget” and many people see those things as going together and if they can’t totally “let go,” if not forget the incident that requires forgiveness, that means they haven’t done it all enough. I encourage people to define forgiveness for themselves more simply: giving up the need to see someone punished for a wrong they did to you. They don’t have to forget or even let go something totally in order to let go of the need, or desire, to see them punished. This is important because sometimes “forgetting” puts people back into a vulnerable state again where they can be hurt by the person they seek to forgive. In order to forgive or let go entirely there should also be some involvement fro the person being forgiven: some apology, acknowledgment, and indication that the troubling incident won’t happen again. Then it is OK to let go and open up to them again. I refer to this as reconciliation. Forgiveness is a one person act and can be done without any change in the offender. In the way I use it, forgiveness can provide relief to a person looking to let go of their own emotional connection to something that happened to them. They don’t have to open themselves up to that kind of hurt again though, and probably shouldn’t, unless reconciliation has been reached. Reconciliation requires the participation of both people in the relationship.
--Dr. Mark Sharp, Aiki Relationship Institute
I have had many experiences with being wronged, offended, hurt, and I’ve even done these things to others. Living that lifestyle lead to a very painful relationship and a 4 year prison sentence. That was almost 19 years ago. Before release I vowed to never be in that situation again. There are two components that start the repossession of my life. I had to live in the truth. Often times we lie to ourselves and that makes become a slave to our very own thing. I call this mental incarceration. Once I could be honest with “ME” that’s when I could truly look at my past and realize I made many of my choices and not the people that I blamed. The next step is forgiveness. Making the conscious decision to change. That comes with sometimes a daily commitment and most definitely consistency. Healing is the ultimate reward for forgiving or being forgiven. Of course, with most cleaning products, you cannot get a red wine spill up without treating the carpet. The same applies to healing. There is a lot of work that comes behind the decision to forgive. It will look different for many individuals. Some may be able to move right along. Some may need counseling. Some may need accountability partners and, some may need to seek a higher power. Each person who decides has a path only they can walk. May you have peace in your decision as you journey your path.
--Kyonna F Brown, kyonnafbrown.com
As a relationship expert, forgiveness is one of the most difficult decisions to make. It may be a cheating spouse or a betrayal by a dear friend. It takes a lot of courage to finally let go of bitterness, anger, and resentment. The negative emotions can result in anxiety, depression, lack of trust, and low self-esteem. The key to forgiveness is acceptance. Come to terms with yourself that you have a choice and you are in control. Do not let negativity ruin your life and eat you alive. Choose peace over pain, freedom over constraint, and love over loathe. Remember, forgive the people who have wronged you for your own sake. The courage to forgive is an act to restore your sanity and live a happy life. Also, forgiveness does not mean you will be friends with that person again. It is time to draw healthy boundaries for your protection.
--April Maccario, Askapril.com
My primary advice to people struggling with forgiving, is to know that you are the one who is in control here. As hard it is to let go of the pain and as easy it is to hold someone else responsible, you have to understand that you are sitting in the driving seat of your life. You should realize that you have a choice. You cannot control the actions or words of the people around you. In fact, there is no point in trying to control others. You have the sole control on your actions as well as your thoughts. You can stop imagining and reliving the hurt. You can choose to move on from the pain. You have this power within you to free yourself. You just need to accept it and learn how to use it. Many times when we struggle with forgiveness, it is only partly because you are unable to get past someone else's actions. Sometimes forgiveness also involves forgiving yourself. You may be mad that you put yourself in that position. You have to realise that trusting someone is never wrong. You are not to be blamed or responsible for someone else's actions.
--Girish Shukla, girishduttshukla.com
My one tip for forgiveness is by first, letting go of all the things that remind you of the hurt and pain that the other person has caused you. Throw away photos, give away the gifts they gave to you to charity, and unfriend them on all social media channels. Block them if you have to. In order to forgive, you must be able to fully forget everything that has been done. Let go of the past and do not carry its burden with you as you move forward in life.
--Lewis Keegan, Skill Scouter
Most people have been hurt in some way. It might have been a close friend or relative, a colleague, or even a total stranger. I was wronged by someone close to me and I guess it hurt more to be betrayed by someone I trusted. I carried a lot of hurt and anger around with me and I could not even contemplate forgiveness. I felt as though it would be the same as saying it was okay what that person did. Over time, I came to realize that forgiveness does not mean you forget or endorse what they did to you. I realized that the only way I could move on and be at peace and find freedom from anger again would be to forgive and let go. Forgiving that person was more for my benefit than theirs.
Two quotes that resonate with me are ‘Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’ and ‘Holding onto anger is like holding onto an anchor and jumping into the sea. If you don’t let go you’ll drown’
So, to conclude, my tip for forgiveness is to tell yourself that you deserve to move on and enjoy your life. If that means forgiving the person who caused you pain then so be it.
--Gina Harper, harpersnurseries.com
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