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How Do You Forgive?

How to ForgiveIn my last post I spoke about how forgiveness can truly be a gift to yourself and your future. Which all sounds good and well, but how is it done when you’ve been wronged? And can you forgive those who have hurt you most of all?

Let’s take a look at what forgiveness is and is not…

Forgiveness is a way to process your emotions while letting go of negative thoughts and feelings. It is a way to move on with your life without being shackled to an unhealthy past.

Forgiveness is not a pardon for the other person and it does not mean that you will never have any remaining feelings about the situation. Forgiveness does not mean that the relationship is now repaired and that there is no further work to do on rebuilding trust or respect. Forgiving a person does not even mean that you have to work to repair the relationship or keep that person in your life.

Forgiveness means that you are releasing the judgement, resentment or grievance you are holding against someone. Choosing to forgive someone does not even require you to inform them of your forgiveness. Forgiveness is for putting yourself in a better place to either work on the relationship or move on without being held back.

Someone recently made the comment that they didn’t have to forgive because it was in the past and that person is no longer in their life. They aren’t mad or angry about the situation, they just moved on. I would say that if you’ve truly let go of all anger or hurt feelings then you’ve either already forgiven them or they didn’t do anything that warranted forgiveness in the first place.

Everyday you will likely run into people who will do things that could negatively impact you, but it isn’t everyday that these actions will have a long-term impact. If a person lies to you, breaks your trust or acts against you, the impact on your emotional state will depend on how close she (or he) was to you. If it’s a random co-worker your reaction will be much different than if it’s your spouse. Not every action will require you to go through the process of forgiveness. You need to look at each situation and your emotions to understand where in your life it is needed.

For those areas that do require healing, you have to remember that it is a process. It’s isn’t always a simple decision point that automatically shifts you from hurt to happy. So how do you accept the past reality and find a state of resolution?

Here are a few steps to start your process of forgiving:

Take the time to process the situation

Really look at the reality of situation from all sides and let yourself feel each emotion as it arises. Be aware of how you are feeling and what has happened. Accept and acknowledge how the actions of this person have affected you.

In order to let go, you have to be able to lower your walls and admit your true feelings. This step is important because you can’t let go of something you are not able to recognize or admit. This step can be done on your own, but it may also be helpful to seek counseling if you are struggling with the emotions you are feeling. It can also be helpful to do a writing exercise in which you write down the events and your feelings surrounding them. You can address the letter to the other person or to yourself detailing your anger, experiences or hurt. These letters are for you and no one else needs to read them.

Look for areas of growth or positive aspects of the situation

What have you learned about yourself? Have you been able to better identify your own needs, boundaries or fears? How does this situation help you to grow? Every situation in our life presents an opportunity for growth and strength. The tearing down of a relationship may give you the chance to build it back stronger than ever, or open your life to new options.

View the person through a lens of humanity

When people have hurt us, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing them as the situation instead of other imperfect, flawed individuals. Individuals who make mistakes, have their own shortcomings and pasts to overcome. Maybe he acted in the only way he knew how, or perhaps he wasn’t able to find a better way to meet his own needs or necessary boundaries.

Looking at him in a more neutral manner gives you a way to soften your stance – not to pardon his actions or make yourself accountable for them – but to give you more than one perspective on the situation. Having more information about an instance can help you to release some of the bitterness or anger you are holding.

Decide what your future and next steps look like

Do you want to tell those who’ve hurt you that you’ve forgiven them? Do you want to repair the situation or change the course it is on? What do you need to get there? By letting go of your ties to a past pain, you are gaining more control over your future relationships and path. Create the boundaries you need to function in this future state. If the person continues with the same behaviors, is it time to move on from her? If you can’t move on for whatever reason, what steps can you take to distance yourself emotionally and to protect your own needs? What should the relationship look like given the true personalities involved instead of your hopes for what they will be?

Forgiveness can take time and it isn’t the end of the journey, but it does give you more freedom, control and options. It is possible to move on from a dark situation and to reach a healthy place with the person you are forgiving. Even the most difficult situation can be turned into an opportunity for growth if you open yourself up to the realities of your situation, deal with the emotions holding you back, and plan for a brighter future.

How Do You Forgive?

Amy Bellows, PhD

Amy Bellows holds a PhD in Psychology and has had the opportunity to work in various settings including leading adolescent group therapy sessions, working with victims of sexual assault, helping woman inmates adjust to post-prison life, conducting parenting education classes and assisting with drug and alcohol dependency treatment plans. The unique challenges and opportunities that come along with being a part of a step-family is a special interest of hers. Amy is currently working in the corporate environment with a interest in group dynamics and change management. You can find her on her website, or on Twitter @AmyBellowsPhD.

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APA Reference
Bellows, A. (2016). How Do You Forgive?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jun 2016
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