Forgiving others is a process that takes time and effort. If you were abused by a parent, cheated on by a partner, or attacked by a stranger, forgiving the person who hurt you might seem impossible, and even unnecessary. This is especially true when the person that hurt you denies what they did, or isn’t even sorry. However, forgiveness isn’t something you do for them, it’s something you do for you. Forgiveness requires processing what occurred and how it impacted you, and finding a way to let go of the anger, pain, and desire for revenge. When you make peace with what happened, you can let it go and move on.

Why Forgive

Holding on to the pain and anger caused by someone that harmed you isn’t good for you. Those who choose not to forgive can experience problems with their physical and mental health. This can include cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. When the focus is on the hurt instead of healing, you might replay the negative experience repeatedly. This negative thought loop can actually perpetuate the pain, anger, and other difficult emotions experienced at the time of the initial offense. If you forgive, you release the negative emotions and the energy you were focusing on. When you are able to forgive those that you are close to, reparation and reestablishing trust is possible. Forgiveness can improve your health, your relationships, and your overall emotional well-being.  

Why It’s Hard To Forgive

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it can be seemingly impossible. There are a number of reasons why forgiveness can be a difficult process. It can be hard to give up the anger, pain, and desire for revenge related to what happened. This is especially true if you haven’t spent time feeling it and working through it. You may believe that forgiving lets the person who hurt you off the hook. It’s possible that you believe that forgiveness means you have to accept the person back into your life in the same way, or forget what they did. Maybe you believe forgiveness isn’t necessary if the person is no longer in your life, doesn’t know they hurt you, or isn’t even sorry. Giving up thoughts of revenge and letting go of focusing on the past, and instead living in the present, can be scary. You might be afraid you’ll forget, or give the impression that what happened wasn’t that big of a deal. There is also the possibility of believing that forgiving means you are giving the person permission to hurt you again.

Define Forgiveness

Defining what forgiveness means to you, is an important step in the forgiveness process. Decide for yourself if forgiving others is something you do for them, or for you. Figure out what religious, family, and personal beliefs influence your definition and if you believe you have to forget and no longer feel hurt to forgive. Consider whether or not you want to continue to have a relationship with the person that hurt you and what that might look like. These are some things that you might want to think about when formulating your definition of forgiveness. The psychological definition of forgiveness, is making a deliberate choice to release the need for vengeance and harboring resentment toward those who have caused you harm. When you clearly define what forgiveness is and is not, it should be easier for you to let go and move on.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you have been hurt by someone, especially a person you really care about, you might experience a lot of different feelings. You could feel pain, anger, confusion, betrayal, and many other emotions. It is okay to feel whatever it is you are feeling. Accepting your feelings and allowing them to be, is the easiest way to work through them. There is no reason to judge your feelings, they are what they are. Pushing your feelings down and trying to ignore them can prevent you from working through them and being able to forgive. It is much easier to begin the healing journey when you are able to acknowledge and process your emotions.

Forgive Yourself First

The decision to forgive others always starts with forgiving yourself. If you are struggling to forgive someone that hurt you, maybe you need to forgive yourself first. It’s possible that you blame yourself for ignoring obvious signs. Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is also the possibility that even though you did nothing to cause what happened, you still struggle with guilt and shame. You might believe that you were hurt because there is something inherently wrong with who you are. While it might be hard to forgive yourself, doing so can be quite freeing and can improve your emotional well-being. Practicing self-forgiveness also enables you to extend that forgiveness to others. 

Establish Strong Boundaries

Forgiveness is not the same thing as saying what happened didn’t hurt, and is okay. It does not mean that you have to forget what transpired. If what was done, or not done, was not okay, you want to establish a strong boundary around this to help prevent it from happening again. A boundary is for you, not for the other person. In order for a boundary to be effective, it must be clearly stated and have specific consequences that you are willing and able to follow through with. Creating clear boundaries, and being aware of what the consequence will be if the boundary is broken, enables you to forgive the other person and repair your relationship. This way you forgive the person, but maintain a boundary around what caused you pain, so it is less likely to happen again.

Practice Compassion

No one is perfect. Mistakes are bound to happen, even quite painful ones. Practicing empathy and compassion can help you find a way to forgive. Focusing on what happened and how bad it hurt can reinforce the negative experience and difficult emotions since you are giving them so much energy. Shifting the focus to empathy and compassion enables you to view the offender as a flawed human. Although it does not make what happened okay, it helps change the focus. The focus is now on understanding and kindness instead of pain and revenge. This subtle shift can make a big difference in your outlook and ability to forgive.

Write It Down

Forgiveness is something you do for you, so you can let go and move on. Therefore, you do not have to tell the person that hurt you that you forgive them. If you want to let them know they are forgiven you can, but it is certainly not necessary. Sometimes, writing down what happened and what you want to say about it, can help you release it. You could write out what happened and how it impacted you. When you are ready, you can write out what forgiveness means to you and why you choose to forgive. You could give this to the person if that seems important, keep it for yourself, or destroy it as a way of symbolically releasing yourself from the pain. Writing it down can keep you clear on what forgiveness is and why it’s important to you, while also honoring the experience and the process.

It Is A Process

Forgiveness is a process. It takes time to fully recognize what occurred and how it impacted you. Time is also needed to determine what forgiveness is, why it is important, and how you can forgive. It is rarely a one time event. Making the decision to forgive someone is just the start. You need to go through the process of forgiving before you can release the pain and desire for revenge and be able to let it go. It could be easy forgiving part of an offense, but quite difficult forgiving another aspect of it. Maybe you have no problem forgiving one person for what they did, but you struggle to forgive another person that did the same thing. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, effort, and energy. You do not have to hurry the process, and you don’t have to judge it either. When you allow the process to unfold, forgiving the person that hurt you will seem more complete and it will be easier to let it go.

Forgiving others isn’t always easy. If you are struggling with your ability to forgive someone and it is having a negative impact on your life, individual counseling can help. Forgiving others can be freeing. When you experience the freedom forgiving others provides, you can move towards your future feeling lighter, happier, and more at peace.

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