How (and why) to Forgive
Discover tips and techniques for forgiveness.
Have you ever struggled to forgive someone? Held a grudge longer than you wanted? Have you ever felt shame or guilt about hurting someone else and not known how to ask for forgiveness? Forgiveness is essential to maintaining and repairing relationships – but that doesn’t make it easy. Many of us struggle to forgive and to get the forgiveness we want. In this article, we’ll talk about forgiveness, how to give and get it, and why it's important.
Forgiveness, in simplest terms, is letting go of angry feelings and thoughts toward somebody who hurt you and replacing them with positive feelings and thoughts. When we forgive, we accept that something bad happened to us and say that we want to move on. We become willing to see the other person for more than what they did that hurt us. But moving from anger to more positive emotions can be a lot harder than it sounds. When somebody hurts you, it is natural to want them to feel what you’re feeling. Forgiving that person means overriding that natural impulse to strike back (Wade et al., 2008).
At the same time, forgiving is not deciding that what the other person did was justifiable, excusable, or okay. When you forgive somebody, you’re not absolving them of blame—you are deciding that you won’t hold what happened against them. What they did was still wrong but letting go of your feelings about it has become more important. Whether or not you ever want to interact with somebody again, you can still forgive them.
You might have noticed that when you don’t know the person who hurt you very well, it may be easier to let go of the negative feelings they have (Worthington, 2005). In fact, you might not even need an apology from the person who hurt you (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). However, forgiving someone you are closer to may require more effort on your part, or an apology from that person (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000).
Often, we forgive when the benefits of forgiving start to seem more important than the benefits of staying angry. We might miss the company of the person we’re angry with or be tired of feeling upset every time we hear their name. But there is a range of health benefits to practicing forgiveness (Witvliet & McCullough, 2007; Worthington & Scherer, 2004) that make it worth your while to learn more about how to practice forgiveness.
How to Forgive Someone
Forgiveness must happen in your own head; if you say you forgive somebody, but don’t mean it, that forgiveness isn’t driven by your conviction. To be ready to forgive someone, you can ask yourself if you believe the three following statements (McCullough, 2009).
The next step, which is optional but often helpful, is to tell the other person your side of the story.
How to Get Forgiveness from Someone
Before you try to ask for forgiveness, there are some helpful questions to ask yourself (Holmgren, 2002). First, you can check to see whether you are rationalizing that your behavior was okay – are you holding on to the belief that you didn’t do anything wrong? You might also ask yourself if you are hesitating to take full responsibility for your role in what happened. Finally, you can check to see if you have any judgments of the other person that might make it hard to ask for forgiveness. Do you think the other person is overreacting or does not have a right to be upset? It might help to talk about your answers to these questions with a trusted friend, loved one, or mentor before you ask for forgiveness.
Once you have answered those questions to your own satisfaction, here are four steps you can use to get forgiveness from someone (Cornish & Wade, 2015):
Forgiveness is a useful tool for reducing feelings of anger and resentment and being able to repair relationships. Whether you are forgiving yourself or someone else, you give yourself a chance to feel better and live a healthier life each time you put forgiveness into practice. The more you practice forgiveness, the more quickly other people may forgive you, too.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.