Have you ever been emotionally hurt by someone and struggled to forgive them?
When we are feeling hurt, forgiveness does not seem quite an option. But if you’re tired of letting negative thoughts occupy space in your head, and you’re ready to let go, forgiveness will come eventually.
So how do you forgive someone who hurt you emotionally?
Table of Contents
- Accept oneself
- Accept the other
- Let go of having to be right
- Let go of needing to punish the other
- Let go of needing to be angry to maintain power or control over the other
- Accept that the world is not fair
- Focus on the advantages of forgiveness over anger
- See what forgiveness would do and how it can help you
- Talk to the person about what went wrong
- Decide that forgiving is for your own best interest
- Think about who you are forgiving
- Think of the person’s intent
- Recognize the need to forgive
- Search for perspective
- Work on your blocks
- Set a goal for forgiveness
- Understand the reason behind the action
- Acknowledge the hurt but don’t get stuck in it
- Recognize the emotion that is below the anger we are feeling
- Look at the other person’s motivations and previous actions
- Creating boundaries for yourself with that specific person
- Do a self-reflection
- Take action to find your peace
- Try putting yourself in their shoes
- Ask yourself what life experiences could have led this person to harm others
- Practice meditation and affirmation techniques
- Recognize the implications that it has for us personally
- Acknowledge the event
- Define and decide
- Do the work
- Self-reflect on the situation
- Know that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting
- Give yourself time to reflect on the values you have for this relationship
- Take time to understand
- Accept that nobody is perfect
- Grieve the loss
- Start by giving that person the benefit of the doubt
- Understand is that forgiveness doesn’t mean access to the abuser again
- Never expect an apology
- Frequently Asked Questions
Dr. Steven M. Sultanoff
Clinical Psychologist | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Professor, Pepperdine University | Professional Speaker, Humor Matters
True forgiveness is the ability to accept that another person is doing (or did) the “best” he/she can, given that person’s life circumstances.
Misconception: Forgiveness means to condone the behavior. A forgiving person accepts that the other did the behavior and that the behavior was unacceptable (to the injured party).
To forgive does not mean to condone.
It does mean to embrace that the offender was doing the best he/she could given the full circumstance. (Otherwise, the person would have acted differently. This is a challenging concept and extremely difficult to embrace when one “wants” to hold on to being angry in order to be the “better” person, but totally required for true forgiveness.)
It is easier to forgive when one accepts that being wrong does not make that person “less.” Accepting one’s own value in the face of being wrong is essential for forgiveness.
Accept the other
Forgiveness is easier when one accepts the fundamental truth that the perpetrator is doing the “best” he/she can within the confines of his/her world. In order to truly forgive one must accept that the other did whatever it was that was hurtful because that was the best he/she could do at that moment in time given that person’s life circumstances and experience.
Let go of having to be right
To truly forgive you must let go of having to be right that the other “should not have done the unacceptable behavior.”
Let go of needing to punish the other
To forgive one must let go of the need to punish and keep punishing the perpetrator.
Let go of needing to be angry to maintain power or control over the other
Those who do not forgive often keep their anger to remain powerful over the other and have a trump card to hold over the other in future situations.
Accept that the world is not fair
The individual may have been “wronged” and while not liking to be wronged, the world is not fair, and the fact that it is not fair is not a reflection on the individual.
Why is it so important that we forgive?
Unless one forgives, he/she is trapped in his/her emotional distress. Often the unforgiven behavior is used as a “discrediting” card whenever the offender “misbehaves” or used as a justification for the offended to behave in whatever ways he/she desires.
Generally, anger is associated with not forgiving (this is partly because anger is generated when we view the world as having to be fair and the bad behavior is viewed as “unfair”). This anger empowers the offended and maintains their air of superiority.
It can motivate the offended person to continue to be the judge of the offender and be self-righteous. The one offended becomes trapped feeling chronically angry in the relationship unless he/she forgives. This ongoing anger is toxic to the relationship and will lead either to an end of the relationship or a relationship in which both parties remain unhappy.
Why is it so hard to do?
- First, not forgiving is associated with a negative view of self. Not forgiving is actually a way for the one who was wronged to maintain a falsely positive view of self. To forgive may mean to accept one’s negative view of self (I must be bad to have been treated this way.)
- Second, the person wronged feels righteous, and to forgive is to let go of their righteous view of self.
- Third, to forgive is often misconstrued as to condone the behavior. Forgiveness is to accept and not to condone.
Those who have chosen not to forgive are destined to be constantly plagued by their emotional distress and the relationship cannot heal.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Grinstead Consultation and Training
Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were. – Cherie Carter-Scott.
Many of us have experienced first-hand how anger makes us feel, and most of us really don’t like it and it can easily amplify our chronic pain symptoms or trigger a pain flare-up. We understand what people mean when they say that it makes us smaller, for the times that we’ve been angry have not been the best of times for sure.
And while it can be very important to express our anger, it isn’t always the case; in addition, sometimes we just stay angry without ever expressing it. This can be even more damaging than letting the anger out.
Focus on the advantages of forgiveness over anger
When we’re thinking completely objectively, it’s pretty easy to see the advantages of forgiveness over anger. Forgiveness keeps us focused on love, and it recognizes another person’s right to make mistakes without being severely punished for them.
True forgiveness allows us to let go of anger and hate, freeing up our mind and spirit to allow us to focus on more important things such as love and compassion.
Anger, on the other hand, keeps us focused on what we perceive to be negative incidents or actions. Anger keeps us dwelling in the past as long as we keep running over in our minds the awful things that someone has done.
Anger holds us as its prisoner and our mind and spirit are not free to find positive and constructive things upon which to stay focused—we hold them back because we like to feel the self-righteousness that comes with most anger.
Yes, much anger may be justified, but as we hold on to it, it becomes less and less justified, and more and more destructive.
The best way to deal with anger is to face it directly and then let it go—not because someone else has bent to our will and begged forgiveness, but because we’re willing to forgive and move on with our lives and keep growing as a human being.
There is so much fear, anger, and anxiety in the world today that needs to be healed.
I know my part is to start with loving and forgiving myself and then extending it to others. Today on my Spiritual Warrior Journey I will strive to be compassionate and loving to all my Spiritual Warrior Sisters and brothers, releasing fear, anger, and anxiety and replacing it with love and forgiveness of self and others.
Many of my Spiritual lessons the past few months have been about the need to forgive myself and others to fully connect with my True Spiritual Identity.
For me, the bottom line is that until I’m willing to forgive myself for everything I mistakenly believed I’ve done wrong until I am willing to forgive others for what I mistakenly believed that they’ve done wrong to me, I will stay stuck in suffering.
Today I choose to forgive and be freed from the bondage of suffering. In closing, I want to paraphrase a Zen saying I heard many years ago:
“Holding anger and resentment against someone is like grasping hot coal to attack the other and the only thing that happens is you burn your hand.”
Dr. Debi Silber
Founder, Post Betrayal Transformation Institute | Holistic Psychologist | Personal Development Mentor | TEDx Speaker
Forgiveness can be challenging when we look at is as an all-or-nothing proposition, so it’s helpful to give ourselves credit for being willing to try.
Expecting to experience one grand “ta-da” moment can be unrealistic and can often cause extra stress and anxiety. I’ve found that it’s more like a continual process that happens over a period of time. It can start as sadness and confusion, turning into anger and eventually turning into compassion by the time we’ve forgiven.
Just to be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you think what the person did was right, justified, or in any way okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re some kind of a pushover, weak or naïve for letting it go.
It also doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten what happened, or that you’re somehow setting yourself up again for another hurt because you’re choosing to forgive. It’s a decision that allows you to let go of the power that pain has had on you.
Forgiveness can also serve as a beautiful act of self-love.
Think about it. When you forgive, you release anger, resentment, pain, grief, and depression – just to name a few. By forgiving you gain peace, understanding, validation, self-respect, and self-love.
You’re able to say, “Yes, this happened to me, but I’ve learned some incredible lessons and I’ve turned lemons into lemonade.” You’re stronger, wiser, more confident, and most importantly, free.
That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily rebuilding a new relationship with the person who hurt you or setting yourself up for more pain, it just means you’re willing to let go of all of the small self benefits that hanging onto that pain was giving you.
I love this quote from Mark Twain that sums up forgiveness so beautifully:
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
See what forgiveness would do and how it can help you
So how do you do it? Here are some questions I often ask my program members when we’re working on forgiveness:
- Who do I need to forgive?
- What is holding on to this pain doing for me/them?
- Can I forgive?
- Am I willing to forgive? Yes/no/why not?
- Can I view this event as powerful teaching experience or lesson?
- Can I view this person as a powerful teacher?
- Am I willing to look at this event as a powerful teaching experience?
- If I forgave, I’d feel…
- If I forgave, I’d believe…
- If I forgave, I’d look…
- Forgiving would allow or create…
- What do I need to do/learn/experience in order to forgive?
- What benefit am I receiving by holding onto the pain of this experience?
- Withholding forgiveness keeps me tied to…
- Freeing myself from this pain allows me to…
- What needs to happen for me to forgive?
When we’re able to extract the benefit we’d give ourselves through forgiveness, we’re much more likely to try it.
Psychologist | Business Consultant | TEDx Speaker | Author, When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love
Talk to the person about what went wrong
It’s really hard to forgive someone who hurt you emotionally if they don’t understand the hurt they caused. Before you can really forgive, it’s important to try to talk with the person about what went wrong.
Take the time to confront them in a caring way. If they really value you and the relationship, they will want to make things right with you.
Gary Chapman and I have found that there are five different things people want to hear in an apology. We call them the 5 “apology languages.”
Talk with the other person about what you really need to hear from them, or what actions you want to see them take. Don’t feel rushed to forgive them. It’s OK to wait and watch for change while they work to rebuild your trust.
In closing, this is what I’ve learned about hurt feelings: “You remember the person who was really kind to you and the one who was really horrible to you.” And so, forgiving is no easy matter.
Dr. Lindsay Israel
Board Certified Psychiatrist | Chief Medical Officer, Success TMS
Decide that forgiving is for your own best interest
When you come to the conclusion that it is better for you to forgive this person than it is for you to hold the hurt and maintain the anger perhaps for protective reasons, then every next step will always circle back to this first one.
The main purpose of forgiveness is to have inner peace.
It is a gift you are giving to yourself but not for selfish reasons; this self-serving reward is for self-preservation. Now that you have decided it is in your own best interest to forgive this person, you can begin to find ways to keep you on the path of letting go.
Think about who you are forgiving
More likely than not, this is a person who matters to you. It is not surprising that the people who can hurt you the most are the ones who you value the most in your life.
Ask yourself, does the person I am forgiving add value to my life? Does this value outweigh the hurt this person has caused me? If the answer is yes to both of those questions, then this will bring you a sense of peace and validate even more so your initial decision to forgive.
Think of the person’s intent
In terms of defining the person who caused you emotional pain, you will naturally question this person’s intent. Having a deep understanding of his or her qualities, was the emotional pain an accidental byproduct of this person’s actions or words, or is this person capable of malintent?
If your answer to the former yes, then it should be that much easier to forgive and maintain a relationship with this person whom you have already concluded brings overwhelmingly more positivity into your world.
Emotional hurts are one of the most difficult wounds to heal, particularly if the emotional wound intersects with older, unresolved emotional wounds.
In order to heal emotional wounds, it’s important to take a clear look at what is involved in an intrapersonal and interpersonal level. The below steps are very helpful for processing and healing from emotional wounds.
- When you feel wounded emotionally, try not to be reactive. Instead, simply say to the person who has hurt you, “I feel hurt by that comment, action, etc.”
- If the person is able to respond in a healthy way, healing can occur at that moment. For example, the person might say, “I am so sorry I hurt you. I don’t want to harm you in any way. Can you please tell me what I did so that I can avoid that same behavior in the future?”
- Take enough time. If the person is not able to respond in a healthy way and becomes angry or defensive, simply ask for a time out.
- Use your time out to journal, process, and consider what your needs are in the situation.
- Once you feel clearer, you can return to the person and say something such as, “I feel hurt because you were sarcastic and critical. Saying I’m stupid makes me feel sad and angry. It would feel much better to me if you would speak kindly and respectfully.”
- If the person is not able to take responsibility and shift to avoid creating emotional harm in the future, you can then choose your next course of action. You might limit contact with the person or discontinue the relationship.
- Part of the healing process is to create stronger boundaries to avoid further emotional harm.
- Another part of the healing process is to let the person know what your new boundaries are (e.g., reducing contact, ending the relationship, etc.).
- Engage in good self-care, such as talking with friends, journaling, or seeing a psychotherapist.
All of these steps, if done with kindness and clarity, actually allow for healing of the emotional wounds.
Emotional wounding can be subtle or overt; it’s important to take all emotional wounding seriously in order to avoid getting stuck in anger, sadness, or resentment.
Forgiveness is the best thing you can do for yourself to reduce stress. If someone has wronged you and you can’t seem to forgive them, I believe you’ll feel a lot more stress than you otherwise would.
Withholding forgiveness sometimes feels like we’re somehow getting even, or like we’re hurting the person who hurt us, and it might feel fair on the surface. But really, when we withhold forgiveness from someone else we aren’t hurting anyone else but ourselves.
When you forgive, you let go of the past. You stop allowing the past to exert control over you. Forgiveness is freedom from all of that, and it can seriously change your life. Here are the steps for how you can forgive someone who has hurt you:
Recognize the need to forgive
This need could be to forgive someone else or to forgive yourself. To help you recognize this need, ask yourself what you need to let go of. The first thing that comes to mind is likely the most urgent thing that needs to be forgiven
Search for perspective
There are multiple sides to every story, and no matter how much you may think you understand the other side(s), you really don’t. There is no way for you to know someone else’s feelings, emotional makeup, or private experiences that have colored how they respond to things emotionally, or why they react the way they do.
Everyone interprets things differently because of that. Try to look at situations from multiple angles, and appreciate the fact that those different perspectives often play a huge role in any strife.
Work on your blocks
It’s quite possible that Trapped Emotion or other blocks could exist within you and might be playing a role in your inability to forgive yourself or others. Energy healing techniques such as The Emotion Code or The Body Code are designed to help you find and remove these blocks.
- Am I blocked by something that’s keeping me from letting this go?
- Am I okay with creating a better relationship here?
- Do I feel I deserve to let this go?
- Is it okay or safe for me to forgive this?
- Are there Trapped Emotions that are keeping me from forgiving?
Set a goal for forgiveness
What do you want to accomplish by doing so? Decide how you want to feel. This may depend on the kind of relationship you have with the other person.
If you’re trying to forgive yourself or someone very close, maybe you want to feel compassionate or you unconditional love. If you’re trying to let go of something your ex or a former friend did to hurt you, maybe what you really need to feel is indifference, so you no longer care about what happened.
In your forgiveness process, it’s important to remember that you can only control your own feelings and actions. The way other people feel or behave isn’t within your control.
Letting go of something for yourself is how you get free from the weight of the past. If you’ve really let something go, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do. You’ll be free.
Dr. Irene Little, PsyD., MS, MA, LMFT-S, LCDC
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist- Supervisor | CEO and Clinical Director, Access Counseling Group
We know that forgiveness is really about our own emotional well-being. Some people are too sick or too hurt themselves to even understand that what they have done is hurtful.
I work with people who have been hurt deeply by words said to and about them, or by being left behind or forgotten by people who promised to love them. The emotional wounds are deep, painful, and long-lasting. Some people are no longer alive or it is not safe to confront some people to even explore if the person is willing to ask for forgiveness.
Understand the reason behind the action
The suggestions I give on this topic come after helping the individual understand why people hurt us emotionally. It is important to realize that Hurt People, Hurt People. This could be from their own past issues of hurt, abuse, and learning within their own family system.
It can really help to understand that although the person who hurt you was in control of their own actions, and although it feels personal, it may not be.
A person may say and do things only because they learned the bad behavior in their own dysfunctional family. The goal is to understand how to see the hurt that was thrust upon us as not being about us as a person but about the hurt inside of the person who created the hurt.
Internalizing and believing negative messaging about the hurtful actions exacerbates the pain, thinking it must have been something I did or that I somehow deserved to be mistreated makes it hard to forgive. Once we have de-personalized it, then we can begin to focus on letting go of the pain.
I heard the word ‘forgiveness’ means ‘to cancel a debt’. This is such a freeing way to look at forgiveness because now, whether the person asks for it or not, I on my own accord can ‘cancel the debt’ and choose to no longer require that I hear an apology or see changed behavior. And this puts me back in control and with that, I receive the best gift of all – serenity!
Dr. Ronit Levy
Clinical Psychologist | Clinical Director, Bucks County Anxiety Center
Almost every patient I have worked with has experienced heartache, betrayal, loss, anger, anxiety, and other negative emotions due to being hurt by someone close to them.
Most of us believe in things like justice and fairness. We think that people should feel bad, apologize, and repent if they’ve hurt us. Unfortunately, that is not usually how it works out. When people realize that, they are devastated.
We cannot change how people think and feel.
No matter what we do, how someone thinks, feels, and acts are not up to us. They are up to them. That means that, no matter how much they hurt us, they’ll continue to do so if it is what they want to do.
That is really hard for most of us to accept. As a result, we are left with huge amounts of unresolved feelings that are like a black hole. When we get sucked in, we can spend days, months, or even years caught up in negative thoughts and feelings. Every part of our life can potentially get stuck.
Acknowledge the hurt but don’t get stuck in it
Forgiveness is not about letting the person who wronged us off the hook. What the other person did is not okay. However, we have the power to decide that we are done holding on to emotions that are tearing us apart emotionally and physically.
Anger and sadness that last for a long time become resentment. Research shows that resentment negatively impacts every system in our body. By holding on to negative emotions, we wind up hurting ourselves.
The goal is to get to a place where we can acknowledge the hurt but not get stuck in it. Instead, we can say that person was wrong and hurtful, but we are choosing to not get stuck in those feelings. Instead, we are choosing to move on and build a happier and healthier life.
It also means coming to terms with the fact that most of the time, we’re not going to get closure from the person who hurt us. We have to decide for ourselves how the story ends.
Dr. Hans Watson
Psychiatrist, University Elite, PLLC
Recognize the emotion that is below the anger we are feeling
Only after we understand our reason for feeling hurt, can we focus on the other person in a way that is healthy and foster’s healing and forgiveness.
We will find that many times, our hurt is worsened by us projecting previous experiences onto the current situation and worsening the pain by thus increasing the current injury.
Look at the other person’s motivations and previous actions
Only then will we be able to calm some of the emotions tied to the injury and begin to see the possible good that accompanies the negative from that person. Without being able to see both good and bad in the same person, we will never be able to forgive.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Many people get stuck on the “why” to forgive and then move to the “how”. This is because forgiving is more about you than the other person.
When you release your anger and resentment towards someone, it frees up energy to focus on other things. Once you know the “why”, then the “how” becomes a bit easier.
Creating boundaries for yourself with that specific person
Stop sharing so much with them. Limit your time with them and don’t talk about certain things with them. Chances are the issue with this person is deeper than simple forgiveness.
Creating a strategy on how to interact with them more safely will make the action of forgiveness much easier. You are the one taking charge of things rather than letting them happen to you.
Clinical and Forensic Neuropsychologist | Host, SuperCharged Life Podcast
Often times, we can’t forgive someone who hurt us because of pride, or because it hit on a huge nerve of some unresolved issue that you have from your past whether it is with another person who caused you pain or with yourself. But that anger and resentment eat away at us, it takes up our energy, consumes our thoughts, and keeps us in a negative space, keeps us stuck and unable to move forward.
Do a self-reflection
Ask yourself what the purpose is for holding onto the resentment. What function is that anger or pain serving in your life? I like teaching my patients to use the concept of “workability” which comes from the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy modality.
This is all about only investing in thoughts that are going to help you live a rich, meaningful life – and disengaging from thoughts that will take you in the opposite direction.
So start by asking yourself “Is the thought workable (meaning, does it move your life forward in valued ways) or not?” If it’s not workable, then let it go. If it is workable in some way, then take the steps needed to move through the conflict by addressing it with the person who hurt you or finding a peaceful resolution on your own and creating closure.
Take action to find your peace
If you decide the thought is workable, then ask yourself, “what is one action step I can take to resolve this pain?” Sometimes, it may not involve you reengaging with the person who hurt you – you may not want to have a relationship with them going forward or it may not be feasible.
Attempt to find some peace and closure on your own.
Often times, this can be through writing a letter to the person expressing your feelings and how they hurt you, then ripping it up. Or, it can be a peaceful goodbye that you create through a ritual – for example, going on a hike, and at the summit, saying goodbye to the person and their toxicity in your life. It can also be another form of closure where you actually wish them well.
My favorite way to do this is the Loving Kindness meditation. It has 3 parts, you wish a person you care about wellness, happiness, and safety. You then wish a person you have had a conflict with that same wellness, happiness, and safety. Finally, you wish yourself wellness, happiness, and safety.
Psychiatry Resident, Dalhousie University
Most people who hurt our feelings do not do that intentionally, barring narcissistic or antisocial personalities. Everyone comes with their own unique baggage or life experiences that influence the way they see the world and how they interact with others.
When someone acts hurtfully, it is most likely a reflection of the way he or she has learned to communicate or to cope with difficult situations.
Try putting yourself in their shoes
Empathize with their struggles. What could have influenced the way they treated you, from their upbringing to their baggage, to their current life stressors? When the outcome is your hurt feelings, being upset is a valid response, and their reasons do not excuse the actions.
However, understanding their background can soften your reaction, help you forgive them, and you then have the possibility to work through the situation together.
Ideally, with some forgiveness, an apology, and assurances for future behavior change, you can resolve conflict with a well-intentioned person who regrets making a hurtful mistake.
Mary Joye, LMHC
Certified Life Coach, Winter Haven Counseling | Florida Supreme Court Family Law Mediator
Sometimes with trauma, there is someone to blame but it doesn’t prove to be healthy long term to “carry” or “hold” a grudge. Like the semantic it keeps you anchored to the offender and the event.
The best question to ask is why should you forgive someone who hurt you emotionally.
Emotional trauma is serious. It is the cause of many suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Broken heart syndrome is real and it causes negative physiological symptoms to hang on to the hurt or seek vengeance.
When taking out vengeance, lights up reward centers of instant gratification centers in our brain, finding forgiveness does not: but the long term benefits are worth the wait.
You can forgive someone in five major steps. It is always easier to do this if the person apologizes but this is not often the case.
- Choose to want to forgive for your sake. You will not feel any different but making this choice does not get them off the hook, it keeps you from being hooked to them through this pain.
- Forgive when you are ready. So many forgive too soon only to find they weren’t quite done processing the pain. Only you know when to do this and expect cycles of relapse back toward unforgiving. It is part of the process toward progress.
- Stop talking, thinking, or rehashing the offense to others. The less you say or think about it and the more you work on yourself is best.
- Seek any part you may have played. This involves including things like knowing ahead of time this person was capable of being culpable for the misery of anyone else.
Did you overlook flaws or ignore advice from others or neglect to read all the red flags or warnings? If so, let yourself off the hook and forgive yourself if you need to do so.
Skip this step if you don’t, but many times this is the most important step to take. It is not taking blame but accepting responsibility for anything you may have known beforehand that could have prevented your pain.
- Enjoy your life. The old saying, “living well is the best revenge” is true. Instead of thinking about how to hurt them or staying unforgiving work toward being happy yourself.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist, Create Your Life Studio | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
First off, it is important to remember that you are in no way required to forgive someone who has abused you or harmed you deeply. If you do choose to forgive someone, the benefit is above all, for you.
Secondly, if you decide that you would like to let go of the anger and resentment, but you don’t know how to begin, start by just noticing that you have a willingness to forgive them.
Begin by saying to yourself that hurt people hurt people. Healthy people do not try to destroy others.
Ask yourself what life experiences could have led this person to harm others
If you have to, imagine them much younger in order to imagine the experiences which shaped them into an abuser, into a harmful person.
Did they experience abuse? Neglect? Were they themselves possibly victimized? You are not excusing their harmful behaviors, you are merely becoming curious as to the conditions which led to their poor and harmful choices.
Next, say to yourself, “I am willing to forgive you. I may not know how yet, but, I am willing to let this pain go. I am willing to release you from my own hurt, anger, and resentment.” Remember again that forgiveness is for you, most of all.
Practice meditation and affirmation techniques
Practice Metta meditation. You can find Metta meditation for free on YouTube.
Practice the Hawaiian art of h’oponopono. You can find these mediations for free on YouTube.
Write their name down on a piece of paper. Write down everything they did that contributed to your harm. Hold them accountable. You may wish to safely burn the paper or to bury it in the earth.
Write “Even though you did ____________, I am no longer willing to hold on to this pain. I am letting you go now.“
Whenever their actions come to mind and you feel sad, angry, anxious, hurt, or anxious, place your hand over your heart and say, “This hurts me. May I let it go and come out stronger and wiser for it. May I never hurt someone in this way. May I be healed.“
Make art about the experience and express your genuine feelings about it. Radically accept that you feel what you feel. Some days it will be harder to forgive than others. Some days, it will feel easier.
Imagine setting the pain down, like a heavy suitcase, when it comes to mind. Imagine letting go of a balloon and watching it float away from you when the pain comes to mind. Practice letting all lingering resentment go, and imagine watching it float away from you, high up into the sky.
Hold a rock that feels like it could hold your pain. Hold it in your hands and imagine placing all of your pain into the rock. Ask it to hold the pain. Then, bury it into the earth’s soil. Ask the earth to transmute the pain into something useable.
When you recall an aspect of the pain, imagine sitting on the bed of a stream. Imagine placing the memory onto a leaf floating by. Watch the leaf float by, away from you downstream.
Write a letter to the person you are trying to forgive. Express every emotion, every thought you have about how their actions harmed you. Hold them accountable. You may not wish to send the letter and that is ok. This process is for you.
A few days after you write the letter, go back and reread it. This time, as you read the pain and hurt you have experienced, see if you can also notice how this pain has deepened your empathy and compassion.
Maybe it connects you to others who have experienced this grief and suffering. Maybe it deepened your compassion for yourself. Maybe you will work towards improving the lives of others in this situation. Maybe you will vote accordingly. Perhaps you will make sure you never harm someone in this way.
Notice how the pain was unwanted, perhaps you would not wish for it, but still, there are gifts in it, no matter how small.
When the person who harmed you comes to mind, say to yourself, “This pain is no longer serving me. I am letting it go now.” When you think of the pain, say to yourself, “I am able to forgive you and myself. May we both be free from suffering.”
Forgiveness is a daily practice.
Like any other muscle, you need repetitive sets over time to see strength and progress. You can’t do one thing to let it go out of the entire week, you must keep returning to your daily practice of forgiveness.
Give your body the rest and support it needs. Give it water, movement, nourishment, and nature. Give it comfort and healthy touch. Wear what feels good to you rather than follow the crowd. Spend time with people who feel safe. Trust in your own intuition and choices. Here are some affirmations for forgiveness:
- I give myself permission to do what is right for me.
- Forgiveness is a gift I give to myself over and over again.
- I am easily able to let go of the past and move forward into the joy of tomorrow.
Remind yourself that you do really love yourself and that you are worthy of peace.
Matt Glowiak, Ph.D., LCPC, CAADC, NCC
Professor | Therapist, Choosing Therapy
Forgiving those who hurt us emotionally may be among the most challenging of human experiences. Especially when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable enough with another person to express the best and worst of ourselves, the process of forgiveness becomes all the harder.
Recognize the implications that it has for us personally
By refusing to forgive, we continue holding onto negativity–ultimately punishing ourselves for the wrong-doing of others. Such negativity may be something we ultimately repress, or it can do the opposite–become something that ultimately consumes us.
This may lead to unnecessary anxiety, depression, frustration, resentment, dwelling on the negative, and a whole other host of negative life experiences.
Also, if you refuse to share your feelings with the other person, that individual may be oblivious to what happened in the first place–going on living life without knowing anything is wrong.
Accordingly, we miss a learning opportunity for both parties in the relationship to ultimately come out of it in an even better place.
In sum, refusing to forgive someone else is as much or even more of a punishment for ourselves than the other person.
It is important to recognize that compassion is an integral part of mindfulness. Being compassionate toward other people, our environment, and even ourselves.
When we refuse to forgive, compassion–and essentially our ability to be mindful–is compromised. We always have a choice of how to respond, and ultimately it is up to us how to work through situations in a healthy manner.
While it is important to learn valuable lessons when others do us wrong, it is also beneficial to take the high road.
Forgiving someone does not mean that we must re-enter a bad situation or even continue associating with that person. As the saying goes, ‘Forgive but do not forget.’ What forgiveness is, is a healthy acknowledgment of what happened and accepting the opportunity to move forward.
Candida Wiltshire, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
The major reason we encourage forgiveness is for the individual to heal. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone get the best of you, it’s about learning to let go, grow, learn, and heal from the experience.
As a therapist, I help clients work through the process of forgiving by following the below steps:
Acknowledge the event
During this period the client works to understand exactly what the offense was. Many times, individuals feel mad or hurt but cannot verbalize the offense. This period of acknowledgment focuses on what happened, how it impacted life, and what emotions resulted.
Define and decide
As we understand and identify what occurred, the next step is to define what forgiveness means to the individual. This includes working out the desire to seek revenge, understanding what it means to have compassion towards the offender, and determining boundaries if necessary.
The individual should then make some decisions on forgiveness and if it is worth it. Not for the offender but for the individual. How will forgiving change their life? How has not forgiving affected their emotions and the ability to move on and find happiness?
Related: How to Forget About Someone You Hate
Do the work
This is the hardest part I believe, this involves understanding the offender in a compassionate way. During this time, the individual learns to see the offender as a product of their history and identifies both the negative and positive outcomes of the experience with the offender.
When we are mad at someone, we often overlook the lessons that we’ve learned as a result of the offense. Each experience (good or bad) contributes to our development as a person. Therefore without the offender, we would be lacking in that experience.
This is the phase that takes time. It’s difficult at first, but as the individual continues to look at the situation from a different point of view, they can ultimately learn, accept, and move on from being angry to forgiveness.
One thing to note is forgiveness isn’t always reconciliation.
You can forgive and still maintain your boundaries. Many think the two are the same but it really isn’t. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget. You can remember the offense and change behaviors to avoid a repeat.
Alicia Henry, LCSW
Psychotherapist, Upper East Side Therapy | Wellness Coach
Holding on to hurt keeps you doing just that – holding something. Being the carrier of this hurt only prolongs your suffering and keeps you stuck, so it is ultimately to your advantage to try to forgive the person and let go.
Self-reflect on the situation
Ask yourself what it is about the situation that is particularly upsetting; i.e. you really trusted this person and they’ve let you down, or you had high expectations about something and your needs weren’t met.
If you can, take a step back and simply become curious. Does this hurt remind you of something from your past? Have you been disappointed or let down like this before? Has someone pointed out something about you that you do not want to hear or see?
This is not an easy task as it may bring up uncomfortable feels like shame, guilt, regret, or embarrassment. However, by doing this, you may uncover the internal belief system that you have formed about yourself and others.
The hurt you are experiencing is embedded in your internal belief system, i.e. your own expectations and beliefs about this person’s words or actions.
Instead of having ill-will towards the other person, carefully examine which belief of yours has been challenged.
By doing this you can more easily forgive the person and bring in new and alternate perspectives that will allow you to heal.
One of the most powerful tips I can offer anyone is to hold the simple truth in mind that people do the best with what they have. This simple fact can help to alleviate the faulty expectation you may have placed on somebody else.
Therefore, if someone has hurt you, whether intentionally or not, knowing that they are doing the best that they can with the tools and intrapsychic system that they hold may offer you some comfort.
Finally, ask yourself how you can learn/grow from this. Perhaps you are taking things too personally, or you have placed someone on a pedestal without considering the fact that they’ve also got flaws and struggles of their own.
Tanya Peterson, NCC
National Certified Counselor, Choosing Therapy
The mind doesn’t easily let go of emotional hurt and pain. It’s part of our drive for self- preservation: when we keep the negative thoughts and feelings alive, they form a barrier between us and the source of the pain.
Sometimes, though, self-preservation turns into self- sabotage. When we hang onto our hurt, that’s what we stay focused on. That barrier becomes a gigantic wall separating us from everything, including all the positive aspects of a relationship.
Forgiveness is key to weakening that barrier and becoming unstuck. Forgiveness isn’t easy, however.
Know that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting
First, know that forgiveness doesn’t mean dismissing what happened to you or even forgetting about it. Quite likely, you’ll never forget. Forgiveness is about shaping your relationship with the other person at this moment and going forward. It’s about choosing how you want your current interactions, thoughts, and feelings to be.
Give yourself time to reflect on the values you have for this relationship
How do you want to be in the relationship, how do you want to feel, and what do you want to do? Then, plan your actions and your thoughts accordingly. Your emotions will eventually follow suit.
Your mind and body can only hold onto so much. You can hold onto the past or you can hold onto what’s important to you in the present moment— but not both at the same time.
Forgiveness is about deciding what you are going to hold onto right now, in each moment.
Because forgiveness isn’t about erasing, sometimes your emotions will go back into the past, right back to the hurt. When that happens, gently remind yourself of your values for your present moment and focus on your thoughts and actions that you can control.
Forgiveness is a choice that you make more than once. When you consciously and repeatedly make that choice, you lower your barriers and open your heart and arms to the person before you now.
Certified Holistic Health Coach, Healthy Body Healthy Mind
It is quite accurate and understandable that whether you are hurt intentionally or unintentionally, it is difficult to forgive someone who hurt you. There can be more than just this reason that the person doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Perhaps, you don’t know how to forgive or from where you should start to forgive that person who has hurt you emotionally.
If we look at the other side of forgiveness, then we’ll understand that forgiveness benefits our mental health. Unforgiveness may accelerate negative emotions such as fear, frustration, depression, and anger. Moreover, in case of prolonged stress state, we end up ruining ourselves physically as well as psychologically.
Take time to understand
In order to forgive someone, don’t rush over or don’t force things. Try to understand another person’s perspective or accept his/her unconscious state rather than labeling him/her bad or evil.
Remember not to take things personally, and you’ll be the happiest person alive as most of your problems might be gone with this optimistic approach.
Accept that nobody is perfect
Last but not least, we are bound to have expectations but accept that people have flaws too. Learn from your experiences, and you wouldn’t be disappointed or hurt repeatedly.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Grieve the loss
First off, I think many of us forget that in the process of forgiveness, we must first grieve the loss. The loss of future dreams, of the relationship, the pain and hurt left in its wake, etc.
Without grieving, we cannot move forward.
It is easier said than done because it takes time for us to feel all the feelings associated with the hurt, but once we have accepted the loss and learned to live with the grief, we can then forgive.
Forgiving is more of something we give ourselves than the other person. It sets us free and allows us to move forward the best we can.
Sometimes we can’t take the person into our future, so actually telling them about the forgiveness can feel unsafe. It then becomes a gift we give to ourselves to push forward and to allow new relationships to come into our lives. It clears space for us to rediscover who we are without the burden or cloud of hurt that was thrust upon us.
Addiction Specialist, 1000 Islands Wellness and Treatment Centre
Depending on the situation, being hurt emotionally can sometimes be more painful than being hurt physically. When that’s the case, there’s no doubt that the quickest way to recover is with forgiveness.
If you’re able to find it within yourself to forgive whoever hurt you emotionally, the faster your road to recovery will be. Whether it was a friend, a family member, a stranger, or even yourself who hurt you, the severest part of the pain is how long it can linger within you.
Start by giving that person the benefit of the doubt
By no means is finding forgiveness an easy task, but it’s an essential one. Even though you may think you do, the only personal situation you know to be true is your own. That person may be hurting more than you think and maybe hurting even more than you.
Once you’ve done that, put it on yourself to prove that person wrong. If they said you couldn’t do something or if you’re not worthy of something, prove to them that you are.
Natalie Buchwald, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Manhattan Mental Health Counseling
If it is someone you care about and don’t want to lose, tell them how you feel.
But don’t tell them with anger or other strong emotions. Try to tell them matter-of-factly so they understand that you were hurt and have a chance to repair the damage caused.
It is easier said than done. The reality is that our emotions and defenses often drive our behaviors. And, being in control is particularly difficult when one is addressing emotional pain. We tend to get emotionally reactive in these moments.
If you’ve been hurt by someone you no longer care about, you will have to process the damage done on your own.
This can also be with a licensed mental health worker and come to terms with the reality of that situation. Eventually, living with a grudge will drain you physically and mentally. It is often in your best interest to forgive and move on to avoid the self-inflicted suffering of holding on to your emotional pain.
Certified Love Life Strategist | Dating & Relationship Expert | Founder, Love Quest Coaching
Understand is that forgiveness doesn’t mean access to the abuser again
People confuse forgiveness with condonement all the time. They think forgiveness means they allow the person back into their lives to “work it out” or “earn trust again.”
Forgiveness is about freeing up the energy that is put on the matter at hand, the relationship, and the person. Forgiveness is a bold act of faith. It’s turning judgment over to a higher power freeing you up to align with peace.
How does one forgive?
First, you must go inward and connect with the wounded version of you who needs to be apologized to, respected, and needs to control this person to feel at peace. Connecting to one’s wounded self means assuming all responsibility for one’s peace and joy. It’s not your partner’s responsibility to fill you up. It’s yours.
When we expect our partners to do as we say in order to put us at ease, we give away our power. When someone’s actions show you their character, integrity, or lack thereof, then a decision must be made from there.
Emotions of anger and sadness are normal and are to be honored and nurtured by oneself. This is all about self-care and self-love. You can reach forgiveness in time. Failure to do so blocks the ability to attract blessings and often leads to resentment and bitterness.
Brand Strategist | Productivity Coach
There are two faces of forgiveness. One is the forgiveness we must give ourselves and the other face is the forgiveness we need to give others.
Why is this so important? Because forgiveness is an invisible door to healing and feeling peace. Before you can forgive yourself, you must let go of an old story about you not being good enough.
Sometimes we hold on to our shame because we truly believe we’re not good. The truth is that it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your behavior…two very different aspects.
Just because our words or actions were not kind, does not mean that we’re a horrible or bad person. Once you can differentiate between you and your actions, you are on the path to forgiving yourself and others.
A great question to ask yourself is: Why don’t you “want” to forgive that person? Therein lies the treasure!
Being able to forgive others opens you up to overcoming feelings of depression that cause lethargy; resentment that causes the disease; and anxiety that causes a constant feeling of heightened sensitivity.
Is there anything anywhere where you feel you need to forgive yourself?
For a while, I was really hurt by someone. I felt like they did me wrong. I spent a lot of time secretly hating on them and wishing they knew how miserable they made me feel.
This person also prided themselves on being in tune with themselves and serving others. But why couldn’t they have been in tune with my needs or cared about my feelings?
I encountered this person after falling out. The moment leading up to this point, I role played in my head what they would say and how I was going to respond back. I felt like I would receive my answers that I was searching for.
I believed that I would find forgiveness and that they would finally set me free from all my pain. My expectations were set high; set high on them.
During the encounter with this person, it became the opposite of what I imagined. I did not receive any remorse, empathy, support—or attention to my feelings.
It was clear that this person didn’t care about my feelings. I needed them to answer me—to help me. I needed them to free me from my pain. But I was left with the same pain and the same emotions.
What was I supposed to do if they couldn’t give me the answers that I needed? The apology that I needed to hear from them.
Never expect an apology
All along, the forgiveness that I needed was not from them—but from myself! I needed to become more aware of my emotions and determine what’s best for me going forward.
No one could free me from my hurt and pain. No one could love me more than I loved myself. It was time for me to take ownership of my emotions and receive the care and love that I deserved.
I apologized to myself. I forgave myself for putting my self-worth into someone else. I forgave myself for allowing someone else to define the way I felt about myself and the world around me. I finally gave myself the love and acceptance that I was waiting for.
In life, sometimes you won’t receive the apology you deserve. Sometimes you have to find closure on your own.
The best thing that I could have done for myself was to go within and find the answers that I needed. It wasn’t fair to put my expectations on someone else. That other person will never be able to fulfill my needs. My strength and fulfillment come from within.
If you find yourself in a pool of emotions, waiting for an apology, or waiting for someone to drag you out, stop.
Crawl if you have to. Do whatever it takes to get yourself up again and take ownership of your emotions. Yes, you’ve been hurt, rejected, abused, etc. but you are in control from here on out how you will manage your emotions.
You can choose to stay buried in your emotions, or you can choose to dig yourself out and take control of your emotions. What do you choose?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it hard for me to forgive?
It’s entirely natural to find it difficult to forgive someone, as forgiveness involves a complex interplay of emotions, thoughts, and personal experiences. There are several factors that contribute to this challenge:
• Emotional pain: When someone’s actions have hurt you, the emotional pain you experience can create a barrier to forgiveness. It’s important to acknowledge and work through these emotions before you can truly forgive.
• Trust issues: Forgiveness often involves rebuilding trust, which can be difficult if you’ve been betrayed or let down. Regaining trust takes time, effort, and a willingness to be vulnerable, which can be challenging.
• Fear of being hurt again: The fear of being hurt again can prevent you from forgiving someone, as you may worry that forgiving them will lead to a repeat of the same behavior.
• Cultural and personal beliefs: Your upbringing, personal values, and cultural background can also play a role in how you perceive forgiveness, which may impact your ability to forgive.
Can I forgive someone while still feeling hurt about what happened?
Yes, you can forgive someone while still feeling hurt about what happened. Forgiveness is a process, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your pain will instantly vanish. Recognizing and validating your feelings is essential, as they are a natural response to being hurt.
Forgiving someone is an act of compassion towards yourself and the person who caused you harm, allowing you to let go of the negative emotions that are holding you back.
As you work through the process of forgiveness, you may find that the intensity of your hurt feelings gradually diminishes. It’s essential to give yourself time to heal and be patient during this journey.
Can I truly forgive someone who hurt me?
Yes, you can truly forgive someone who hurt you. The process of forgiveness requires empathy, understanding, and the willingness to accept that people can change.
It’s important to remember that forgiveness is for your own well-being and peace of mind rather than for the person who caused you pain. By choosing to forgive, you free yourself from the emotional burden of holding onto anger and resentment, which can ultimately improve your mental and emotional health.
How do I know if I have truly forgiven someone?
You’ll know you’ve truly forgiven someone when you experience a shift in your emotions and thoughts. Here are a few indicators that you have genuinely forgiven:
• You no longer feel consumed by anger or resentment towards the person.
• You can think about the incident without experiencing intense emotional distress.
• You are able to wish the person well, even if you don’t want to maintain a relationship with them.
• You find it easier to accept the situation and focus on your own growth and healing.
• You can acknowledge the person’s humanity and understand that people make mistakes without condoning their actions.
How can I forgive someone who’s not sorry?
Forgiving someone who’s not sorry can be challenging, but it is still possible. Remember that forgiveness is more about your own emotional well-being than the other person’s actions. Here are a few steps to help you forgive someone who isn’t apologetic:
• Acknowledge your feelings: Accept and validate your emotions. It’s natural to feel hurt and upset when someone doesn’t apologize for their actions.
• Focus on your well-being: Remember that forgiveness is primarily about your healing, not the other person’s actions.
• Let go of expectations: Sometimes, people may not apologize because they’re unaware of the harm they’ve caused or cannot take responsibility. Release the expectation that they will apologize and focus on what you can control: your response and forgiveness.
• Practice empathy: Try to understand the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. This can help you find compassion and forgiveness, despite the lack of apology.
• Seek support: Talk to friends, family, or a therapist about your feelings. They can provide guidance and encouragement as you work through the forgiveness process.
When can I no longer forgive someone?
Determining when you can no longer forgive someone is a highly personal decision, as it depends on your own values, boundaries, and emotional capacity. Generally, you might find it difficult to forgive someone when:
• Their actions repeatedly cause harm, and they show no remorse or intention to change.
• Forgiving them would compromise your safety, mental health, or well-being.
• The emotional burden of forgiveness feels too heavy to bear.
Remember, choosing not to forgive doesn’t mean you have to harbor resentment. Instead, you can focus on setting boundaries and protecting yourself while still pursuing personal growth and healing.
What to do when I can’t forgive?
If you find that you’re struggling to forgive, consider the following steps:
• Be patient: Recognize that forgiveness is a process that takes time. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and work through them at your own pace.
• Seek professional help: A therapist or counselor can help you navigate your emotions and guide you on moving forward.
• Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with the person who hurt you, to protect yourself from further harm and to create a safe space for healing.
• Focus on personal growth: Use this experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on the lessons you can take away from the situation and work on developing resilience and emotional strength.
• Practice self-compassion: Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel hurt and that forgiveness is a personal journey. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate this process.
• Focus on personal growth: Use this experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on the lessons you can take away from the situation and work on developing resilience and emotional strength.
• Practice self-compassion: Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel hurt and that forgiveness is a personal journey. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate this process.
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