They say that the act of forgiving other people is freeing. It’s the process of allowing yourself to be at peace with someone that has previously caused you pain.
In this article, we take a look at the power of forgiveness and why it’s crucial to foster forgiveness both towards ourselves and other people.
Here are a few insights to help you understand the value of forgiveness.
What is forgiveness, and why is it important?
One of the most accurate descriptions I’ve heard for forgiveness is “Letting go of the hope that the past could have been different”
It is what it is. It was what it was. We can’t change what has happened, no matter how difficult and how much we might want to.
Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Carrying the hurt or anger of an offense leads the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Eliminating the perpetual flow of those hormones also explains why forgiveness provides physical health benefits, such as lowering the risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.
Holding onto old hurt, or anger or resentment is like dragging a bag of heavy rocks with you wherever you go.
Each time you feel offended, there goes another rock into the bag. That jerk that cut you off on the freeway, there goes a pebble, your annoying co-worker who is so frustrating, a bigger stone, your mother that never loved you the way that you deserved….a huge boulder.
This feels justified a lot of the time. Of course, we are mad and hurt and frustrated when someone “wrongs” us. Of course, there are more difficult cases, and if you are dealing with trauma or abuse, please seek the assistance of a professional to help process through your feelings around forgiveness.
In the case of trauma and abuse, these rocks can feel permanent and unmovable sometimes. How could we ever move forward with the difficulties of the past weighing us down?
The problem with holding onto these burdens, offenses, and resentments is that the one that is carrying these heavy burdens is not the person that hurt you. It’s you. They are free and light, not holding onto a big bag of rocks. Your bag of burdens is getting heavier and heavier and they don’t care!
Until this realization is integrated, I hear so many times in my office “I just don’t understand how they could be like that!” or “How could they do this to me?” or “They need to apologize so I can move on.” My clients who have not yet forgiven really want the person that wronged them to see and understand and change and care about how much they hurt them.
In order to discern the best way to practice forgiveness, you need to figure out if it’s possible to have a conversation to explain your feelings and come to understanding with the person directly.
This is generally only possible when you already have a positive established relationship of trust, the person is emotionally regulated and open to listening, what you need to forgive is minor, and it doesn’t happen consistently.
Having a conversation with curiosity and vulnerability if possible, can help you understand and have compassion for the person’s motivation. This will help you to come to a place of forgiveness more easily.
Often this is not possible for many reasons, and there are many ways to come to peace and forgiveness that don’t involve the other person at all.
While it logically makes sense to seek validation and understanding from those who we perceive hurt us, often the very fact that they were able to hurt us often means our consciousness is at different levels, and they will never understand our need for validation and understanding in the way we want them to. And that’s ok.
It’s very important to understand the differences in levels of consciousness and compassion and to recognize that you often won’t be able to feel understood by the people you want to understand you. This has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with how kind you are, how hard you try or how articulately you explain your feelings.
If someone becomes defensive, or blames it on you, or just shuts down and doesn’t want to talk about it, those are indications that you need to change your expectations about what that person is capable of.
If the person you need to forgive for whatever reason is not able to apologize and understand your feelings, here are some ways to move forward and let it go anyway!
Write a forgiveness letter
This is a letter that they will never read, so feel free to let all of your anger, sadness, curse words, etc.fly. Express all the feelings that you wish they would understand.
Let yourself really feel it when you write it, and cry if you need to! In the letter, express your forgiveness and how you are no longer going to let this hurt impact your life and hold you back.
Have a ritual to create a closure, burn the letter in a fire, for example, or make it into a paper boat and float it into a lake. This will help you release your pain without ever having to see or talk to the person!
People who are hurt tend to hurt back other people. If you have been hurt by someone, itis probable that they have also been hurt themselves.
Finding ways to cultivate compassion for all people, whether or not you choose to continue having a relationship with them, will help you to feel more at peace. Everyone has a story, pain, burdens and a unique journey that we can never fully understand.
Everything is a learning opportunity
A beautiful practice to help let go of hurt is to remember that everything that we experience, including people we need to forgive, is here to help us grow. Look at the people in your life that you need to forgive as personal emotional trainers, helping you to evolve and grow. This can make forgiveness so much easier!
A simple technique to help is:
- Get into a relaxed state
- Write on the top of a sheet of paper, “Please allow me to see how _______ helped me to grow.”
- Write for 5 minutes about what youhave learned from this experience.
- At the end of the page, say thank you.
We don’t need the other person’s participation to allow forgiveness to flow into our lives. The more we can release the negative energy bag of rocks we are holding onto, the more we can expand, evolve and move forward in our own lives. Why let the burdens in the past get in the way of your amazing future?
Psychologist | Licensed Professional Counselor
Forgiveness is an important, but often misunderstood, tenant of most spiritual teachings. When we forgive, we release our own pain and resentments and find inner peace and acceptance of all life’s experiences.
The ability to forgive is an important step to our own healing and spiritual growth: forgiveness allows us to take a more loving stance towards both ourselves and others, and to let go of the negative energy that weighs us down and keeps us stuck re-experiencing our pains from the past.
Forgiveness is about releasing your own emotional burdens, and really has nothing to do with the other person
Many people believe that forgiving someone means that you are excusing their bad behavior, but nothing could be further from the truth. You are responsible for what is in your heart; they are still responsible for their own actions, and for the consequences.
Similarly, forgiving someone does not mean that you are giving them carte blanche to misbehave. You can forgive someone you think has harmed you and still take whatever actions you need to keep yourself safe, including saying “no” to their bad behavior and even cutting them out of your life, if necessary.
Forgiveness is not always easy, especially when there have been repeated violations, or when or the wounds inflicted by the other person cut deep.
Forgiveness is ultimately about healing our own emotional wounds by taking back power from those who inflicted them. Simply setting the intention to explore the possibility of forgiving someone is enough to initiate the healing process.
Forgiveness is an organic process that happens in its own time and at its own pace. Trying to force the process is useless at best, and at worst can be very destructive to yourself and others.
Life is meant to be experienced, not legislated. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to fully feel your feelings as part of your transformation. Don’t skip any steps; forgiveness will come when you are ready.
Simply knowing that forgiveness may someday be an option is enough to get the process going in a more productive direction; but it is always most important to allow, and accept, whatever we are feeling in the now.
Tamar Blank, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist, Riverdale Psychology
The question was asked as to the benefits of being a “forgiving person.” This wording can be misleading as it implies that an individual is either forgiving by nature or is not.
However, to forgive others is not a trait one is born with, but rather a way of thinking that is developed either by how one is raised and experiences one has as a young child, or how one chooses to retrain their mind.
Forgiveness is as a conscious choice to reconceptualize an event or person as you no longer want to live with the pain it has caused you
The concept of forgiveness is to prioritize yourself by creating a new memory, one that is based on the way in which you want to remember the event or person, rather than focused around the person or event. It can be understood as a new way to remember something you learned through pain or error, rather than something that happened to you.
Forgetting what someone did is not productive, as our ability to remember if someone causes you pain or joy is adaptive. Therefore, the goal of forgiveness is not to forget what happened, but rather an opportunity to practice self-care and self-preservation and put yourself first.
When the narrative is about what you learned from the situation, the person that was part of the story begins to fade to the background of the story.
Forgiveness, when it’s real, is a place in your heart where you can let go of grievances
You cannot let go though, genuinely and authentically, unless you’ve done the pre-requisite work: the work of dealing head-on with all the feelings that are there before forgiveness comes: the anger, bitterness, helplessness, heartache, grief and more.
Dealing head-on with these feelings means you can finally resolve them. You can resolve anger when you can finally access the hurt and helplessness that’s there too. You can resolve hurt and helplessness by finally accessing the anger that should also be there.
Resolving feelings means they get stripped of any defensiveness.
They become simple, multi-faceted, deep and pure. That’s when self-compassion is there, and then, it extends outwards naturally into forgiveness.
Resolving feelings means spending a lot of time with them, seeing where they take you until you get to someplace new.
It means being willing to investigate your own thoughts and feelings, and losing the “judges” in your life that keep you from journeying deeper and more persistently into how you tick.
Once feelings are resolved, forgiveness stops being an ideal mindset to aspire to, and becomes a natural course your mind turns to instead — because you no longer need to grasp and defend a righteous narrative that protects you from the purer, more painful truths about your own vulnerable condition, which you must get to, to be resolved.
Then, you realize who you are and why, and there is comfort in being at peace with your rage, helplessness and even hate. From this place of self-comfort and peace, forgiveness appears, as if by magic, like a warm summer breeze that cleanses the soul and makes way for the next emotion to resolve.
Author | Professional Speaker | World’s only Jollytologist® | Speaker | TED Presenter
I once read about a classroom teacher who visually showed her students how not forgiving someone could drag them down. She gives each student a sack of potatoes and asks 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.
What the teacher was demonstrating is what Desmond and Mpho Tutu speak about 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….”
Charlene Walters, MBA, Ph.D.
Writer | Motivational Speaker | Business & Branding Expert, Own Your Other
Forgiveness is letting something go that you are angry or sad about, and not holding on to the resentment you are harboring towards someone you feel is responsible for it, even if that someone is yourself.
One of the biggest lessons we can learn in life is knowing when to let something go. We can all get stuck in a place of anger when something bad happens to us or when we feel as if we’ve been wronged.
Staying in a place of anger will only harm us and increase our feelings of hurt and disappointment. It doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t change anything. It just prevents us from healing. I know this. I learned it along the way.
Remaining upset and failing to forgive is not good for our personal growth and well being. It only hinders us and our progress. It holds us back from doing what we are meant to do. It also delays our grief and healing.
When we get hurt, we grow. We change. We become stronger. Hurt is lovely in that way, in its ability to transform us. Know when to let it go. Forgive quickly and often, and others will forgive you too.
Related: How to Let Go of Anger and Hate
Psychotherapist | Registered Associate Marriage & Family Therapist
We all get angry and disappointed in the people in our lives. It’s inevitable, people are human and will make mistakes and let us down sometimes. In general, these unhappy feelings fade away over a day or two.
Then, we repair the rift in the relationship and go back to things as they were. But if you can’t let go of your anger, hurt feelings, or disappointment, then the conflict can evolve into a resentment that creates a barrier between the two people.
Forgiveness is an integral part of healing a relationship. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning bad behavior or pretending it never happened. If someone has let you down, you don’t immediately trust them again.
Forgiveness means that you accept the person as they are, with all their faults, but you are willing to set aside your anger and pain
You are valuing the relationship more than the resentment. Until you can find some space in your heart for forgiveness, it is impossible to have a healthy and loving relationship or friendship.
You can’t have a good relationship if every 15 minutes you have to push down your anger. You can do it for a little while, but in the long term, the lack of forgiveness will prevent you from ever being truly happy together.
Rob Magill, MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPC
Founder, Magill Counseling Associates
Forgiveness is often thought of as a response to someone changing their behavior. They hurt me, they said they are sorry, so I forgive them and I forget what happened.
Many times there is anger, hurt, and frustration until the other person says they are sorry – if they ever do. And who can ever really forget when we are badly hurt by someone we trusted? This is why this view of forgiveness doesn’t work very well. Forgiveness cannot depend on the other person apologizing.
Forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving. It is about letting go of the hurt, pain, and need to be proven right
When this happens, the person that is wronged can move on – regardless of if they ever get an apology. This does not mean that there are no consequences. Someone can be forgiven but still need to make amends – rebuild trust, work within limits, etc., even after they are forgiven.
Poet | Author | Founder, March Forth Movement
Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice
On a case by case basis, a person can be forgiven and still have to face the consequences, as the offense is sorted through. Even Jesus denounced those who had no remorse in Matthew 11:20. Forgiveness is deeper than mentally accepting an apology, it reaches down into the depths of the wounds in our souls.
Forgiveness requires trusting in God with an understanding that this world is fallen, and that we all need to receive it.
Forgiveness is more than a feeling, it is greater than a ritual, it is a lifestyle. In matters of racial healing, I strongly encourage forgiveness combined with accountability and justice. Some may disrespectfully oversimplify it when saying, “You are forgiving your oppressor.”
There are offenders who spiritually abuse their victims by trying to force forgiveness, yet they themselves have no remorse. This may contribute to the fearful and hopeless mislabeling racial forgiveness as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Yet, God knows what to do with the people who have no remorse.
For me, societal and racial forgiveness is an extension of the inner work that started when I forgave my parents, and step-parent for the trauma and abuse that my siblings and I suffered for years. Many psychotherapists, including my own, have considered this to be healthy forgiveness.
As a young black woman, the first person that I had to deeply forgive was the head of my childhood home. I was able to do the work of counseling for a long period of time. Still, it took me well in my adulthood before I became spiritually mature enough to ask God to help me forgive those who hurt me, and even much longer for me to forgive myself for the things I did that still affect me.
For approximately two years, I went on what seemed like a forgiveness spree until it turned into a lifestyle. We all need this superpower, otherwise, we will live in mental torment while wearing the chains that keep us bound to pain that is in the past or needs to become the past.
Forgiveness does not mean you will reconcile.
Some people may be offended at the thought of needing forgiveness. You do not need a person’s permission to forgive them. You can release the offense in your heart with God’s help, which will allow you to make space in your mind and life for new beginnings.
Forgiveness is vital because it empowers us to graduate from a victim to a victor.
Victims must not be shamed, but they do need to be strengthened. The freedom that comes when we sincerely forgive, makes us more than overcomers, we become more like God, who gives us all new mercies and compassion every day.
Remember personal healing fuels racial healing.
Board-certified in Family Medicine
Forgiveness refers to our ability to let go of painful experiences from the past, move on, and put them behind us rather than let it drag us down in our thoughts and actions.
Most likely you have heard the popular saying “forgive and forget” to answer what is the meaning of forgiveness as well as the solution to overcoming anger and painful events.
However, this is a short-term fix attempting to patch up emotional wounds rather than really resolve the core issues in the long run. Instead of working hard and stressing the NEM system by trying to forget, it is much more beneficial to reframe the situation.
Dr. Dick Tibbits coined the phrase and wrote the book, Forgive to Live, which involves taking on a spirit of humility and looking at the facts from an objective perspective in order to gain an understanding of our offender’s circumstances at the time of the painful occurrence.
This helps us to develop and practice forgiveness that can free us from our grievances. When we are able to forgive to live, the neurotransmitter serotonin is released and can help to reduce anxiety.
Forgiveness means living a life that is free from the burden and reducing the stress that affects the body’s regulatory processes. It gives a more positive outlook on life that leads to hopefulness and better stress management.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Everything you do in life puts you either in the receptive mode or in the resistant mode. And, choosing whether or not to work toward forgiveness is no different.
When you are in the receptive mode, you are in a state of well-being, where all that you want can flow naturally to you. But, in order to cultivate that state of well-being, you will want to do everything in your power to let go of negative thoughts and emotions, including the anger, resentment, and disappointment associated with what you are now faced with forgiving.
Holding on to upset feelings because you were harmed, and withholding your forgiveness from someone, even if they genuinely wronged you, only keeps you in the resistant state, cut off from your well-being. From that cut-off place, you cannot receive all that you ultimately desire.
Forgiveness is the gift of letting go, of choosing to feel good, of getting unstuck and allowing the flow of abundance into your life
Forgiveness is not something you offer to others; it is a gift you give yourself!
It is the realization that your true power doesn’t lie in withholding your forgiveness, but is offering it! When you forgive and enter your newfound state of well-being, you align with the truth of who you are, with the knowledge that all is well no matter what may have occurred…forgiveness is freedom.
Dawn Burnett, CSA
Transformational Divorce Coach | Wellness Strategist |
Author, Connect How To Love And Accept Yourself After Divorce
Forgiveness is a change in feelings; deciding to let go or release from ill feelings and resentment
By letting go of negative emotions we free ourselves from bitterness and our health improves; our blood pressure levels drop, anxiety eases, our immune system strengthens, and our self-esteem improves.
Our relationships improve because we are no longer carrying around toxic thoughts. Suddenly our life has more meaning; because everything in life has an energetic frequency, when we think positive we draw more positive things into our lives.
Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc
Licensed Acupuncturist, Lions Heart Wellness
Forgiveness is often a sought after experience, but one that’s also riddled with misinterpretation. On the surface level, forgiveness can feel like the expectation to ‘forgive and forget,’ or to discount that something may have been wrong or hurtful in order to move on. But true forgiveness isn’t about forgetting, or absolving someone or something of doing something harmful to us.
True forgiveness is about disconnecting ourselves from the cycle of hurt we engage in by holding on to the person or incident
It’s about saying to ourselves, ‘yes this was hurtful to me, but I am choosing to no longer let it drive and guide me, I am choosing to be free.’
By accessing forgiveness in this way, it opens us up to a greater human and healing potential, so that we can truly move forward in our lives. By truly forgiving others, we take our power back from them or the situation so that we can use it for our own growth and alignment without continuously looking back.
Forgiveness releases us from our attachments, especially those to pain, hurt and suffering and in doing so we call back into us a greater piece of who we truly are.
Related: How to Forget About Someone You Hate
Life Coach | Founder, Stacey Greene Coaching
Forgiveness is the ability to move through something
Not around it. Not over it. Moving through a situation where forgiveness is needed means that you can bask in the pain for a moment.
It was real. You were deeply hurt. But in order to become functional again, it is important to forgive before the bitterness, resentment and hurt eat you alive.
Now, that being said, you are not required to forget. I cringe when I hear the overused saying “forgive and forget”.
Remembering the pain is a way of self-preservation. The point of remembering the issue is to not allow it to happen again. As an example, I think of a client I had who was physically abused by a spouse. In her case, forgiving did not mean staying with him, taking him back or allowing it to happen again. Forgiving meant letting go and moving forward.
In my own marriage, I had to forgive both my husband and his “friend” when I found out he was having an affair. The forgiveness was the beginning of our healing and ultimate resurrection of our marriage.
Related: How to Fix a Broken Marriage
Meditation Practitioner | Founder, Mindfulness Quest
What does forgiveness mean? Does it mean that we forgive people who violate your boundaries? Does it also mean that we let people get away with their unkind actions?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you let people get away with bad behavior. What it really means is that you don’t harbor feelings of hatred and revenge within you for prolonged periods of time.It means to let go of the abuser and thoughts of abuse.
You see, forgiveness works much more for us than for the abuser. It enables us to move on and experience the joy of life in totality. For example, if someone in your family abused you as a child, you have every right to be angry and resentful towards that person.
You have every right to protect yourself from physical and emotional abuse. No one in the world should have the right to make you feel bad about yourself. And you have every right to shun people who do not respect your boundaries.
Those wounds are going to hurt you for a very long period of time. You will feel anger and resentment. And that’s okay. Take your time.
But after a certain period of time, you should eventually forgive that person for abusing you. I know it sounds strange. How can you forgive someone who has been so mean to you for all these years?
But please understand that by forgiveness, I do not mean that you get back together with that person. On the contrary, if that person is toxic, it’s okay to sever all ties and go no contact or limited contact.
Harboring feelings of hate and revenge will hurt you even more than how you felt at the time of being abused. I know it’s painful and it takes time. Trust me I’ve been there. At times it can be very traumatic and depression takes you down further. It’s frustrating when your cry for help is not being heard.
But you have to understand the fact that you are one who has to take courage and work on yourself. You may take help of therapist or other people close to you (in fact you should), but ultimately, the only way to truly heal yourself is through forgiveness. It’s the last phase (and perhaps the most difficult one) of your healing process.
I see people angry, resentful, and depressed, even when they’re no more in contact with their abuser. And the main reason behind that is because they are unable to forgive themselves and their abusers.
People who are not able to forgive, live in pain for a very long period of time. They are not able to trust and open up to others. They suffer from the victim mentality and see the world in a bad light.
That’s the reason why forgiveness and so important. We ourselves feel much better once we forgive because it helps us to regulate our emotions, let go of the pain, and learn to move ahead in life. It gives us clarity in life and a greater capacity to love ourselves and others.
Founder, Adorned Heart
Forgiveness is a demonstration of unconditional love
Not many people truly forgive. It is both a decision and an active process. Usually, people are willing to forgive but they don’t go through the entire process. Each step is painful but worth it.
Step One: The decision to forgive is a process of analyzing whether the person deserves forgiveness and whether we are able to give them that pleasure. However, we eventually realize that forgiveness is a gift to ourselves. Forgiveness helps us to remain happy and unafraid of relationships.
Step Two: The self-healing part is one of the hardest processes, in which people end the forgiveness journey. In this journey, we find all the areas that are wounded and inspect the pain and type of injury.
For some, it means opening up the cut and taking out shards of glass and foreign objects that have been stuck there for years. For others, they realize that it wasn’t the other person but themselves that caused the cut!
The realizations and understanding gained in this process are important. Can you imagine revisiting your own mother being raped before your own eyes, to embrace healing?
Therefore, staring at the wound and the cause of the wound, without looking away, is one of the most painful processes known to mankind.
Step Three: The last step is becoming a new person. Pain has a way of making us a new person but we must decide who we’ll let it shape us to be.
For me, pain is an opportunity to love others in a wiser way. I forgive, self-heal, and grow… But, I change my behaviors of engagement to lessen the blow of potential issues. I also self-reflect to ensure that I’m not hurting others and causing them to enter the forgiveness cycle.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Maple Holistics
There are two main aspects to forgiveness: letting go of resentment and letting go of revenge. Resentment and revenge are the formulae for holding a grudge and forgiveness is essentially the antithesis of that.
Forgiveness encompasses the idea of letting go
Being able to forgive doesn’t necessarily mean to forget, although the two words are often used together. In order to forgive you need to be able to acknowledge your pain, express those emotions without anger, and forgive yourself in the process.
This is important because it allows you to own your emotions without holding onto the past. Being able to move forward, with or without the person who needs your forgiveness, is an essential component of living a healthy, happy, present life.
Counselor | Writer, Life Insurance Types
Forgiveness means to not hold responsible and no longer hold rage for a person who has wronged you
It isn’t forgetting, but you stop carrying around the pain and anger caused by the other person. Forgiveness is not actually something you do for someone else. The person who benefits most is you, although people generally like being forgiven.
Forgiveness is like beauty. It comes in big, small, simple and complex forms, but in every case, it involves the complete release of anger. Sometimes, like a sunrise, it happens naturally and easily and we can just embrace it and let it roll through us. Other times, like making a stained glass window, it takes effort and mistakes and some cuts along the way.
It’s easy to forgive your child when they break a dish, or your friend when they lose your keys, that’s the sunrise kind. It’s much harder to forgive someone who runs into your car and breaks your back. That takes work, and time (maybe lots of time).
The bigger the emotional cost, the harder it is to forgive, because anger protects us from the emotional wound of being hurt, or afraid, or deeply changed. To get to forgiveness, you need to feel the underlying painful feelings, process them in a safe space, and then decide if you want the event to still have power over you.
When you are ready to let go of the pain, you can start to reframe the experience. Reframing means developing a nuanced understanding of the upsetting thing and the intentions of the other.
For little offenses, “it was an accident” is often enough. Bigger things take a deeper understanding. When you have a reframe that brings meaning to the experience that you can embrace, then you can forgive.
Recently there has been a dramatic act of forgiveness. Brandt Jean forgave his brother’s murderer. This rapid forgiveness is almost always accompanied by faith in God. People with strong faith can sometimes trust that there is a greater purpose that only God understands. Through their faith, they may be able to forgive seemingly unforgivable things. This is harder for people who do not believe in a higher power.
Some offenders will insist that they deserve forgiveness. I worked with an incest perpetrator who demanded forgiveness from his victim because “Christians in concentration camps forgave the Nazis.” It is never, ever ok to be pressured to forgive.
No one should be compelled to forgive unless they have been through the reframing process on their own. When people are forced to forgive, they will not find peace of mind.