Updated: Apr 15
Although forgiveness may sound good in theory, it can feel impossible in practice.
Forgiveness does not absolve the person or make everything alright.
However, when you will forgive, the following four steps can help you do so even when it feels impossible.
Whether it's a spouse who was unfaithful, a parent who let you down as a child, or a friend who shared something told in confidence, we all must face whether to forgive and how to forgive.
After someone wronged you and the initial wave of emotion has passed, you face a new challenge:
Do you forgive the person? By forgiving, you let go of your grievances and judgments and allow yourself to heal. While this may sound good in theory, forgiveness can sometimes feel impossible.
To learn how to forgive, you must first understand what forgiveness is not. Most of us hold at least some misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are some things that forgiving someone doesn't mean:
Forgiveness doesn't mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person's actions.
You don't need to announce your forgiveness to the person.
Forgiveness doesn't mean you shouldn't have any more feelings about the situation.
Forgiveness doesn't mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now.
Forgiveness doesn't mean you should forget the incident ever happened.
Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
And forgiveness isn't something you do for the other person.
By forgiving the offender, you're accepting the reality that happened and living in a state of resolution with it. This process can be gradual, and it doesn't have to include the person you are forgiving.
Forgiveness isn't something you do for the person who wronged you; it's something you do for you.
So if forgiveness is something you do for yourself and helps you heal, why is it so hard?
There are several reasons:
Thoughts of revenge or retribution are consuming your mind. By becoming more familiar with yourself, you can resolve these reasons not to forgive with your thoughts, feelings, boundaries, and needs.
Now that you know what forgiveness is not and why, it's so hard to ask yourself: Do I want to forgive?
Forgiveness requires feeling willing to forgive. Sometimes you won't because the hurt went too deep, or because the person was too abusive, or expressed no regret. Do not forgive someone before you have identified, fully felt, spoke, and released your anger and pain.
If you decide you will forgive, find a good place and time to be alone with your thoughts.
Then, try following these four steps to forgive, even when it feels impossible:
Think about the incident that angered you. Accept that it happened. Accept how you felt about it and how it made you react. To forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected.
Acknowledge the growth you experienced because of what happened. For example, what did it make you learn about yourself or your needs and boundaries? Not only did you survive the incident, perhaps you grew from it.
Now think about the other person. They are flawed because all human beings are flawed. They acted from limiting beliefs and a skewed frame of reference because sometimes we all work from our limited ideas and off-kilter frames of reference. When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think was needed, and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way?
Finally, decide whether you want to tell the other person who you have forgiven them. If you choose not to express forgiveness directly, then do it on your own. Speak "I forgive you" aloud and then add as much explanation as you feel is merited.
Forgiveness puts the last seal on what happened that hurt you. You will still remember what happened, but you will no longer be bound by it. Having worked through the feelings and learned what you need to do to strengthen your boundaries or get your needs met, you can better take care of yourself in the future. Forgiving the other person is a beautiful way to honor yourself. It affirms to the universe that you deserve to be happy.