I was well into my tedious adult years before I realized the anger that I held inside was a symptom of unforgiveness. I spent years being angry at someone. Often, I tried to get even with them whenever possible.
As a child, their words hurt me. The verbal abuse that I survived from broke me for many years. What I wasn’t aware of, is that what I experienced was unforgiveness.
At some point in all of our lives, we have an instance when someone hurts us. We can choose to forgive them, or we can remain captive to the pain they caused.
Forgiving someone who hurt you is a process. It is dealing with the hurt and letting it go to experience peace. It releases negative energy stored inside of your mind, body, and soul.
Here are 14 tips to help you forgive, even when it seems forgiveness is not possible.
1. Recognize Unforgiveness
There may be times when you don’t realize that unforgiveness is your issue. I assumed I was angry, not unforgiving. Recognizing when you do not forgive is an essential part of the process.
There are some red-flag associated with unforgiveness. The warning flags are negative emotions that will help you identify when you harbor unforgiveness in your heart:
If you feel within the range of these emotions on a regular basis, it may be a great time to stop and self-reflect. We subconsciously mask unforgiveness with negative emotions.
Our unforgiveness with one person has the potential to harm a relationship with someone entirely different. It becomes old baggage in our lives, and it will not go away until we deal with it. That’s why it’s critical to recognize unforgiveness and take the necessary steps to heal.
2. Be Honest
Sometimes we try hard to trick ourselves into believing that the action of someone else did not hurt us when it did hurt. When we don’t honestly acknowledge the hurt, we don’t forgive. Instead of dealing with the issue, we deny its very existence.
We say things like, “I’m okay,” “It really didn’t hurt,” or “It wasn’t that bad” when that is not the truth. Denial allows unforgiveness to sneak in without us realizing it.
Denial means fully acknowledging the pain caused by others. Only once we can see the hurt clearly, can we start the process of forgiveness.
Be honest with yourself about the truth. Even if your reality is excruciating and challenging to face, you must deal with it. Your truth is where the process of forgiveness begins. As the saying goes, “The truth will set you free.”
3. Deal with the Pain
Forgiving is difficult when you don’t deal with the pain caused by other’s actions. Be prepared for the forgiveness process to deliver you face-to-face with pain. You can’t get rid of the pain. Your only option is to stand in it.
Standing in your pain prevents you from passing it off to someone else who is undeserving. It is genuinely surprising how much you can withstand as a human being. The pain you thought would break you, makes you a much stronger person.
A case study performed at UC Berkely, with people who experienced emotional abuse addresses the importance of seeing pain for what it is. People in our lives are capable of producing both good and bad behavior. Dealing with the pain while understanding humanity helps with forgiveness.
4. Forgive Yourself
I can say for sure that I experienced difficulty forgiving myself. It’s hard to forgive others when you harbor resentment toward yourself.
Many situations that seem as if forgiveness is not possible, instances like child abuse, neglect, or molestation, renders us helpless as children.
I remember thinking how it was my fault that things happened to me. I believed that I should’ve told someone, or screamed, or did something. I was only a child and lacked the capacity for understanding that what happened to me, wasn’t my fault.
I had to forgive me, first. Empathy and compassion welcomed me to a beautiful place. It became ok for me to say that I excused myself for thinking that the pain others caused me was my fault.
Finding peace within yourself is a great way to start your journey to forgiving others.
5. Make a Decision to Forgive
Unfortunately, forgiveness is not a process that happens on autopilot. Forgiveness requires a conscious effort. Before the process begins, you have to decide to forgive.
The moment someone hurts you, you decide at that time to forgive or not to forgive. If you don’t choose to forgive, you unconsciously choose not to forgive. Typically, if you start planning how to get the person back who hurt you, it’s a good indicator you decided not to forgive.
Sometimes others will try to force you into forgiving, but that does not work either. Forgivenance can only come on your terms, and by your decision. Advice from others may help to propel you into the process, but in the end, it’s still your decision.
6. Understand Forgiveness is for You; Not Them
The biggest complaint about forgiving is the misconception that it allows the other person to “get away” with their bad behavior choices. There can not be a theory any further from the truth.
Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is liking drinking poison and then hoping it kill your enemies.” Forgiving someone for hurting you takes nothing away from the other person. It clears you of the negative energy from the hurt and pain caused by their actions.
Forgiveness does not mean that is okay for someone to hurt you. It says that I recognize the hurt you caused me, but as humans, we all fall short of perfect. I will extend grace to you for hurting me.
When we forgive those who hurt us, we change our attitudes by softening our hearts. We can’t go back and undo any of the pain. Our only option is to heal today by forgiving.
7. Have Empathy and Compassion
Empathy is a feeling of complete connection with another human being. It says I can put on your shoes and understand you; not judge you. When we have empathy for those who hurt us, we can see the experiences in their lives that caused our pain.
Compassion fuzes perfectly with empathy. Compassion is feeling sympathy for the misfortune and sufferings of those who hurt you.
When we express compassion, we let the other person know that our heart breaks with theirs. It’s a human connection that informs the other person that you may not agree with what they did, but you understand how bad things happen.
We need empathy and compassion to ignite the forgiveness fire. It’s a way to help see horrible behavior on a deeper humanistic level. When you can view life from the perspective that no one is perfect, it can honestly be a blessing when it comes to forgiving.
8. Change Your Expectations
Life did not go how you planned. You wanted the spouse, the 2.5 kids, the picket fence, and the dog, too. Instead, you find yourself living a different life than the one you planned. An impactful part of the forgiveness process is changing your expectations.
When it comes to forgiving, we often hope that people will do right by us. We assume they will protect us and keep us from harm. Sometimes, the people who are put on the earth to protect us as children, hurt us the most.
When life gives you something different than what you expect, change your expectation into appreciation. Maybe your mom physically abused you as a child. Forgiving her means you let go of the mother you wanted and accept the mother God gave you.
She may not be what you want, but because of her, you are the person you are today. Forgiveness allows us to change our mindset by identifying the lesson and blessing in every situation.
9. Connect with a Higher Power
Life is hard to do alone. Forgiveness, for the most unforgivable of crimes, is even harder. If you have some tough decisions to make about forgiving someone who bullied you, sexually molested/assaulted you or something similar seek divine guidance.
Connecting with a force greater than yourself is helpful when attempting to forgive those who hurt you. When we can see the world through the eyes of a Higher Being, we can have a greater understanding of how broken the world really is.
There is divine guidance in seeking a Higher Power to assist in the process of forgiveness. God comes without judgment and serves as a comforter in time of need.
10. Experience Grace and Mercy
The same grace and mercy that we expect to apply to our wrongs is the same grace and mercy we must exhibit to others. Forgiveness says because I expect others to forgive me, I can forgive you.
Take a moment and think of the times you may have hurt someone. It could have been purposeful or unintentional, but either way, it results in causing pain to someone else. Unless you are a sociopath, you generally feel sorry about the pain you caused.
When we do not forgive those who hurt us, we are saying that we don’t need forgiveness for the wrongs we commit. In reality, we all mess up and hurt one another.
Extending grace and mercy to the people who hurt you is not a weakness. It takes more courage to forgive someone who’s caused you pain than it does to hold onto unforgiveness.
11. Write Letters of Forgiveness
A letter of forgiveness is a letter that you write to someone who has hurt you. Maybe you mail the letter, perhaps you do not. The choice is yours. Sometimes, just writing out the message is therapeutic in its own right. Forgiveness letters have the power to change your life.
Letter to Self
When working on forgiving yourself, it helps to write a letter to yourself. Address the person that takes the blame for all the bad things that happened to you. Let him/her know that it wasn’t your fault.
Explain to yourself that you forgive you and there was nothing that could prevent the bad things that happened. Treat yourself with compassion. End your letter by stating you will not harbor this self-resentment anymore.
Letter to Other
Before you write this letter, understand the flood of emotions that will come over you as you write. The memories and the pain will become vividly present in your mind. Stay with it. Don’t blame, explain. End the letter by saying, “I forgive you.”
12. Think…Before You Speak
Once you are well underway in the process to forgive, become aware of the things you say in regards to the person you are forgiving. Don’t allow yourself to speak illy of them anymore going forward.
What you say about them, what you think about them, can adversely affect the forgiveness process. Stay mindful to remain positive. Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in moments of negative talk or thoughts about them.
Wish them well because karma, well, we know who karma is. Wishing others well who have hurt you is a sign of emotional growth. Being emotionally mature makes the forgiveness process much more natural to endure.
13. Get Help
Professional help is available to you. If you’ve tried all the steps and find yourself still continuing to struggle with forgiving someone, maybe a counselor or therapist can help walk you step-by-step through the journey.
We all have hang-ups from time to time that prevent us from moving forward. Forgiving others who deeply hurt us can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task. Counselors are trained professionals who give you a professional perspective on the matter.
The process of forgiving does get easier as you practice it. Forgiveness is similar to a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows. Soon you will have the capacity to forgive everyone for everything, no matter what. On the other side of forgiveness is the freedom and the peace that we forego when we harbor unforgiveness.
Let it all go. It’s time to forgive and forget your hurts that are holding you back. Those 14 steps will bring you one step closer to inner peace. Do it for the sake of the relationship and do it for yourself. You only live one life so don’t live it in resentment.