In my last post, I wrote about the three different types of forgiveness – exoneration, forbearance, and release – and the situations to which they apply. Today, I’m going to expand further upon the topic of forgiveness with some tips and strategies for how to best forgive those who have wronged us. These suggestions will primarily apply to the third – and often the most challenging – type of forgiveness, release. Release is the lowest form of forgiveness and generally relates to situations in which the offender has never acknowledged wrongdoing or apologized for their behavior.
“I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who was not sorry.” ~ Unknown
Most of the concepts and tips mentioned in this post were derived from a podcast from The Savvy Psychologist, titled “5 Ways to Forgive People (Even Those Who Don’t Apologize),” as well as an article from Greater Good Magazine, titled “What is Forgiveness?” Other helpful resources on the topic of forgiveness are included at the end of this post and some relevant quotes (from this article) are peppered throughout as well.
One of the reasons it can be so difficult to forgive is that it feels like forgiving means excusing the wrongdoing or forgetting it ever happened. However, if we hang on to old hurts for a long period of time, it can result in tremendous suffering that only serves to compound the initial injury we experienced. While the pain of being hurt by others is an inevitable part of life, the suffering caused by holding a grudge and ruminating on past offenses is optional.
If we continue to relive a negative experience over and over again, we are allowing the person who hurts us to effectively take up residence inside of our heads. This can be the exact opposite of what we may ultimately want, which is to have nothing to do with that individual ever again. Even if we choose to continue a relationship with an offender for whatever reason, most of us don’t want to have an ongoing loop of painful memories running through our brains.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” ~ Unknown
Letting go of our anger and resentment is something we need to do for ourselves, not for the person who hurt us. Making the choice to forgive doesn’t necessarily mean we believe the offender deserves our forgiveness. Instead, it can represent taking a stand for our own well-being because we deserve the peace of mind that forgiveness brings. We should endeavor to let go of pain and bitterness when holding on to it costs us more than it buys us. While it may be true that you’re right and the other person is in the wrong, you may need to ask yourself if you’d rather be right than happy. If you’d prefer to be happy, then finding a way to release the experience is the best approach.
I remind myself that I forgive not for them but for me and that it’s easier to forgive than to hang on to so much anger, hurt and betrayal. –Sarah Clark
I know that I need to forgive someone, not for their benefit, but for my own peace of mind. Don’t do it for them, do it for you! –Cathryn Kent
Another Look at Forgiveness
Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University is a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness. His nine-step forgiveness process has helped thousands of people to let go of their anger and resentment, including those in Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone. Dr. Luskin frames forgiveness as the ability to make peace with the word “no.” There are many instances in our lives when we don’t get what we want, which basically means that we get “no” instead of “yes.” We often become resentful because the reality of our lives is different from the image we have of the way it should be.
Forgiveness involves being at peace with what is, as well as the vulnerability inherent in life that we can’t always make things the way we want them to be. When we forgive, we are better able to lead our lives without prejudice and be open-hearted to move forward and give the next moment – and the next person – a chance. Forgiveness allows us to stop punishing the people in our lives for what others did to us in the past.
Forgiveness and Grief
Dr. Luskin states that forgiveness is the resolution of grief. When we have experienced hurt, the natural response is to grieve, and one needs to grieve before they are able to move into forgiveness. However, many people never allow themselves to grieve the losses in their lives (of affection, a human being, a dream, etc.) and others grieve for far too long. Both are inadequate responses. The deep human being allows himself to grieve but doesn’t hold on to his grief. We are empowered when we acknowledge, grieve, and move on from negative experiences rather than clinging to them and blaming others.
3 Steps to Forgiveness
Dr. Luskin recommends the following three steps to let go of your grief and move into forgiveness:
Step One – Acknowledge the Harm Done
Fully acknowledge the harm that was done – by another person or yourself, as well as the loss that you experienced. Own the fact that something you wanted is not there and it hurts. This may involve some painful therapeutic work, especially if you have suppressed a negative experience or have been in denial about it. If this is the case, it may take some effort to acknowledge both the harm and its consequences.
Step Two – Experience Your Feelings
It isn’t enough to just acknowledge what happened. You also need to experience the feelings associated with the event, which often means you need to go through a period of misery. Dr. Luskin stated that he’s never met a person who has undergone real loss who didn’t suffer at some level. You have to allow yourself to experience a range of emotions, such as sadness and fear, before you can transform your response to what happened. You’re not going to change what occurred because it’s immutable, but you can change your emotional response to it over time.
Step Three – Share with Others
Your grief should not be a secret. Research on resilience has shown that those who don’t tell anyone about their harmful experiences have much worse consequences than those who share with others, as the human connection is central to healing. However, those who air their grievances to anyone and everyone also don’t fare well in terms of long-term outcomes. The healthy response is to share what happened to you with a few select, caring people over time. The people you share with can be trusted confidants, a therapist, or fellow participants in a 12-step program.
After proceeding through the steps above, you will eventually reach a point with your grief where you’re able to forgive. The time required will of course vary, but it cannot be rushed. Healing doesn’t happen overnight and it takes hard work, but it’s worth the effort.
5 Key Forgiveness Factors
Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice and only you can decide when the time is right to forgive. But when you’re ready to move into release, the following five factors can help to facilitate the process.
The Healing Factor of Time
As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds. It has actually been scientifically proven that there is a relationship between time and forgiveness, so that adage holds true. Also important is the relationship the victim has with the offender. If the person who hurt you is important in your life, that makes it easier to forgive. However, it does take time, so don’t expect to be able to get over your hurt quickly, even if the person has apologized.
The Importance of Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy can be described as believing in yourself and your ability to influence what happens in your life. Psychologist Albert Bandura’s research has shown that it’s the most consistent predictor of good health and it also plays an important role in the process of forgiveness. Although letting go can seem passive, it’s actually a deliberate decision that is rooted upon the belief that you can control your path in life.
Positive Examples and Role Models
The presence of a powerful model for how forgiveness is done can assist with the process of letting go. All of the world’s major religions include many examples of forgiveness, such as God forgiving humanity, Buddhists letting go of attachment, and Hindus regarding forgiveness as a cardinal virtue. There are also many stories in the news that exemplify forgiveness, including Elizabeth Smart forgiving the couple who abducted her and these ten inspiring stories of forgiveness from Reader’s Digest. Although many of the offenses we may be holding onto are not nearly as extreme as these examples, reading about them can help us feel more ready to let go of our own anger and hurt.
Do a Test Run
Forgiveness doesn’t usually happen in one fell swoop. We often need a sort of “warm-up routine” to get the process going. You may find the following three ideas helpful as you work toward forgiveness:
- Past memories: Think of a time in your life when you forgave someone. Remember how it felt for you both emotionally and physically to let go.
- Visualization: Close your eyes and envision a scene in which you forgive the person you’re currently angry with. Try to make this scene as vivid as possible both in terms of the interaction and how you feel within your body. The more detail you can include, the more effective the visualization is likely to be.
- Letter-writing: Write a letter to your offender and grant them forgiveness. This is not a letter that you will actually send, but going through the process of putting words to the forgiveness process will help to move it along.
Stand Up for Yourself
What happened to you is in the past and there is nothing you can do to change it. However, changing the way you interact with others moving forward can make it easier for you to forgive in the future. A University of Calgary study found that when people engage in what they termed “confrontation coping,” they are more likely to be able to forgive those who hurt them. Confrontation coping can be as simple as standing up for yourself in the moment by telling the other person not to treat you in a particular manner.
Writing this two-part series on forgiveness was very helpful to me. I wrote the first part following a negative interaction with the hairstylist who set back my gray hair transition process by many months and right before a trip to see my family for ten days. Although I had hoped to prepare part two for publication before my trip, I ran short on time and had to write this post after my return home earlier this week.
Writing the gray hair transition update and exchanging messages with the stylist after she read the post reignited a lot of the anger I was harboring about what happened last summer. While I was away, I realized that I don’t want to feel that way any longer. Although I will never receive an apology from the stylist or any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, I need to let go of the experience and move on with my life. I no longer want to give this woman any power in my mind or waste any additional energy on her and what happened.
I cannot change what happened and if people who experienced far worse things than this are able to forgive and move on, so can I. I already feel a lot freer and like a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Onward and upward, as Gretchen Rubin would say!
Additional Forgiveness Resources & Your Feedback
In preparation for this post, I read a number of articles about forgiveness. In the interest of space, I wasn’t able to summarize them all, but if you’d like to delve deeper and read more about forgiveness, here are some additional articles you may want to check out:
- “Forgiving Someone Who is Not Sorry is One of the Hardest Things to Do” (Elephant Journal)
- “How Do You Forgive Even When It Feels Impossible – Part 1” (Psychology Today)
- “How Do You Forgive Even When It Feels Impossible – Part 2” (Psychology Today)
- “How to Forgive and Let Go of Someone Who Has Hurt You” (The Law of Attraction)
- “4 Ways to Forgive and Let Go” (HuffPost)
- “Five Powerful Ways to Forgive Those Who Hurt You” (Daring to Live Fully)
- “How to Forgive Someone Who Shows No Remorse” (WikiHow)
- “Forgiveness Can Improve Mental and Physical Health” (American Psychological Association)
- “How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You: In 15 Steps” (Dr. Wayne Dyer)
I hope you liked this article and found it helpful. As always, I welcome your comments, sharing, and questions. I’ll be back next week with a recap of my April (and May) wardrobe challenge. I wish you all a wonderful weekend!