How to forgive someone

When you forgive, it has a lot of benefits, but it can be really tough to do. There are a bunch of strategies you can use to work through forgiveness, find out what they are, and what to do if they’re not working.

This can help with:

  • Making your relationships better
  • Relieving anger and stress
  • Working through conflict with someone
girl rolling her eyes while guy makes a plea

Why forgiveness is helpful

Deciding to forgive someone isn’t always a decision to be made lightly, but it does have physical and emotional benefits. Holding on to anger and hurt can really weigh you down and actually prevent you from experiencing happy feelings. This can have all sorts of negative impacts on your physical health, your overall happiness, and the quality of your relationships.

How to forgive

Basically, in order to forgive you need to be able to challenge the hurt/angry feelings you have towards a person. It’s not about:

  • Suppressing your memory of something bad that’s happened; or
  • Forgetting something that happened

You can’t actually escape your memories. What you can do is transform them. When you forgive, you’re not trying to get rid of the memory you have – instead, you’re trying to get rid of the hurt/angry feelings you associate with that time.

Some steps you can try to work through forgiving someone are:

  • Visualise the situation or event while taking your emotions out of the picture for a second. What happened? Look at it objectively. 
  • Try to understand from the other person’s point of view why they hurt you. This is the hardest part of forgiveness, because you need to be able to see the other side of the story
  • Think back to times you’ve made mistakes, felt bad, and were forgiven. Was forgiveness something you needed? Does the person you are upset with need it too? Forgiveness works best when you are giving it happily to benefit the other person as much as yourself.
  • When you ‘re ready, publicise the fact that you’ve forgiven someone – write a letter, tell a friend, tell the person. Once you’ve said it, you’re committed to sticking to it.
  • Every time you think about what happened, repeat the steps you’ve taken above. It doesn’t matter if the hurt/anger comes back; just challenge it each time by going through the steps. Eventually you may start to feel less hurt or anger, and after a while, when you think about what happened, you may not feel hurt or angry at all.

What if I still can’t forgive?

It’s ok if you aren’t ready to forgive, just take some more time think about it. If you do want to forgive someone, but you’re having trouble working through the steps, you can also try:

  • Talking to people.  Talk to people you trust about the way you think and feel about the past, particularly people who might have been in a similar situation. This may be a family member, friend or teacher.
  • Keeping a diary. Some people find that keeping track of the different thoughts they have about a situation helps them understand their feelings better.
  • Speaking to a professional. If your experience is particularly hard or complicated, it could be really useful to talk to an expert, like a counsellor. They can help you process all your feelings about what’s happened.
It’s definitely not always an easy process, and it’s completely understandable if you’re finding it hard. But it’s worth trying out some of the suggestions, to see if you can re-shape the way you think and feel about the past, and increase your happiness.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 13 August, 2015
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