Do you have a grudge tucked deep inside your heart? A dark, growly spot in your soul that just never feels good? Someone hurt you a long time ago, and that aching pain keeps burning in your heart.
If you’re ready to stop feeling this pain, maybe it’s time to consider forgiveness. But doesn’t that mean you’re a coward or pushover? Do you have to wait until the other person says, “I’m sorry”? No.
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Forgiving someone can be a freeing experience, but many people can misunderstand what it really means. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not the other person.
Holding on to your emotional burden can hurt you in the long run and does nothing to help you going forward. This guide will help you understand how to prepare yourself to face your pain and free yourself from its grip.
Steps for Forgiving Someone Who Hurt You
The pain from betrayal or lost trust can cut deeply. When you are ready, forgiveness can be a way to release your emotional pain over time. You don’t have to forget or reconcile with the other person to have more peace in your heart.
Step 1: Decide you are willing to forgive
Forgiveness is a decision. To be most effective, your desire to forgive must be genuine. If someone pressures you to forgive before you’re ready, you may just go through the motions. Your efforts to rebuild trust and let go of bitter feelings might not last.
It can take time for your emotions to soften and for healing to take hold. When someone breaks your trust, your first reaction is to pull away. This instinct can protect you against future pain, so it's unnecessary and maybe not a good idea to rush into forgiveness. Instead, be intentional and move towards forgiveness when you are emotionally ready.
Step 2: Acknowledge the reality of what happened
Acknowledge the reality of what happened and the specific actions that hurt you. The intent is to get clarity on what you are forgiving, not to re-traumatize yourself. When you’re honest with yourself about how you were affected, your forgiveness can feel more genuine.
Address and recognize the following:
- Accept the facts and the events that occurred
- Recognize how that experience made you feel
- Recall how you reacted in the weeks and months that followed
- Acknowledge any ongoing effects of the other person’s actions
Step 3: Address your emotional pain
It’s normal to want to push away or hide from your emotional pain. If someone has hurt you badly, you’ve probably been on an emotional roller coaster. Broken trust hurts, and there’s no easy fix. It takes time for the pain to fade and the rough edges of your memory to soften.
As hard as it may be to move through your emotions, facing your pain allows you to heal. Your feelings may still rise up at times, but forgiveness will be more manageable when you’ve learned to live with them.
Step 4: Connect with your empathy
Before you can forgive the other person, you need to be able to empathize with them. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their perspective. Think of empathy as an extension of yourself, as a loving outreach towards another human.
When you can empathize with someone, remind yourself that they are flawed and broken, just like you and everyone else. Recognizing shared brokenness makes it easier to take another person’s viewpoint.
Step 5: Find growth and meaning in your experience
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who survived a World War II concentration camp. Suffering was all around him every day, and he coped by finding meaning in small moments each day.
Consider the pain you’ve endured and think about what you’ve learned from it. Maybe you have more patience now, or you’ve learned how to be more independent. You can only strengthen your resilience when you test it. You didn’t ask to be hurt, but you can choose to focus on how you’ve grown from the pain.
Step 6: Think about the person you’re forgiving
It’s easy to see the other person as a villain or an enemy. Instead, imagine them as a vulnerable child or someone who is lost and desperate. Extend your empathy to this flawed and messy individual. Acknowledge the pain they have endured in their life to be able to hurt you as they did.
If someone has hurt you badly, you have every right to dislike and be wary of them. However, your ability to see someone as another human being with emotions and struggles can help you let go of your resentment. Forgiveness is possible when you humanize the other person.
Step 7: Decide whether to tell the person, or not
You can either tell the person you forgive them or keep it to yourself. If the person that hurt you is dangerous, don’t put yourself in harm’s way. But if you intend to stay connected with the other person, sharing your forgiveness directly to them can go a long way toward restoring your relationship.
If you see the other person as remorseful and working to avoid repeating their harmful actions, telling them can be a good move. But if you think telling the other person would give them the idea they’re off the hook, it may be best to keep it to yourself. Remember, forgiveness is ultimately something you do for yourself, not another person.
Steps for Letting Go After Forgiving Someone
Letting go doesn’t mean you’ve given in, and it doesn’t mean it’s OK that the other person hurt you. Releasing your bitterness and pain takes a weight off your heart. It allows you to make room for more peace and compassion in your life.
Step 1: Commit to letting go
Letting go may not be easy, but you don't have to do it all at once. Release your pain and bitterness one bit at a time if you have to. The longer you hold it, the more it keeps hurting you.
Like many things, starting can be the most challenging part of the process. You've created space in your life for this pain, so it may take time to fill the space with something more peaceful. There are no rules for releasing old emotional wounds, so do it your own way.
The events of the past have hurt you enough. Promise yourself that you won't allow them to hurt you any longer.
Step 2: Focus on the present moment
Holding on to emotional pain keeps you focused on the past. Your mental habits have kept you locked on that emotional landmark for a long time.
It was a significant period of your life, and it has taken a lot of mental and emotional energy from you. But a past-oriented mindset can suffocate you. It can drain you and make it tough to focus on your positive growth since then.
Mental habits can be tough to shift, so don't expect yourself to make a dramatic change overnight. Begin by doing easy mental exercises to keep your focus on the current moment. Brief meditations or short walks outside can help you get started.
Your mind can only focus on one thing at a time, so the more time you spend in the present, the less time your mind can devote to the past. Your pain's emotional grip will gradually weaken as you leave it behind you.
Step 3: Invite peace into your life
Take some simple actions to invite more peace and joy into your life. As you feed your mind calm and uplifting material, your mind will gravitate towards peace and positivity. Over time, seeking peace can become a regular habit.
- Look for joy in everyday moments.
- Try simple breathing exercises to ground your body to the present moment
- Use breathing exercises to train your body to calm itself.
- Imagine a slow river flowing by, or sense the breath coming in and out of your mouth. Visualize peace coming to you and your emotional pain flowing away.
- Acknowledge thoughts or feelings related to your past as they come, then allow them to drift past you.
- Spend time reading positive books and articles, listen to uplifting music and podcasts.
Step 4: You don't have to be a victim anymore
When you’re holding onto a painful experience, it can be difficult to see it as anything else as hurtful and unjust. At that moment, you were a vulnerable victim of someone else's harmful actions. But if you've been holding on to that label, it's time to change the script.
You didn't choose to get hurt in the past, but you can redefine how you live with it going forward. Instead of focusing on what harmed you, highlight how you have responded. You have endured, grown, and become resilient.
Choose these labels when you look at yourself and anything that relates to your painful situation. A victim mindset keeps you focused on blame and hurt feelings. While emotions are an essential part of who you are, they should not be allowed to override everything else in your life. Step back and find an empowering way to define your experience and walk away from the victim label.
Forgive and Release Your Pain
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean you need to forget what happened to you. You didn’t deserve what happened, but you don’t need to keep bringing the pain along with you.
Holding onto resentment keeps you looking backward. Instead, consider forgiving the other person and lift a weight from your soul. Spend more time in the present moment and make room for more peace in your life.
- Tams, Lisa, “The Importance of Forgiveness.” MSU Extension, December 12, 2016, www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_importance_of_forgiveness
- Enright, Robert, “Eight Keys to Forgiveness.” Greater Good Magazine, October 15, 2016, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_keys_to_forgiveness