When somebody wrongs you—either by accident or on purpose—it can be hard to get over it. You may never be able to reconcile with the wrongdoer, but forgiveness is divine and it gives you a chance to be a better person. Here are some ways you can work toward forgiving.
Why Forgiveness Is Essential to Your Well-Being
Forgiveness may be the last thing on your mind when someone does something truly awful to you, but it’s not just for them—it’s essential for your own well being. Initially you’ll be hit with a lot of emotion, and that’s okay. You don’t need to do anything right then and there, but holding on to that emotion for too long becomes a heavy burden to carry through your life. In essence: you forgive for yourself, not just for them.
It’s not about letting them off easy, either. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you’re excusing what they did, that there isn’t still something to work out, and it especially does not mean that you can’t still have feelings about what happened.
Forgiveness is about resolution for you, and you alone. Chances are they would like to be forgiven, but make sure you put yourself first in this situation. You were the one wronged, not them. Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. explains at Psychology Today that forgiveness is the capping off of your emotional turmoil:
Forgiveness puts the final 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 are better able to take care of yourself in the future.
Keep in mind, though, that forgiveness is a process. It’s not a switch you can flip immediately, and it can require a lot of strength to carry out. Even if you don’t have the will to forgive right now, you can still work your way toward it.
Take Some Time and Identify How You Feel
It may seem like you’ll never escape the emotions you feel when you’ve been wronged, but time heals all wounds. Don’t rush the process. Give yourself space from the event and focus on the present. Just because your wound heals doesn’t mean you need to forgive your adversary right away. If you want to be angry, scream into your pillow. If you want to be sad, let out some tears. Bottling up your emotions can make the process of forgiveness much more difficult and require a lot more time for you to get to a forgiving place.
Once you’ve had some time to sort through your emotions, you can identify what it is exactly that hurt you so much. Psychologist Anita Sanz at Quora recommends you go as far as naming your pain. Whatever the feeling is you’re experiencing, give it a name so you have a target, a mission. Name what hurts so you know exactly what you’ll eventually be forgiving. Sanz warns, however, that you shouldn’t look for the “whys” while you’re sorting out your feelings:
Sometimes understanding the “whys” of what happened can be helpful, but sometimes we will never know why someone or something hurt us… And you don’t want to make your own recovery contingent upon understanding why the bad thing happened.
You may never understand why, but that’s okay. You don’t have to know why something happened in order to get better.
Keep your focus on what hurts and what you’d eventually like to let go of. The best part is you can take as long as you like to forgive someone. You’re in control here. So buckle down, scream and shout, and you’ll know when you’re ready.
Put Yourself In Their Position
You may never understand why they did what they did, but it can sometimes help to see things from their eyes. It’s important you never blame yourself for anything—or try to find excuses for them—but taking some time to empathize with your wrongdoer for a moment can make it easier to see the reality of the situation. Remember, we’re all human and we are nowhere near perfect.
Imagine you had done what they have. Remind yourself how much being forgiven would mean to you. Lori Deschene, author and founder of Tiny Buddha, brings up a valuable point to help you empathize a little:
…unless someone is a sociopath, they are rarely without feeling. And if they’ve hurt another person, even if their ego prevents them from admitting it, odds are they feel remorse on some level. No one is purely bad, and everyone carries their own pain which influences the decisions they make. This doesn’t condone their thoughtless, insensitive, or selfish decisions, but it makes them easier to understand.
Chances are, you’ve made a mistake at some point and hurt somebody yourself. In some cases, you would have even done anything to make up for it or be forgiven. It’s possible—for some people at least—that hurting someone feels almost as terrible as being hurt. Try your hardest to imagine hurting somebody the way you were just hurt, and think about how great forgiveness would be for both parties. Forgiveness is still for you, not them, but a little empathy might help you get to a forgiving state of mind faster.
Put Your Feelings Down on Paper
Some wrongdoings will take longer than others to overcome. It could be months or even years before you’re ready to move forward with forgiveness. For the really hurtful things, some deliberate introspection and expression of feelings is necessary, and writing is a great way to do that.
Still, you want these thoughts to be directed at who wronged you. Eva Kor, holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate, suggests in her Quora blog that you simply write them a letter:
Take a piece of paper and a pen. In the privacy of your own home or wherever you feel comfortable, start writing a letter. It might take you four months like it did for me. It might take you a week, or even a day. It depends on how quickly you can work through the pain you have been carrying around. No matter what, your letter is not finished until you can write “I forgive you” at the end, and mean every word you say. You don’t even have to send your letter to anyone – it is for you.
Kor expresses that the feeling of freedom after forgiving is one of the most liberating things you’ll ever experience. Put pen to paper and imagine you’re saying everything you couldn’t say to your wrongdoer. Once you’re finished, you may realize you don’t need to say it to them at all, and all you needed to do was get it out.
Remember That Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Reconciliation
It’s important to keep in mind that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory. Unfortunately, the old phrase of “forgive and forget” isn’t really beneficial in real life. You should remember what someone has done to you, even if it means you can no longer be a part of their life. As author and psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky puts it, reconciliation requires mutual respect:
Reconciliation requires both parties working together. Forgiveness is something that is entirely up to you. Although reconciliation may follow forgiveness, it is possible to forgive without re-establishing or continuing the relationship. The person you forgive may be deceased or no longer part of your life. You may also choose not to reconcile, perhaps because you have no reason to believe that a relationship with the other person is healthy for you.
Chances are, you’ve lost some of your respect for them, and if you don’t want to be around them, that’s your call. This is the time to be selfish and decide what’s right for you.
Focus on the Present
When you’re ready to let it all go and move on, keeping your mind on what’s going on around you can help. Leo Babauta at Zen Habits suggests that you realize that the past is over and it isn’t happening anymore. The only place the past can exist anymore is in your mind.
Instead, keep your mind focused on what’s going well in your life, the things that make you happy, and the the people you have in your life that have not wronged you. Maybe things are going well at your job, or you just got a new gadget to play around with. Keep yourself excited and positive. You’ll inevitably wander back into the past in your mind, but, as Babauta suggests, acknowledge it, and bring yourself back into the present moment.
Forgiving another person is one of best things you can do for yourself. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it will take a long time, but you’ll be glad you did it. Let out whatever emotions you need to, give yourself time to heal, and unload that baggage. You still have a long journey ahead and you don’t need that extra weight.