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When someone hurts or betrays you, it is natural to feel upset or angry. But take it from us: holding a grudge does nothing to change or improve the situation. Carrying around feelings of anger or resentment will only cause harm to your own mental well-being in the long run. We are all human and therefore, we are all prone to making mistakes.
When we hold on to hurt, we are emotionally and cognitively hobbled, and our relationships suffer. Forgiveness is strong medicine for this. When life hits us hard, there is nothing as effective as forgiveness for healing deep wounds. I would not have spent the last 30 years of my life studying forgiveness if I were not convinced of this. Many people have misconceptions about what forgiveness really means—and they may eschew it.
Others may want to forgive, but wonder whether or not they truly can. Forgiveness does not necessarily come easily; but it is possible for many of us to achieve, if we have the right tools and are willing to put in the effort. Below is an outline of the basic steps involved in following a path of forgiveness, adapted from my new book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
As you read through these steps, think about how you might adapt them to your own life. Nor is there a quick formula you can follow. Forgiveness is a process with many steps that often proceeds in a non-linear fashion. Working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety.
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Forgiveness can heal us and allow us to move on in life with meaning and purpose. Forgiveness matters, and we will be its primary beneficiary. Studies have shown that forgiving others produces strong psychological benefits for the one who forgives. It has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, and the symptoms of PTSD. Forgiveness can lead to psychological healing, yes; but, in its essence, it is not something about you or done for you.
It is something you extend toward another person, because you recognize, over time, that it is the best response to the situation. Read and watch Fred Luskin explain "What is Forgiveness? Read three evolutionary truths about forgiveness and revenge. Discover how to overcome barriers to forgiveness. How forgiving are you? Take our quiz! Try this forgiveness practicebased on Enright's work.
You can also make a practice of recognizing that every person is unique, special, and irreplaceable.
You may come to this through religious beliefs or a humanist philosophy or even through your belief in evolution. You can show love in small ways in everyday encounters—like smiling at a harried grocery cashier or taking time to listen to. If you practice small acts of forgiveness and mercy—extending care when someone harms you—in everyday life, this too will help.
Perhaps you can refrain from honking when someone cuts you off in traffic, or hold your tongue when your spouse snaps at you and extend a hug instead. Sometimes pride and power can weaken your efforts to forgive by making you feel entitled and inflated, so that you hang onto your resentment as a noble cause. Try to catch yourself when you are acting from that place, and choose forgiveness or mercy, instead. If you need inspiration, it can help to seek out stories of mercy in the world by going to the International Forgiveness Institute website: www.
This may seem obvious; but not every action that causes you suffering is unjust. To become clearer, you can look carefully at the people in your life—your parents, siblings, peers, spouse, coworkers, children, and even yourself—and rate how much they have hurt you. Perhaps they have exercised power over you or withheld love; or maybe they have physically harmed you.
These hurts have contributed to your inner pain Tips on how to forgive need to be acknowledged. Doing this will give you an idea of who needs forgiveness in your life and provide a place to start.
The more hurt you have incurred, the more important it is to forgive, at least for the purpose of experiencing emotional healing. You may be able to do this ing on your own, or you may need the help of a therapist. However you approach looking at your pain be sure you do it in an environment that feels safe and supportive. Scientists have studied what happens in the brain when we think about forgiving and have discovered that, when people successfully imagine forgiving someone in a hypothetical situationthey show increased activity in the neural circuits responsible for empathy.
This tells us that empathy is connected to forgiveness and is an important step in the process. First, try to imagine him as an innocent child, needing love and support. Did he get that from the parents? Research has shown that if an infant does not receive attention and love from primary caregivers, then he will have a weak attachment, which can damage trust. It may prevent him from ever getting close to others and set a trajectory of loneliness and conflict for the rest of his life. You may be able to put an entire narrative together for the person who hurt you—from early child through adulthood—or just imagine it from what you know.
You may be able to see her physical frailties and psychological suffering, and begin to understand the common humanity that you share. You may recognize her as a vulnerable person who was wounded and wounded you in return. Despite what she may have done to hurt you, you realize that she did not deserve to suffer, either. When we suffer a great deal, it is important that we find meaning in what we Tips on how to forgive endured. Without seeing meaning, a person can lose a sense of purpose, which can lead to hopelessness and a despairing conclusion that there is no meaning to life itself.
Instead, we try to see how our suffering has changed us in a positive way. They may also realize that their suffering has altered their perspective regarding what is important in life, changing their long-range goals for themselves.
You must always take care to address the woundedness in yourself and to recognize the injustice of the experience, or forgiveness will be shallow. Still, there are many ways to find meaning in our suffering. Some may choose to focus more on the beauty of the world or decide to give service to others in need. Some may find meaning by speaking their truth or by strengthening their inner resolve. If I were to give one answer, it would be that we should use our suffering to become more loving and to pass that love onto others.
Finding meaning, in and of itself, is helpful for finding direction in forgiveness. Forgiveness is always hard when we are dealing with deep injustices from others. I have known people who refuse to use the word forgiveness because it just makes them so angry. But if you want to forgive and are finding it hard, it might help to call upon other resources. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. Try not to be harsh on yourself, but be gentle and foster a sense of quiet within, an inner acceptance of yourself.
Try to respond to yourself as you would to someone whom you love deeply. Surround yourself with good and wise people who support you and who have Tips on how to forgive patience to allow you time to heal in your own way.
Also, practice humility—not in the sense of putting yourself down, but in realizing that we are all capable of imperfection and suffering.
Try to develop courage and patience in yourself to help you in the journey. Also, if you practice bearing small slights against you without lashing out, you give a gift to everyone—not only to the other person, but to everyone whom that person may harm in the future because of your anger. You can help end the cycle of inflicting pain on others.
If you are still finding it hard to forgive, you can choose to practice with someone who is easier to forgive—maybe someone who hurt you in a small way, rather than deeply. Alternatively, it can be better to focus on forgiving the person who is at the root of your pain—maybe a parent who was abusive, or a spouse who betrayed you. If this initial hurt impacts other parts of your life and other relationships, it may be necessary to start there. Most of us tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others and we struggle to love ourselves.
In self-forgiveness, you honor yourself as a person, even if you are imperfect. Soften your heart toward yourself.
But, a sincere apology, free of conditions and expectations, will go a long way toward your receiving forgiveness in the end. When we overcome suffering, we gain a more mature understanding of what it means to be humble, courageous, and loving in the world. If you shed bitterness and put love in its place, and then repeat this with many, many other people, you become freed to love more widely and deeply. Become a subscribing member today. Scroll To Top When another person hurts us, it can upend our lives.
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Get the science of a meaningful life delivered to your inbox. About the Author. Robert Enright. McCullough March 1, Who Forgives? This article — and everything on this site — is funded by readers like you. Give Now.