post written by: Marc Chernoff

How To Forgive Yourself and Others


How To Forgive

This is a guest post written by Nathalie Lussier of Billionaire Woman.
Nathalie writes about wealth, joy, and living a fulfilling life.

Pain, resentment, guilt, anger, and fear… all of these feelings bubble up inside of us when we think back on our mistakes or the mistakes of those dear to us.  Sometimes the only healthy way to move forward is to look back at our past and inject forgiveness into our lives.

Some say “forgive and forget.”  Others say “forgive, but never forget.”  No matter which path you choose, the act of forgiving is the first step.  Here are three simple ways to bring more forgiveness into your life.

Forgive Yourself

In general, we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others.  If you’ve made mistakes in the past, it’s time to let your spirit heal by forgiving yourself.  We all do things we aren’t proud of.  Understand that you were doing the best you could at the time, with the experiences and knowledge you had accessible to you.

Self-forgiveness tips:

  • Pick an area of your life you would like to work on.  It could be failed relationships, family problems, or business mistakes.
  • Make a list of all of the people you might have hurt along the way.  This is the toughest part because we tend to bury some of these stressful memories.  So be honest with yourself and take your time.
  • After you’ve compiled your list, systematically go through each person on the list.  Think about the situation, validate the circumstances, and forgive yourself for hurting them.   As odd as it may feel, apologize aloud to yourself, “I forgive myself for hurting this person,” and take a deep breath.  Once you’ve completed this practice you’ll instantly feel a slight sense of relief.

Remember, the simple act of acknowledging your mistakes is always half the battle.

Ask for Forgiveness

Once you forgive yourself, it’s also important to clear the air with others.  A face to face apology is always the most effective approach.  Depending on the situation, you might be afraid to ask for forgiveness.  But if you don’t ask, you will never feel the relief of being pardoned for your mistakes.

If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to ask for forgiveness in person, I still recommend writing a letter of forgiveness.  The reason writing a letter works so well is that the process of writing the letter actually assists you in forgiving yourself by reducing pent-up, internal feelings of guilt.  It lets you express your thoughts and process all of the internal drama that has bottled-up in your mind. 

Tips for writing your letter of forgiveness:

  • Don’t do it out of spite, or because you think it will elevate you to higher moral ground.  No good ever arises from deception.
  • Realize that a letter can’t undo the damage.  A letter of forgiveness might not be enough to change your relationship with the recipient, but it’s a significant step in the right direction.
  • Explain your rationale, but don’t make excuses for your behavior.  Own up to your actions and take responsibility.  Offer to fix the situation, or find a way to make it up to the person.
  • Make a sincere wish for the well-being of the person you hurt.  After many years of festering emotions, you may have come to hate the act of thinking about this person.  Stop being selfish!  It’s time to be honest and compassionate.

Hopefully, just writing the letter will allow you to move closer to a positive resolution on all fronts.

Forgive Others

If you’ve been hurt in the past, you don’t need to keep suffering.  Whether or not you’ve gotten closure is irrelevant.  You have the ultimate power to clear the air by simply forgiving those who have hurt you.

You should make a list of all of the people who have done something that still troubles you to this day. The list might start out small, but as you unwind your memories you are bound to find more people and incidents than you were previously aware of.

Your mind represses these memories in an effort to preserve your conscious sanity.  The drawback is that you probably haven’t processed these events properly.  So while you aren’t actively thinking about them, they are quietly tugging at your consciousness and robbing you of mental energy.

Tips for forgiving others:

  • Close your eyes and picture the person standing in front of you.
  • In your mind’s eye, explain to them how you felt then, how you feel now, and what happened during those hurtful times.
  • After you’ve stated your views, let them acknowledge your pain.  Watch their reactions and wait for a response.  There’s a good chance they will understand your point of view.
  • Then hug them and tell them that you forgive them.  Yes!  Really do this with all of your emotional might, it’s a powerful process!  Release them from your troubled past and let your thoughts come back to the present.

After completing only a few of these processes, you’ll find yourself breathing deeper and interacting differently with these people.  Regardless of whether or not they are still a part of your daily life, you will forever see them in a more positive light… which will ultimately make your future brighter.

Photo by: Kalandrakas

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24 Comments

  • Forgiving yourself is really the first step to forgiving others. I noticed that when I let go of my own pain, I was able to forgive others.

    It does make breathing and relationships a lot easier to enjoy.

    I’m still working on forgiving a few people, but some emotional baggage just takes time.

  • What a powerful post. Thank you!

  • Forgiveness, for yourself and others, is a vital step towards experiencing unconditional love.

    Without forgiveness, we are stuck. I hope this reaches a lot of folks, because there are plenty that are hurting — and they don’t need to be.

    John

  • Personally, forgiving yourself will always be the more difficult things to do. I believe that it is a self torturing nature in all of us. We feel bad for what happen and even though that person had forgiven us, we still can’t forgive ourselves.

    But like you said, acknowledging your mistakes is always half the battle.

    Thank you for the wonderful piece :)

  • Great one! I am a big believer in the power of forgiveness. Here is a link to my fave website and book on forgiveness:

    http://www.forgive.org/inside.html

  • I have mixed reaction to this.

    On one hand I recognise much of what you write about. How much harder I am on myself, how liberating it is to give and receive forgiveness, etc..

    On the other hand I have this idea that the whole concept of guilt, repentance and forgiveness is a human invention designed to give power over others.

    We all make mistakes. We all do things we wouldn’t have done if we’d known what the consequences would be (if you get hurt, for example). We all do things we know will cause hurt, but at the time we didn’t know what else to do.

    I consider it much better to put my energy into learning from these situations than in seeking forgiveness - something over which I have no control at all.

    That learning might involve confronting the consequences of my actions (hearing your pain!). When I hear your pain and you hear my reaction (my pain!), in my experience, it’s far more healing for both than the transaction of forgiveness.

    Enjoyed the post though!

  • @Karl I agree, sometimes time is the only thing we can apply to heal old wounds. But I’m glad you’ve found that forgiving yourself is a good start! :)

    @Christopher Thank you.

    @John I love what you said about unconditional love. It’s something that we are all working on, I think.

  • To me, the most useful reminder in this post is that while man survives by forgetting, what he has forgotten can never be purged. The present IS the past, whether you remember it or not.

    Forgiving yourself is a great way to reconcile the past with the present, but personally I think ‘forgiving others’ is overrated. There are irreconcilable differences out there, and I suspect this is the reason why you suggest an inner-mind exercise instead of a face-to-face session with which to forgive others. While this may be effective in terms of relief, conjuring up a forgive-the-other session in your mind can be a delusional affair at worse.

    It distracts you from what you really need to do, namely to forgive yourself for -allowing- the other person to hurt you the way that he/she did. Except in cases of extreme malice, most times you should blame no one but yourself for getting hurt, even when it feels like you’ve done nothing wrong.

    The world is never that simple when you leave the confines of your own mind.

  • @Banji Absolutely, self-forgiveness is tough. We all have these little voices that say we don’t deserve it, or that we should keep punishing ourselves.

    @Soul Great, thanks for the link!

    @Ian I hadn’t thought of forgiveness as a way to hold power over others, thanks for sharing that. There’s definitely some healing properties to doing a “mental forgiveness exercise”, even if you don’t want to give your power away by asking for forgiveness to another person. I definitely enjoyed pondering your comment, thanks. :)

  • I think you’re right about the importance of learning how to ‘forgive yourself’ and for some of us that painful memory might be ours alone and involves no one else.

    But confronting people that have hurt you and letting them know you ‘forgive them’; I think that depends on who the person was or more importantly what type of person committed the act and what type of transgression was committed. Because if you are not careful…you could be setting yourself up to become a victim again. There are people ‘out and about’ that just enjoy dishing out ‘pain’.

    I think you can’t control everything that happens in your life, ‘plain and simple’. And that’s what this Forgiveness Thing is about in a way, trying to control an unfair occurrence.

    Sometimes you just gotta let go of the emotional strings, and never, never, forget…cause life is a learning journey…

  • @Miles: While I certainly hope Nathalie will respond with her own interpretation of your comment, allow me to give you my two cents as well.

    The same way in which you said, “The present IS the past, whether you remember it or not.” …forgiveness too is universal. The act of forgiving others IS the act of forgiving yourself, whether they respond fruitfully or not. It’s the awareness of the problem that solves the problem.

  • Learning to forgive is a powerful step towards a happy and fulfilling life. A lot of the items that people worry about are petty, and they should forgive and forget. Happy thoughts = happy person.
    Great post Nathalie!

  • An essential part of forgiveness is seeing things from the other person’s perspective - “just why did they do or think that?”. And when you do that you will sometimes see that it is you who needs to seek forgiveness from them.

  • @Miles I like your point of view: you are the one who allowed yourself to be hurt. Nonetheless, I think that interactions take two people, and depending on the situation, you might really have felt that the other person was responsible for hurting you.

    With the “mental forgiveness exercise”, you’re essentially talking to an imaginary version of the other person. But you might also see that as talking to yourself as the other person, since in your imagination you play both roles. That might also help you get unstuck and maybe clean out some of the remaining negative emotions you have about the past.

    @Sadie I agree that we need to be careful when sending out letters or telling people that we forgive them. Sometimes that might just open up even more wounds, or stir up trouble. But being able to let yourself forgive others, at least in your own mind and heart, is a great first step. (That probably won’t backfire!)

    @HIB Thanks, I’ve often found that I remember the fight, but not what the fight was originally about. Indeed, most confrontations are about petty things, so forgiveness shouldn’t be blown out of proportion as an impossible thing to do.

    @Magnus I like that, trying on someone else’s shoes is always eye opening. Especially when it comes to forgiveness. :)

  • Unable To Forgive
    February 14th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    What if we’re not able to forgive though? What if we went off on someone for a treacherous mistake on their part that you feel could never be made up for, and they’d rather things between the two of you remained stressed?

  • @Unable: Sometimes we need to let people go. If it’s a person you see often in your day to day, then you will need to work on the forgiveness within yourself first. Otherwise, maybe it’s time to let that person go, and give yourself the time you need to forgive them.

  • […] How to Forgive Yourself and Others: Three simple techniques to bring more forgiveness into your life. I personally use these ideas in my own life with much success. […]

  • forgiving the one is the most hardest thing to do and i am doing it for long time with only one person for 13 yrs…some people i havent forgiven nor will i …why because ///.. they are not worth my forgiveness..i dont count them i dont think of them…but they are not to be forgiven…

  • can u forgive a stone if it hurt u?

  • I just noticed my personality and joy slowly disappearing as the weeks went by when I would suppress my memories. I knew that my personality was slipping away, but I had no idea why.

    “Believe it, or not,” but I am able to forget things on purpose, but I’ve chosen to remember certain memories even though they repeatedly kept coming to mind, I especially remember this during High School. When I was in the shower today, I was thinking a lot about how I need to be talking to these people, and find a way to be happy with life again, instead of faking my smiles, and laughter whenever I knew that I should be happy. I decided to learn on the internet for something that I could spend time to do, and practice, and that would be a priceless skill to have. It was walking on water which quickly led me to a article on this website called “How To Walk On Water” here which led me to this article.

    I made some pretty bad mistakes, but thankfully I never done anything that could have gotten me “thrown” in court without a guarantee that nothing can be done to me since I was merely a child, but these incidents are still “bright” to memory. Now, thanks to the Author(s), or Researcher(s) of this article which has saved me a lot of time, I can work on asking for forgiveness and work on being happy again.

  • Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  • I have recently had my professional career trashed by a supervisor who lied about the project, blamed me for problems with it, and did not take responsibility for his actions that led to the majority of the set-backs. As a direct result of his lies, I am no longer in the profession that I have 2 degrees in and have worked 17 years to be in. I have no desire to forgive him. I don’t want to carry that crap around though either–so I’m trying to move on with my life. My friends say–don’t worry, he’ll get what’s coming to him. However, I don’t really want to waste my energy (what little I have right now) on hoping he will be forced to account for his actions and lies. How could I possibly forgive someone whose actions have effectively brought 17 years of work to a halt, pushed me into severe depression and anxiety, and left me unemployed and deeper in debt? Don’t say–this is for you, not him. Forgiving him would make me feel as if what he did is okay and it is absolutely not. I learned from a friend that my former supervisor continues to badmouth me to other people, who are telling colleagues that I have issues and cannot accomplish goals and objectives. Colleagues that previously worked with me have stopped doing so.
    I appreciate your suggestions, but sometimes it just is not a recourse that can be taken.

  • I think forgiveness can be more of a lifelong process depending on the severity of the transgression the other person has caused you. Sometimes I think I can forgive my ex the way he treated me because I still am in love with him and then other days I think about how awful he was to me and I just wish something bad would happen to him. Wish it was an easier process, but maybe that just means forgiveness is more of a practice than a process.

    Also, one shouldn’t confuse forgiveness with reconcilliation. You can forgive someone without wanting to reconcile the relationship–nothing wrong with that.

  • Thank you. It sincerely helped.

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