How to Forgive Someone

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Although forgiveness brings many benefits, particularly to the ‘forgiver,’ to forgive is not always easy. In fact, many people who would like to let go of anger and forgive are stumped with the question of how to forgive someone.

While everyone may have a unique perspective on how to forgive, the following strategies have been proven effective for a variety of people.

Express Yourself

In contemplating how to forgive someone, you might wonder if you need to discuss the problem before you can forgive. It may help to express your feelings to the other person, but it also might not.

If the relationship is important to you and you would like to maintain it, you might find it very useful to tell the other person—in non-threatening language—how their actions affected you. Exploring different conflict resolution tactics can help you plan this conversation.

If the person is no longer in your life, if you want to cut off the relationship, or if you have reason to believe that things will get much worse if you address the situation directly, you may want to just write a letter and tear it up (or burn it) and move on.

Writing it down, even though you don't plan to share it, can be a helpful part of forgiving someone. It still may help to put your feelings into words as part of letting go.

People don’t need to know that you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is more for you than for the other person.

Look for the Positive

Journaling about a situation where you were hurt or wronged can help you process what happened and move on. However, the way you write about it and what you choose to focus on can make all the difference in how easy it becomes to forgive someone.

Research suggests that it can be helpful to journal about the benefits you’ve gotten from a negative situation rather than focusing on the emotions you have surrounding the event. It can also be helpful to write about something unrelated. These strategies allow you to forgive and move on more easily.

So pick up a pen and start journaling about the silver lining next time you find someone raining on your parade. Or consider keeping an ongoing gratitude journal so that you can practice forgivness a little every day.

Recap

Journaling can be helpful when you are working on figuring out how to forgive someone. You should focus on what you learned from the experience instead of ruminating over the negative emotions that you felt.

Cultivate Empathy

You don’t have to agree with what the other person did to you. However, when working on how to forgive someone, it often helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Research has shown that empathy, particularly with men, is associated with forgiveness, and can make the process easier. Instead of seeing them as "the enemy," try to understand the factors that they were dealing with. Were they going through a particularly difficult time in their lives? Have you ever made similar mistakes?

Try to remember the other person’s good qualities. Also, assume that their motives were not to purposely cause you pain (unless you have clear indicators otherwise). This approach may help you find it easier to forgive.

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Protect Yourself and Move On

You've likely heard the saying: "First time, shame on you; second time, shame on me." Sometimes it’s difficult to forgive if you feel that forgiveness leaves you open to future repeats of the same negative treatment.

Blanket forgiveness of someone who is continuing to hurt you isn’t necessarily a good idea for your emotional health.

It’s important to understand that forgiveness is not the same as condoning the offending action. It's perfectly okay (and sometimes vital) to include self-protective plans for the future as part of your forgiveness process.

For example, if you have a co-worker who continually steals your ideas, belittles you in front of the group, or gossips about you, such ongoing negative behavior can be difficult to forgive. However, you can make a plan to address the behavior with human resources, move to another department, or switch jobs to get out of the negative situation.

Letting go of your anger and trying to forgive will bring the benefits of forgiveness without opening you up to further abuse. You don’t need to hold a grudge in order to protect yourself.

Recap

It is important to protect yourself when you forgive someone. This allows you to move on while still holding them accountable for their actions. It also protects you from further harm.

Get Help If You Need It

Sometimes it can be difficult to forget about the past and forgive. This is particularly true if the offending acts were ongoing or traumatic.

If you’re still having difficulty knowing how to forgive someone who has wronged you in a significant way, you may have better success working with a therapist. A therapist can help you work through your feelings on a deeper level and personally support you through the process.

A 2018 review found that an approach known as forgiveness therapy could be helpful for improving different aspects of psychological functioning and well-being. Forgiveness interventions helped relieve depression, reduce anger, lower stress, and improve positive emotions.

A Word From Verywell

When you’ve been hurt, figuring out how to forgive someone can be difficult. These strategies should be helpful in your journey of letting go and releasing the stress of the past.

Forgiveness has a number of benefits, so it is important to remember that forgiving someone is something that you are truly doing for yourself. By letting go of past hurts, you can move forward with a new, more hopeful perspective.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Toussaint L, Webb JR. Gender differences in the relationship between empathy and forgiveness. J Soc Psychol. 2005;145(6):673-85. doi:10.3200/SOCP.145.6.673-686

  3. Akhtar S, Barlow J. Forgiveness therapy for the promotion of mental well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2018;19(1):107-122. doi:10.1177/1524838016637079