Forgiveness is something that must be created. If done thoughtfully and effectively, it will transform the way you think, feel, and live your life. Approaching the challenge with an “I can do that” attitude will motivate you to face the challenge. By taking action, changing your thoughts, shifting your emotions and seeking guidance from numerous valuable sources you will know how to forgive others, and yourself.


Taking Action

  1. Reach out to connect. As life gets busy, it is difficult to stay in touch with friends. When a conflict has occurred to push people apart, that connection becomes even harder to salvage. If you want to forgive someone, then take the first step in the process by reaching out. This act alone will help you to feel more open and optimistic.
    • It is always difficult to take the first step, and sometimes you need to give yourself a push. Simply tell yourself, "Here we go," and pick up the phone and make contact.
  2. Ask to be heard. Whether you decide to set up a face-to-face meeting with the person, or communicate via telephone or electronic device, the goal is the same: ask the person for time to express your thoughts and feelings about the conflict.
    • Assure the person that you are open and willing to hear what she has to say as well. This will allow the person to feel more open about the forthcoming discussion.
    • If the person refuses to meet with you, do not despair. There are things you can do to move toward forgiveness regardless of whether the person complies. The act of forgiveness is designed to help you in the end. For example, use writing instead of direct contact to express your feelings and thoughts about the person. Writing in a journal helps to process your feelings and is effective.[1]
    • Journaling can help reduce anxiety and stress, as it is a healthy outlet for confusing or overwhelming emotions.[2]
  3. Discuss the issue. Some discussions in life are harder to have than others. When a conflict has occurred and negative feelings have grown, it is difficult to start the conversation. The goal would be to frame the conversation and guide it toward a peaceful resolution to manage the hurt and disappointment you are feeling.[3]
    • First, thank the person for meeting with you.
    • Second, tell the person your goal is to hear each other’s side of the story and come to some peaceful resolution so you both can move on.
    • Third, provide the details of your story including how you felt and what you thought.
    • Fourth, ask the person if there is anything else you can clarify for him before he provides the details of his side of the story.
    • Fifth, ask the person questions that will give you the necessary information to understand his intent, motives, thoughts and feelings.
  4. Apologize for your contribution. Most every conflict involves a misunderstanding or misconception of what someone did or said. There are things that you must do to loosen the tension in the situation. Taking responsibility for your role is an act that fosters the open communication that you want, and is necessary to reach a resolution.[4]
  5. Accept the apology.[4] If you have discussed the situation and the person has extended a sincere apology, then accept it. Even if you have to force yourself to say the words, “I accept your apology,” this is a large step toward creating a sense of forgiveness for yourself.
    • Accepting an apology can be difficult. If you are making your best effort to forgive someone, you can say, “I accept your apology and I am working toward forgiving you, but it’s going to take time.”
  6. Show your willingness to move on. If you must or want to maintain a relationship with this person, then your behaviors must demonstrate that you are serious. Your relationship will improve when you go through the process of forgiveness.[5] This includes not holding grudges and bringing up the past.[6] It also includes your willingness to laugh and be lighthearted around the person. Moving past a conflict is a huge relief. Let that motivate your actions toward being fair-minded and resolved.
    • As time passes and progress is made, you may notice you are still allowing feelings of betrayal to affect the way you treat the person. Perhaps it happens during heated arguments or discussions. You may not have processed your hurt feelings and still have some work to do. This is a normal reaction and can be managed by talking about your feelings with the person involved, or someone else.

Changing Your Thoughts and Emotions

  1. Practice empathy and compassion.[7] Both empathy and compassion can be learned. As with any new skill, you need to practice. If you are able to treat people the way you would like to be treated, you are more than half-way there.
    • Take the opportunity to practice compassion when out in public. If you see someone struggling getting into the doorway of a store, rush to open it. If you see someone that looks like she is having a bad day, smile and say hello. Your goal is to allow others to feel the impact of your good deeds.
    • Expand your empathy by talking and, most importantly, listening to people outside your social circle. Try to strike up a conversation with a stranger once a week. Go beyond small talk and try to (respectfully) inquire about their lives and experiences. This will broaden your worldview and help you become more understanding of others.[8]
  2. Put your negative feelings aside. Fear, insecurities and an inability to communicate are the impetus of many hurtful behaviors. Some people don’t understand why they act certain ways because they have not explored the deeper inner-workings of their own behavior. This does not excuse the person’s actions.
    • You must tell yourself that you are not responsible to help or make this person evolve into a fully developed human being. Wish the person well and do not let it prevent you from moving on toward forgiveness.
    • Make an effort to understand what happened and why the person acted the way he did. You can do this by discussing the matter with the person, or someone you trust. Also, go online or to a bookstore or library to research the subject. Information is power and learning about the underlying motives of human behavior is interesting.
  3. Question and change your perspective. You have probably been holding strong beliefs about a situation in which you were wronged by someone. Many times a person’s perspective is askew and needs to return to a balanced state. It is important to keep things in perspective, especially if yours is causing you harm.
    • For example, if the conflict is occupying your thoughts on a regular basis, then it is taking up too much of your time. Questions like: In comparison with a serious life or death situation, is this issue really that big of a deal? Is this matter worthy of taking all my time, which is robbing me of time I could be spending enjoying my life? Think about your answers and make a decision to shift your perspective and not allow the conflict to consume you.
    • You might be avoiding social situations with people you enjoy because you do not want to see a person who betrayed or hurt you. This perspective is hindering your involvement with people you enjoy, which robs you of a positive experience. Be brave and accept invitations to attend. You don’t have to talk to the person while you are there; but if you do cross paths be civil and refrain from lengthy discussions.
  4. Shift your thoughts from resentful to grateful. It is true that resentment only harms you because you are the one harboring the negative feelings toward another person. To combat feelings of resentment, shift them to feelings of gratitude. The higher amounts of gratitude you have will decrease feelings of resentment. Your reward will be an improvement to your mood, which will likely be appreciated by others.[9] Asking yourself the following questions will help shift your thoughts and result in you feeling less resentful:
    • How do I feel when I think negatively about this person?
    • Do I want to hurt myself?
    • Can my thoughts alone hurt the person?
    • Your answers were likely: bad, no and no. Use your answers to form a more grateful response: I deserve to feel positive feelings, take care of myself in a positive way, and keep myself safe from harm.
  5. Make a list of the benefits of letting go of resentment. Let go of what is holding you back. Some people learn to hold on to resentment and the role of the victim and allow it to influence many parts of their lives. These people believe that they are the victims of other people’s actions, even when there is evidence to the contrary.
    • Question yourself if you are that type of person. If the answer is yes, then you can un-learn this behavior.
    • Letting go of feelings associated with a conflict involves identifying a negative feeling, then examining the benefits you would experience if you were free of that negative feeling. For example, you would feel free, light, relieved, able to focus on good things, able to stop holding on to resentment, able to feel like your life is back on track. The goal is to show yourself with an overwhelming amount of evidence that your life will be better if you let go and move on.
  6. Don't give up trying. If you try to let something go and it continues to eat at you, then you likely need to process more feelings about the situation. This may include talking with a trusted friend or family member, writing, or going for a hike to physically work out your emotions.
    • It can be upsetting if someone tells you to, “just let it go” if you haven’t reached a level of resolve about the matter. Take a deep breath and say, “I’m working on letting it go, but I’m not there yet.”
  7. Engage in fun activities. You can learn to let go by rediscovering your playful side. When you play it allows you to be free from the negative thoughts you harbor about a conflict.
    • For example, you could go to the beach and fly a kite. It would require you to pay close attention and will give you a sense of fun and accomplishment when you launch it and make it fly. It provides an excellent distraction that will allow you to look at the situation differently. As they say: laughter is the best medicine. Play and laughter will help you remain positive and optimistic through difficult situations.[10]
    • Schedule time in your calendar at least once a week to play and have fun.
  8. Diffuse your anger. Remaining in a state of anger and upset is unhealthy. Processing feelings of anger through physical activity or artistic expression are good alternatives for reducing anger, stress and anxiety. Anger must be released to move you toward feeling forgiveness.
    • Consider running, hiking or lifting weights to expend the energy you have pent up over the issue. The physical exercising of your body will help blood flow and increase endorphins that increase feelings of pleasure and lessen pain.[11]
    • Meditate by yourself or in a group. Meditation has been used for centuries by many cultures to overcome negative thoughts that may be causing your to be angry, and cultivate positive ones.[12]
    • Creating a painting, sculpture or digital work of art might be just the right thing to shift your focus toward creating art that allows you to process your anger.[13]
  9. Rebuild trust. When we let others into our lives we take a risk. Those same people can betray the trust that you have built together. An essential part of the forgiveness process is allowing someone to earn back your trust.
    • Allow the person to show you they are reliable, truthful, and sincere. [14] Create opportunities for the person to show you. When you give a little, you may receive many positive rewards in return.
    • For example, consider accepting his invitation to go to the movies. This allows the person the opportunity to show up on time, treat you with respect and have a good time. Without your willingness to accept his invitation, you would not be witness to his sincere efforts to earn your trust.
    • If the betrayal has to do with lying about where he went, suggest that he check in with you via text or call you to let you know where he is.
    • Remember to acknowledge when someone is making an effort to earn your trust. Consider telling him you appreciate every effort.
  10. Appreciate the learning experiences. People and opportunities come into your life to teach you something. Each experience prepares us to be smarter and more in tune with what we want out of life. We learn from the good and the bad.
    • Sit down and make a list of the things you learned from the situation you are processing. Perhaps you learned to not co-sign for a loan for a friend who has a history of poor financial habits. You may have learned that some people would rather party than pay rent; or that roommates can be slobs and ruin any opportunity to get a cleaning deposit back from the property owner.
    • Don’t forget to write about all the positive things that happened. It is easy to see only the negative when we are in the midst of all the pain; but no situation is all bad. Perhaps you learned to interview potential roommates to ensure they share the same study habits and housekeeping skills. This will help you have a more peaceful living situation in the future.

Seeking Help

  1. Find a therapist. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone and it is impacting your life in a negative way, perhaps it is time to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. Therapies intended to promote forgiveness have been successful in helping people overcome past hurts and achieve peace and resolution.[15]
    • Obtain a referral or suggestion from your physician, trusted family member or friend. However, if that is not feasible, contact your local department of mental health about counseling options.
    • If you feel you and your therapist are not a good fit, look for a different therapist. Every therapist is different and finding one with whom you feel comfortable is essential.
    • Look for a therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy.[16] Your therapist will help examine and dispel the negative thought patterns that you have developed.
    • Consider spiritual counseling. Many people find comfort in seeking help from spiritual leaders who can guide them toward forgiveness. The power of prayer has been successful toward healing and alleviating feelings of guilt and shame, which are motivators for people seeking forgiveness for various reason.[17]
  2. Set therapeutic goals for yourself. Commit to changing your behavior. In both psychotherapy and physical therapy, you will benefit from setting goals.[18] Engage in the process by allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. Don’t abandon the process just because it gets difficult. Your hard work will pay off and leave you with a healthy sense of accomplishment.
    • Identify your objectives. For example, would you like to feel more at peace toward a family member who betrayed you? Tell the therapist that this is one of your goals.
    • Reward yourself when you reach your goal. Your motivation will increase if you reward your accomplishments.[19]
    • Adjust your objectives rather than give up.
    • Continue to make new goals as it will keep you engaged in life.
  3. Enhance your support system. Surround yourself with people who care about you. This includes family, friends, and co-workers. Branch out and meet new people to expand your circle of support. You have learned so much through the therapeutic process that you feel resourceful and confident. A good support system will help you reduce stress and may even boost your immune system.[20]
    • Exploring your interests may lead to joining groups that allow you to meet new people, and experience new situations.
  4. Forgive and accept yourself. Personal struggles can leave you feeling bad about yourself. You may feel guilty for not taking care of yourself in a situation or you unfairly blame yourself for what happened. You can learn to manage feelings of guilt and shame rather than try to eliminate them.
    • If you have chosen to participate in cognitive behavior therapy, it will help you examine your thoughts and develop new more effective ways of thinking about yourself.[21]


  • Sometimes it helps to think of how others have forgiven under incredible circumstances. Ask friends for support and examples to motivate you toward forgiveness.
  • Studies have shown that forgiveness depends upon whether a person believes they must have an interaction with the offender. [22] You can decide if that is necessary for you to achieve forgiveness.
  • It is never too late, if you are willing, to seek professional help for your issues. Change is not easy, but it is possible if you are willing to put in the effort and find ways of coping with your challenges.[23]
  • Licensed therapists are trained to help others learn to manage the struggles that are impacting their lives.
  • Being honest and sincere when apologizing increases the chances that a person will be forgiven.[24]
  • If you served in military combat and witnessed acts that were not in line with your morals, you will benefit from gaining the skill of self-forgiveness through therapeutic interventions.[25]
  • Put your best mental energies (perhaps first thing in the morning) into visualizing the new life you want. See yourself in the future as free of this pain and suffering.
  • Remember you're not perfect either, and empathise with why the person might have done what he did


  • Forgiveness is hard, but living with a grudge is even harder. Keeping grudges bottled up can be very dangerous, and can hurt people in ways you might not have imagined.
  • Certain mental illnesses hinder a person's capacity to forgive. A psychopath may never experience shame or guilt for an offense, which are two factors that motivate forgiveness.
  • Unconditional forgiveness is not predicated on any act or request from the offender. The act of forgiveness is intended to free you from the rage, depression, and despair that nursing a grievance causes.

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Sources and Citations

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