22 Forgiveness Tips

  1. Learn to Forgive – Most of us think forgiveness is fairly simple, until we suffer an injury or injustice done to us. Like watching a skilled athlete, it looks easy – until we need to do it. Then, we may not even want to. We learn to forgive through willingness and practice. Be open to learning this essential life skill.
  2. Enter the Process – Forgiveness is not an event, a simple solution, or an easy answer. It is a process we enter into. Like physical and psychological growth, our capacity to forgive often develops slowly over time. Forgiveness is a process we learn to live.
  3. Choose to Heal – Unfair and hurtful things happen to everyone. These universal experiences cause emotional, psychological, and spiritual injuries that we need to heal from. The internal signs that we need healing are hurt, fear, anger, mistrust, bitterness, resentment, ruminating, and the desire to get even. Forgiveness is entering our own internal healing process.
  4. Release the Negative Feelings – Nursing hurt and holding onto anger make us prisoners. Feelings are meant to be fluid and moving. If we don’t release them, our hearts harden and turn cold. These negative feelings ferment into bitterness and resentment that can infect our whole being and poison our souls. Forgiveness is the healing balm that warms our hearts, restores emotional circulation, and helps heal the pain.   
  5. Choose to Forgive – Forgiveness is a decision to open our hearts, face our painful feelings, and stop living in the past. It is also a choice to let go of what we cannot control – what has happened has happened. We can’t change the past, but we can change our response to it.  The willingness to open our hearts frees us to heal, grow, trust, and respond to others.
  6. Remember What Happened – Nobody forgets pain when they are in the midst of it. Forgiveness is not forgetting, and amnesia is not healing. Healing lessens pain and softens the memory. Once healed, we recall the injury, but are no longer the prisoner of pain.
  7. Hold Everyone Accountable – Forgiveness is not excusing an injustice or taking others off the hook. All of us are responsible for what we do. Rather, forgiveness means we don’t have to continue to suffer from an injury, no matter what the perpetrator does. We are responsible for our own healing.
  8. Claim Your Freedom – We hold the keys to getting out of the prison of bitterness and resentment. Our choice to forgive unlocks the door to our freedom. To forgive is to claim the right to be whole again. Forgiveness enables us to claim the freedom to go forward without being disabled by the past.
  9. Claim Your Power – By default, we choose to stay helpless when we refuse to forgive. Blaming the offender keeps us in the victim role. We may have been victimized once, but we don’t need to stay victims. Through forgiveness we let go of our “right” to stay victims, and give up our helplessness. In its place, we claim the right to determine our own thoughts, feelings, motives, behaviors and attitudes. We reclaim our own power.
  10. Take Care of the Wound – Forgiveness is not pretending we are fine. That’s denial. Just as physical injuries need the right care and conditions to heal, psychological injuries need to be cared for by grieving them. Grieving is never easy or pleasant. We tend to the wound to prevent the injury from becoming infected and to avoid being disabled by it. As with any injury, once it occurs, our job is to take care of it so that it can heal.
  11. Grieve Well – Grieving is an essential adult life skill with three components: 1) Allowing ourselves to go into our painful feelings and experience them 2) Expressing these feelings in healthy ways 3) Moving through the negative feelings so that we don’t wallow in them. Healthy adults learn to do each step. With deep hurts, waves of grief come. As we repeat these steps, the grief washes through us, cleanses the wound, and sets up the conditions for healing.
  12. Let Go – Forgiveness is letting go of the need to be right. We don’t compromise or dismiss our values. Instead, we let go of the temptation to see ourselves as superior. We no longer judge others, assume we know their motives, or evaluate their worth. We let go of judging and condemning anyone, including ourselves.
  13. Purify Your Motives – When we are hurt by others, our intentions often turn negative. We want to hurt them back, retaliate, and rejoice in their suffering. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Relishing the motive to get even reveals our character, not the offender’s. Revenge is a temptation we need to resist. Forgiveness restores justice through healing, not by inflicting more pain. Forgiveness means we purify our motives, and heal from our injured sense of justice.
  14. Do Good with Anger – Anger itself is an emotion, not a behavior. Resentment and bitterness are the outcome of an untreated wound that is infected with anger. Healthy anger provides the energy and determination to assert ourselves and stand up against injustice. We can use the power of our anger to do good by confronting injustice.  
  15. Accept What Happened – We no longer need to suffer, or inflict suffering, because others didn’t do what we think they should have done. We release our expectations for the past. Acceptance is not condoning or approving what occurred. It is admitting what happened, rather than insisting it shouldn’t have happened. Acceptance is surrender to reality, not believing it was right or good. Because we no longer need to argue with the past, acceptance puts our souls at rest.     
  16. Decide Whether or Not to Reconcile – Forgiveness happens internally, while reconciliation happens between people. Some relationships need to end after certain kinds of offenses, especially when the harm keeps occurring, or is too dangerous to risk again. We have the right to end destructive relationships. However, even if we chose not to reconcile, we can still grieve, let go, purify our motives, accept reality, and move forward with our lives by forgiving.
  17. Stay Open to Others – Resentment and bitterness morph into an attitude of contempt that we use to try to protect ourselves from being hurt again. But contempt cripples our ability to have healthy relationships. Forgiveness frees us from the fear of being hurt again, because we know we can heal. Not only that, we can offer healing to others. By letting go of the desire for false justice – punishment and revenge – we no longer cling to the belief that the wrongdoer is indebted to us. We release them from our contempt. Instead of closing our hearts out of fear, forgiveness keeps us open to others and open to relationships.
  18. Restore Compassion – Bitterness and resentment make us defensive and self-centered, while demanding others be more than human. The truth is, we have hurt people too. We have no right to expect compassion from others, if we are unwilling to give it. We grow in connection, unity, and good will as we accept that we are like others, and they are like us. Forgiveness softens us and deepens our compassion for others.
  19. Forgive Yourself – Just as we resent, judge, and hold others in contempt, we do the same with ourselves. We cling to anger, shame and guilt about things we have done or neglected to do. Self-forgiveness involves the same process and steps as forgiving others, and is every bit as important. Both involve tough inner work that is crucial to do. For some, forgiving ourselves is harder than forgiving others. To forgive yourself is to genuinely love yourself, even when you think you don’t deserve it.
  20. Embrace Healthy Spirituality – Forgiveness is important to all religions and faith traditions. It concerns our attitudes, behaviors, and posture toward ourselves and others. Forgiveness is an attitude of good will and peace-making, even after we’ve been hurt. The willingness to forgive reflects a positive attitude toward life in the midst of its pain, injustice, and problems. We embrace healthy spirituality when we practice forgiveness.
  21. Let God Be God – Acting as judge, jury and executioner is not our job, nor our right. We are all flawed human beings. The God of love asks us to grant, seek, and live forgiveness. In doing so, we receive far more than we give – healing, purification, wholeness, and love. Many believe that we need to pray for God’s grace in order to forgive. Try it. Living a life of forgiveness fosters the humility we need to put us in right relationship with all of life.
  22. Love More Deeply – Love does not wish harm on anyone, and it defends everyone from being harmed. Love frees us from fear so that we can experience the joy of deep, intimate and lasting relationships. Forgiveness purifies our hearts, so we can live a life guided by and filled with love. As love becomes our primary motive and goal in life, it enables us to be peaceful, joyful people with deep and fulfilling relationships.
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Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.