Learning to Forgive

Why is it so difficult to forgive someone who has wronged us?

Why do we choose to hold on to the anger and wounds that someone has inflicted unto us?

Why can’t we let go of the actions and words that someone has mentioned in the past?

Forgiveness is a difficult concept to allow into our lives. Some think that forgiveness is to excuse the act or minimize the wrong. Some people think that by forgiving, you also forget what happened, that you also excuse the offender.

By not forgiving, it changes your perception of the world and people from positive to negative.

You tend to see the world and people as hostile. If you stay with the hurtful act, it can fill you up with anger and vengeance that can cloud up the positive feelings you have inside of you. It can destroy relationships or prevent you from enjoying the present because you focus too much on the wrong.

By learning to forgive, you also learn to change your life. By forgiving, you let go of the power anger has and the power the other person has in your life. By forgiving, you learn to find hope, peace and joy. It helps build healthier relationships and decreases anxiety, depression and hostility, leading to higher self-esteem.

How Do We Do It?

So how do we forgive? Below are some suggestions I often tell clients to work on to help them with the process of forgiving:

  1. Change your perception: Take a step back and see the bigger picture. Ask yourself if this action is something that is unforgivable or something that you will forget about in a month. If the event does not have a huge impact on your future, then forgiving may be something to consider. Look at your relationship with the person and ask if the good outweighs the bad. Also, start looking at why the person got angry. Maybe they had a bad day and took it out on you? Start thinking that we all have bad and good days and we sometimes act out based on those days. We sometimes get angry at someone because we had a stressful day at work. We all do get angry at others so shouldn’t we want to be forgiven too?
  2. Talk to someone or write it out: If you are feeling hurt about what happened, it may help to talk it out with someone or even write it out. Talking to someone can help you gain insight, advice and gain valuable perspective. Writing it down and stepping away from it can also help you to unload your ruminating thoughts and to think more clearly about the situation. You should take time to sit down or step away from it in order to fully digest what happened.
  3. Take time: Take time to be alone with your thoughts. Get some time for yourself and don’t hang around the person as often as you used to. You need to take some time away from the person in order to start forgiving them.
  4. Listen to their side: It may help to approach the person and ask them to explain why they said those hurtful things about you or why they have done that hurtful act. By getting a clearer perspective, it may help you to understand things that you may have misinterpreted. You could have gotten angry at the person for something that was misheard or misunderstood. Try to see the story from his or her side.
  5. Express how you feel: You should tell the person how you feel and how his/her actions hurt you. Be open about your feelings. If you do not express yourself to the person, then there is a chance that the person will do the hurtful act again to you.
  6. Don’t get back: What good will it do to get back at the person if you want to build your relationship. You want to be the better person and to move toward forgiveness. You can let the person know how you feel, but getting back will not change the situation and will probably make things worse.
  7. Empathy and compassion: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. They may be going through a rough time and you can feel sorry for them knowing that they are not in a good place. You should remember that whatever happened would not have happened if they were not going through a rough time. You can still be hurt by also showing compassion.
  8. Accept the apology: If the person has apologized, you can either accept the apology or not. If you choose to accept the apology, it does not mean that you have to go to the mall together. It means that you are ready to have a healthy relationship with that individual or at least to let go of your anger towards the person. If you feel that you want to be friends again, then that’s great. If not, then be sure to tell them that you forgive them but are not ready to have them in your life. If you choose to not forgive them, then maybe you need to take time away from the person in order to start working on forgiving them.
Learning to Forgive

Helen Nieves

Helen Nieves is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist who works in her private practice and outpatient mental health clinic in New York. She teaches ADHD on line and is on the Advisory Board at The American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She also received advanced training in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and in Grief Counseling.


APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2015). Learning to Forgive. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Sep 2015
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