At the same time, forgiving is not deciding that what the other person did was justifiable, excusable, or okay. When you forgive somebody, you’re not absolving them of blame—you are deciding that you won’t hold what happened against them. What they did was still wrong but letting go of your feelings about it has become more important. Whether or not you ever want to interact with somebody again, you can still forgive them.
You might have noticed that when you don’t know the person who hurt you very well, it may be easier to let go of the negative feelings they have (Worthington, 2005). In fact, you might not even need an apology from the person who hurt you (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). However, forgiving someone you are closer to may require more effort on your part, or an apology from that person (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000).
Often, we forgive when the benefits of forgiving start to seem more important than the benefits of staying angry. We might miss the company of the person we’re angry with, or be tired of feeling upset every time we hear their name. But there is a range of health benefits to practicing forgiveness (Witvliet & McCullough, 2007; Worthington & Scherer, 2004) that make it worth your while to learn more about how to practice forgiveness.
These articles are perfect for coaches, counselors, therapists, and a variety of other wellness entrepreneurs.
How to Forgive Someone
Forgiveness has to happen in your own head; if you say you forgive somebody, but don’t mean it, that forgiveness isn’t driven by your conviction. To be ready to forgive someone, you can ask yourself if you believe the three following statements (McCullough, 2009).
- The other person deserves forgiveness.
- You could get something positive out of forgiving them.
- You are at least relatively safe from being hurt by this person, in this way, again.
If you’re thinking about a harm you experienced and not feeling ready to agree with these statements, that’s okay, too! Everybody has their own pace for becoming ready to forgive.
The next step, which is optional but often helpful, is to tell the other person your side of the story.
How to Get Forgiveness From Someone
Before you try to ask for forgiveness, there are some helpful questions to ask yourself (Holmgren, 2002). First, you can check to see whether you are rationalizing that your behavior was okay – are you holding on to the belief that you didn’t do anything wrong? You might also ask yourself if you are hesitating to take full responsibility for your role in what happened. Finally, you can check to see if you have any judgments of the other person that might make it hard to ask for forgiveness. Do you think the other person is overreacting or does not have a right to be upset? It might help to talk about your answers to these questions with a trusted friend, loved one, or mentor before you ask for forgiveness.
Once you have answered those questions to your own satisfaction, here are four steps you can use to get forgiveness from someone (Cornish & Wade, 2015):
1) Take responsibility
Acknowledge what you did and what the consequences were for the other person. Do not focus on any responsibility they might share for what happened, even if you think they are also to blame.
2) Express remorse
Tell the other person how you feel when you think about what you did. If possible, try to focus more on feelings of regret than feelings of shame, because expressing shame might bring the focus back on your emotions.
3) Offer amends
Say you would like to make things better and ask the other person what might help. Come prepared with a few ideas of your own. Describe how you plan to change your own behavior.
4) Describe your hopes for the future of your relationship
Maybe you hope the other person will feel safe trusting you again, or that you can be friends again someday. Remember, though, the person doing the forgiving decides whether to forgive and what kind of a relationship they want in the future.
Forgiveness is a useful tool for reducing feelings of anger and resentment and being able to repair relationships. Whether you are forgiving yourself or someone else, you give yourself a chance to feel better and live a healthier life each time you put forgiveness into practice. The more you practice forgiveness, the more quickly other people may forgive you, too.
- Cornish, M. A., & Wade, N. G. (2015). A therapeutic model of self-forgiveness with intervention strategies for counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93, 96-104.
- Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: APA.
- Holmgren, M. R. (2002). Forgiveness and self-forgiveness in psychotherapy. In S. Lamb & J. G. Murphy (Eds.), Before forgiving: Cautionary views of forgiveness in psychotherapy (pp. 112–135). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- McCullough, M. E., Root, L. M., Tabak, B. A., & Witvliet, C. v. O. (2009). Forgiveness. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 427–435). Oxford University Press.
- Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
- Wade, N. G., Johnson, C. V., & Meyer, J. E. (2008). Understanding concerns about interventions to promote forgiveness: A review of the literature. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 88–102.
- Witvliet, C. V. O., & McCullough, M. E. (2007). Forgiveness and health: A review and theoretical exploration of emotion pathways. In S.G. Post (Ed.), Altruism and health: Perspectives from empirical research (pp. 259–276). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Worthington, E. L. (2005). The power of forgiving. Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
- Worthington, E. L. Jr., & Scherer, M. (2004). Forgiveness is an emotion-focused coping strategy that can reduce health risks and promote health resilience: Theory, review, and hypotheses. Psychology and Health, 19, 385–405.