How to Forgive Yourself and Others

By Val Silver

Knowing how to forgive yourself and others means the difference between releasing negative feelings tying you to your past or struggling with the same feelings of bitterness, guilt, and anger for years.

It may work just fine to shrug off small offenses or those we took on too easily. But for hurts that go deep and won't let go no matter how much you wish it or pray over it, mindset shifts and spiritual healing techniques can make the forgiveness process easier and more likely to last.

how to forgive

How to Forgive: The Preliminaries

Realize that forgiveness is primarily for and about you. Your goal is to release yourself from the trauma of reliving and revisiting painful past events. When you forgive, you release stuck energy, the identity of being a victim, and heal yourself spiritually, mentally, and sometimes even physically. 

If others were involved, they may or may not change or even feel sorry. They may not be aware, or even care, that they hurt you. Be okay with that. The process is not about them whether they ask your forgiveness or not.

Fully accept that the past is gone. It lives only as an illusion in your mind and only has the power you give it.

The past is over and cannot be changed. Choose whether to continue living with regret by not forgiving yourself and others, or choose to energize a better present and future that makes you happy. 

Acknowledge that you have full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions, regardless of what the other person did or said to you. No one can make you think, feel, or act in any way. 

Yes, they might know how to push your buttons, but your response is your doing. Own that knowledge, claim your power and take responsibility for yourself. 

Ask yourself if you want to keep punishing and hurting yourself because of what happened. After the initial incident was over, all the ruminating, reliving, mental torture, blame, shame, guilt, maneuvering et al is your doing. Again, do you really want to give someone or something this kind of power over you? Hopefully your answer is a resounding, "NO".  Knowing how to forgive and releasing the past puts the controls back in your hands where it belongs and always was.  

Read about what forgiveness is and is not, and how it affects your life and health to lay the groundwork for how to forgive and clear up some common faulty perceptions that keep you in the cycle of holding on. 


A Holistic Forgiveness Process

There are several processes for how to forgive. Most are effective if you use them with intent, non-judgmental awareness, and an open heart. Be gentle with yourself.

The following technique is effective for forgiving others because it helps you engage your senses - mentally, emotionally, and physically, and not gloss over things that may come back to haunt you later. If you let yourself get into it, you may even have fun with it. 

This 'how to forgive' process is basically the same for big offenses and small ones, although some resentments may require you to dig a little deeper. Modify the technique slightly if you are forgiving yourself. 

Note: If you are dealing with a very traumatic event, it would be wise to enlist the help of a skilled mental health professional

Step 1: Identify your thoughts and feelings.

Take some time to write down all your thoughts and feelings about what happened. Do not censor them. Hold NOTHING back. Let every vile, judgmental thought about yourself or the other person come out. Write down every horrible thing s/he did and said to you. Express your feelings about it. Really let it all out. 

Before you write - and it is important to write, not just think about it - sit quietly and let the incident come to the surface of your mind. Notice the primary feeling that arises with it. Is it anger? Fear? Sorrow? Then ask yourself what emotions are behind it. For example: you may feel furious, but underneath that you feel hurt, disappointed, or shocked. 

Step 2: Explore points of view.

Depending on the incident and your level of trauma, you may want to skip this step or just start here. Use good judgment. The idea is not to traumatize yourself more. However, do not just skip this step because it seems silly or you only care about your own perceptions.

You are going to explore points of view. This is similar to the idea of walking a mile in another man's shoes before judging him.

  • First, get three chairs and place them facing each other. Chairs around a table should work fine. Sit in one chair and tell your story out loud as if you were telling it to a judge, parent, or objective friend. Hold nothing back.
  • Next, get up and move to the second chair. In this chair you take the point of view of the perpetrator. Pretend you are this person. What were you thinking? Why did you say or do what you did? How were you feeling? Explain the incident from this point of view.
  • Move to the third chair. This is probably the most difficult seat because you have to be totally objective. Take the part of an on-looker or witness who does not know either of you. What did you see or hear? No opinions, just the facts. What happened?
  • Finally, explore what you learned about yourself, the other person, and the situation during this exercise. Has your perspective expanded or shifted?

Step 3: Mine for treasure.

In step three of the 'how to forgive' process, you look for the silver lining in the cloud, the diamond in the lump of coal.

Is there something positive that came out of this negative experience? Open yourself to the positive. Perhaps you learned a lesson about yourself, the other person, or a situation you are in. Perhaps you realized something, or took a life turn, that worked out for good when you acted on it. Sometimes the good that comes out of an undesirable situation is greater than the hurt and pain. Often, the more time that passes, the more evident the positive becomes.

Some people grudgingly acknowledge the good that comes out of a perceived negative and refuse to forgive. Don't let that be you. Instead, acknowledge your hurt, Express gratitude for what you learned and any good that came from the situation. This is your new focus.

Step 4: Release the energy.

Release yourself and 'the perpetrator' from the energy of the incident and from the 'energy cord' this created between you. You can visualize yourself cutting the energy cords with scissors and letting them return to the light. Get into the visualization and cut all of them - top, bottom, front, back and both sides of you. 

Another visualization is to create a bubble in front of you. Put this person and his deeds into the bubble and let them float away. If you still want this person in your life, or it's yourself, put the words or deed in the bubble and send that off. Say, "I release you" or "I forgive you". "I am freeing myself of this."

Step 5: Burn the evidence.

Remember the paper you wrote all your hurtful, resentful thoughts and feelings on in step one? Now it is time to destroy that paper.  Have a little ceremony and burn it.  If you have a fire pit or a bonfire, throw it in there!

Offer gratitude and thanks for the release you have been granted for your 'mistakes'. Give thanks that you have released this. Say a closing prayer if you like.

Step 6: Hold a space of love and forgiveness.

From this point forward, the process is no longer about how to forgive (unless you missed something). It is about holding a space of love and forgiveness in your mind and heart. If you are ever tempted to revisit this story with negative emotion, stop immediately. Do not allow yourself to go there. Break the habit of giving this memory mental and emotional airtime. 

Instead, think about something or someone you love instead. Or offer a blessing. When tempted to sink back into a negative vibration about this person or incident say, "Bless you" or something of that sort, and expand that blessing with full sincerity. This practice alone will fill you with feelings of peace, compassion and love. It shifts your energy quickly.

This is not  'forgive and forget'. You will no doubt remember, at least for a while. It is about releasing the emotional and energetic charge of the event.

Remember, we have all fallen short. None of us are in any position to hold another in judgment. Learn to accept yourself and others, shortcomings and all. After offering your blessing, think of something else. Eventually your mind will revisit the incident less and less until you detach from it completely.

Righting Wrongs

The process of how to forgive fully goes beyond feelings and mindset. Forgiveness is not pardon, although the two may accompany each other. There may still be consequences to be endured, obligations to fulfill, or amends to be made. 

Saying "sorry" is easiest and may sometimes be enough. Saying "I was wrong, forgive me for..." is harder, but an important part of the process. Those words can be amazing difficult to say because we don't like admitting we were wrong or intentionally acted badly. Making restitution, especially when the cost is high, usually meets with the most internal resistance. 

Whatever needs to be done to resolve the situation, starting with forgiveness will help you move forward from a higher place.

  • If you owe an apology, make it. Send a card, make a phone call, arrange a get-together. Swallow your pride and tell your spouse or child that you are sorry and ask forgiveness. Don't take the easy way out.
  • If you wronged yourself, look in the mirror and ask forgiveness. Be specific about what you are sorry about and what you intend to do to make things as right for yourself as possible. Also apologize to yourself for holding onto grudges and guilt to your harm. Then let it go.
  • Regardless of whether you owe a debt of money or deeds or kind words, pay up. If you have broken promises, ask forgiveness and fulfill them. 
  • If someone is indebted to you, decide whether you are going to release them from part or all of the debt and move forward towards a resolution. 
  • If you wronged or need to forgive someone who has passed on, have a conversation with their photo or visualize them. Repay your debt to them by volunteering or making a financial gift to charity or to their family in memory of them.
  • Find the lesson in the incident and use it to help you do better and evolve into the person you want to be. 

Other Forgiveness Methods

There are many methods for learning how to forgive. The above tips and steps should take you far. For those times when forgiving yourself or others is difficult, the following methods may also help. 

  • "The Work" of Byron Katie and Colin Tipping's "Radical Forgiveness" challenge traditional thinking and shift your perceptions.

Summary of How to Forgive

Learning to forgive and release the hurts of the past is a process with many benefits for you, the forgiver of self and others.

There are many ways to forgive. It can be as simple as an "I forgive you," or a more involved process repeated multiple times until you have truly let go. It's worth the effort. Making forgiveness processes part of your life will greatly enhance your health, relationships, and happiness.

Imperfect humans make lots of mistakes, on purpose and not. We all suffer at times. Learn to let go and move on with your life. Aim to look back on the times you felt hurt and victimized a whole lot less. Think on yourself and others with compassion and lovingkindness. 

When you revisit the past, smile and look back on times when you feel loved and valued and when you helped others feel that way. Then, smile more as you look ahead to a future filled with love and positivity.

You might like these

What is Forgiveness

Benefits of Forgiving

Spiritual Wellness Guide

How to Forgive page updated 10/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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