The Science of Motivation

The Art of Forgiveness

Why Would You Forgive Someone Who Hurt You? 

The phrase “forgive and forget” may come off as cliché and might be easily dismissed by someone who has been violated and living with righteous indignation. If you’ve been hurt, it might feel ridiculous to think about forgiving someone who hurt you but hear me out, there are important reasons why offering forgiveness can help.

You may not see the forest for the trees when it comes to forgiveness, but there are valuable reasons why you should consider forgiveness as one of the options related to your anger, sadness, or other emotions tied to your situation.

Take a look at these reasons why you may want to forgive someone who hurt you:

Your emotions are unresolved: As long as you carry the emotions tied to your situation, they will remain unresolved. Feeling angry, bitter, sad, or any other negative emotion comes from the space that wants justice and vindication. Mixed in with the muck and the mire are all sorts of distorted thoughts that perpetuate your unresolved emotions. This can make a mountain out of a molehill and rob you of the happiness that coexists with your pain. Letting go of the blame and need for vindication makes it possible to move through the situation and on with your life.

Pent up anger can cause physical illness: Your bitterness or pain can morph into real physical illness, robbing you further than you’ve already been. Keeping the offense unresolved can lead to high blood pressure, anxieties, and worse. Doing your body the favor by forgiving can help ensure your health stays intact.

Forgiving can restore what has been lost: Sometimes the rift between two people grows bigger than necessary. The pain lingers, the resentment grows, and the damage takes on a life of its own. Hashing things out and forgiving can allow for a restoration and resolution more often than not. In times where the issues at hand are too grave and too big to resolve, forgiveness can still make it possible to stop the feedback loop playing in your head. If restoration may not be wise, letting go of what is eating you up is worth the effort.  

The benefits of forgiving and forgetting are emotional, physical, and practical. Walking around with chronic anger and resentment can bleed over into all areas of life. By finding the courage and practical ways to forgive, you can move through your negative emotions and into the better space of acceptance, healthy boundaries, and grace.

Is Forgiving and Forgetting Really Possible? 

You may have agreed theoretically that forgiving and forgetting is possible, but is it really? Absolutely - with time, patience, and grace. Having a forgiving nature may not be a natural state of being but it can become part of your relationships tool kit.

Before we look at how to forgive, let’s look at why people don’t forgive:

It feels unfair:  It feels unfair to forgive someone who seemingly might be getting away with doing a very bad thing. It doesn’t match up with the idea of justice to not hold someone accountable and require restitution for their offense. It feels like your pain isn’t valid or important enough and that the offender is going to go without truly understanding the impact their actions have on you and others.

It feels good: The only reason someone holds onto negative feelings is that they are getting something out of it. Holding a grudge and being hostile feels good. It feels good to know someone owes you for their transgression. It feels good to be the center of other people’s sympathies and caring inquiries. Though it’s not socially fashionable to admit it, sometimes there is a weird celebrity to being a victim.

So, is forgiving and forgetting really possible?

If you are ready to let go of the weight that comes from staying stuck in the unfairness and victim-hood, it is entirely possible to forgive. 

It is possible to forgive and forget when these things come into play:

You can see more than one angle to situation:  In rare cases, the families of murder victims have found it in their hearts to offer forgiveness to people who have taken their loved ones. Looking past the offense and examining the circumstances in totality, they are able to humanize the offender and find it in their hearts to forgive and, in some cases, build a relationship that transcends the situation.

You can see a bigger picture:  From knowing it is in your best interest physically and emotionally, to knowing that it’s ultimately best for others, forgiveness can come when you see a bigger picture. This holds true in divorce. Pain can be set aside for the benefit of children or extended family; forgiveness is key to co-parenting and harmony.

Your wisdom overrides your emotions:  Emotions should not rule the roost. When wisdom dictates, forgiveness will happen. Wisdom sees the benefits despite the perceived loss. When wisdom nudges emotions to consider moving on, forgiveness is possible.

Forgiveness is always possible when the acuity of the situation dies down and the bigger picture comes into play. Give yourself time, patience, and grace, and you can find forgiveness.

Three Tips to Effectively Offer Forgiveness

Forgiveness may not be second nature. It will come with practice and some cool tips. If you’re ready to let go and move on from blame to freedom, there are tips that will make the journey easier. Being able to share the impact that the situation has had on you and ask questions that bring closure and clarity is very healing. Finally, finding compassion for others - through realizing your own humanness - will humble you and make offering forgiveness easier than you may think.

Share the impact. A key component for forgiveness is sharing the impact that the situation has had on you. Holding the innermost feelings you have inside isn’t healing. Sharing the truth about how the situation impacts you is key to letting go and being able to move on. You have the right to share how you feel but do your best to use language that isn’t cruel or shaming. Being able to state your feelings in a mature way will go miles towards restoration and offering grace in a difficult time. Sometimes hearing the impact that actions have had while withholding blame and judgement can allow for someone to truly change from the inside out.

Ask questions. After you share your thoughts and forgiveness is on the table, ask any questions that come to mind. Sometimes being able to clarify can add to the healing. Many a misunderstanding has been resolved when details are shared. Sometimes relationships can grow deeper and more connected after conversations explore deeper into what happened, and forgiveness comes. 

Find compassion. Compassion is the common ground that allows forgiveness to grow in difficult soil. One of the easiest ways to find compassion is to think of a time when you needed forgiveness as well. Recalling times when we messed up or blundered can make offering forgiveness easier. Depending on how deep the cut, leaning on our own humanness can make offering forgiveness easier.

If forgiving and forgetting is new to you, then you will benefit from these practical tips to effectively offer forgiveness, but what happens when you can’t get the resolutions suggested in these tips? Perhaps someone has died, and you can’t share the impact or ask questions. Maybe the relationship isn’t healthy enough or safe enough for you to have a conversation. You can still go through the motions. Try meeting with a counselor or trusted friend and role play the situation.

Offering forgiveness may be new for you, but it is possible - even in the worst of situations. These helpful tips will make it easier to start the process and get the closure you deserve.

Practicing the Art of Forgiveness in Everyday Life 

The easiest path to forgiving big things is by routinely forgiving small things. Practicing the art of forgiveness in everyday life makes it easier to draw on those experiences when you need to forgive bigger offenses.

People who have an easier time forgiving others have a few things in common:

     They see life as fallible and everyone takes missteps

     They see people as generally good rather than bad

     They understand that their perceptions play into whether or not they feel offended

     The don’t sweat the small stuff

     They don’t expect perfection

     They are not highly sensitive people

People who find it easy to forgive have a corner on the happiness market because they use their underlying morals and values as a way to move through the day thinking about bigger picture reasons that annoying things happen and can offer forgiveness inwardly and outwardly and move on.

Here are some ways to offer forgiveness and adopt an emotionally more mature mindset each day:  

Forgive poor service:  When you are treated poorly by waitstaff or a clerk at a store, consider what might be driving their negativity. Having a heart for facts that you may never know can make it easier to forgive poor behavior and model kindness and grace in the face of a bad experience. Instead of assuming the clerk is a disconnected jerk, imagine they are working overtime and have been berated by many customers.

Forgive rude gestures: If someone cuts you off in traffic, takes your parking space, or gives you a smug look - forgive them. Try to not take things personally or believe that they are getting away with something. The sooner you can let it go, the sooner you can replace the adrenaline rush of anger with a better-suited emotion for your day. Being able to cast your care and forgive the rudeness frees you up for a better mood.

Forgive mistakes:  Mistakes happen as a fact of life. You make them too. Berating someone for a blunder only rubs their nose in it and puts them on the defensive. To the best of your ability, forgive mistakes quickly and appreciate any gestures made to put things right. Allowing grace and a chance to do the right thing should always wipe away the sting of a mistake.

Learning to let go of the righteous anger or sadness that comes from being offended does yourself a world of good. Being able to forgive and forget the little irritations is perfect practice for moving on from big hurts and let downs.

Asking for Forgiveness When You’ve Made a Mistake

It’s pretty easy to stand behind your own anger and offense when someone has hurt you. It isn’t always as easy to be the one who needs to be forgiven. When we’ve made a mistake, many things come into play - anger, shame, defensiveness. These things can really make it hard to ask for or receive forgiveness. If we subconsciously haven’t been very forgiving ourselves, it can be even harder to think we have any forgiveness coming or that others will be willing to forgive us.

One of the keys to receiving forgiveness is to practice it. Forgiving people are better able to understand that mistakes happen, missteps happen, and sometimes we step in it metaphorically. By offering forgiveness regularly, they see that it is possible to do something regrettable and be absolved.

No matter where you’ve been on the forgiveness scale, you can ask for and receive forgiveness if you have done something offensive. Consider these tips as you go:

Be Sincere with an Apology: Forgiveness comes best following an apology. The sooner the better and the more specific the apology the better. If you know what you did, be sincere and specific about why that was wrong and how you plan to ensure it never happens again.

Be Willing to Hear Your Impact: Forgiveness usually comes after an apology and clearing of the air that includes the offended person feeling heard and validated for their pain. Be willing to hear the impact you made and don’t let pride or defensiveness diminish the feelings of the other person.

Be Willing to Not be Forgiven: Asking for forgiveness is a question, not a command. That means hearing “no” has to be one of the options. It is entirely possible that the person you hurt is unwilling or unable to move on now or yet. Sometimes people don’t have the maturity to forgive and sometimes they need time to build up grace. Be patient.

Asking for forgiveness is a mature and humbling experience. It is a deep move of your desire to be absolved and also honor the person you offended. If they are unable or unwilling to forgive you, you have done the most important thing you can for restoration by atoning and asking for grace. You can sleep well knowing you’ve done what you can do. Modify any behavior that got you into that mess and become a bigger and better person. Offer forgiveness to those in need and realize it is all a cycle and what you put out into the world will eventually come back.