We are often told to forgive people who hurt or offend us.
But how do we do that?
1. Realize that you are going to be fine. Your life is not ruined. Any injuries you’ve experienced will heal. Any pain you feel will go away. In fact, the suffering you have endured will enable you to help others in the future. Buddhists practice letting go. Jews and Christians remember that God promises to comfort all who are wounded, take away all suffering, and restore all that has been lost. So, nothing can separate you from goodness.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi
2. Wish the offenders well. Hope or pray, depending on your belief system, that the people who hurt you will become healthy, honourable and admirable people. You do not want them to be successful at being unkind or dishonest. But you do want them to turn into people of good character.
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” Corrie Ten Boom
“…forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator.” T.D. Jakes
“Holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Buddha
3. Be willing to have some sort of relationship with the people who hurt you if they prove that they have become trustworthy. You might not have the same sort of relationship. You may become merely friendly acquaintances. But resolve within yourself that, if they change, you are willing to show goodwill and resume some sort of relationship with them.
“We don’t have to tolerate what people do just because we forgive them for doing it….To tolerate everything only hurts us all in the long run.” Lewis B. Smedes
“To be social is to be forgiving.” Robert Frost
“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, and what is soiled is made clean again.” Dag Hammarskjold
“Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” Desmond Tutu
That is it. That is all that is needed.
Follow those three steps and you have forgiven those who have hurt you.
“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” Desmond Tutu
Once you have forgiven those people who have hurt or harmed you, then use your head.
Watch them carefully!
• Are they changing?
• Are they treating other people well?
• Have they shown any remorse or sorrow for how they have treated you?
• Do they do something in restitution: give a gift or do a kind deed?
Watch for awhile.
Do not trust them just because they say they have changed.
Do not trust them because other people say you should trust them.
Watch! Make your own decision!
“It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.” Lewis B. Smedes
And if they seem trustworthy but then hurt you again, forgive them again. Just start all over. You are strong-hearted and strong-minded. No one can take the joy of life away from you.
It sometimes helps if you can say to yourself, “Well, that sure was an adventure! I don’t want to repeat it but I sure learned a lot!”
“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” Norman Cousins
Forgiving ourselves can be harder than forgiving others.
How can we forgive ourselves?
“It’s toughest to forgive ourselves, so it’s best probably to start with other people. It’s almost like peeling an onion. Layer by layer, forgiving others, you really do get to the point where you can forgive yourself.” – Patty Duke
1. Wish well the people you have hurt. Do not put them out of your mind because of embarrassment or shame. Instead, hope or pray that they will recover and realize that they are people of value. Hope that they will be able to say to themselves, “Nothing can separate me from the goodness of life.” You may also have to hope that the people around them recover and find joy in life again.
Some people may say that this is the time to apologize, but too often apologies at this stage are shallow requests. They let us avoid reflection and in essence say, “I’m sorry you are so sensitive.” or “I’m sorry you took offense.” Instead, go to the second step and examine yourself before you apologize.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. And minor accidents, such as bumping into someone or rudely walking through a door before someone older than you, require quick apologies. Nevertheless, you should still continue to step two and find out if there is something you need to learn.
2. Wish yourself well. Actively, seek healing for yourself. Examine yourself. Was it an accident or a character flaw that caused you to hurt someone else? If it was an accident, is there any way you can reasonably prevent being in such a situation again? If it was a character flaw, what can you learn so that you can become wiser?
Then practice being healthier by seeking forgiveness. Perhaps you need to apologize. (Click HERE to learn more about how to apologize.) Perhaps you need to humbly accept that you want to be forgiven. Perhaps you need to accept that some people may need a great deal of time before they will trust you again. Or perhaps they will never like you or trust you again.
Finally, take a look at your values. Assess whether you are demonstrating them in your behaviour towards others.
“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable.” Maya Angelou
“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.” Mark Twain
3. Be willing to have some sort of relationship with the people you have hurt. Even though you may still feel embarrassed or ashamed when you think of the people you injured, be willing to let them be gracious to you. Be willing to let them show kindness to you. Be willing to humbly be grateful for their willingness to have at least a polite acquaintanceship with you.
“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“Only after we can learn to forgive ourselves can we accept others as they are because we don’t feel threatened by anything about them which is better than us.” Steven Covey
4. Realize that you are going to be fine. Once you have made amends for the hurt you have inflicted, once you have thought about how you can become a more compassionate person, live life with joy. Spread joy to the people around you. Be grateful for the wonderful planet on which we live. Be grateful for the new opportunities that arise every day. Realize that you are a part of creation and not superior to it, so you may sometimes make grievous errors, but you are willing to pick yourself up and continue walking on the path from self-centredness to wisdom.
“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate; thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.” Maya Angelou
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” Dalai Lama XIV
Forgiveness reminds us we are part of creation, part of the whole. It reminds us to rest in the vast goodness of life.
This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2013 Sophie Rosen.