Have you ever found yourself saying, "I’m just not ready to forgive them yet?"
I get that feeling. Truly, I do. When you’ve been wronged or betrayed or hurt, it can take months—sometimes years—before you feel ready to forgive and move on.
The problem is that being unforgiving harms you far more than it harms the person who hurt you. Holding on to anger, resentment, and a sense of betrayal permeates every part of your life—from your health to the success of future relationships.
It is often the hardest to accept that no one can truly hurt us; just as with forgiveness, our reactions (anger, sadness, revenge) are always ours to choose.
Thankfully, you don’t need to feel ready to forgive. Forgiveness is a deliberate act. You can be proactive about it, even if you don’t feel ready to offer it up just yet.
Many think that we have to wait until our hurt and angry feelings are resolved before we can forgive someone. But that’s just not the case: Deciding to forgive is exactly that—a decision. And it’s one that you can make at any time in service of your own healing and growth.
Forgiveness is a decision that restores possibility and wholeness to your life.
It doesn’t mean you condone hurtful actions or agree with bad behavior; it doesn’t even necessarily mean that you’re inviting the person who hurt you back into your life. (More often than not, that’s not a wise thing to do anyway.) Forgiveness means that you are willing to cancel the debt you feel someone owes to you, to surrender the hurt that you feel, and make peace with letting that go. It means you are taking back your personal power and moving on.
So once you’ve decided to forgive—whether you feel ready to or not—how do you actually do it? There are three simple steps I follow to proactively kick-start the forgiveness process:
1. Let go of your anger.
It can be tempting to hold on to our anger. Sometimes we feel we deserve to feel angry. Sometimes we feel our anger is a justifiable way to "punish" the offending party. And sometimes we hang on to our anger simply because we believe it’s our last connection to the person who hurt us and letting go of that would open up what can feel like a deep empty void. I’m not arguing that these feelings are invalid.
Anger is a powerful, and often healthy, emotion. But anger is only healthy when it’s fully felt—and then released. Letting go of your anger won’t create emptiness; intentionally or unintentionally holding on to it creates even more emptiness and blocks the possibility of new relationships and new opportunities coming into your life. On the contrary, letting go of your anger will restore your vitality. It will restore your trust. It will restore your personal power.
2. Work toward accepting what is.
Acceptance plays a major role in forgiveness. You are accepting the loss: of your relationship to that person, of your anger, of the sense of justice you rightly deserve. You are accepting the amount of time you may have invested into a person or project, you are accepting that they may never truly understand how much they’ve hurt you, and you are accepting a situation that just isn’t fair. And, perhaps most importantly, you are accepting full responsibility for how you—and you alone—have caused the pain you are in.
It is often the hardest to accept that no one can truly hurt us; just as with forgiveness, our reactions (anger, sadness, revenge) are always ours to choose. And that can be the hardest—but most necessary—truth to accept. The value of this acceptance, though, is monumental: when we learn to accept what is—including our own role in a painful situation—we grow wiser and stronger as a result.
3. Forgive yourself, too.
An important, but often overlooked, part of the forgiveness equation is remembering to forgive yourself. In situations where we feel wronged, it’s easy to focus on how we might have prevented it: by paying attention to the red flags or by being courageous enough to speak the truth about what we needed. After accepting the role we’ve played (and the feelings we’ve harbored) in every situation in our life, it’s also important to make amends with ourselves, too.
Look at what you wished you would have done differently, and allow it to be a lesson. Forgive yourself for not always getting it right. Know that you can trust yourself moving forward—to choose better, to speak up, to love again. And know that you deserve all of that too.
The reality is that, in this human experience, we will all hurt and be hurt by others. Many times over, we will be on the giving and the receiving ends of forgiveness. By learning how to forgive quickly and truly, you open yourself up to more energy, better relationships, deep healing, and exponential growth. And who doesn’t want more of that?
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your July horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.
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Danielle Dowling, Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology and life coach, helping ambitious, driven women achieve the financial, spiritual, and lifestyle abundance they desire and deserve. She holds a bachelor's in business from American University, and her master's and doctor of psychology degree from Ryokan College.
Dowling has spent years helping people live richer, more joyful lives, and she has seen firsthand the nearly magical pairing of psychology and life coaching. Hands down, it’s the best way to bring people into their happiest selves.