Learning How to Forgive

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the voluntary cancellation of a debt, or letting someone off the hook who doesn’t deserve it. Other popular definitions of forgiveness, or forgive, include:

  • To excuse for a fault or an offense
  • To pardon
  • To renounce anger or resentment against
  • To stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behavior
  • To excuse somebody for a mistake, misunderstanding, wrongdoing, or inappropriate behavior

What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation means two parties coming back together again. This is a very important distinction. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two completely different concepts. While forgiveness is best defined as “letting someone off the hook that doesn’t deserve it,” reconciliation is best defined as “two parties coming back together again.” It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two to reconcile.

Myths about Forgiveness


  1. You should always try to forgive and forget (forgetting is not a requirement of forgiveness)
  2. You should not get angry when trying to forgive (anger is normal)
  3. You should forgive others quickly and completely (there is no set time frame to forgive)
  4. If you’ve truly forgiven, you’ll never have feelings of hate or anger toward the offender (recurrent angry feelings are a normal part of the process)
  5. If you forgive, you’re somehow minimizing the offense (if the offense was minimal, then it wouldn’t necessarily require forgiveness)
  6. Forgiveness is an event; something you do (forgiveness is a process that you work on over time)
  7. You can’t forgive until the offender apologizes (it is possible to forgive in the absence of an apology)

How to Forgive

Forgiveness is a personal and subjective process with three distinct steps:

  1. Recognize your need to forgive. This requires facing the truth about the past and recognizing your hurt.
  2. Reassess your choice potential. That is, forgiveness is a choice we make for ourselves. It may be helpful to write down the advantages of forgiving the offender.
  3. Reprogram your computer. Decide to forgive and begin the process in writing by writing a forgiveness letter.

Forgiveness Letter Exercise

Before you begin writing your forgiveness letter, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short, simple and to the point – if possible use only one sheet of paper
  • Be honest and stick to the facts
  • Don’t build a case (avoid excessive details or rehashing the past)
  • Don’t “mud sling” (avoid attacking the offender’s character – focus on behavior)
  • Read your letter

Once completed read your letter out loud.  If you have a picture of the offender, place it in a chair and read it to them as if they were sitting there.  You can also read your letter to someone that you completely trust with your feelings. Once completed you can destroy your letter – rip it, shred it, or safely burn it.  This act can be symbolic of letting go of the pain, hurt and anger.

Forgiveness means making a commitment to move beyond negative thoughts and feelings when they occur and to not be consumed by them. It also means knowing what you need to work on and working on it. Once you can begin to let go and forgive, only then you can start to heal.

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