Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Dr. Courtney Tracy LCSW, Psy.D
How To Forgive Someone & Why You Should Do It For Yourself
Published Apr 10th, 2021 & updated on Apr 20th, 2021
We’ve all heard the phrase “forgive, but never forget.” Well…forgiveness can be a lot easier said than done! We’re diving in on how to forgive someone who hurt you, forgiveness without an apology, and why forgiveness is important.
How To Forgive Someone
There are two key ways people can hurt us — by what they do to us, or by what they DON’T do. Both have to be acknowledged and both have to be grieved! Unfortunately, forgiveness is not a light switch that we can just turn on and off whenever we need it. So, before we can fully forgive someone, we have to see just how deep their needles stung, and assess the situation from there.
10 Factors Of Forgiveness
There are quite a few factors (10, in fact) that will dictate whether forgiveness will come easily, if it’ll be hard, or if it’ll be damn near impossible.
1. Empathy: Can you see what historic trauma has led them to do that to you?
2. Rumination: How much are you thinking about what they did or how angry you are?
3. Personality: Are you a compassionate and kind person who tends to forgive easily?
4. Severity: How much did the experience hurt you and change how you view others?
5. Frequency: How many times were you hurt by this person? Is it a pattern?
6. History: How long has it been since you were directly impacted by this experience?
7. Relationship: Who hurt you and how much did you rely on them? A parent, a partner…?
8. Quality: What is the quality of the relationship you have with this person?
9. Hierarchy: Do you feel like you need to forgive them because they hold power over you?
10. Intention: Was the person intentionally trying to hurt you?
Now, intention can be perceived differently by you and the offender! You may feel like they were trying to hurt you on purpose, meanwhile they may say it was unintentional. It’s important to figure out the truth and focus on that, rather than hyper fixating on how it felt.
An 11th, and very important, factor is whether or not the person even feels sorry. And that’s a whoooole other ball game.
What Forgiveness Is, What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiving someone isn’t acknowledging that you deserved whatever they did or said. It’s something you do to give yourself peace of mind or repair a damaged relationship. Not to mention, there are some pretty gnarly mental and physical symptoms that can pop when you keep pushing those feelings to the curb! So, let’s dive into what forgiveness entails and why it’s so important.
In 1992, psychologists Robert Enright, Elizabeth Gassin, and Ching-Ru Wu described forgiveness as “the overcoming of negative affect and judgement towards the offender — not by denying ourselves the right to have a negative affect and to judge others, but instead by endeavouring to view the offender with compassion, benevolence, and love.”
How To Let Go Of The Past
Learning how to forgive someone who hurt you is less about saying what they did was okay, and more about treating them with compassion and understanding. They’re human too, and likely acted out of their own trauma, pain, or heartbreak.
Remember in Grey’s Anatomy when April neglected to tell Jackson she was pregnant until after their divorce was finalized? He was suuuper upset, because that info would have changed a lot of things in their relationship. But, eventually, Jackson was able to forgive April to form a healthy co-parenting relationship — and they were happy for each other when they each found love again elsewhere!
Choosing to see the good in a bad situation, like the one of April and Jackson, doesn’t make you weak, but actually quite the opposite! It doesn’t mean you’re denying the seriousness of the experience, it doesn’t mean that you’re forgetting, and it doesn’t mean that the offender is excused. Instead, you have been freed of your anger because you chose positivity over negativity — and that takes some guts!
Forgiveness Without An Apology
Figuring out how to forgive someone who isn’t sorry for hurting you can be a tricky feat. It is SO frustrating, because they show no remorse and meanwhile you’re still suffering! It’s even worse if they’re continually hurting you and proving that there will never be an apology. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, because there’s a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation!
Reconciliation would imply that you both want to fix things between you — and they clearly don’t! So, you can instead keep adopting those positive attitudes we talked about earlier and (figuratively) kill your offender with kindness. Otherwise that resentment will keep living in your body and bring about mental and physical discomfort (which we will dig deeper into shortly).
Why Forgiveness Is Important
Now that we’ve covered HOW to forgive, let’s tackle the WHY. Learning how to let go of the past is never easy but, if you don’t, you will be stuck harbouring that anger and resentment for the rest of your life! Anger affects both our mental and physical health, but research shows that even just thinking about forgiving someone starts solving those problems (pretty cool, right?).
“You don’t have to forgive the person that is asking for your forgiveness, or that you wish that you could forgive,” says psychotherapist Dr. Courtney Tracy in an episode of the Truth Doctor Podcast. “But to a degree, you’re in chronic fight or flight mode. So, you’re constantly upset…constantly triggered by this person…constantly wishing that things were different. Or, pushing them away because you just don’t want to deal with them at all.”
Forgiveness is a process and will vary depending on the severity of the situation you’re in. But for whatever pain you’re going through, practicing how to forgive someone will make you hurt less, make you emotionally stronger, and prepare you for similar situations in the future!
Forgiveness For Yourself
First things first, let’s establish the fact that you don’t HAVE to forgive. For example, when it comes to an abuser who is still potentially dangerous, you probably shouldn’t reconcile. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a place of empathy and understanding within yourself — even if that means cutting someone you care about out of your life to get rid of toxic patterns.
“This is an internal process that is for you. Even if the other person’s asking you to forgive them, the process is for you,” adds Dr. Tracy. “It’s very important that you don’t feel pressured to forgive them, because it has to be something that’s pure and genuine with good intention.”
To paraphrase, forgiveness should be something that happens inside of you — not to please someone else! YOU choose if someone deserves your forgiveness, and YOU are the one who will benefit from that decision.
Forgiveness For Your Health
Believe it or not, not forgiving someone can be mentally and physically damaging. Dr. Tracy tells us that “unforgiveness” can actually be viewed as a disease because of the toll it takes on our bodies! And this can lead to an overall feeling of discomfort because our minds affect our bodies, just as much as our bodies affect our minds (basically a never ending cycle, ugh).
By suppressing the damage of how much that experience changed your life, you may start hurting others (and yourself) in the same way you were hurt! And feelings of anger and frustration will eventually build up and attack your cardiovascular and nervous systems…we defs don’t want that.
“When you haven’t forgiven, what research has shown is that a lot of us have an increased heart rate, our blood pressure has changed, our immune system is down,” explains Dr. Tracy. “And when you forgive, it actually calms your stress levels. And that can allow you to have a reduction in chronic illness, in autoimmune diseases, in anxiety and depression, and suicidality. It plays a factor!”
For more info on all things forgiveness, listen to Dr. Courtney Tracy in the “No B.S. Break Down: Forgiveness” episode of the Truth Doctor Podcast!