Nobody gets out of this lifetime without being hurt by another. Not one of us.

When someone you care about hurts you, when a stranger hurts you, when anyone does anything that hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge keeping you stuck in the past— or you can embrace forgiveness and move forward. The choice is always yours. The longer you hold on to the anger, the longer you allow this person to determine your mood or emotion; the longer you remain their victim living in fear.

Everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Your parents hurt you, your parents criticize you, your colleague sabotaged ‘your’ project or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness and even revenge. And these feelings residing now in you, destroy you. It is no longer about what they did, but is fully about how you handle it.

Embracing forgiveness leads you down the path of healing; physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Practicing forgiveness, no matter what, brings you peace.

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. This is not an easy task, and for those whom have held on to anger for years, or decades, this may take some contemplation and prayer. Learning to replace the emotions tied to the experience which you seek to forgive might take some time. It will be time well spent.

Just as important as understanding what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. When you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from accountability.

I choose to forgive someone in my life who has hurt me deeply; yet this person will never be a part of my daily life, I will not choose to spend time with this person. However, I have forgiven and no longer feel anger. Actually, I feel sad for this person who is carrying the weight of what was done. I love this person, but will never choose to engage.

Forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from toxic anger. Forgiveness involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.

If you need reasons to consider the act of forgiveness, I share a few of mine here:

  • Forgiveness makes us happier! Research suggests not only that happy people are more likely to forgive but that forgiving others can make people feel happier, especially when they forgive someone to whom they feel close.
  • Forgiveness improves our wellbeing: When we dwell on grudges, our blood pressure and heart rate spike—signs of stress which damage the body; when we forgive, our stress levels drop, and people who are more forgiving are protected from the toxic result of stress to our bodies. Studies also suggest that holding grudges might actually compromise our immune system!
  • Forgiveness helps us sustain those friendships to which we feel fully committed: When our friends inevitably hurt or disappoint us, holding a grudge makes us less likely to sacrifice or cooperate with them, which undermines feelings of trust and commitment, driving us further apart.
  • Forgiveness is good for partners (most of the time): Partners who are more forgiving and less vindictive are more effective at resolving conflicts in their relationships. However, when more forgiving partners are frequently mistreated by the other, they became less satisfied and may need to move on in order to heal.
  • Forgiveness boosts kindness and intimacy. When we forgive we create safety and acceptance for those whom we love. People who feel forgiving don’t only feel more positive toward others but also create the space for others to feel the same with them.

Why Choose Forgiveness:

As I write this article I feel the energy rushing my body/mind/spirit with memories of the person I had to work hardest to forgive in my life. I notice though, that the rush is not long lasting and I can now bring the feeling of peace and safety to this place in me rather quickly. At the beginning of this journey however, I justified my lack of forgiveness with thoughts, emotions, and telling others of the horrific acts perpetrated as I gained support for my anger and hostility. Nobody ever suggested that I forgive.

I am suggesting that you forgive. No matter who. No matter what. No matter when. No matter why.

In order to forgive, you must make a commitment to a process of change. To begin, you might:

  • Consider the benefits list above of forgiveness
  • Reflect on how much of your life has been wasted in anger that only hurts you; it can never undo what was done
  • When you’re ready, actively choose to forgive the person who hurt you and pray/meditate about it
  • Remember that your role as victim to this person disempowers you. Choose to take your power back

Cultivating Forgiveness:

  • View forgiveness as something for you, not a gift to someone else: forgiveness is best seen as something that will bring you peace, closure, and reduce your suffering.
  • Learn to articulate your feelings; if you want to forgive or be forgiven, be willing to express how you’re feeling to others and to yourself. Ruminating on negative feelings is both unhealthy and unproductive.
  • Intentionally look for the silver lining: you can forgive more easily by looking for the lessons learned in every experience you have. What have you learned? How have your grown?
  • Make an effective apology: If you’re seeking forgiveness from others, studies suggest that apologizing will help—but weak apologies might only make things worse. An effective apology has four parts: It acknowledges the offense, offers an explanation for the offense, expresses remorse or shame, and involves a reparation of some kind.
  • Practice empathy: When someone has been hurt, they’ll be more likely to forgive—and less likely to retaliate—if they can sense the remorse felt by the person who hurt them.
  • Seek peace, not justice: The people who hurt you may never get their due, but that shouldn’t prevent you from moving on with your life.
  • Understand that forgiveness is a process: True forgiveness doesn’t happen in an instant; instead, it takes time and energy to achieve, and might not come easily.
  • And most importantly; if you cannot forgive yourself you will struggle to forgive others. Like me, you may need some help with this one. I did. Reach out. I did. I am thankful.

Forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong or doesn’t speak of his or her sorrow. If you find yourself stuck, consider the situation from the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation. In addition, consider broadening your view of the world. Expect occasional imperfections from the people in your life. You might want to reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you. It can also be helpful to write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.

If you need some help, you are not alone. Reach out.

Juli Alvarado has been practicing mindful and trauma sensitive healing for more than 20 years.

She is a well-known speaker and consultant internationally and provides therapy from her office in Golden, CO; weekend intensive work in your home wherever you live; and by phone for those who prefer to engage from the comfort and privacy of their space.