How To Forgive

Learning to forgive…

How to Forgive

One of the thorniest and most difficult things we humans are ever called upon to do is to respond to hurtful acts with kindness, and to forgive the unforgivable.  We love to read stories about people who have responded to hatred or toxic behavior with love, but when that very thing is demanded of us personally, our default seems to be anger, angst, depression, righteousness, hatred, etc.  Yet study after study shows that one of the keys to longevity and good health is to develop a habit of gratitude and to let go of past hurts.

Want to live a long, happy life?  Forgive the unforgivable.  It really is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.  The person who hurt you (maybe your mother) may not deserve to be forgiven for all the pain and sadness and suffering inflicted on your life, but you deserve to be free of this toxic behavior.  As Ann Landers often said, “Hate is like an acid. It destroys the vessel in which it is stored.”

1. Realize that the anger you feel toward your mother is more harmful to you than to her.  “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” – Nelson Mandela.

2. Understand that the best revenge is to live a successful and happy life.  Show your mother, and show yourself (and the world), that the obstacles she created were not significant enough to disable you.

3. Realize that the second best revenge is to turn the toxicity into something good; to find the proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud.  Think of your mother as someone who has helped you to grow.  Even though unfortunate things happen to us, the best thing we can do is take those opportunities as tests that will either destroy or strengthen us.  If you’ve been through something, it didn’t destroy you – take what you learned and become a better person because of it.

4. Make a list of the good things that emerged as a result of this negative experience.  You’ve probably focused long enough on the negative parts of this experience or relationship.  Look at the problem from a completely new angle; look at the positive side.  The first item on that list may be long overdue because you have focused on the negative for so long.  This won’t be easy.

5. Look for the helpers.  Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) related that, as a little boy, he’d often become upset about major catastrophes in the news.  His mother would tell him, “look for the helpers.”  In your own experience, think back to the people who helped you.  Think about their kindness and unselfishness.  Practice what you have learned from them.

6. Look at the bigger picture.  Was someone your “Good Samaritan”?  In this biblical story, a traveler happens to come across a poor soul who was beaten up on the road to Jericho and left for dead.  It’s a lot easier to play the part of the Good Samaritan than to be the poor soul who is left bleeding and bruised on the side of the road.  Perhaps this isn’t all about you.  Perhaps your trial provided an opportunity for others to rise to an occasion to provide you with help and support.

7. Be compassionate with yourself.  If you’ve ruminated over this relationship for a long time, steering this boat into a new direction could take some time, too.  As you try to make a new path out of the dark woods of this old hurt, you’ll make mistakes.  Forgive yourself.  Be patient and kind to yourself.  Extreme emotional pain has a profound effect on the body.  Give yourself time to heal – physically and emotionally.  Eat well.  Rest.  Focus on the natural beauty in the world. Give yourself permission to feel the emotions and process them.  Don’t bottle up the pain.

8. Learn that the Aramaic word for “forgive” means literally to “untie.”  The fastest way to free yourself from the hurt and all associated negativity is to forgive.  Untie the bindings and loosen yourself from this ugliness.  Your anger has tied you to the pain.  Your forgiveness enables you to start walking away.  Forgiveness is for you and not her.  Freeing yourself through forgiveness is like freeing yourself from chains of bondage or from prison.

9. Learn how to balance trust with wisdom.  It’s a fact that not all people are trustworthy with your emotions. Painful memories can serve to protect us from future hurts.  As author Rose Sweet writes, “A lack of trust is sometimes simply recognizing another’s limitations.”

  • Forgiveness is not acceptance of wrong behavior.  If you continue to interact with your mom despite the fact that she has treated you badly, has offered a lame apology or continues with more bad behavior, nothing requires you to trust her.  She isn’t likely to ever be trustworthy — remember this.  While it’s fruitless to torment yourself over her actions, you should not be her willing victim.  Acknowledge and move on.
  • If your mother wants reconciliation, she must do her part:  offer a sincere apology, promise not to repeat the offense (or similar ones), make amends, and then you should give it time.  If you don’t see repentance, understand that according forgiveness to her is a benefit to yourself, not to her.
  • Unless those who have harmed us have truly repented for whatever they have done, we need to use wisdom in avoiding repeating the hurt.  This may, therefore, require avoiding your mother.  It would be wise to balance forgiveness against the certain knowledge that toxicity exists, and some people can’t help hurting others.

10. Stop telling “the story.”  How many times this week did you tell “the story” about how badly you were hurt and how horribly you were wronged?  How many times a day do you think about this hurt?  It is a stake driven into the ground that keeps you from moving away from this hurt.  Rather, forgive your mother because it’s the kindest thing you can do for your friends and the rest of your family.  Negativity is depressing – physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

11. Tell “the story” from your mother’s perspective.  Actually imagine that you are your mother and use the word “I” when saying what she would say.  You, most likely, don’t know exactly what she was thinking when this event or events unfolded but pretend that you do, and just go with the story that comes up in your head.  Sit down with a friend and tell the story as though you are your mother.  It is important to do this verbally and not just in your head.  Realize in advance that this is not an easy exercise, but it holds great power.  Your willingness to tell the story from your mother’s perspective requires an effort at forgiveness.  Also, realize that this is not a contradiction to the preceding paragraph since this perspective will change your story.

12. Retrain your thinking.  When your mother and her hurtful actions come to mind, send her a blessing.  Wish her wellHope the best for her.  This has two effects.  One, it neutralizes that acid of anger that destroys the vessel in which it is stored.  These bad feelings we wish toward another seems to have a rebound effect.  The same is true for the good that we wish for another.  When you make yourself able to return blessing for anger, you’ll know that you’re well on the path to wholeness.  The first 15 – or 150 – times you try this, the “blessing” may feel contrived, empty, and even hypocritical but keep trying.  Eventually, it will become a new habit and soon thereafter, the anger and pain that has burned in your heart will evaporate.  This technique forces your mind to overcome the cognitive dissonance between hating someone and acting with compassion toward them.  Since there is no way to take back the kind gesture to agree with your anger, the only thing your mind can do is change your belief about the person to match. You will begin to say to yourself, “She is deserving of a blessing, and indeed, must need one very much.”

13. Maintain perspective:  While the mean actions of your mother are hurtful to you, the rest of the world goes on unaware.  Validate their meaning in your life, but never lose perspective that others are not involved and do not deserve anything to be taken out on them.  Your mother is/was someone else’s beloved child, spouse, etc.


  • Keep the following quotes in mind if you’re finding it hard to generate positive feelings toward your mother:
    • “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
    • “Those who are the hardest to love, need it the most.”
    • “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.” – The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
    • “Hating someone is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.”
    • “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – The Golden Rule
    • “Be kind, for all you meet, are fighting a great battle.” – Philo
    • “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  But whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” – John 2:9,10
    • “The hatred you’re carrying is a live coal in your heart – far more damaging to yourself than to them.” – Lawana Blackwell, The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark
    • “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.
  • Sometimes it helps to think of how others have forgiven under incredible circumstances.  Ask friends for support and examples to motivate you toward forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is a choice.  When you say, “I can’t forgive that person,” what you’re really saying is, “I’m choosing not to forgive that person.”  If you say it the second way instead, you’ll find yourself forgiving sooner.
  • True forgiveness is unconditional and not predicated on any act or request from the other.  The type of forgiveness discussed here is intended to free you from the impotent anger, depression, and despair that nursing a grievance causes.
  • Forgiveness is hard, but living with a grudge is even harder.  Keeping grudges bottled up can be very dangerous, and can hurt people in ways you might have not imagined.
  • Put your best mental energies (perhaps first thing in the morning) into visualizing the new life you want.  See yourself – in the future – as free of this pain and suffering.