How to Forgive Someone

Tips for Letting It Go and Teaching Your Kids to Do the Same

Forgiveness boosts your mental and physical health, but truly forgiving someone takes practice and intention.

"I forgive you." Those three little words aren't so easy to say. When someone wrongs you, you want him to know how much he hurt you. People often think that forgiveness means you're condoning the behavior or completely forgetting what happened. But forgiveness is more for your own mental health than a "get out of jail free" card for the other person.

Importance of Forgiveness

Why is forgiveness so important to your own happiness? Looking deeper at what forgiveness is can help answer that question. When you forgive someone, you make a conscious decision to release the resentment, anger, bitterness and feelings of revenge. You can let the other person know that she hurt you, and you don't have to forget what she did. The other person may still have to deal with consequences of the actions. For instance, you may limit contact with that person. But you are freeing yourself of the negative emotions that can affect your health.

When you forgive someone, you open yourself up to the following benefits:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels
  • Improved self-image
  • Stronger relationships
  • Increase in immunity
  • Decrease in blood pressure and improved overall heart health
  • Improved mental state

How to Forgive

You know the benefits of forgiving, but it's still not easy. It's natural to feel upset when someone hurts you. A big part of forgiveness is making the decision to do so. Remind yourself that being angry hurts your mental well-being. Repeat that narrative as you make your conscious decision to forgive.

A few exercises can help you get to the point of forgiveness:

  • Let yourself think through the situation. It's easy to bury the event, but reflecting on it is an important part of fully understanding your feelings. What did the person do? How did you react? Why is the situation upsetting? 
  • Shift your thoughts away from being a victim in the situation. The victim mentality makes it easier to hold on to the anger instead of releasing it.
  • Think about what you learned from the situation. Maybe you learned that you need to set better boundaries or that you need to stand up for yourself more often. Even though the situation hurts, you can usually find some growth from what happened.
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes. People tend to focus on the action rather than the person. Remember we are all flawed, and we all do things that hurt others at some point. It can be easier to forgive when you remember the other person is human.
  • Give yourself time to process the feelings. You don't have to offer up forgiveness instantly. Meditate on it. Journal your feelings. Take the time you need to work through the situation.
  • Express your feelings to the other person if you can. The other person may not realize that you're upset about the situation. Even if the person does know, it can make you feel better to say those words. Avoid blaming words. Try, "I felt (emotion) when you (action)." End the conversation by letting the other person know you forgive her.

Teaching Your Kids to Forgive

Kids are quick to hold grudges. Your daughter swears she's never talking to her best friend again after the friend spilled the beans on a secret. Your son says he'll never forgive his sister for ruining his favorite baseball card. Teaching your kids to be forgiving gives them a critical tool that follows them into adulthood and helps them deal with negative emotions from a young age.

Demonstrating forgiveness yourself sets a strong example and helps kids see how to forgive. But don't just forgive others. Talk about it with your little ones. Let them know how the situation makes you feel. Then, discuss how it feels to forgive the other person. Talking about the importance of forgiveness and how it helps you feel better can help your kids get on board the forgiveness train.

Try these other methods of teaching your kids how to forgive others:

  • Emphasize empathy: Pointing out how other people feel helps your child develop empathy, which makes forgiveness easier. Talk about reasons a friend did something to him. A child whose parents are going through a divorce may act out in negative ways, for example.
  • Remember forgiveness: Has your child received forgiveness from someone else? Remind your child of those times. We all make mistakes and feel bad about them later. But it feels a little better when the person forgives you.
  • Encourage calming activities: Forgiveness doesn't mean your child can't be angry at all. Let her know it's ok to be upset. Then, give her healthy ways to deal with that anger like coloring or kicking a soccer ball outside. 
  • Practice talking to the other person: Help your child validate her feelings by coming up with a healthy message to say to the other person. Try something like, "Kate, I felt really embarrassed when you told everyone my secret. I hope I can trust you with my secrets next time. But I forgive you." Your child gets to share her feelings and still forgive.

Being a forgiving person isn't easy. Talk to your child about forgiveness on a regular basis, and watch your own words and actions when someone upsets you to make sure you're modeling forgiveness.

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