Everybody gets wronged at some point in their lives. Someone will do something that will probably hurt you, and you may do the same—it’s part of being human.
But sometimes, the pain may get to the point where you feel like you can’t forgive them.
Withholding forgiveness can shackle you to the pain of your past, hindering you from living in the present, and can also negatively affect your health and wellbeing.
Ultimately, this may all lead to significant barriers to you living a happy and healthy life.
In this article, you will discover how to set yourself free from grudges, how holding onto pain and anger holds you back, and how to forgive someone in five simple steps.
How Grudges Hold You Back
You may find it difficult to forgive some people. Maybe this is because you believe that forgiveness means forgetting. Therefore, you may hold onto the grudge to protect yourself from further pain.
The problem is, you may do more damage to yourself than good. Here are a few reasons why forgiveness is in your best interest.
- You will never find peace
Dr. Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., is a forgiveness researcher and director of the Forgiveness Projects at Stanford University. According to Dr. Luskin, “Forgiveness is the ability to come to peace with anything that occured in your life that wasn’t what you wanted to experience.”
Generally, negative emotions come up when somebody goes through a hurtful or painful experience. When something impedes an expected outcome, this can lead to frustration. Eventually, the frustration can turn into a grievance if left unchecked.
The longer you hold onto a grudge, the more difficult it is to unravel—making it more likely that you will continue to hold onto it. Eventually, holding this grudge may limit your capacity to grow and develop as it can keep you from living in the present, having meaningful interactions, and it can also even limit your capacity to feel joy.
2. You’re hanging onto unhelpful emotions
What happens when you think about the person that wronged you? All those negative feelings come floating to the surface.
You go through that cycle of feeling pain, anger, and sadness all over again. Sprinkle in feelings of distrust and resentment, and those emotions begin to fester as time goes by. Then, like an infected wound, those feelings take root in your psyche and may cause turmoil in your life.
This is because when you revisit your pain in the form of a grudge, you end up cultivating it. Like a gardener, you help those feelings of pain flourish inside you, and it can start to affect your outlook on life.
3. You start treating forgiveness as a conditional state
If someone has wronged you, does that mean you track down the person? Perhaps you get them to make things “right” so that you can finally forgive them?
That is a common misconception about forgiveness.
People who hold grudges believe that they are “right” because they are the injured party. Therefore, they hold onto those negative feelings and feel justified in holding a grudge against a person who was “wrong.”
So you may think, “Okay, I will learn how to forgive someone… as soon as they make everything right, I will decide whether they are worthy of my forgiveness.”
The problem is that you are treating forgiveness as a conditional state. You will only forgive someone if they make what they did wrong “right.” But forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with yourself.
Forgiveness is a choice that you can make for yourself. It is not contingent on what type of reparations the other person makes. Either you learn how to forgive someone or you don’t, but the power of making that decision is yours.
A case study of how grudges hold you back
Let’s now explore a case study of a woman called Nicoleta, who found that her problems stemmed from a situation that happened before her birth:
Nicoleta was in her forties and had never had a romantic relationship with a man or experienced the exhilaration of saying, “I love you,” for the first time.
Although people commented on her angelic beauty, real relationships eluded her. So she sought help from Marisa Peer, founder of Rapid Transformational Therapy® (RTT®), and finally received the answer she needed: that her father never wanted her. He had asked her mother to terminate the pregnancy, and when Nicoleta’s mother refused, her father refused paternity.
Finally, Nicoleta found the root cause of her subconscious self-sabotage efforts. With this new understanding, she is now free to pursue relationships without the burden placed on her before birth.
This demonstrates that you may not always know you are carrying anger and pain for another person. Like Nicoleta, maybe it is linked to an event you have yet to uncover. But, whether you are aware of it or not, unforgiveness can take a toll on your health and happiness.
You may find it difficult to forgive, but doing so can free you to pursue the happiness you deserve. Learn how to take back control of your life with the following five steps to forgiveness.
How To Forgive Someone in Five Steps
Learning how to forgive someone can be difficult, yet it is a learning process we all have to go through to live a happy and fulfilling life.
To make it easier, we have provided you with five practical steps to get you started on letting those grudges go.
Step 1: Recognize how you may have contributed to the situation
When you hold a grudge against someone, you take a stand. Your unforgiveness says that you are in the “right” in the situation and the person that harmed you is in the “wrong.”
Did you ever stop to think, though, that perhaps you are not entirely blameless?
We must remove ourselves and our egos from the equation and look at it more objectively in these situations. This allows us to zoom out and reflect on the situation unbiasedly.
You may also wish to try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see the situation from their perspective. Can you see why they might have interpreted the situation and behaved in this way?
Throughout your reflection, do your best to show compassion to the other person and remember that we all do the best we can to avoid pain. This way, instead of viewing the situation as them attempting to hurt you, you may see that this person just wanted to avoid pain and suffering, which you may have been triggering.
When you do this, you can take some responsibility for any part you played in the situation and work on forgiving yourself for it, too.
Step 2: Don’t go to sleep angry
Maybe you’ve heard this one before—that it was the secret to a successful marriage? The idea is that you don’t want any negative feelings to linger overnight. Like food that’s left out on the counter, the situation may be rancid in the morning.
This step works well in any situation where you may feel hurt or angry about a situation—and you don’t necessarily have to wait until you have a situation with a significant other to use it.
So why does it work?
The answer is simply this:
When we sleep, our mind goes over the events of the day. It processes everything from the smallest chore to those big arguments and decides how to file it. When your mind files these emotions, it attaches, or “staples,” associated emotions to your complaint.
Now, imagine that you had a big argument with your best friend. Maybe it was a betrayal that you feel you may never get over. At the time, those negative emotions need time to process.
However, before you lie down to rest, you have a very important decision to make…
Will you forgive and let go of that anger? Or will you let it fester in your unconscious mind overnight?
Remember, forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean that you forget or condone the other person’s actions. However, it does mean that you need to make the conscious decision to wake up the next morning feeling less of the burden and turmoil because you choose to let go of unforgiveness. It also demonstrates that you love yourself enough to let go of this anger and pain and move on.
Step 3: Acknowledge how the incident helped you grow
Here’s a phrase you may not like to hear: “Growing pains.”
Or how about the cliché that goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?
Your days have an abundance of moments and events that can teach you and help you grow—and yes, that includes moments that cause pain.
A step in learning how to forgive someone is recognizing the opportunity for growth after the incident. It may be difficult to see it if those negative feelings are still fresh, but take a step back for a second.
Ask yourself what the experience taught you about yourself. For example, did you participate in the situation because of issues with low self-esteem? Maybe you learned something about your own needs and boundaries?
Learning how to forgive someone is a process about you—it’s about how you process your anger and pain, not the person who “wronged” you. A part of this learning process is seeing the lesson in the situation.
It’s not about how another person hurt you. That type of thinking keeps you perpetually in “victim mode”—and remember, when you’re a victim, you don’t have power. Instead, turn the situation into a teachable moment where you can turn hurt into a win—for yourself and about yourself.
Step 4: Allow time to pass
Most people find it difficult to forgive someone in the heat of the moment. Maybe you feel it’s better to let some time pass before you start giving out forgiveness. Or perhaps you don’t want to forgive because you repressed your feelings on the situation or feel like it’s “the right thing to do.”
Many people go through the five stages of grief, a famous theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
This theory states that none of these stages happen on a linear timeline, and so you may feel these emotions in any order and even find that you cycle back and forth between stages.
Processing your thoughts and emotions is a human response to a painful situation. The danger, though, lies in getting stuck at one of these emotional stages.
To carry out the act of forgiveness, you need to feel willing to offer it. In other words, you shouldn’t feel pressured to forgive someone before you process your feelings on the situation. The process of dealing with your emotions may include:
- Identifying the emotions and growth potential
- Allowing yourself to feel the emotions that come up
- Expressing how you feel about the situation to yourself or someone you trust
- Releasing your anger and pain
Once you accept what happened and why you reacted the way you did, it may be time to move on. Before then, though, you need to accept the reality of the situation and how it affected you.
Step 5: See forgiveness as a gift to yourself
It’s not so much about “how to forgive someone” but more about permitting yourself to release a burden. Remember, forgiveness is not about the other person. They don’t benefit from it. They may not even know about it.
But you do…
You can permit yourself to work through everything you need to grow from the situation, then you work on creating the best version of yourself. The only thing that’s left to do from there is let go of unforgiveness.
The other person may be sorry that they hurt you or they may not be. That’s immaterial at this point and won’t take back all the feelings you processed. Holding a grudge over someone else is simply punishing yourself for the pain that you feel.
When you finally forgive someone, you’re setting yourself free. You no longer need to put in the time and energy to keep that grudge alive. Instead, you can start truly living in the present.
Holding a grudge keeps that painful event in your life—indefinitely. It’s a sort of toxic cultivation that can erode your mental health and undermine your life path. This constant burden of unforgiveness keeps your focus on the past instead of where it needs to be.
If you find it difficult to forgive someone, remember that it’s not an instant process. You need time to acknowledge and feel the emotions of the situation. Forgiving before it’s time may mean that you’re repressing your true emotions or giving in to the pressure to forgive.
Also, remember that you may share some responsibility in making that situation happen. Sometimes people with low self-esteem may not feel worthy enough to assert their needs. If that’s the case, you may need to work to change some internal thoughts.
When you’re ready to forgive, remember that you need to forgive for yourself and not the other person. Think of it as a gift that you’re giving to yourself.
Allow yourself to let go of the extra weight that unforgiveness can put on your shoulders. Stop casting yourself as the victim in your life and take back control of your emotional wellbeing.
Try to change what you can and stop looking backward so you can start living in the present and have the life you deserve.