How to Become More Forgiving

6 steps to move on from past wrongs and absolve others and yourself of wrongdoing

Forgiveness is a quality that brings admiration and respect from others. It is also a hard quality for some people to develop, especially those who have been hurt deeply. Becoming more forgiving is a process — a healing process, but it is completely achievable; even for those who have bitterness and anger where forgiveness should be. Bitterness and anger eat away at you, rooting feelings of mistrust and resentment, which in turn erode relationships.

Dr. Larry Nims, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, equates unforgiveness to psychological pain, a block of healthy communication and bringing toxic negativity into present relationships. Steps to take as you are learning to forgive will reveal emotions you would probably rather keep inside, but to become more forgiving, you will need to confront these emotions, one step at a time.

Step 1: Admit that you are not ultimately in control of the universe

Sounds obvious, right? But, Dr. Nims notes that becoming more forgiving requires you to admit that you cannot control the way others react. Though it is tempting to believe the opposite, you are not the judge and jury of what is right and wrong. Focus on controlling your own actions and responses, and not the actions and responses of others.

Step 2: Look for the positive

Take an event that has triggered unforgiveness in your life, and journal about it. Look for the positive things that happened as a result of this incident, if any, and focus on those. This will help you to refocus on positive things that have happened and move you toward becoming more forgiving.

Step 3: Develop empathy

Obviously, you feel what the other person did was wrong, and you don’t have to change your mind about that, but try to put yourself in their shoes. Looking at things from another person’s perspective takes you out of your bubble of hurt, and may make it easier to become more forgiving.

Step 4: Determine the damage that has been done

Steven R. Silverstein, author of Help for the Hurting Heart, advocates determining exactly what wrong was done, not just how you feel about what was done. Without determining the damage done by the offense, you cannot truly forgive. Being able to objectively look at offenses committed against you is crucial to becoming more forgiving.

Step 5: Choose to forgive

According to the Webster's New World College Dictionary, the word "forgive" means to give up all claim to punish or enforce a penalty. As you release your potentially very valid right to punish another for their wrongdoing, it's important to remember that you are not also agreeing that what they did to you was right or "ok." It simply means that you are choosing not to punish them for it or remain bitter about what happened any longer. In a sense, as you release them from punishment, you are also freeing yourself.

Step 6: Forgive yourself

As you take inventory of those against whom you have harbored unforgiveness, make sure you don't overlook yourself. In the course of emotionally stressful and painful situations, many people behave in a way that leaves them with regret later. In order to eventually walk in freedom from bitterness, resentment and regret, you must also forgive yourself for any poor choices you've made in your life.

Once you have gone through these steps of becoming more forgiving, you will have the foundation and strength you need to choose to forgive.

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