10 Steps to Forgiveness

• Can you learn how to forgive? Yep! It's a skill
• See why forgiving seems hard & why being unforgiving is bad for you
• Learn 10 steps to forgiveness

Forgiving is terribly important. Not important to our enemies or those who did us wrong, but to ourselves. Whenever we forgive someone or something we ourselves are the ones benefitting. (If you want to know more about this angle, please check out the page What Is Forgiveness and the page Examples of Forgiveness - Learning to Forgive as well as the page Self Forgiveness.

But how do you do it? Are there some 3, 5, 7, 10 or 12 steps to forgiveness that you can memorize and which will never fail?

Well, yes and no. Wouldn't it be great if forgiving was as easy as following a recipe: just combine these ingredients, let them sit for a while, bake them, cool them, and voila! - instant forgiveness?

In the end forgiveness is but a decision, and so you can actually do it real quick (almost like 'instant forgiveness'), but forgiveness can also be hard work whilst walking a long and meandering path, because if you really feel that you have been badly hurt or wronged you're likely to take some convincing before you just let it go.

That said and recipes aside, learning how to forgive is actually learning a skill - one that has wonderfully freeing and life-giving results, and which will greatly benefit you for the rest of your life - provided you use it, of course.

Forgiving is very similar to letting go and you can use different personal development techniques to help you do it. You can use the Let Go Method  or Byron Katie's The Work or Brandon Bays' The Journey.

Who to Forgive?

It is very easy to see that whomever you feel has hurt, slighted or otherwise wronged you - the wrongdoer - is the one to forgive. But actually the picture is more nuanced than that, because you to harness the power of forgiveness you ALSO need to forgive yourself (self forgiveness) - and life itself.

Does that sound weird? Forgiving yourself, and forgiving life? It isn't. No matter what happened to you, you yourself played a role. Both in the nasty situation (the trauma) and in the time that followed the trauma.

Even if what happened to you was totally random. Even if no-one other than yourself was involved, YOU were involved. Both when it happened and afterwards. If nothing else then you decided how to interpret what happened, and that interpretation may well have hurt you, and still be hurting you to this day. And so there is a very high possibility that you need to forgive yourself (self forgiveness).

The same is true of life. No matter how we look at whatever happens in our lives, it will always be a part of, well, life. That is to say, the things that happen in our lives affect how we look at life. If there is something we have not forgiven, then we feel like victims, and we are very likely to feel that life just isn't fair or just or even that 'life's a bitch' - or whatever we may want to call it. In other words, we blame life itself for what happened.

So, there is often a real need for us to forgive life itself - right along with the human offender and ourselves.

In short, whenever you have a need to forgive, you need to at least consider the options for forgiving:

a) the offender
b) yourself
c) life itself

And if it applies, you really need to forgive all three parties!

Unforgiveness - What Happens If You Don't Forgive Yourself, Others and Life?

Well, VERY briefly said, your mind and feelings assume the characteristics of a victim as they get rigid and trapped in the past, whilst fearing for the future (a repetition of the trauma). This focus in the past and future makes you partially or entirely unable to experience the present the way it is, which in turn makes you feel disconnected, disempowered, sad and alone.

And as if that wasn't unpleasant enough in itself, there's more:

Further, when you remain unforgiving, the mental and emotional inflexibility leaves you not only stubbornly and egocentrically self-righteous ("They're guilty and wrong whereas I'm innocent and right") but also more vulnerable to hurt because you refuse to let old wounds heal, so to speak.

Also, as is always the case whenever you are overly identified with your ego (as opposed to your heart or soul), you will be more prone to fear, anxiety and depression than you would otherwise have been - as well as blind to absolute reality. The latter 'blindness' to absolute reality is extremely unpleasant, because absolute reality is where you would have experienced love, inner peace, freedom and happiness - had you been able to access it ... say, by letting go and forgiving.

Finally, being unforgiving requires an enormous amount of energy. Not only do you feel vulnerable and on constant guard because of the wounds you won't allow to heal, but you need to be able to contain hurt, sadness, resentment, anger, blame and maybe even hatred for an extended period of time. Add this to that the fact not being present in the here-and-now is draining (as mentioned above) and you've got a cocktail that's nothing short of exhausting.

If all of this sounds nasty, that's because it is. Being unforgiving isn't a pleasant or even healthy state of being. This has been proven by the scientific fact that actually being forgiving is not only very pleasant but also very good for both your mental health, your emotional health and your physical health, whereas being unforgiving is just the opposite: very detrimental to your health.

So, the power of forgiveness is great and learning some steps to forgiveness is worthwhile.

Why We Don't Want to Forgive Others

Confusion about what forgiveness is probably the primary thing that keeps us from forgiving others. We are afraid that it minimizes the dreadfulness of the offense, or somehow says that whatever happened is okay. We struggle with the fear that if we forgive, then somehow the offender gets off free, or they will go and repeat the same offense. (Those feelings have nothing to with reality, of course; they're just fear based feelings).

Forgiveness seems costly, and in judicial terms, unfair. Our primitive instincts tells us that punishment is what the other deserves. Yet, as we wrestle with the idea of setting the other free from the debt of their offense, we find that we are bound to them.

Yep, that's right: as long as we don't forgive, we're bound to the offender. Closely connected, even if that is the last thing we want to be. We think about them, feel lots emotions to do with them, and in our mind's eye we may play through different scenarios to do with justice and perhaps even vengeance. We are imprisoned in the memories of the wrong and the wrongdoer, and are caught in a corroding cycle of anger, bitterness and hate.

This is definitely not healthy. We need to forgive.

10 Steps to Forgiveness: Forgiving Others, Yourself and Life Itself

Forgiveness can be quick (as it is a decision), but it can also be an ongoing process that takes time because you need to convince yourself that forgiving is the right thing for you to do - and the best way to find inner peace.

If your forgiveness process turns out to be a longer one, you may need to go through these steps to forgiveness several times until you are able to forgive and set yourself free.

You may not have to make a big deal of each step, though; sometimes it is enough to go through some of the steps fairly quickly. Other steps may require you to spend more time and maybe write things down - and perhaps also talk to one or a couple of very non-judgmental friends (or a life coach, a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional).

First, here's a brief overview of all the 10 steps:

1. Make a commitment to feel better
2. Count the cost - both of what happened AND of your unforgiveness
3. Attribute responsibility - to others, to life itself, and to yourself
4. Feel your feelings in their fullness - and express them. State what is not okay
5. Check your personal boundaries - and set + enforce better ones
6. De-monsterize the other (the offender)
6.1. De-monsterize life
6.2. De-monsterize yourself and let go of the guilt and shame
7. Realize that you're telling a story of grievance - and stop doing it
8. Relinquish revenge, retribution and even justice
9. Perform a ritual of forgiveness (and, if applicable: apologize)
10. Practice mindfulness and live each day as if it were both your first and your last

Next, here are the steps, described in more detail:

1. Make a commitment to feel better
If you're reading this and you're wanting to learn how to forgive because there's something you need to forgive, it is almost a certainty that you are not feeling as good as you might. Grief, anxiety, depression, disempowerment, bitterness, resentment, anger, loneliness, alienation and feelings of being trapped are very common with people who really need to forgive.

When you forgive, it benefits YOU. Forgiving is all about you and at all not about the ones you forgive.

To move on you must wholeheartedly want to do so, and you need to make changes to your own mental, emotional and spiritual status. Write your commitment to a change for the better down, and, if you like, place it somewhere you'll see it every day.

If you prefer, you can also keep a diary or a personal development journal  - those are excellent ways of helping yourself, because when you write down your commitment in your journal that entry will be there for the duration of the time you keep the journal.

2. Count the cost - both of what happened AND of your unforgiveness

Take time to weigh the losses and other consequences of the wrong or trauma you experienced. What are all the ways that it affected your life? Make a detailed inventory of all consequences, both the physical ones, the mental ones, the emotional ones and the other ones that have to do with the status of your life today. Consider writing them all down.

Also, there's a cost to NOT forgiving. We sometimes forget that. Unforgiveness means that we have closed off our heart and that we live with resentment, anger and maybe even hate. There's a documented health risk to doing that. Please include that in your analysis of the costs.

3. Attribute responsibility - to the offender, yourself and life

Clearly identify the responsibility of those who wronged you.

Also notice if other people (and situations and life itself) had some part in the responsibility - people who weren't directly involved.

Then move on to your own responsibility: What is your part in this situation? Both when it happened and later (as you interpreted and reacted to what happened).

And make no mistake: even if you hardly played any part in the situation back then, you DO play a part in it today - if you didn't, there would be no need for you to forgive.

Even though it may seem unpleasant or unfair, you REALLY need to assume responsibility ... not guilt, not shame, responsibility! Perhaps for your part way back when, but CERTAINLY for for your life experience today. Only by assuming responsibility for your PRESENT life experience can you empower yourself.

Please do not minimize or exaggerate anyone's part, but simply note and acknowledge all of them. Writing all this down is a very good idea.

4. Feel your feelings in their fullness - and express them

This is where you state what is not okay. It is quite possible that in order to fully forgive, you need to allow yourself to fully feel and work through anger, bitterness, hate and any other negative feelings you might harbor.

Express your (negative) feelings verbally, say it out loud, or go to a deserted (or: soundproof) place and scream it out!

Add physical activity, if you like: Go running, or hit a pillow, a log of wood or a body of water.

Also, please consider expressing your feelings through some form of art, even if you aren't the least bit artistic; it still works.

On a somewhat different note you should keep in mind that remembering all the things for which you are grateful is a very useful and powerful self improvement technique. Some people swear by it and do it every morning or every evening. If you keep a diary or a personal development journal, you can write it down there, but you can also keep a dedicated 'gratefulness journal' - or you can simply say it out loud to yourself, if you like. Either way, 'counting your blessings' and expressing your gratitude on a regular basis is a really good idea.

5. Check your personal boundaries - and set + enforce better ones

Remember that forgiveness is not the same as trust, and it is not opening yourself up to repeated hurt and abuse. You need clear boundaries for what you will accept and put up with, and you need to know where you stand on the issue of responsibility - yours and other people's.

First, you might want to check your self esteem to see if perhaps it is low, and if it is then commit to doing something about that.

You may also want to soberly consider if you are currently holding some beliefs that aren't serving you - specifically if you are holding any beliefs that say that you are not the one in charge of your life and your life experience.

By asking yourself the simple question, "How many percent do I feel that I am in charge of my life and my life experience?" you get an indication: If your answer isn't between 90 and 100 then you have work to do. You need empowerment, so check out the page empowerment theory.

As for boundaries it is all about what you decide is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and the consequences you decide to enforce in case of unacceptable behavior. You probably already know that at a subconscious level, but at a conscious level you may not be aware of it, and you may allow other concerns to overrule your subconscious boundaries (e.g. if you're trying to be nice when really you're starting to feel abused).

That kind of self defeating behavior needs to stop ... and you're the one who needs to put an end to it. You do this in three steps:

a) You decide once and for all what is and what isn't OK, and you commit to always enforcing that decision.

b) You employ very clear communication and send out clear, unequivocal messages as to what is and what is not tolerated.

c) You have decided in advance what consequences you are going to enforce in case of unacceptable behavior - and you live up to your decision, every time.

To achieve these things you might participate in boundaries training, seek out professional help, or simply take some informal lessons from a close friend who is real good with the whole boundaries thing.

6. De-monsterize the other (the offender)

It is so easy when we have been deeply hurt to make the offender into a one-dimensional monster. But you know what?

The offender is probably human, just like you. So even if it feels all wrong, try to put yourself in their stead; imagine everything that happened from the offender's point of view; put on the shoes of empathy and walk a mile in their shoes. Remember your own weaknesses, failures and similar experiences, remember how people you know have similar weaknesses, and do your level best to understand their motivations and frailties.

6.1. De-monsterize life

If the trauma you need to forgive is more of a situation without any obvious human offenders, then it is life itself you need to forgive.

It may help to remember that life for humans happens as a result of human choices. In the end what happens to people is a result of the choices they themselves made - even if it is just a choice to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting hurt or even killed as a result.

If you love someone unconditionally, you know that you can help them and give them advice but in the end you need to let them make their own choices, no matter how lousy those choices turn out to be. Life is like that - it lets us make our own choices and live or die with the consequences.

On a physical level the law of conservation of energy tells us that nothing that exists ever ceases to exist - it may change form, but it will always exist.

On a philosophical level life itself is whole: life is wholeness. Every occurrence in life is a part of that wholeness, and every being and thing in life is a part of that wholeness, too, so each and every person - alive or dead - is, has always been and will always be whole.

If you are comfortable with the concept of souls, it may help to remember that no matter what happened, perhaps the souls involved chose that experience. If someone lost their physical life, perhaps the soul of that person may have had (and given to others) the experiences it needed to. From the human perspective souls are immortal, and they can and do experience physical life more than once.

If remembering some or all of that that doesn't help, just remember that life happens - shit happens. It always has and it always will, and there is nothing any of us can do about it - other than learn to live with it. But that we CAN do!

6.2. De-monsterize yourself and let go of the guilt and shame

If you figure that you yourself played a big part in whatever happened, then you're likely to feel guilt and/or shame. (Note: guilt and shame are NOT at all the same as grief, they're much more problematic).

The consequences of allowing guilt and fear to nag you are dire - and even more so if you allow them to bug you for an extended period of time.

Guilt and shame are the close cousins of fear, which means that in the light of absolute reality / absolute truth what they have to say is a lie, plain and simple.

On top of that guilt and shame make you stupid (just like fear), as well as eat away at your energy.

If you allow guilt and shame to nag you for more than just a brief moment, they will eat away at your self esteem - much quicker than one should think.

Finally, if you consider guilt and shame objectively they aren't really very useful - how is feeling guilt and shame useful in making your life better? It isn't. Of course you can CONVERT guilt and shame to something useful, like helping other people, but in and of themselves, those two feelings are basically useless, no worse, they're damaging.

So, in short, not only are guilt and shame liars, they are also energy-vampires and self esteem-cannibals. They can be converted to something useful but in themselves they are poisonous.

You really need to say goodbye to guilt and shame as quickly as you can manage it. Use a method like the Let Go Method or Brandon Bays' The Journey to get rid of them as fast as you can.

7. Realize that you're telling a story of grievance - and stop doing it

Something unpleasant happened in your life. Nobody is denying that. The question is this: Are you going to let that incident control and form the rest of your life or are YOU going to control and form the rest of your life?

A fun way to look at it is this: You can form your life with two kinds of 'clay' or 'wax' or 'play dough'. The bright, pleasant, healthy kind or the dark, unpleasant, poisonous kind. The healthy kind is seeing all unpleasantness as a learning and growing experience; and the poisonous kind is focusing on the negative aspects and associated feelings and seeing yourself as a victim. Which kind do you choose?

As long as you keep telling yourself (and others) a story of grievance in which you are the victim, you are effectively undermining yourself in every way. First step is noticing that you are telling yourself and others that story.

Second step is to not tell it anymore - simply notice when you start telling yourself the story and then stop doing it. You will soon get more and more adept at this and be able to stop the story at an earlier point in the telling. Eventually you will be able to NOT tell it anymore. Not to other people and not to yourself.

The third step is to use whatever happened to you to move on - let it empower you to help yourself and help other people. For example, whatever happened to you doesn't need to happen to other people, and if it has, you can do your best to help them. You might work for restoration and reconciliation, or you might work to change any systemic causes of your offense. But please do so gently, without expectation or demand.

If you want to tell a story, the fourth and final step is to tell create a new and better story - the one in which you learned something and used it to make your life and the world around you a better place - the one in which you are empowered. And tell that story to yourself and others. You might also want to use positive affirmations on a daily basis.

8. Relinquish revenge, retribution and even justice

Here's an interesting fact for you: the betrayed risk becoming betrayers through unforgiveness and punishment.

If you hold on to something for a long time, you 'take it in' - it becomes a part of you and you become like it. This doesn't really take additional explanation, at an intuitive level you know it is true: people who focus a lot on something start identifying with that thing.

So if you focus on something negative, like betrayal, for a long time you risk becoming a betrayer - of yourself, of the one who did you wrong and of other people, including the ones you love. Surely you don't want that, and the way forward is to let go of your hurt - to forgive.

Roberto Assagioli (creator of 'Psychosynthesis', which has been called a psychology of the spirit) said, "Without forgiveness life is governed by ... an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation." And Mahatma Gandhi  said, "If we practice and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless." (For more quotes on forgiveness, please see the page forgiveness quotes [LINK: Ny side på TPDG, som Rita modtager samtidig med denne - kommende link bør være: www.thepersonaldevelopmentguy.com/forgiveness-quotes.html]).

This was actually proven in the island country of Iceland some number of hundred years ago. As described in Njáls saga and other sagas of Icelanders they followed the practice of blood vengeance (or: blood feuds, or vendettas) between families, a life for a life, but that kind of thing never ends ... in the end they had to stop or there would have been no more Icelanders.

If the Icelandic story sounds crazy, that's because it is! That doesn't make it any less true. Revenge leads nowhere.

Forgiveness requires great courage, though. You need to feel sure what you're doing when you're forgiving is the right thing ... and trust me, it is.

In order to set yourself free, you take on the cost of the offense in your life, and give up the demands for revenge, justice and payment.

Sure, the legal system (and other factors) may exert their form of justice all the same, but that has nothing to do with you and your forgiveness. Remember, YOU are the reason why you are working on forgiving in the first place. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender and everything to do with you and your life experience.

9. Perform a ritual of forgiveness (and, if applicable: apologize)

Everett Worthington, who writes about forgiveness from his own experience of violent crime (check out thepowerofforgiveness.com), says, "If you don't make it public in some way, then you may not believe that you've truly forgiven."


First off, you'll want to do a ritual letting go of the offences and hurts you've been through as well as a letting go of the resentment that came with the offences.

You could make a list of offenses and hurts and put the list in a bottle on the sea. Or wrap the list around a rock with a piece of string and toss it into the sea. Or float the list on a leaf raft in a stream. Or tie it to a helium balloon and send it off into the sky. You can also bury the list or burn it (safely, of course). Burying it and thus leaving it to compost over a period of time appeals to some people, but burning the list is a long time favorite of a lot of people.

Or you can write each offence (and the name of the offender as well as your hurt) on a separate piece of paper and put them somewhere you'll see them every day. Then, when you feel ready to set yourself free you pick up the piece of paper and slowly and deliberately tear it up into tiny pieces as you let go of the past hurt and forgive the offender and the offence. To enhance the process further, you can finish off by burning the pieces in a sink or in an ashtray.

It doesn't matter what you actually do, as long as you ritualize your letting go, your separation from the offense as well as your letting go of the pain and the bitter thoughts and emotions that you harbored along with it.

Secondly, having realized in step 3 (where you attribute responsibility) that you may actually carry some part of the responsibility for what happened, you may actually want to apologize. Yes, since you were the one hurt (or: hurt the most), this may well seem to go against the grain, but it is actually an important part of the forgiveness process, and it doesn't have to be as 'bad' as it sounds.

If possible, it is preferable to apologize to the other person's face (and you may be surprised at the positive results this can yield), but if that is not an option then at least you can write them a letter or an email (which you may or may not actually send); or you can simply imagine them being in front of you and go solo through the process of apologizing to them for your part in the happenings.

A simple "I'm sorry," is generally inadequate; you need to express your full understanding of responsibility and verbalize your true regret and sorrow - though you'll still want to keep your apology simple and sincere.

10. Practice mindfulness and live each day as if it were both your first and your last

Mindfulness [LINK: upcoming!] has to do with the simple concept of being present with what is. It is very useful for managing stress, anxiety and depression as well as for enhancing health, well-being and creativity.

Mindfulness is about seeing ourselves as we are and befriending ourselves, as well as seeing other people and life as they are and befriending them in a non-insisting, but kindly curious manner.

Usually, the first step in mindfulness is awareness of the body, which helps anchor your attention in the here and now. The next step is to deepen your ability to observe yourself and life in every way, from thoughts and emotions to actions and habits.

Non-judgmental curiosity and simple awareness are incredibly powerful, and very often they are the first and primary step to positive change and transformation.

For a list of useful mindfulness resources, you might check out mindfulnet.org or the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

The whole point of practicing mindfulness is to stop dwelling in the past (or trying to live in the future) and to not take the roller-coaster ride of your thoughts and emotions, but rather live in the here and now - something you will find not only healing, but also strangely exhilarating.

You choose to live life anew every day, and in a way you do so as if this day were both the first and the last day of your life. It actually works, and it has the added benefit of making forgiveness much easier to do. The same is true, by the way, of meditation - for some people this can be a great way to achieve physical relaxation, quiet the mind and expand their spiritual understanding.

Final Words on How to Forgive

Forgiving others as well as ourselves and life itself is primarily important to YOU. You are the number one benefactor of your own forgiveness. In a way you are the only one benefitting from it. When we forgive ourselves, someone else or something we set ourselves free.

When we have fully forgiven, we no longer harbor the damaging thoughts and feelings of resentment, hate and bitterness, and our health thanks us for it.

Try out the 10 steps to forgiveness and remember, learning to forgive is possible - forgiving is a wonderful skill, and the more you practice it, the better you get.


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