How Do You Forgive Someone?

Updated on August 20, 2011
S.J. asks from Cherryville, MO
27 answers

I saw another poster post something that struck me - she said "forgiveness is for you, not the person you are forgiving" - sorry I don't remember who so I cannot give you credit. =)(It was you Leslie M - you are a bright woman, indeed).

My question is this - If you know someone is not sorry and you know they think they did nothing wrong (they have outright said this), how do you go ahead and forgive them? I guess what I am asking is how do you trick yourself into being OK with what has happened, or move on. What do you tell yourself, or how do you do it?

Yes, this is stemming from my previous question with my father. He has done a lot to hurt me (in fact, both parents have), and I really want to forgive them to be able to find some peace. But, they aren't sorry. When I ask my dad why he left when I was a kid and share with him how much that hurt me, he becomes defensive and says my mom was to blame. I don't care who it is or what it is, there is no way I could move 2000 miles from my kids for years. So, it is hard for me to "forgive" him for doing this - but I must. I must move on and find peace. Suggestions?

And thank you all for your answers to my other post - you all have been SO helpful and I appreciate it so much.

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So What Happened?

Jo - Make no mistake. You are first on my list for kidney donation. (you to me, that is)

ETA: And regarding my other post, I said yes to a visit from dad =) I hope for the best, what can I say.

ETA: I guess in response to some questions, what is most difficult is that my father is no different now than he was 30 years ago. He still acts the same. He still cheats on spouses (married 5 times, ALL someone else's fault he had to leave) , still manipulates, still womanizes, even at his age. So, it is REALLY hard to forgive someone who doesn't think they did anything wrong AND is still doing the actions.

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answers from Los Angeles on

How do I forgive.....even when I know someone isn't really sorry....
I accept that person for who he/she is, faults/mistakes/attitudes/views/opinions/etc etc etc etc etc and all.
Once I completely accept someone for being them, I can forgive them. That doesn't necessarily mean I have to like, love, associate with that person either.
Good Luck to ya! =)

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I don't forgive people who show no remorse or who offer insincere apologies. I simply remove them from my life.

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answers from New York on

From a therapist's perspective, it's a choice that you make. In forgiving someone, you are actually releasing yourself from the anger and resentment you are holding. The active of forgiving is very difficult and even more so when the other person doesn't "accept" that he or she needs forgiveness.

Just ask yourself this- do you want to spend the rest of your time on this Earth harboring anger towards someone who made a choice as well, albeit a long time ago, and now lives with those consequences? Probably not.

You don't need to forgive his actions, but you can forgive him for being who he was back then. Just keep in mind that true forgiveness means not bringing it up anymore. Also keep in mind, that you really have no idea what happened between your parents.

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answers from Washington DC on

My ex-husband was like Jo's mom....even though he could not keep his stuff in his pants - it wasn't his fault and he didn't do anything wrong...i was SOOO angry - picture Richard Gere in Pretty W. - I was SOOO angry...but my anger wasn't hurting him only me...

So i wrote him a letter, that I never sent, telling him that I forgave him for hurting me, cheating on me and that while right now it's hard to remember for the good times...I know one day I will.

the person who said forgiveness is for you - is VERY helps YOU heal and move can put it out there...holding the anger in isn't hurting anyone but you...


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answers from St. Louis on

Oh fun, you are going to make me analyze this and put it into words. Would you rather I just give you an organ or two?

My mom was a truly awful person. As adults we figured out she was bi-polar but the logic of knowing why doesn't negate the damage done to you as a child, ya know? To ask her, I deserved everything I got, it would have been better if I was never born. She was a fuzzy little bunny!

She got Altzheimers. Before she completely lost it I tried one more time to find forgiveness. Nope, she would not accept she did anything wrong, I still deserved it. So you can imagine I had to accept I was going to have to heal without closure or whatever you want to call it.

There were times I would just scream, god is punishing you!!! Haha you deserve what you got!! Didn't make me feel better, if anything I felt worse.

Okay I figured if I rambled enough I would figure out what went right. Even weeks before she died I was thinking die already. Let dad go and maybe we can get to know him. Then she died and I just didn't hate her anymore. I have no idea what really happened. I have no idea why all the bad things were still there but for the first time in my life I could remember the good times as well.

Troy and I got engaged a couple weeks later. As her daughter I got her wedding an engagement ring. Both are embedded in my engagement and wedding ring and I am very proud of that.

I wish I could tell you what changed. I really hope it wasn't her death. I don't think it was. I just can't tell you what it was, sorry.

I hope my story at least helps you on your path. :)

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answers from Phoenix on

Since he isn't sorry, I don't think forgiveness is the answer. You don't sound like you forgive him but just want to be able to live with what happened and move on in your life. I think if you do what you said, "accept he is who he is" and realize it is out of your control to change him, you can move on. You just need to do it. You actually sound like you already know this and just need some reassurance from us non-relatives. I think you are making the right decisions. You will feel much better knowing you are living your life without grudges against your parents. By accepting them as they are, you can start focusing on now and the future instead of dwelling on the darker parts of your past. Good luck sweetie.

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answers from Cleveland on

I think maybe you can call acceptance the same as forgiveness in this case. People only change if THEY want to. We can't make them what we want or think they should be. So maybe if you can just ACCEPT that your dad is who he is, then you can decide if you want him in your life or not. Just because he's your DNA donor, doesn't mean you owe him anything.
Would you tolerate a friend who treated you this way? If his behavior has a negative affect on your life, then remove him from it. Or just tolerate him as much or as little as you can.
A few years ago, driving home from work I drove past my ex step-dad on the side of the road. He had been in a car accident. Now this man was awful to me. He was very emotionally abusive, was an alcoholic, and at times hit us and knocked us around. He tried throwing my mom out a window. BUT he is the father of my youngest sister, and a grandpa to my neice......So I stopped to make sure he was okay, and that my neice wasn't in the car. The look of shock on his face was PRICELESS.
Do I forgive him for what he put me through? No way. Am I over it? You bet. Because if I kept hanging on to that past, those feelings, that means he wins. And I let it consume me, and no one's worth my dwelling and ruining my happiness. Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

You remember that they are the ones that will be suffering the consequences of not being sorry etc. You say to yourself that forgiving someone doesn't mean you are condoning what they did. It doesn't make it right--it just means that you are doing it for you. To be at peace with yourself etc. GL


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answers from Portland on

I have learned through practice that forgiveness is for yourself, not for the one you are forgiving. It really doesn't matter in many cases whether they even know or accept your forgiveness. But YOU have let go of the burden of wishing the past could have been something it simply was not. And the freedom of letting go can be pretty amazing – you will feel lighter and have more choices available to you going forward.

Forgiving the past for being what it is, and forgiving other people for being their imperfect selves, is NOT the same thing as forgetting. It is simply making peace with the event so it does not go on distracting your life with a sense of outrage or regret. It does NOT mean you have to let the offender do whatever it was that harmed you in the first place. It does NOT mean making yourself trust someone who is untrustworthy. It does not even require that you become friendly with the offender.

It DOES usually mean acknowledging that they probably were doing the best they could, within the constraints of the upbringing and education and beliefs and needs they were dealing with, at the time they hurt you.

I have had 60-some years to come to terms with the way my mother raised me. There were so many things lacking in her mothering, and so much rigidity and hyper-control, that I recognized that I was seriously dysfunctional by the time I reached my teens, and I could see how badly my younger sisters had been affected. I honestly hated my mother for many years, and stayed as far away from her as possible. But as my own daughter grew up, I realized I needed to make peace with my past for her benefit, as well as my own. Too much baggage threatened to make some of my parenting choices less healthy than they could have been.

So I have found processes that allow me to forgive the past and most of the problems it had caused me. One way was prayer, and I found the pattern and content of my prayers gradually changing as I gained maturity. One was to learn to nurture myself in the ways that my mom had been unable to provide. That was with a skilled and empathetic physical/emotional therapist.

Another was through a process called The Work, that gives some pretty interesting and effective tools for working with negative feelings about people or situations. You can download the materials for free and try it yourself at this website: My husband and I have both really enjoyed doing The Work, and have found it extremely helpful.

So, today, I live next door to my mother. I'm available to help her when she needs help, which is occurring more often as she ages. I don't love her exactly, but I recognize all she tried to do for me and feel gratitude that she sacrificed so much. I can be around her for a few hours at a time without hating her or feeling too burdened. But I have very clear boundaries now, which she has learned with some difficulty, and she no longer gets away with the petty games and power trips she used to pull. It's working pretty well!

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answers from San Francisco on

It helps to think of it this way: You have the forgiveness ready if they ever decide they need it. It takes time to let things go, especially really bad offenses. I have a couple of posts on my blog about forgiveness. Here's the link:
God bless you.

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answers from San Francisco on

Accept that that is the person that they are. Forgiving someone does not mean you have to leave yourself open to being hurt again. Keep a healthy distance and do whatever you need to do to protect yourself.

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answers from Chicago on

There is no magic formula. There is only grace.

My ex completely, completely jacked up all our lives. He did something to profoundly change the course of my life, his life, & our children's lives. He hurt me terribly. But, I am woman, hear me roar. Really, you are a woman. You CAN do anything.

People expect me to hate him, but I do not. I hate WHAT he did. I hate WHAT we have to deal with now. But to say I hate him, no. He is part of me, part of my children, and therefore I just can not hate him.

I just think about how I want the rest of my life to be & what I want my children to be. I do not want them to be people who constantly bring up the past. "Well, when we were kids, you did such & such & therefore..." Ugh, I could not stand if that happened. So, I am just moving forward and accepting what happened & know in my heart that I have the future & it can be whatever I make it.

Peace to you!!

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answers from Dallas on

i think that is something that we all struggle with. we have ALL been wronged in our lifetimes, the wrongs may have been committed by people close to us, those that are supposed to protect us, or by total strangers, and the wrongs come in all dif shapes and sizes - but, we have all experienced it. i know it's hard for me as well - i find that i can "let go" of anger fairly easily, but i have a hard time "moving on" with that person(and maybe rightly so!). i'm not a huge oprah fan, but i do REALLY like something i heard her say not too long ago - "forgiveness is giving up the HOPE that the past could have been any different".

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answers from San Francisco on

The man has done amazing things with forgiveness. He works with folks who have suffered greatly and with groups that have been enemies for centuries (like his work with citizens in Northern Ireland).

My cousin forgave the gang banger who murdered her only child. That is true grace. I am not sure I could do it. I certainly never want to have to try, although I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.

As others have said, forgiveness does not mean you forget. Separating the two ideas in your mind can help. And in my cousin's case, while she did not want the death penalty because she is devoutly Catholic, she did want to see justice done. Offering forgiveness does not absolve someone of the responsibility for their actions. Unfortunately in many situations, people are never held accountable....that is very difficult.

I think the hard thing with forgiveness is that we find it very difficult to let go of the idea that we have been treated unfairly. I was treated very, very unfairly by an uncle who basically took my inheritance and it really damaged my opportunities when I was young. I was so angry for so long and then I realized I was wasting my life on something that I could not change. Figuring that out helped.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Here's the deal. We get who we get as parents.
For example, I got an awesome mom. My dad--definitely not so awesome.
The thing is, you cannot control who your parents are.
They are people with good, bad & ugly in them.
I have a Step Sister that used to (at age50+) cuddle up with her dad, trade foot rubs, etc. Not so much me & my dad. Not so much me & HER dad! (Although I loved him to pieces!)
If you want to ever move forward, be prepared to take the relationship with your dad for what it was...and is. Nothing more, nothing less. That's OK.
Your relationship with your dad doesn't "need" to look like anyone else's relationship with their dad. Because it's not.
You're an adult and you need to approach this as an adult to adult relationship, not a child to adult O..
I understand your husband is protective of you, but he needs to let go of this and move forward as well.
You'll never know until you give it a fair chance, right?
Good luck, S.!

*ETA after your SWH* Remember you can still hate the 'sin' and love the sinner!

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answers from Houston on

You never have to be okay with what has happened. You can forgive and keep your distance. What works for me is to realize that it's not about me. It's hard not to take things personally, but how people respond to me is ALWAYS about their own history and points of reference and current set of circumsatnces. Even if I am the offender, how people respond to it depends on where they are at the time. Have you ever been able to just laugh it off when you can tell that someone is trying to get under your skin? It's the same thing. You could choose to slap that person for making that comment, but instead you choose to laugh at that person for investing so much in being hurtful. It's harder as the hurts go deeper, but that's the gist of it. Keep in mind, also, that hurt people hurt people. When you were in labor (or some other intense pain), did you fully maintain your rationale? Did you snap at your husband even a little bit? Same thing. Other people's stuff--even your husband's--is never about you, so don't take it on like it's yours.

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answers from Dallas on

I have a problem with drama. It's really not good for anyone to hold onto resentment or feel the need to control the actions of others. It can cause issues with your health and the way you treat others. Be good to yourself and let it go.

You can't change people. Does it really matter? You are who you are now no matter what happened then or what happens now. You have to accept you and love yourself. Beyond that, you can't let others have the power over you to feel this way. Take control and be happy!

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answers from Dallas on

Forgiveness is not for the other person at all. It is for yourself. To live in hurt, resentment, or in anger is no way to live. You forgive that person until.....meaning you keep on forgiving them as much as needed. It's to give you peace. Does not mean you will ever forget but that you have forgiven them. You have let go of all the hurt feelings that went along with it. Sometimes it's really hard to forgive especially when the peson continues to hurt you over and over. Forgiveness is an ongoing active process. I am dealing with this myself and have been for a long while. I have an evil stepdaughter ( I use the word evil in this instance because it fits - if ya'll knew the whole story, you would agree) that consistently does things to hurt my family and I. We have no contact with her but that doesn't stop her from trying her best to hurt us. Sad thing is - she thinks she is hurting us but she isn't, she is just reminding us why we don't have her in our lives. But she still requires our forgiveness. Again, not for her sake but for ours. How can I be forgiven if I'm unable to forgive?

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answers from Los Angeles on

It is my understanding that forgiveness is an exchange - The repentant offender seeks forgiveness of the offended. Then, the offended grants forgiveness, meaning the offended releases the offender from the wrong doings committed against this particular offended party.

In the case of an unrepentant offender, no forgiveness can be granted. The offender will continue to be guilty and bound to the wrong doings committed against the offended party. (Note, forgiveness in general and this particular understanding of forgiveness is only justified with a Christian worldview - Luke 17:3-4, "Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.")

So, while you seek peace in your lamentable situation (and you ought to for your own emotional, mental, and physical health), forgiveness is not the appropriate method because it would be only an illusion. Instead, seek to acknowledge the gravity to the offense by talking about it and writing about it with the goal to participate in the healing process and ultimately let it go. Release yourself from the injury, healing yourself. And if, there comes a day when your parents also seek to be released from the injury they caused, so be it. Until that day comes, pity them.

Good luck

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answers from Norfolk on

So, my biological father disappeared from my life when I was 2. I could list his infractions, but the result is I have forgiven him for everything he did that made my mother leave him. I forgive him for never contributing a dime in child support, for never attempting to find me .... all of it. I realized I forgave him years ago and it was enlightening, uplifting and invigorating. I would have resented visiting him every other weekend, or whatever. If alcohol was more important to him than family, I am not only happy he didn't inflict his alcoholism on me, but also grateful I was afforded the opportunity to experience healthy relationships with real men, like my Grandfather and Uncle. Has all of this affected who I am? Absolutely! But I like me, so by forgiving these "trespasses" I affirm that I hold the power over my psyche and I will not allow the weaknesses of another to demean who I am and who I can be.

I don't believe that we have to ignore the past. That is foolish. By all means, learn from mistakes, both your and others, but by forgiving you acknowledge that games of what if are useless, you accept the past as is and will simply work toward a better future.

When I am tempted to lament the past, I watch the movie Mr. Destiny. I highly recommend it.

BTW, just because it makes my brain itch when I can't remember where I got something from:

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answers from Philadelphia on

I think sometimes you can forgive in your own heart, but that doesn't mean you have the person stay at your house, or that you can suddenly heal the relationship, or change the other person thru your forgiveness. Distance makes the forgiveness stick. :)

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answers from Reading on

Hi S.,
This is a good question. For many years I've struggled with forgiveness regarding certain family members. It feels like a big black shadow that follows you around everywhere you go.
I have worked for a long time to forgive those that I love. I've figured out that forgiveness is a process, not a once and done thing. It's a decision that only you can make that will allow you to stop feeling, hurt, anger and pain when you think of that person. Once you've granted them forgiveness, you need to remind yourself that you are no longer going to have feelings of resentment toward that person, and then you need to continually remind yourself of your decision. I read a great line somewhere that said defining forgiveness is to "give up hope for a better past." You have to understand that the past can't be changed, your father made a mistake and to forgive him of that mistake means that you are admitting that the past was bad but that you're ready to move on with the future. Not forgiving, doesn't allow you to move on with a brighter future in mind.
I hope you can find forgiveness deep within your heart, so that you can help mold and change the future to a more positive and brighter one for you and your childrens' sake.

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answers from Hartford on

Forgiveness isn't about forgetting what he's done. You're not giving him a clean slate. The hurt is still there and you're not saying, "Fine, you hurt me and caused all of this pain but none of that matters any more because I forgive him." The forgiveness is more about accepting what happened and that it's over. You also accept that this is simply how he is, that you can't change the past nor the person that he is now. Maybe that means you still keep your distance from him. I think it would be prudent, since he refuses to accept responsibility for any of the hurtful situations he's caused in his life.

Forgiving is about moving on to the next stage in your life. Moving past the past and moving forward. It helps you not to dwell on what happened while still making sure that you've learned from the lessons of the past. So you're not tricking yourself. You're just... releasing yourself from being tied down to the old pain.

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answers from Provo on

I am really sorry that you are going through this because family members screw me over too. I think above all it is the hardest thing to deal with. I just took a step back and looked at the whole scenario. I could see how it really was just the way they were all brought up and they were really just victims. If we don't take a step back and look deeply into a situation we are just going to repeat it. If we don't heal from the previous situation that we dealt with we are going to repeat it. It is important that we look into ourselves and see how WE can improve. Remember that forgiveness does not mean that we have to forget. Your father deals with his own demons and that does not mean that you have to take them on to deal with them. My X lived in the same house with his kids but chose to work all the time. My daughter got through the scenario fine. She is now 20 and has never mentioned anything to me. My son did not do so well. I finally sent him to live with his father. I hope they can get things worked out. I hope my son is able to look into his father's past and see that his father was just repeating what he was taught. I hope they can get bonded. What your father did was his choice not yours. I choose to be the best mother I can be because my mother was repeating the cycle she knew and was not very nice to me. This is my form of closure!! I love my children the best way I know how but first I had to do some major healing on myself.

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answers from Dallas on

I thouhgt about this overnight. I think the answer is Grace. You extend Grace to someone that doesn't deserve it. You do it because you are gracious, not because they ask for it. If someone refuses to take responsibility for the wrong they've done you, it can be very diffcult to move past the hurt. They aren't giving you what you need to put it behind you. So, you have to choose to let it go. It's your choice at that point. You can no longer put it on them, now it's your responsibility to either let it go and move on, or hold onto it and let the hurt fester to bitterness that seaps into your other relationships. I think that's what is meant by doing it for yourself and not that person. You have to summon your Grace, extend some clemancy, and just choose to let it go.

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answers from Chicago on

My therapist told me the other day that I should define it this way:

"Forgiveness is me giving up the right to hurt you because you hurt me".

It doesn't TAKE AWAY what THEY did. But it gets you out of the cycle of holding it against them or being vengeful - or even just not being civil or loving to the person who hurt you.

The other thing she said to me that I've reflected on quite a bit recently is that there is *usually* a direct correlation between how much someone has been hurt and how badly they behave (may or may not be directly related... childhood hurts can = badly behaved adults in a different way). But it's only when they get help (themselves, someone else etc) that they can stop acting badly. I try to keep in mind when someone behaves in a way that hurts me that it's just a reflection on how much they hurt on their insides to make them treat another person the way that they are.

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answers from Daytona Beach on

forgiveness is something that is very hard to give. i've had some pretty crappy things happen in my family in the last few years. i've forgiven the people who have done this. it doesn't mean that i have forgotten or that i'm not aware of what they do in the future. i have a problem of giving people excuses for what they do. everyone is the way that they are for a reason. well, most everyone. some people are just selfish. see if you can find a reason in his past as to why he did what he did to you. acknowledge it. it still doesn't mean he was in the right to do what he did, but it might make it easier to understand.

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