How do you forgive someone who did something you deem unforgivable? Have you ever experienced anything that made you so angry, sad, or frustrated with someone that you promised yourself you would never exonerate them from it? When you think about forgiveness, what is it that you think about?
This week I had a very difficult conversation with my father, who called me crying because he felt that no one cared about him. He claimed that my little sister treats him like he’s a “piece of sh*t” and that he’s not worthy. After listening to him for about 20 minutes, I felt sorry for him despite the fact that he wasn’t a great father and destroyed our family. Once I hung up the phone, I called my little sister to share the story.
A few minutes after I told her, she called me back saying she had called my father and he denied saying anything about her and how upset she made him. My first reaction was to call him and say, “what the f*ck?” But I resisted my urges and reminded myself that he’s almost 80 years old and is likely not mentally or physically in a place to hear what I had to say. Part of me wanted to blame him for all the horrible things that he had done over the years, but then I realized that I have already invested so much time and energy being angry and blaming him, so at this point all I had left to do was to forgive him.
Forgiveness isn’t just something that sounds nice. There is actually a lot of research that suggests some pretty incredible health benefits. Everything from lower stress levels to less toxic anger, decreased substance abuse problems, and improved heart health have been linked to forgiving other people.
Personally, I can attest to the fact that forgiving my father felt so good to do, which is why I'm sharing the following 6 steps to forgiving someone with you. My hope is that if you are carrying a heavy load, forgiveness can help you let go, experience liberation, and ultimately, improve your mental and physical health.
Step 1: Acknowledge the hurt.
Try as hard as you can to answer as many questions as possible about the situation. What happened? Why, in your opinion, did it happen? How did it make you feel and why did it affect you in such a way? Consider why the other person might have behaved in such a way. Writing these answers down has helped me but, alternatively, you can just spend a few minutes answering these questions in your head. Once you have answered the questions, ask yourself if you feel better or worse. It is important that you validate yourself and let go of any judgments regarding the feelings that you may be experiencing. Congratulations! You can now graduate to the next step.