Learn How to Let Go, Forgive, and Move Forward

Here’s how to begin your forgiveness journey and start healing.

Jul 29, 2020

(Marko Aliaksandr / Shutterstock.com)

Give yourself the gift of learning how to forgive and move on. Turning hurt into compassion and empathy is an act of great courage.

While it may be tempting to hold on to a grudge, letting the pain go can make a significant difference in your life. Researchers from Harvard University found that forgiveness has positive benefits on mental health, including lowered stress levels, higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction.

But forgiving isn’t always easy, especially if you haven’t received an apology from the person who hurt you. The good news is that even if it doesn’t come naturally, forgiveness can be learned and practiced like any other skill.  Here’s how to let go, begin your forgiveness journey, and start healing:

Forgiveness is a gift to yourself
First, you should start by understanding that forgiveness is a gift to yourself and not to the person who wronged you. Holding on to anger only harms you.

"To better grasp the process of forgiveness, it might be useful to step back and look at the process of holding on to anger," Dr. Neda Gould, a clinical psychologist and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Anxiety Disorders Clinic told CNN Health. "Anger is a form of stress, and so when we hold on to anger it is as though we are turning on the body's stress response.”

In fact, according to the American Association of Psychology, chronic stress can negatively impact the body, taxing the nervous and respiratory systems, as well as the esophagus and stomach.

"When we engage in the act of forgiveness,” said Gould; “we can begin to turn off the stress response and the physiological changes that accompany it.” Deciding to forgive means freeing yourself from the negative physical impact of resentment.

How to forgive
While everyone’s journey to forgiveness will look different, there are basic steps experts recommend as a starting point. 

First, you have to begin the process by reflecting on the event in which you were wronged, acknowledging the feelings you experienced and how the act affected you, according to Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, in a university news release.

Next, Swartz says you should try to empathize with the person who wronged you. Considering their background and unique life experiences may make you understand why they behaved the way they did. 

Part of forgiving means completely letting go, especially if you have expectations about how the offending party should behave. Making your forgiveness conditional, especially on the basis that the other person will apologize in the way you’d like, will likely lead to disappointment. 

The final step to forgiveness is sealing your decision to forgive with an action. This could mean journaling or writing a letter to the person who hurt you. If you are still in touch with the person you’re forgiving, you could have a conversation with them. And remember, just because you’ve forgiven the person doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to continue a relationship with them.

Forgiving yourself
Once someone gets into the habit of practicing forgiveness for others, it may make it easier for them to forgive themselves and move forward after making mistakes.  A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who forgive others quickly were much more likely to forgive themselves than people who tend to hold grudges. 

Whether you’re forgiving yourself or someone else, forgiveness is an act of self-care. Letting go and releasing negative feelings benefits your physical and emotional health. Taking control by making the decision to either forgive, or make amends if you’ve hurt someone, is a positive first step in your healing journey.

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The Benefits of Forgiveness to Your Own Well-Being
How to Say You’re Sorry, According to Science
5 Proven Ways to Learn to Love Yourself

LAUREN MARCUS, CONTRIBUTOR
Fascinated by storytelling since childhood, Lauren is passionate about the written word. She’s a freelance writer who has covered everything from the latest developments in tech to geopolitics. When she’s not writing, Lauren is interested in genealogical research and family folklore.