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Working with Forgiveness

Updated: Oct 27, 2020


When someone does something that hurts us deeply, whether they are parents, relationships or coworkers, we experience the turmoil of emotions like pain, hurt, and anger. We may go over the injustice again and again, thinking about how the person is bad or wrong, and how we are right. Or we may blame ourselves and feel that we are somehow the problem. Because people are imperfect and because life is full of challenges, over our lifetime, we can accumulate many hurts.

If we carry the burden of resentment, hurt and disappointment from past hurts, it can have a negative effect on us emotionally and physically. Chronic anger for example, can bump up our stress response, affecting our blood pressure and immune system, leading to increased risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. On the other hand, when we practice forgiveness, it can lower our stress levels, improve our health and even lower levels of depression, anxiety, anger and PTSD symptoms. Forgiveness can release us of burdens, heal us and help us move on.

What is forgiveness?

Jack Kornfield, a Psychologist and teacher of Buddhist Psychology says , “Forgiveness is the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past, and instead choose the mystery of love.”

Misunderstandings about Forgiveness.

Many of us have certain beliefs about forgiveness. Here is a list of what forgiveness is not.

  • Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do. You may have reasons for holding on to the resentment of past hurts.

  • When you forgive, the hurt feelings do not go away and you do not forget the event, you just change your relationship to it.

  • Forgiveness is not about excusing people’s hurtful behaviour or minimizing its impact on you.

  • It is not necessarily about telling the person you forgive them, although you may choose to do so.

  • Forgiveness is not necessarily for the person who has harmed you, but rather for your own dignity, heart and healing.

How to Help Yourself Forgive.

  • Address your inner pain. Take time to think about and perhaps journal who has hurt you and how. Look at what you tell yourself about them and you. Do you believe that they are bad, or that you are somehow unworthy of being treated respectfully?

  • Jack Kornfield suggests getting a sense of the suffering you carry in yourself. How does it feel to carry the weight of not forgiving? Perhaps it’s not necessary to be loyal to your suffering and continue to carry it.

  • Take responsibility for any part you may have played in the event. Sometimes, you may need to forgive yourself for wrongs you have done to others.

  • It can be helpful to try and put yourself in the shoes of the person who has hurt you, to understand that they are imperfect human beings who have their own pain. If it was a stranger, you can imagine challenges and suffering they may have had. This helps cultivate empathy.

  • Find meaning in your suffering. How has the experience changed you in positive ways? Perhaps you have learned something about yourself. Perhaps you can better understand others who have suffered. Perhaps you are stronger and more resilient.

As you work with forgiveness for past offences, you can help yourself be more forgiving in your life by cultivating your “forgiving heart.” You can take the approach that it’s more important to be kind than it is to be right. Is it really necessary to “win” that argument? Jack Kornfield says, “With forgiveness, we are unwilling to attack or wish harm on anyone, including ourselves.”

Finally, keep in mind that forgiveness is a slow internal process of the heart. It does not happen quickly and since we are imperfect human beings we may have setbacks and challenges as we attempt to forgive. It is important to be understanding and forgiving of yourself in the process. It takes courage and patience.

If you are having challenges you'd like support with, contact me at


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