Doing Forgiveness the Right Way

In my work with clients often they want to have the goal of forgiving others. I have spent time researching this and want to share some of the things I have learned. Often, I see people rushing to forgiveness before they have given themselves time to be angry, set boundaries and let themselves feel what they are feeling. On some level they may need to go through the steps of grieving. We don’t just grieve when people die. Any loss we have, we need to grief on some level. This could be a job, end of a relationship, a change in a relationship, changes in health, when we are disappointed, or anything you may be struggling with. Remember your feelings are valid and there is help to work through them.

Forgiveness is not something that ever needs to be someone’s goal. That is up to each of us to decide for ourselves. You get to be the authority of your own life and decide what is right for you. Getting help from experts can be really helpful and you get to be part of that process. Remember you are the expert on your own life. You get to own and make your choices.

If forgiveness is something you want to move forward with, knowing when you are ready, redefining forgiveness, and having some steps to take is a good place to start.

Dr. Fredrick Luskin is one of the world’s foremost experts on this subject. He has directed the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, researched forgiveness, and taught trainings, classes and workshops. I will be drawing from his work for this blog post.

Knowing if you are ready to forgive, if that is your choice:

Before moving forward, we need to make clear the three preconditions needed before we are ready to forgive.

  1. Know what your feelings are about what happened.

  2. Be clear about the action that wronged you.

  3. Share your experience with at least one or two trusted people.

If you have not completed these preconditions, forgiveness needs to wait. You do not have to rush to forgive, and when you are ready forgiveness will be easier and deeper. (Forgive for Good, 65)

Redefining Forgiveness:

(This is from Fred Luskin book “Forgive for Good”)

Definition of Forgiveness • Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, condoning or excusing whatever happened. It’s acknowledging hurt and then letting it go, along with the burden of anger and



  • Forgiveness is the peace you learn to feel.

  • Forgiveness is for you and not the offender.

  • Forgiveness is taking back your power.

  • Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel.

  • Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you

  • Forgiveness is a trainable skill just like learning to throw a baseball.

  • Forgiveness helps you get control over your feeling.

  • Forgiveness acknowledges we can’t change the past.

  • Forgiveness allows us not to stay stuck in the past.

  • Forgiveness gives us a well-deserved break.

  • Forgiveness helps us not waste precious energy tapped in anger and hurt over things we can do nothing about.

  • Forgiveness can improve your mental and physical health.

  • Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim.

  • Forgiveness is a choice.

  • Everyone can learn to forgive.


  • Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness.

  • Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful happened. – often to really forgive we must ponder the hurt, which we cannot do if we’ve forgotten it.

  • Forgiveness is not excusing poor behavior.

  • Forgiveness is not denying or minimizing your hurt.

  • Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender.

  • Forgiveness does not mean you give up having feelings.

(This is from Fred Luskin book “Forgive for Good”)

9 Steps to help you Forgive

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”

  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.

  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

What ideas about forgiveness have helped you in your life? What of Fred Luskin's work resonates with you? How do these tips guide you in going forward? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

Jennifer White, CSW has extensive experience in helping clients with faith transitions, sexuality concerns, anger management, substance use disorders, domestic violence, and self-esteem. She has also taught psychology and social work classes as adjunct faculty at Utah Valley University.

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