How to Forgive: A Four-Step Plan

It’s never easy to forgive the hurt inflicted by a loved one, but in the end, it’s often the only way to move on. Here’s expert advice on how to find forgiveness-and begin healing.

How to Forgive: A Four-Step PlanPhoto: InesBazdar/ShutterStock

4 Steps to Forgiveness

Step 1: Calm down
When we wrestle with rage and pain, explains Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, our bodies are filled with adrenalin, which makes it difficult to find emotional clarity. “Some people meditate or do relaxation exercises,” he says, which helps them to recalibrate. 

Step 2: Shift your focus
Instead of fixating on how and why someone has hurt you, look within. “Seek to understand yourself and your expectations,” suggests Dr. Beth Hedva, a Calgary-based psychologist and the author of Betrayal, Trust and Forgiveness. “Have compassion for yourself and recognize that you have needs that the other person did not, or maybe could not, fulfill.” 

Step 3: Find empathy for the person who hurt you
In the moment, it may seem as though others deliberately did you harm, but Hedva stresses that this is often not the case. “Their actions were not necessarily intentional or vindictive, but rather an attempt to get their own unmet needs handled.” The person who failed you, she says, “is also a vulnerable, flawed human being.” 

Step 4: Stop thinking like a victim 
Changing the narrative is key, says Luskin. “People stay stuck because they have a very rigid, narrow story that keeps them trapped.” Rather than focusing on how your mother undermined you in the past, think about how, as an adult, you have the freedom to make decisions she might not support. 

Could you use forgiveness yourself? Check out our tips on How to Apologize.