Do you tend to hold grudges? Ruminating over and over about how someone harmed you, and what they should have done instead? Perhaps telling others (over and over) about what happened and how wrong it was? It’s understandable, no one likes to be harmed, we naturally seek and want justice, and want others to validate the pain we’ve been through.

Unfortunately, there usually comes a point when dwelling on the wrongs of others starts to cause us more harm than good. We can become obsessed with thinking about what went wrong, how it should not have been that way. When we relive past injustices, we become stuck in the past. The present moment and the future become painful, because our mind is in the past. Our minds are so powerful, that if our mind is living in the past, our bodies respond accordingly, and we keep feeling the pain of past events in the present moment.

How do we let go? How do we move on? How do we stop living mast harms? Letting go and moving on can feel scary and difficult, or even dangerous. We can feel like we are invalidating our pain, or the difficulties we may be facing in the present as a consequence of someone else’s wrongdoing.

Below is some information about what forgiveness is, what it is not, and the benefits of such a difficult choice. Because if it was easy, you would have done it already.

What is Forgiveness?

  • Making a conscious choice that you don’t want to ruminate or dwell on the past harm anymore. It’s like noticing that you’re stuck in a loop, like a record, and lifting the pin. Or deciding to get off the ferris wheel that keeps going in circles.
  • Forgiveness means breaking the habit of rumination… If you keep venting to others, you consciously choose to stop doing that. You let go of the urge, you breathe, you say “whoops, sorry I mentioned that again, I’ll let it go”. And you do that from a place of willingness, not shoving it down and sweeping it under a carpet.
  • You speak about it to someone only when you decide you want to. You do that from a place of needing to process something, perhaps something new or from a different angle, or with a different tone of voice. Not on autopilot or repeat, but spoken consciously from the heart.
  • You drop the plans for vengeance and retaliation, imaginary or otherwise. You can however seek justice. For example, you can speak to a lawyer about your options. Please keep in mind that when we are very upset, seeking justice can be more about revenge than pursuing what’s really in our own best interests. Consult with loved ones or an adult you trust to help formulate a balanced opinion if you are thinking of seeking justice through legal means.

What Forgiveness is not

  • Forgiveness does not mean that you forget what happened. It means that you know what happened, and you can retrieve that memory whenever you want to, but that it is not top of mind all the time in an obsessive way. You are a powerful deep sea diver who can suit up anytime. But you don’t wear your diving suit to the gym or to an office party.
  • Forgiveness does not mean that what the person does was OK or that they deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself, not the perpetrator. Just as you being angry everyday does not harm the perpetrator, forgiveness does not benefit the perpetrator. Anger is like a poison – when you drink it, only you get sick. Forgiveness is like a cake – when you eat it, only you enjoy how good it tastes. Others might see you getting sick, or see you experiencing joy – but this is not the same as them feeling the stomach pain or tasting the sweetness. The sensory component is yours.

What are the Benefits of Forgiveness?

Forgiveness means that you don’t want to devote any more time or mental energy to negative events from the past. You want to live in the present and plan for the future in a way that maximizes your freedom.

You don’t need to do something because of the past, or in spite of the past. You can choose how to live your life according to your values and what’s important to you, honouring your past, and appreciating your inner strength and resiliency to move forward. You might wish to think of yourself as a hero, a survivor, a victim, and also a person unrelated to that past event. And as time goes on, and other events happen, both good and bad, your “bad event” will just be a pebble on a beach covered with sand, stones, and a beautiful sunset.

love your life

This post is part of the blog series "Love Your Life", mental health advice by Dr Emily Blake, Psychologist.


Dr Emily Blake, Psychologist

Dr. Blake is the owner and director of the Blake Psychology clinic and a regular contributor to the blog.

More About the Author