How to Forgive: Ask the Experts

October 11, 2016

Categories: Forgiveness

One thing I struggle with is how to forgive the people in my life who hurt me. I try to remember that we all make mistakes, but when someone I love does something that hurts me, I have trouble forgiving that person. I replay what happened in my mind, and I feel sad and angry about it. I also feel scared about trusting that person again and trying to rebuild the relationship.

Maybe you can relate. If there is one constant in relationships, we all make mistakes and hurt each other. If we want to build long-lasting relationships that stand the test of time, we need to be able to forgive one another. Because of this, I’m always on the lookout for new insight into how to help myself be a more forgiving person. To help me (and you) become more forgiving, I asked several experts in the field this question:

What is the most effective practice or exercise you have used to cultivate forgiveness in your own life?

Here’s what they said:


Keys to forgiving someone are: 1) know that you are angry or sad or unsettled regarding another’s unfair treatment of you; 2) understand that to forgive is not to excuse or forget or necessarily to reconcile if the other persist in extremely hurtful behavior; 3) commit to doing no harm to the one who harmed you (such as talking negatively about the person); 4) use a wide-angle lens to view the other, who is more than the hurtful actions against you, and 5) bear the pain of what happened so that you do not toss that pain back to the person or to others.  These points are spelled out in my most recent book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015).

Dr. Robert Enright, University of Wisconsin


Forgiveness prerequisites:

  1. Safety first.  Ensure that no harm is continuing.
  2. Forgiveness takes justice seriously for the good of the victim, community, and offender.

Forgiveness elements:

  1. Tell the truth about the offender: Remember the offender is a human being—a person first.
  2. Tell the truth about the offense: Give a fair-minded, clear-eyed account of the wrong done and its implications.
  3. Transform my perspective: See the blameworthy offense as evidence of that person’s need to change and grow.
  4. Transform my response:  Find even a small way to genuinely wish the offender well in experiencing that positive change and growth.

Dr. Charlotte Witvliet, Hope College


It sounds self-serving to say it, I know, but it’s true. I used the REACH Forgiveness five steps to forgive the murderer of my mother and also used it within six steps to self-forgiveness to forgive my own self-condemnation over failings prior to my brother’s suicide. However, other than that, I had some success with forgiving a wound I had been bitter about for ten years when I imagined the man who had offended me being in the same room as I. Then, I imagined Jesus coming into the room. To my surprise, my own imagination instructed me that Jesus would probably comfort the offender for the mental hatred I’d shown for years. That freed me to forgive him.

Dr. Everett Worthington, Virginia Commonwealth University


Most people mean well. If you can really see the issue from the other person’s side, you can usually make out something positive. That’s a first step.

Dr. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University


Forgiveness is something I continue to work at.  When considering forgiveness, I first ask myself whether I’m ready to let to go of my anger and resentment.  There can be a lot of value to anger in empowering important change, righting wrongs, and creating a more just world.  But anger and resentment can become ends in themselves and misdirect people (including me) in the search for significance.  When I feel ready to move toward forgiveness, I find it most helpful to remember the times that I’ve been on the receiving end of love and compassion when I had hurt someone and done nothing to deserve forgiveness.  Remembering those gifts I have received can help me make the incredibly hard motivational transformation that lies at the heart of forgiveness.

Dr. Ken Pargament, Bowling Green State University


To cultivate forgiveness in my own life, my method often depends on my relationship with the person who hurt me. If the offender is someone close to me, I tend to focus on the value of that relational bond and my desire for a harmonious relationship. If the offender is a stranger or someone not close to me, I tend to focus on the emotional benefits of not holding on to anger toward this person.

Dr. Julie Exline, Case Western Reserve University


For me, an important part of learning how to forgive involves first understanding what doesn’t work.  When I replay the hurtful event over and over again in my mind and I focus on why my anger is justified, I always feel miserable.  In contrast, when I am open to the possibility that the person’s hurtful actions are a reflection of his/her own suffering, my perspective starts to shift and it’s easier for me to respond in a more compassionate and forgiving way. The person’s actions, which I once perceived as a source of pain, can now be viewed as an opportunity to learn how to forgive.

Dr. Mark Rye, Skidmore College


Discussion: What is one practice or exercise you could try this week to cultivate forgiveness in your own life?


Related Thoughts

Leave A Comment

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog posts.

Receive my e-book “The Mental Health Toolkit” for free when you subscribe.