What Does It Mean To Forgive?

What do you do when someone does you wrong?

  • Do you ever hold a grudge?
  • Harbor anger?
  • Obsess about what happened?
  • Fantasize about getting revenge?


  • Do you forgive easily? Too easily?
  • Ignore your own feelings of anger?
  • Suppress your own feelings of hurt?
  • Not talk to the person about it, just let it “slide”?

Either of these responses can be unhealthy for you, for the other person, and for the relationship.

Consider the following alternative responses:

Acceptance: This is an empowering response that is useful when the person who offended you is unwilling or unable to recognize what he or she did. The offended party can do this without the consent or cooperation of the person who caused the injury.

The Ten Steps of Acceptance

Step 1: You honor the full sweep of your emotions.

Step 2: You give up your need for revenge but continue to seek a just


Step 3: You stop obsession about the injury and reengage with life.

Step 4: You protect yourself from further abuse.

Step 5: You frame the offender’s behavior in terms of his own

personal struggles.

Step 6: You look honestly at your own contribution to the injury (if


Step 7: You challenge your false assumptions about what happened.

Step 8: You look at the offender apart from his offense weighing the

good against the bad.

Step 9: You carefully decide what kind of relationship you want with


Step 10: You forgive yourself for your own failings.

Genuine Forgiveness: If both the injured party and the offending party are willing to engage in an interactive process, there is an opportunity for true healing of the relationship. In this process, the offender uses words and actions to earn the forgiveness of the injured person. The interactive process provides a climate that is conducive to the healing of the wounds that have been inflicted.

Six Critical Tasks For Earning Forgiveness:

Task 1: Look at your mistaken assumptions and beliefs about

forgiveness and see how they block your efforts to earn it.

Task 2: Bear witness to the pain you caused.

Task 3: Apologize genuinely, non-defensively, and responsibly.

Task 4: Seek to understand your behavior and reveal the inglorious

truth about yourself to the person you harmed.

Task 5: Work to earn back trust.

Task 6: Forgive yourself for injuring another person.

Acceptance and Genuine Forgiveness are two healthy ways of moving on after significant betrayals and violations. They are grounded in the reality of what people need to heal: time, safety, understanding, and meaning. They also acknowledge the transformative power that human beings have to take the healing process into their own hands. In this way, the injuries that are inflicted upon us do not determine the course of our lives. Rather, we can decide to claim the freedom to survive and transcend injuries.

The ideas presented in this article are contained in the highly recommended book How Can I Forgive You? By Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph. D.