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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Forgive for 'You'; 5 ways to get started today!

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 24th 2008

couple not facingJohn Andrews and his father had a tense relationship growing up. His father was often out of the house working and when he was home their relationship consisted of his father drinking beer while telling John all the things he was doing wrong and why John would never succeed in life. Naturally, over time, John began to believe these messages and built up resentment with his dad and as an adult the mere thought of his dad made his blood boil. As an adult, John says that he doesn't think he could ever forgive his father for the emotional torment he experienced while growing up.

For centuries, the world's wisdom traditions have been talking about the power of forgiveness. However, there is a major misconception about it in our culture. That is the erroneous equation of forgiving with forgetting. These are two very different things. It's often important to remember times when we've been wronged so we can identify these interactions again in the future and not fall into the same traps.

However, when someone holds onto a grudge, it has a significant impact on their minds and bodies. In other words, dwelling on the hurt can be extremely taxing and the stress of it could actually shave years off of your life. Why after being wronged in the first place, whether it was as a child or adult, do we have to continue to suffer by carrying this burden of a grudge? Some people say "because I don't want to give them the satisfaction of forgiving them". There is an error in this statement. This statement assumes that when forgiving someone we are condoning what they did. We are saying, "don't worry about it, it's Ok what you did". No...this is not at all what forgiveness is about. Forgiveness is not about forgetting and it is not about condoning what someone has done.

Forgiveness is 100% about being able to breathe again, being free again, being free from the suffering of this grudge, this burden. So we forgive for ourselves, not for the other person. We forgive because we don't want to hold this burden any longer, we want to let it go and be free.

While the road to forgiveness may be difficult and you may want support from a professional, here are some suggestions on how to get started:

  1. Acknowledge your anger - allow yourself to be honest and simple feel into your anger.

  2. Get it out - not by slapping a water hose to a bunch of old phone books or punching a pillow, write it down in a journal or talk about it with a friend or professional. Do something to try and see it from different angles.

  3. Consider the life of the other person - putting ourselves in their shoes, if possible, helps us consider the life they lived that led them to this ignorant and hurtful action. This is difficult, but remember, this is not condoning their action, just seeing that humans, warped by our own traumas, might view the world differently from one another.

  4. Communicate via writing - Taking some action is important. Writing a letter to those who hurt us (living or not) telling them how their action made us feel hurt can be helpful. We can do this without attacking them.

  5. Patience and Compassion - Forgiveness does not come easy, but it is worthwhile. Having patience and a sense of caring for yourself is critical during this time. You may notice frustration, anger, sadness, and other emotions as you go through this process. You may also notice relief. Be patience and caring for yourself, you are doing important and difficult work.

If you have a story, feel free to comment below (use a pseudonym if you like). If you have comments or questions feel free to share those. We all learn from one another's contributions.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Seek Support - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Sep 29th 2008

Hi there,

This is a very deep issue and what is of the utmost importance is you and your children's safety.

When abuse is still occurring it is also important to be assertive for your own physical and and mental well-being. I think it would be wise to seek support and/or advice from a healthcare professional who you can speak with in person. If you don't feel like that is an option right now, it is wise to continue to stay connected to these mental health communities for support and ideas. 

help - - Sep 26th 2008
My father was an angry drunk. i had a very loving mum, who has now passed away. i forgave my father i count myself as one of the lucky ones in my family as there are nine of us. he has been dead a long time but still his legacy of hurt lives on in some of my siblings. now i face my own inadquasies my own husbands of the last 28 years drinks and has bad mood swings, now my children are unhappy have i the courage to do something about this? im not sure what road do i take? do i try to help my children to forgive or do i split the family.

Suffering, A Way Out - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Sep 26th 2008

Hi Annette,

Thank you for having the courage to share what is going on with you right now. You have certainly tried a lot of avenues to try and work through this pain. I'm not sure if you would be open to it, or if the timing is right, but I'm wondering if you have looked into mindfulness meditation as a tool to relate to this pain differently than you currently are. Sometimes, when it feels like the pain is trapped within us, we often get in a cycle of relating to it in a way that increases our suffering. If you are interested, there is a book that is a brief read that you might find helpful called 'Taming the Tiger Within' by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Feel free to connect with me if you need other resources.

Not forgiving of oneself - Annette - Sep 25th 2008

          I have had so much anger or should I say rage and the sad thing is I don't know how to get it out.   I wrote my heart out, therapy, yelled, cried hit my pillow-cops were called on me..funny huh?!   I don't know how to be good to myself when it's like I am fighting with myself/my mother.  It's as if were are intertwined some how mentally on my part.  It's actually feels like I am split in two my mother and step-father are on my left side of my head crunching down on me saying no you can't be happy, you have to be sad.   When I feel some relief off my head I will get some anxiety pains in my heart, sharp pain in my side and at one point panic attack as if I am going to relive a scary memory.  Just thinking about having to do that makes me start to cry.   I have so much to be grateful for my wonderful children and a loving and supportive husband.   How could anyone hate themselves so much mentally I don't feel I am alive just walking dead.  To sum it up I have panic attacks to feel the true me.   I some times wish I just had a fear of spiders not my own self.    Is there any help out there for me?!  My family needs me and I would like to truly love myself and feel so much love in my heart and soul.  Do God's work it surely isn't wasting all my time hurting my head and not feel like living life. 

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