If someone has recently hurt you, you’ll know just how painful and arduous the process of recovery can be. Whether you’re in the aftermath of a particular emotional injury or have been the recipient of a pattern of toxic behaviour, you’ll be carrying around all kinds of scars and want to know how to forgive. You probably know that you need to let go of all that anger and resentment, but it’s incredibly hard in practice. You might have asked yourself “How do I forgive?” and struggled to find an answer that works.
Learning how to forgive is complex, and it can’t happen overnight. However, it is possible, and you’ll be so much better off when you succeed. This guide could help you understand the nature of forgiving someone who has hurt you, and it can show you why it’s so important to move on.
The 5 Stages Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is deeply personal, so no two individuals will experience it in exactly the same way. That said, it is a process with roughly five distinct stages, and you will likely go through all of these at some point.
Here’s what you can expect from each:
- Stage 1: Awareness. You notice that you’re still angry, hurt or bitter about something, and this lets you know that you need to forgive. This awareness is crucial; without it, negative feelings will continue to undermine you at a subconscious level.
- Stage 2: Experience. Forgiveness isn’t about suppressing or ignoring painful feelings. In fact, you need to go through a period of fully feeling those emotions. Engage with their full impact, whether by journaling or talking, and let yourself express your rage and pain.
- Stage 3: Acceptance. You don’t need to make excuses for the person who hurt you or to endorse the choices they made. In fact, you may not even want to let them back into your life. However, you do have to accept that you’ve had this unpleasant experience and that it cannot be changed.
- Stage 4: Willingness to Forgive. Often, it’s only after we experience the full range of our emotions and consign them to the past that we become willing to forgive. At this stage, you’ll really see that there’s no benefit to staying in a place of suffering, and you’ll stop clinging to the old pain that’s holding you back.
- Stage 5: Releasing. The final stage of forgiveness is letting go of your grudge and releasing your emotions from your body. Once you do that, you can actively move on with your life positively and productively. You will feel a profound and lasting sense of peace and closure.
Why it's important to forgive and move on
While the above stages of forgiveness give you a better sense of what to expect, there are of course plenty of other complexities. In particular, it is easier said than done to know what it’s time to move on! When you let go of grudges, you instantly improve your mental well-being.
But how do you know when it’s the right time to forgive and let go of someone? Here are some major signs.
Realizing When It’s Time To Forgive And Let Go
- You feel drained, and feelings of anger or sorrow are stopping you from manifesting a more positive life.
- You’ve grown apart from the person who hurt you and resentment is really all they are adding to your life.
- You notice you live more in the past than in the present.
- Deep down, you know that fear has been holding you back from moving on. Although fear is unpleasant, it keeps you safe from further hurt, but it also keeps you from further joy.
What happens when you finally let go of the past?
Scientists caution that the body suffers when you’re in a consistently negative state and that this might promote the development of certain diseases. Meanwhile, studies on people who practice forgiveness and positive thinking techniques indicate an overall reduction in the risk of illness. In this context, “forgiveness” refers to deciding that you are willing to let go of feelings of resentment and anger towards another person, abandoning the urge for revenge and instead, trying to approach life with a clean slate.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour or claiming that poor treatment of you was okay. Rather, it means trying to understand those who have wronged you, looking for positive lessons you have learned, and authentically expressing your feelings so that you can process them.
Below you will find just a few reasons why it’s important to finally forgive and let go.
5 Benefits of letting go and moving on.
1. You Turn Off Your Fight-Or-Flight Mode
If you’re angry all the time, your body is perceiving danger and you’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode. This puts an enormous strain on your cardiovascular system. In turn, this can make your heart beat faster; flooding your system with stress hormones. Your muscles are tense, and you’re more likely to sweat excessively.
In contrast, moving towards forgiveness reduces stress and anger, allowing your body to retreat to a calmer, more productive mode. One of the best ways of letting go of anger is to channel it into a healthy physical activity like walking, running, the gym or anything that gets you moving. Writing out your angry thoughts can be a way of excising negativity.
2. It Can Decrease Your Blood Pressure
As implied above, many researchers have drawn particular attention to cardiovascular benefits when looking at how forgiveness affects your health. With respect to blood pressure, a 2018 study found that those who found a way to forgive cheating partners ultimately exhibited a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Meanwhile, work published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine indicated that stress and blood pressure levels dropped in response to forgiveness.
So, when you hold onto resentment, you’re giving the other person the power to hurt your body. Through forgiveness, you empower yourself to create a healthier, happier body.
3. Better Sleep
One of the best positive thinking tips is to ensure that you get more sleep and have better “sleep hygiene” (e.g. removing electronic devices from the bedroom). However, the reverse is also true; in other words, getting into a more positive mindset also makes it easier for you to get good, restful sleep.
For example, psychologists have seen how forgiveness brings a reduction in fatigue and increases the number of study participants who are able to sleep through the night. This may be partly because being angry and resentful makes you feel like you have unfinished business, and ruminating on this keeps your mind overly alert.
4. Improves Your Self-Control
Few positive thinking articles talk about this consequence, but actively forgiving those who have wronged you makes you better at thinking through your actions before you act.
Instead of immediately expressing anger in a cruel way, you’re able to take a deep breath and consider whether it’s helpful for you to lash out. This increased self-control might have further impacts on your overall physical health, as it arguably makes you less likely to choose risky courses of action that could put you in danger. When you’re no longer on the knife’s edge of rage and have moved to a place of acceptance, self-preservation kicks in.
5. Forgiveness Can Lead To Healthier, More Stable Relationships
Finally, when you work to achieve forgiveness in a particular context, we learn how to do it more easily in the future. In other words, we view forgiveness as the eventual consequence of all conflict, instead of gearing up to “win” a fight. We start to see forgiveness as a regularly practiced, positive habit that encourages us to feel peaceful and calm. The consequence of this will often be better relationships in which there’s honest, open, and loving communication.
Meanwhile, the body responds with a slower heart rate, a drop in stress hormones, and a surge in energy that we can use to accomplish other things in our lives.
If you’re wanting to forgive and move on but finding it just too hard. Just get in touch below and I’ll help you through this tough time.