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5 Tips to Help You Forgive Someone Who Hurt You Emotionally

by Maili

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Have you been hurt by someone recently? Whether the hurt was caused intentionally or by accident, you may find it difficult to forgive the person responsible. This may be because you don’t think the person who hurt you deserves forgiveness, or simply because you have no idea where to even begin. Why and how should you forgive someone who has hurt you emotionally?

The answer to this question is simple: Unforgiveness may be bad for your health. Unforgiveness is the negative emotional reaction that is opposed to forgiveness and is often characterized by anger, frustration, or even fear. And like all prolonged stress, it will mess with your health. Forgiveness, on the other hand, seems to promote a happier and healthier state both psychologically and physically.

But that is just the tip of the forgiveness iceberg. In this article, I will bring you examples of what makes forgiveness so great, and more importantly, show you ways how to forgive someone who has hurt you emotionally.

Research on forgiveness

Unforgiveness is the negative emotional reaction that is opposed to forgiveness and is often characterized by anger, frustration or even fear. In his book Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. likens unforgiveness to a stress reaction and like all prolonged stress, it will mess with your health.

Everett L. Worthington, Jr. is a clinical psychologist and probably the world’s leading specialist on forgiveness. He has researched the topic for decades. In an article co-authored with Michael Scherer, he makes the distinction between decisional and emotional forgiveness.

Decisional forgiveness is the decision to forgive and behave “nicely” towards the person who hurt you, while the anger and other emotions may remain, whereas emotional forgiveness replaces negative emotions with positive ones. Although both Worthington and Scherer (as well as other researchers) believe emotional forgiveness to be healthier in the long run, decisional forgiveness can often lead to emotional forgiveness.

As mentioned before, forgiveness seems to be good for your physical and mental well-being. Different researchers have found forgiveness to have the following health benefits:

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How to forgive someone in 5 steps

Clearly, forgiveness seems to be a good thing with several benefits. But how do you go about forgiving someone who has hurt you emotionally?

1. Decide to forgive

Although emotional forgiveness may be preferred over decisional forgiveness, the first step on any journey is the decision to take it and that applies here as well. Occasionally forgiveness may come on its own – you may wake up one day to find that you are no longer angry and hurt about something or at someone – but the proactive approach has to start with the decision to try and forgive.

For example, a close friend of mine had a hard time getting over a rough breakup. It’s generally accepted that time heals all wounds, but hers just didn’t seem to heal at all. She didn’t start to heal until she realized that she had been picking open her proverbial wound again and again by latching onto the hurt that her ex had caused her and letting the anger hurt her even more. By making the decision to forgive, she was finally on the road to recovery.

Science backs this up, too. In their study, Davis and colleagues found that the decision to forgive was correlated with greater forgiveness and happiness down the road.

2. Take your time and lower your expectation

The decision to forgive may come with a set of expectations for yourself. You may think that the negative emotions will disappear by the end of the week or that you will be able to have a conversation with the person who hurt you without wanting to cry. Most likely that is not the case, because the decision to forgive is only the first step. Do not set yourself arbitrary deadlines and goals, because you may never meet them. Instead, take your time and follow the road, and you will end up in the right place.

The decision to forgive may take time, too. Maybe you’re reading this article because of a recent argument and you think you’re ready to forgive. That may be the case, but maybe you need some more time to properly feel and work through the anger and hurt. Trust yourself – if forgiveness doesn’t feel right at this moment, then it probably isn’t.

3. Forgive for yourself, not for others

If you’re reading this article because your friends and loved ones tell you it’s time to let go of something, then bookmark the page and come back when you feel that the time is right. This is closely related to the previous point, but also one of the golden rules of forgiveness – you should always forgive for your own sake, not someone else’s.

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the person who wronged you; it’s something you do for you.

Andrea Brandt

Forgive because you want to move on and feel better, not because the person who hurt you deserves it or because people close to you think you should do it.

Think back to when you were a child and you had a conflict with another kid. More often than not, parents and teachers made one of you apologize and the other accept the apology, but did either of you really mean it? Every time I was made to accept an apology in front of someone, the insincerity hurt me more than the hurtful event itself, and I imagine that I am not alone in this.

4. Emphasize with the person who hurt you emotionally

If you have been hurt, the following utterance may be quite familiar to you: “I don’t understand how they could do something like this to me! What kind of person would do this to someone? I hate them!”

We are usually negatively-minded towards things we don’t understand. Thus, forgiveness may be aided by trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. That does not mean that you should seek to justify the actions that hurt you. Rather, try to see where the actions might have come from.

Keep in mind that even if you can understand the other person’s behavior towards you, it does not mean that you don’t have the right to be hurt anymore. Understanding does not mean forgiving right away, but it can be a powerful tool on the road to forgiveness. It requires some conscious effort, but in a conflict, I always try to see where the other party is coming from. Occasionally, this practice helps to protect me from getting my feelings hurt, thus preventing the need for forgiveness.

5. Put your feelings into words

The time is right, you have made the decision to proactively be forgiving, you have empathized… But you still feel angry, hurt and frustrated?

Talking or writing about it might help. If you just need a friendly ear, then talk to your friends or loved ones. If you feel that you would prefer a more structured approach or professional insight, look into counseling opportunities near you.

If you feel that talking about your experience is impossible, you can try writing a letter. Research has shown that expressive writing with empathy and understanding in mind can promote forgiveness, and it is a common therapeutic technique.

At home, you can just sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind related to the hurtful event. You can start by writing down what happened and how you felt about it, or you can write down how you think the person who hurt you feels or why they acted that way. You don’t have to send the letter to the person who hurt you – just like forgiveness itself, this letter is just for you. You can leave the letter in a drawer and choose to reread it later, or you can burn it.

Final thoughts on forgiveness

Forgiveness is good for your health because it is all about being good and kind towards yourself. You probably try to minimize other stressors in your life, so why would you hang onto something as stressful as unforgiveness? Of course, like all things worth having, forgiveness isn’t easy to achieve, but with a little work, time, and some help from the ideas outlined above, you can learn to let go of the anger and move on to better things.

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Closing words

If you’re struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you emotionally, or if you feel like sharing your journey on the road to forgiveness, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below. As you get better at understanding forgiveness, you’re guaranteed to better steer your life in a better direction. That’s where happiness and positivity are.

Are you finding it hard to forgive someone who’s hurt you emotionally? Or do you want to share your own experience on handling forgiveness? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Maili Tirel AuthorLinkedIn Logo

School psychologist, teacher and internet counselor from Estonia. Passionate about coffee, reading, dancing, and singing in the shower, much to the neighbors’ dismay. Counseling catchphrase: “It’s okay!“

26 thoughts on “5 Tips to Help You Forgive Someone Who Hurt You Emotionally”

  1. I had my first and only child almost 3 years ago now. Back then, I was beyond excited to meet my son and live in our home and watch my husband and I grow into our roles as mommy and daddy.
    When we were still in the hospital, my husband let me know (never even considered asking about my own feelings on the matter) that his sister which I did not know at all would be moving in to help with the baby. As we were released from the hospital, she moved in literally the next day. As I write this 3 years later, I feel the lingering hurt, anger and bitterness I still harbor for the both of them. I am a young mom I had him at 23 during the beginning of Covid so I missed out on a lot of baby bump pictures. I know my husbands intentions meant well. He was only trying to help make it easier thinking extra hands would be good for us. I felt as if he thought I was inadequate, actually stripped me of building a secure bond with my son. I often feared my baby not being able to know the difference from his mom to his aunt. Doctors always say skin to skin is important for a baby to learn their mothers scent and even heart rhythm. Sometimes I would walk in and see her also laying skin to skin with my son. This situation was very traumatic for me. His sister lived with us for about the first 5 to 6 months of my child’s life until she found her own place to stay.
    I feel it’s necessary to add that they are not from America. And their culture does things a little different. When a baby is born, all the aunties and grandmas gather to help support the mother. They believe it takes a village to raise a baby. His sister was always kind and was very loving but lacked the since of giving others privacy. They would often take the baby from me to give me time to “rest.” Once again without asking if I needed rest.(I say they because his mother ALSO moved in for 3 months.) During my whole pregnancy that’s what I was excited for-the long nights with my son. Everything I prepared and hoped it would be like was out the window.

    Fast forward to now. I am on my journey to forgiveness- the journey has lasted all of 3 years now LOL. We had to set boundaries and she finally respected my need of privacy but we’re still estranged to one another. She has made many attempts to reconcile and has tried and I notice her efforts. I too have tried but I’m triggered by even the smallest of things even things not directed towards me. It’s as if the security gates to my heart slam shut squashing any respect that was built. Bitterness takes over.
    It is a lot to carry this pain in my heart and I can’t imagine the hurt I have caused her by ignoring her, avoiding her and sometimes even withholding my son from spending time with her. I am ready to forgive but find it tasking to let go of the weight of anger and fear that the old me felt. She will be moving to Canada at the end of this month and I desperately need guidance on how to forgive a situation like mine.

    • Im not sure and dont want to cause more grief but honestly it seems that your welm intentioned husband crossed a boundary without asking you prior to inviting his sister.

      Perhaps that was all that needs to be rectified. Did you ket her husband know how hurt you were? And if yes does your husband acknowledge what he did was not supportive to your marriage. …
      Hope you reconcile your family issues but please try and not blame people

  2. Hey…thanks for the article. I live next door to someone who is pathologically inconsiderate. I told her when she moved in that with my brain injury, I am noise sensitive and sleep and hang out in the back of our conjoined railroad apartments for quiet’s sake.

    From day one she’s disregarded my pain, over-inhabiting the juxtaposed uninsulated room as an “office” with early morning loud Peletóning, loud all day speaker meetings, an untrained dog that barks loudly at everything and multiple trips daily out the back door to poop a dog (she’s able to have by calling it a “support animal”) she doesn’t walk.

    I actually, over the two and more years of her tenancy have come to acceptance, hence forgiveness twice and lost it.

    The landlady shamed me when I complained almost 2 years ago and said it’s my problem to handle. We (a family of 3) love and need our apartment and have lived here for decades without such a problem.

    The reminder in the article that I am doing it (forgiving) for myself is a bright light. BTW, I have noise-canceling headphones and earplugs and her (neighbor’s) voice and the dog’s barking cut through both.

    For my own sake (mine!!! not the neighbor’s), I will practice patience, kindness and acceptance. This is frankly, the biggest spiritual battle of my life and thanks again for reminding me why I want to win it…. 😊

  3. So I (F53) love to travel and I take many trips with two close friends (F 57 and F 59). Recently on a beach trip, I caught one of them taking what was possibly the most unflattering picture of me I have ever seen. She was sheepish and surprised when I badgered her into finally showing me the picture. It was such a horrible picture that I almost cried.

    As it turns out, my other friend does it too. I’ve even caught them laughing at bad pictures of me behind my back. To the best of my knowledge, they are not posting these pictures on social media, or showing them to other people. However, that doesn’t make it any less painful.

    Further they say, “they’re cute memories of fun trips,” however if that were the case, then why don’t they share the pictures with me? Why don’t they also take bad pictures of each other? Why don’t they also take good pictures of me when I’m dolled up for a night on the town?

    Now because of the pandemic, I’m at the heaviest I have ever been and can barely stand to see pictures of me when I’m looking straight at the camera, smiling and posing. I’m not a vain person, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why two friends who know I’m feeling extremely self-conscious about my looks would take the most unflattering pictures of me to ever exist. It feels very mean-spirited.

    I’m wondering if I’m being too sensitive or wrong for confronting them about it. I wanted to discuss it with them face-to-face, like adults, but when I tried that with one of the friends, she became very angry, got up and bolted out of the restaurant. I just want to forgive, forget and move on, but I still feel so disrespected.

    • Hi Kelley,

      Thanks for sharing. I think you need to discuss this in an open-minded way. Chances are your friends aren’t considering your perspective and are simply making light-hearted jokes. That’s not to say that this is OK, because frankly, if they’re your friends, they shouldn’t be OK with making you feel uncomfortable in any way.


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