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How to forgive someone: remember that everyone makes mistakes, just like you

Forgiving someone can reduce our stress levels, and it also helps us to trust people in future

Did someone say a mean thing, exclude you, or muscle in on your turf? It can be hard to forgive. By ruminating on their slight and holding a grudge, however, you can make things worse for yourself.

“It doesn’t serve us in a positive way. It can eat away at us – at our heart, our soul, our nervous system, it can impact our blood pressure and our immune system. We are in ‘fight’ response and that is stressful,” says Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy member Ciarán Coyle, a psychotherapist with

Show compassion

It can help if, instead of thinking of the other person as your enemy, you try to reframe things.

“It’s about showing compassion and realising that the other person is a human being and they make mistakes, just like you,” says Coyle. “It might not be easy to see in the moment, but the more compassion you show, the more you are going to be able to see it through that lens.”


Don’t take it personally

If someone is critical of you, that’s really none of your business. What someone else thinks or says is their business, not yours.

“Don’t take things personally, that is one of the biggest gifts in life to learn,” says Coyle. “The interpretations and opinions of other people about us are a projection of how insecure they feel about themselves. Secure people don’t go around judging others and feeling the need to put others down.”

It can help us to realise that the mean person has their own problems, including a very loud inner critic of their own.

Let it go

The past can’t be changed and we shouldn’t let it hold us back from the present or our future, says Coyle.

“Hanging on to pain, resentment and anger is like holding a hot piece of coal and hoping the other person is going to burn,” he says.

“If something doesn’t serve us on our healing journey, then we are better off just letting it go. You can forgive the person for what they did, and still think the behavior wasn’t right as well.”

Acknowledge your feelings

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to swallow feelings of hurt.

“Your feelings and emotions are valid. You are allowed to feel hurt. Let those feelings and emotions in, acknowledge them and let them pass on,” says Coyle. “You can journal about them as well which is a great way of getting your feelings down.”

You could also tell the person how you feel, using “I” statements. For example, “I felt hurt when you excluded me”.

Avoid saying, ‘you made me feel’.

“Nobody can actually ‘make’ you feel something. You can choose to feel angry or sad. Knowing this gives you autonomy to choose to feel differently. You have some control over your response. It’s really powerful when we realise that we have a choice. Let the emotions in, let yourself feel, but you are choosing.”

Foster trust

Forgiving someone can reduce our stress levels, and it also helps us to trust people in future.

Holding on to resentment and grudges can mean we erect barriers that affect our ability to cultivate future relationships, says Coyle.

“But if we choose to forgive, we see people as flawed, just as we are all flawed. That’s the human condition. It’s okay for people to make mistakes. Just because a person acted this way doesn’t mean that I can’t trust anyone ever again.”