Basic Forgiveness

Forgiveness never follows a preset pattern in depth counseling, but is intertwined through every aspect of the process. In fact, repentance and forgiveness are cornerstones of healing. They are “super-glues” that bind us together and make us whole.

True forgiveness is more than a simple mouthing of words. Though it can be willed from the mind, it is accomplished in the heart. Therefore, even if a person acknowledges the necessity for forgiveness, he still must adequately face the full extent of damage before real letting go can begin.

Taking time to look back sometimes means that when deep pain has surfaced, we suggest waiting awhile to start the forgiveness process. That way the person can allow himself to reflect carefully on all facets of the loss, and appropriately grieve.

Because forgiveness is paramount in heart healing, the sufferer needs honestly to acknowledge his readiness to forgive. Sometimes he may say he wants to forgive, but doesn’t know how to let go of the offense, or he may not really be prepared to release the one who has hurt him. If there is a sincere desire to be willing, that is sufficient; but if the victim is not set to extend forgiveness, it is crucial that he face that fact.

When there is resistance to the forgiveness process, it is better for us to wait on God’s direction than prompt someone to say empty words, perhaps so she may appear “good” or “obedient”. At the same time, we do assure the injured person that forgiveness is crucial to her own healing, because most of the damage from unforgiveness is to the one who needs to forgive. Also, by holding bitterness an individual prevents the Lord from moving as He wills. Again we must say, though, that a sufferer may need much time to examine and talk through her pain before the heart is able to forgive.

A Summary of Steps in Forgiveness:

1. Decide–

A wounded individual needs to understand the cost of letting go: that she must pay the price of living with the consequences of another’s sin. The example is given of a written contractual agreement signed by two parties, in which a certain amount of money is owed the injured one. Forgiveness is as if the contract was torn up and the money no longer required. Forgiveness cancels the debt.

When huge psychic harm has come to the sufferer, forgiveness may appear to be the most unjust and cruel act imaginable. It can seem absolutely unfair to “let the person off the hook.”

A victim who wants more of God and freedom from the bondage of unhealed memories, who can see forgiveness as an important step in the recovery process, is ready to make the decision to proceed.

2. Recognize-

The sufferer must know who it was that hurt him, what was done to him, and how it has impacted his life. He needs to cite specific instances and enumerate consequences of the other’s sin in his life, both then and now. As he goes through this, it will help him process how the offender’s behavior has affected choices, self-image, and relationships.

3. Identify-

The hurt person needs to say how she feels because of what the other did, stating specific emotions. She summarizes all she has lost because of remembered words and acts against her.

We do not use forgiveness as a generalized blanket covering for a whole time frame of events. Rather, forgiveness is extended explicitly for the memories and feelings recalled by the injured one.

4. Express-

In a safe supportive environment the person is often encouraged to speak to the oppressor as if he were there, telling him about the wounding events and how they affected her. We also help her articulate to the other what she lost and how it has affected her life. The residual results of the offenses may be stated in terms of what she failed to receive from the offender, and what she still may crave (e.g. nurture, attention, discipline, acceptance, affirmation, etc.).

5. Set-

Sometimes, as a result of the sins perpetrated on him, a sufferer never learned to place appropriate boundaries. Part of forgiveness is recognizing the need for protective boundaries, and agreeing to set them, both with the offender and in all potentially damaging situations.

Often we are called to dialog with a person about healthy boundaries and provide follow-up resources to help him learn self-protection. Many do not know how to do this without building walls of isolation from others.

We also tell the injured one that “hurt people hurt people”; i.e. victims often become victimizers as well. This realization may trigger an understanding that the violated person needs also to forgive self.

6. See-

Forgiveness requires the one who is letting go to give up unrealistic expectations about the “wounder”. If the affected one keeps her fantasy that the offender will meet her needs, she doesn’t have to face painful reality (e.g. “Mom doesn’t care about me and never did”).

Seeing the oppressor in realistic perspective means seeing the other person in his own brokenness and pain. At times, after a forgiveness breakthrough, we ask the hurt one to pray for the offender, that the other may come to Christ and be restored through His healing power.

7. Release-

We may ask the sufferer specifically to speak the words “I release”, for such things as the right to “get even”; all “you owe me’s”; all expectations that the offender make restitution; and any requirement for an apology from the wrongdoer.

8. Take back-

The injured person needs to take back the power he gave the offender to name him, hurt him, and define his choices and identity. This sometimes means acknowledging that he deified the offender to the extent he received his identity from the abuser. In other words, if he believed the words of the offender regarding his value and purpose more than the words of Jesus, he has effectively placed that person in a position above God. According to the Bible the first commandment states that we shall have no idols, but worship God alone (Deuteronomy 5: 6-10).

9. Accept-

As healing progresses, the sufferer begins gradually coming to terms with many incomprehensible, sometimes heartbreaking mysteries of life. (Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”-John 16: 33.)

Through the process of acceptance, the hurt person also learns to recognize the good that God wants to bring in any situation, and begins to understand that every trial has something we can learn.

10. Explore-

Finally, the injured person needs to explore the possibilities to be found in healthy relationship with the offender. This means understanding that forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation, if that would provide no personal safety for the sufferer. When the “stumbler” refuses to accept responsibility for his behavior, there may never be an opportunity for any change or restoration in the relationship.

It is sometimes extremely difficult to let go the desire to fix the situation or individual responsible for inflicting so much pain. When this point is reached, the injured person hopefully will see the violator with sorrow and pity, and admit that praying for her renewal in God may be the only act of true connection possible now.

Here are some common misperceptions or myths about forgiveness:

1) Myth: If I have truly forgiven, I will forget the abuse or incident.Truth: Forgiveness rarely means forgetting. Instead, it lessens the pain related to remembering the event.

2) Myth: If I have not forgiven, I will be consciously aware of it. Truth: Often we think we have forgiven, but unresolved emotions related to the event or person reveal to us that our hearts have not fully completed the process.

3) Myth: Forgiveness is looking the other way and ignoring the offense. Truth: Ignoring the offense effectively keeps us from forgiveness because we never face its effects upon us.

4) Myth: Forgiveness happens through our willpower. Truth: Sometimes our willpower is insufficient to forgive an offense; all we can do is “will to be willing” to release forgiveness. The Holy Spirit’s power helps us forgive when we are unable to make ourselves do it.

5) Myth: If I have negative feelings about a person, it indicates I have not forgiven. Truth: Forgiveness does not automatically remove all hurts and all negative feelings. We may feel residual effects from some injuries for a lifetime.

6) Myth: If I have truly forgiven, I will be able to be with that person under any circumstance.Truth: True forgiveness often necessarily means setting healthy boundaries with the person.

7) Myth: If I confess unforgiveness, I can consider it finished. Truth:It takes more than confessing unforgiveness, it takes a willingness to release the person.

8 ) Myth: If I presently have a good relationship with my parents, it indicates that I have no unforgiveness in my heart toward them. Truth: The adult part of us can have a good relationship with Mom or Dad, while the wounded child inside is still suffering greatly with childhood pain that was never processed.

9) Myth: If someone intentionally hurts me, I have a right to be his judge and jury. Truth: Motivation or intention of the wounder does not change the need for forgiveness.

10) Myth: I must come to understand why a person behaved as he did in order to forgive him. Truth: Although it can be very helpful to understand the reasons behind behavior and may make it easier to accept the one who caused pain, understanding is not a criterion for forgiveness.

11) Myth: If I believe I deserved what was done to me, I have no right to feel resentment. Truth: Jesus died for every wrongdoing we will
ever commit, and every wrongdoing committed against us.

12) Myth: If someone offends me, it is his fault. If someone is offended by me, I have to go to the person and ask forgiveness. Truth: No hard and fast rule can be made about resolving blame and offenses. Forgiveness can be extended whether the other person knows it or not.

13) Myth: Forgiveness is always released toward an individual and not to a group of people. Truth: We may need to forgive a group of people, a nation, even an intangible thing. We may need to forgive God for the loss of our childhood.


Unforgiveness brings bitter fruit. It causes torment and internal agony, and sets us up to act out our bitterness on others. Often we take our hateful feelings and project them to those closest to us, or we may punish ourselves.

When holding unforgiveness, we can’t fully release our lives to God. We make judgment and vengeance our job, not His (John 9: 39; Nahum 1: 2-7). In truth, many things that offend us in the present have roots in childhood hurts. People in the here and now may intentionally hurt us, but sometimes today’s offenses are magnified because others’ actions trigger our unresolved past issues (Matthew 7: 3-5).

Although the course of forgiveness is unique to every person and situation in heart healing work, it is deeply meaningful only when is accomplished from the heart. “Going through the motions” by saying the right words is much easier than releasing from the heart.

This principle is graphically illustrated in a parable Jesus told of a master who took pity on a servant and cancelled the debt he had incurred. At the same time the servant had no mercy on the one who in turn owed him a much smaller amount, so in anger “his master turned the servant over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Jesus explained, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18: 21-35). Thankfully God is faithful, as we face the pain of losses and their consequences, to give us strength to do what we cannot do in our own power: forgive those who have hurt us, and forgive ourselves.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He breathed on His disciples and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20: 21-22). From that moment on, they became first in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2: 9-10), a line unbroken through nearly 2000 years until today. With that authority, we can verbally verify the power of forgiveness to a person in heart-healing counseling. (“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” -John 20: 23.)

Forgiveness is a process, like gradually draining a swamp. As excess water is removed, sodden ground is exposed to the light and can become fertile and productive. The task is not complete until all unresolved emotions have been examined and worked through. Depending on the nature and depth of the offenses, this “draining” can take months, or longer.

Often, when life has been very painful, a sufferer must ultimately forgive God for the circumstances of her past, events that cannot logically be reconciled with His loving nature. A community of supportive “wounded healers” provides many of the nutrients for growth during this time.


This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” -Matthew 26: 28

“For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” -Colossians 1: 19-20

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” -Luke 6: 37

“Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” -Colossians 3: 13

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1: 9