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You may have been hurt by someone before, or you may have done something you wish you hadn’t done and are now angry with yourself. You know you shouldn’t let anger or disappointment consume you, but forgiving that person or yourself is easier said than done. However, when you are truly able to overcome it, you will release all the pent-up negativity inside you, feel good about yourself, and move on with your life with confidence.

Of course, these benefits depend on developing true forgiveness, which takes a lot of work. But it’s worth it. Professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “Forgiveness is a Choice. “When you see that someone is more than what they have done to you, you realize that you are more than what has been done to you. You begin to see the intrinsic value of all people, including yourself.”

There are many myths about what forgiveness means, which can make it seem more difficult than it actually is. “People equate forgiveness with giving in rather than fighting for justice,” Enright says, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. You can still hold someone accountable while choosing to release a grudge.

Basically, forgiveness is a conscious, voluntary step to let go of resentment. It is neither quick nor easy. “People feel they can’t forgive because they think it should happen immediately,” says Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, who points to research showing that it can take more than a year to forgive someone. It’s a journey with ups and downs, and you may go back and forth on what you want to do.

Ready to start building your forgiveness muscle? Follow these steps for deep forgiveness. They are based on the four stages identified by Enright and Freedman.

  1. Making the Decision to Forgive
    First is the disclosure phase. Through therapy or journaling, identify who and what is upsetting you. If you can, safely tell this person how their behavior has affected you. Next is the decision stage, in which you announce to yourself that you want to forgive. (Note: It’s okay if you don’t want to forgive, or haven’t forgiven yet.)

If you’re struggling to make up your mind, consider whether holding on to anger is working for you, Enright says. “When you live in resentment, you tend to think over and over again about the people who often hurt you,” he says. “You can slowly slip into a pessimistic view of the world and thus avoid relationships. A person has so much power over you that your ability to trust and feel joy is now undermined. That’s the impetus for forgiveness.”

Need an extra push? Weigh the results of choosing not to forgive, says Amanda E. White, the therapist behind Instagram @therapyforwomen. “By avoiding forgiveness, you don’t have to put yourself out there, you’ll be ‘right,’ and you don’t have to have uncomfortable conversations,” she says. “But you’re losing time and the power to move on with your life.”

  1. Do the work of forgiveness
    Now move on to phase three (the big job): Ask yourself what the story is behind the person who is upsetting you. How did they grow up? What wounds do they have? “You may find they are a vulnerable, scared, confused person who will lash out at you,” Enright says.

It can also help find a common humanity. “I’ll ask people, ‘Did you know there’s no one else in the world like you? Doesn’t that mean you have value? And then I would ask them the same questions about people who have wronged them. It may take a few months, but people will eventually acknowledge that the person has value in their own right,” he says.

That acknowledgment can be difficult to accept at first. “We ask people to endure that pain and not throw it at another person or anyone else, and when they realize they can live with it, it actually starts to go away,” Enright said. Next, consider giving the offender something nice, like a kind word, a phone call or a donation in their name. This behavior solidifies your lack of pain and may also inspire them to be better.

  1. Positive factors that incline toward forgiveness
    Finally, there is the discovery phase. Enright suggests that after putting it all behind you, take note of who you are as a person. Do you feel more worthy of compassion? Are you more sensitive to the pain of others? Do you feel like life has a new purpose? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then give yourself credit, mission accomplished!
  2. forgive yourself too
    Okay, so you’ve mastered (or are working on) forgiving others. But what about you? It’s also an inside job! White found that women often struggle with self-forgiveness because they tend to be perfectionists, and admitting it means admitting failure. A simple but powerful tip: “Get in the habit of asking yourself what you could have done better when you mess up,” she says. “This will build real confidence, because your self-worth comes from your ability to take responsibility and solve problems.” Take it a step further by jotting down the person you want to be and begin to realize that vision.


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