How to Forgive Someone Who Shows No Remorse

Three Parts:Deciding to ForgiveWorking on ForgivenessMoving on After You Have Forgiven Someone

If your partner was unfaithful or abusive, a family member let you down or hurt you, or a friend shared a secret they weren’t supposed to, you may find yourself feeling angry at them for a long time but wishing you could forgive them. This can be hard, particularly if they don’t show any remorse, but sometimes you need to do it in order to move on.

Part 1
Deciding to Forgive

  1. Image titled Calculate Self Employment Tax in the U.S. Step 1
    Make the decision to try to forgive. If you are carrying around a lot of resentment, anger, or hurt over something that happened in the past, you may find that you are unhappy and unable to find peace. Perhaps the best thing that you can do for your own emotional health is to practice forgiveness, even if the person who wronged you does not appear to feel sorry.[1]
    • Numerous studies show the value of forgiveness. If you carry around negative emotions for a long time after someone hurts you, you can bring anger and bitterness to new relationships, stop enjoying everyday life, and become anxious or depressed.[2]
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    Learn what forgiveness is not. In order to forgive someone, you do not have to excuse their actions to yourself. You don’t even have to eliminate all of your feelings about the situation. It’s perfectly normal to go on thinking of an incident even after you have forgiven a person for it.[3]
    • You also don’t have to tell a person that they are forgiven, though if it makes you feel better to do so, this is certainly a possibility.
    • You don’t have to forget in order to forgive. In other words, protect yourself. If possible, don’t put yourself in a situation where you could be hurt again. For example, even if you successfully forgive an abusive ex-boyfriend, remember that he was abusive when you are tempted to return to that relationship.
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    Own the fact that forgiveness is for you. Forgiving someone else can help you heal and help you move on from an unhealthy relationship. Particularly if the person you are trying to forgive shows no remorse, forgiveness will be something that you do for your own mental health, not to improve your relationship with the other person.[4]
    • Remember that forgiveness is probably the best thing you can do for yourself, even if the person you are forgiving has no idea that you’ve done so.

Part 2
Working on Forgiveness

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    Accept the incident and your feelings about it. In your own thoughts, acknowledge that this person really did do something to hurt you. Acknowledge your own feelings and reactions.[5]
    • Particularly if someone very close to you hurt you, you may be minimizing the severity of the situation or even blaming yourself for “overreacting.” It’s also possible that, on some level, you are pretending that this never happened. This is the time to acknowledge the reality of the situation to yourself once and for all.
    • It may help you to speak about the incident. You can say it out loud to yourself, or you can speak about it to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor.
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    Let yourself feel. You are likely feeling hurt or angry at the person who wronged you. In order to forgive, you need to process the emotions you’re having. Let yourself feel them for a while without telling yourself that it’s wrong to feel this way.[6]
    • Give yourself a few minutes at a time to feel this way, and then move on to an activity that gives you joy. You may have to do this for several days or even weeks. Try to spend less and less time each day feeling the hurt or anger.
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    Look for growth. In all likelihood, if a person hurt you badly, you have changed as a person as a result. Look for the results of those changes. Have you learned anything new about yourself or your relationships? You survived something painful. Acknowledge that this has helped you grow stronger as a person. [7]
    • You don’t have to find major changes in your life in order to recognize growth. For example, if you are trying to forgive parents who kicked you out of the house when you were a teenager, “growth” could simply be making the resolve in your own mind to never treat your own children the same way.
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    Recognize the other person’s flaws. No one is perfect. What might have made the person behave this way and then not feel badly about it? Do you know something about their past, their family, or their mental health that can give you insight into their actions?[8] ]]
    • Recognizing the logic behind another person’s actions is not the same as excusing their actions. Maybe your boyfriend physically abused you, and you happen to know that his father abused him as a child. While this can give you empathy towards him, it should not make you feel like his actions were justified.
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    Examine your own contribution. In some cases, you may be perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing. For example, if you are holding onto anger against someone who inflicted a childhood trauma on you, you most likely did not contribute to the situation. Think critically about whether this is the case for you. [9] #*On the other hand, if your wife cheated on you, you may have contributed to the situation by spending too much time at the office. That doesn’t mean that you are to blame. It doesn’t mean that your wife is innocent. It just means that your actions contributed to the situation, and it will be important for you to recognize that before moving on.
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    Seek help. This process is hard, and it’s perfectly normal if you can’t accomplish it on your own. Talk to someone you trust. This can be a friend, a family member, a therapist, or even a higher power. If none of these options feels comfortable to you, you can write in a journal or even an anonymous online blog.[10] If you can unburden yourself a bit, this can help you move on. [11]
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    Forgive. This may be the hardest step of all, but in the end, you just have to let it go. Try imagining the weight of your hatred, anger, or hurt leaving your body and flying away like a bird.
    • You may find it helpful to engage in some sort of forgiveness ritual. You could write down an account of what happened, and then toss it into your wood-burning fireplace, put a message in a bottle and “send” it down the river to the person who hurt you, release balloons into the air to symbolize your feelings of relief, or even call the person and tell them you forgive them. Consider doing something that marks the incident as “finished.”
    • If you feel yourself reengaging with your negative feelings toward the person who hurt you, you may need to revisit some of the other steps in the process or seek counseling.[12]

Part 3
Moving on After You Have Forgiven Someone

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    Recognize when you have forgiven someone. When you think about this person, is your first thought about the way they hurt you, or do you think first about other aspects of their personality? Do you still think about seeking revenge against them? If so, you may not have completely forgiven them yet, so you should continue working through your feelings, remembering that this is a process that may take some time.[13]
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    Remember that this is hard. There are a lot of reasons why it may feel impossible to forgive someone. Perhaps you have fantasies of revenge, which you would have to give up if you forgave the other person. Perhaps the feelings of anger are more powerful than the desire to forgive.[14]
    • It may take some time to overcome desire for revenge or feelings of anger. Forgive yourself if it takes you a while.
    • Seek counseling or talk to a friend or family member if you are afraid that your anger will actually lead you to enact revenge. No matter what they did, hurting them back is not a good option.
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    Protect yourself. Accept that you may not be able to continue being friends with the person. [15] Just because you forgive someone, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to be around them. Depending on how badly you think they have wronged you and how painful it is to be around someone, you may have to avoid seeing them even after you have forgiven them.[16]
    • Particularly if you have been in an abusive relationship, it is likely best to remove yourself from the relationship even after you have forgiven another person.
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    Reengage with life. Do things that make you happy. Spend quality time with friends and family. Take nice walks. Pick up an old hobby. Read a good book. Start working out. Do anything that gives you pleasure but doesn’t involve the person who hurt you.[17]

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Relationship Issues