How do you process your emotions

Forgiveness: How to free yourself from negative feelings in a self-determined way

No matter whether short interpersonal encounters or long-lasting relationships: Every now and then in contact with others we get hurt - or at least feel hurt. Those who cannot process or let go of negative experiences well often weigh pain and resentment heavily and tarnish their joy of life. Ragnhild Struss shows how we can heal ourselves with forgiveness.

The best friend forgot our birthday. The spouse wants to get a divorce. A car driver hits a cyclist who can no longer walk for an indefinite period of time because of a severe fracture. From rather small everyday disappointments to drastic life events to traumatic experiences: There are various hurtful situations that make us emotionally troubled and trigger negative feelings in us, from disappointment to a thirst for revenge against the “perpetrator”. The more negative the raw emotions, the more inclined we are not to forgive the incident and to maintain our inner resentment. Paradoxically, such holding on seems fair to us. We want to "show the other person thoroughly", want them to see their mistake. But a famous Buddha quote is: "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other to die." And it makes it very clear that the far stronger, healthier, and more self-determined choice is forgiveness.

What forgiveness means

Forgiveness is understood as the mental reaction of a person to actual or assumed wrong behavior of others, in which this person, who feels himself to be a victim of the behavior, renounces a guilty reproach. In doing so, regardless of questions of guilt, the gravity or the consequences of an act, human imperfection is recognized in order to be able to accept what happened. It's not about approving, it's about letting go. In order to be able to forgive at all, we need a high level of emotional intelligence: On the one hand we have to process our own emotions such as grief, pain, anger or hatred in and with ourselves, on the other hand we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the “perpetrator” and forgive the person as such, regardless of their mistakes. Accordingly, forgiveness is easier if the other person acted “only” out of a lack of prudence or inadvertently in such a way that we were hurt - the process of forgiving is significantly more difficult in the case of acts with underlying bad intentions.

When people say they cannot forgive someone, they often mean something else. For example, forgiveness is not to be equated with forgetting (the offending act is no longer remembered) or with forbearance (the responsibility of the perpetrator is relativized). Nor does it mean that the consequences of the act are accepted, approved, justified with arguments or that the perpetrator is pardoned under criminal law. Forgiveness says nothing about whether we find someone “guilty” or somehow accept their behavior - it's just a matter of our personal decision to let go of our negative feelings towards the perpetrator and not to blame him further. Even if we forgive, we can, for example, cut off contact with someone we no longer want in our lives because their behavior is not good for us.

At the beginning there is the pronunciation

When someone has hurt us, an important first step is to express our feelings. Long before we decide whether we are ready to forgive, we should give our counterparts the opportunity to react and apologize through an open exchange. Standing up for ourselves in this way is extremely important for our self-esteem! So we should first Arrange a clarifying discussion and have the courage to express our own displeasure. Resentment often takes place “in the dark” when we are alone with our feelings. However, if we have the strength to speak, misunderstandings are often cleared up. Above all, it is necessary to forgive when the other person - as such a conversation will show - has no insight and we still do not want to “sit down” on negative feelings.

What are the consequences of not forgiving

While it may still be easy to forgive our counterpart in smaller incidents, it is much more difficult for us after deeper injuries. We feel like victims - someone else did something that attacked our self-worth, triggered our fears, caused us emotional pain or even caused us physical damage. Some wounds are slow to heal and in some cases we leave scars forever. Not to forgive the perpetrator appears to us as “fair and just”: He has harmed us, now we will forever distance ourselves from him by forever blaming him for the wrongdoing.

The problem: If we make our inner well-being dependent on whether and how the perpetrator has an insight or apologizes, we give him far too much power. We are dependent on his personality development and maturity and allow him to hurt us permanently. Without forgiveness, we maintain our negative feelings, yes, we literally feed them. Every time we think about the hurtful act, the painful emotions come up again and we feel bad. Whenever the perpetrator's name is mentioned, we are reminded of the incident. By telling the story of how we were played badly over and over again - to others or even to ourselves in our head - we have a lasting impact on our self-image, our impact on other people and our future experiences. We may have problems rebuilding trust in our relationships with new people, tarnish our own joie de vivre and may even experience psychosomatic problems such as palpitations or stomach pains, which show our negative feelings. In severe cases, psychologists speak of a post-traumatic bitterness disorder, in which a person is completely absorbed by his attachment to painful experiences. In such cases, psychotherapeutic help is essential.

Why forgiveness is pure self-determination

Even if someone else has done something bad - we decide for ourselves about forgiveness! It is up to us not to remain in the victim role any longer, but to become an actor again. We decide which story we tell about ourselves and our life: that of a “broken” person or that of someone who, despite painful experiences, has not let himself get down. We can consciously look ahead and throw away the ballast in our emotional backpack - in order to be open and trusting towards others again in the future. Make yourself clear: Forgiveness is not something you do for the "perpetrator" - but above all for yourself and YOUR wellbeing! It is an act of self-love and self-liberation. Because especially when we cannot count on the other person approaching us in the form of a knowledge, an apology or a feeling of remorse, we can take care of ourselves in this way. With our forgiveness, we are doing ourselves a huge favor so that we no longer have to torment ourselves with negative feelings.

Even if you still feel pain, you can forgive. Because while emotional injury takes time to heal, forgiveness is an active decision that takes your focus away from the incident. Forgiveness is spoken of when we talk to the perpetrator about the incident and let him know that we have forgiven him. This often happens after the other has apologized. But even without apologizing, you can forgive - all for yourself, without the perpetrator knowing anything about it. This will rid you of the toxic effects of the event. And you can forgive regardless of how you would like to feel about the other person in the future - whether you want to get closer again, for example in family, friendship or partnership, whether you want to end the contact or whether you may not even know the perpetrator personally ( for example in the event of a hit and run).

How to Put Forgiveness into Action

While in some cases forgiveness appears "as if by itself" after a lengthy process of processing, it is very helpful to consciously change your own attitude. For example, you can say aloud to yourself (or the other person): “I forgive you for all your deeds with which you have caused me pain. From now on I will refrain from holding your guilt against you. I turn my focus away from you and concentrate on myself again. " After this clear cut, you should stop any inner impulse to get back into the negative experience. When uncomfortable thoughts and feelings arise inside you say to yourself “I have forgiven person XY” and picture yourself wiping away anything negative like chalk on a blackboard with a wet sponge.

Alternatively or additionally, you can also process your emotions in writing, for example in a letter or diary entry, and thus express your forgiveness. Perhaps it will help you to state again in the document in which way the other person's act has hurt you. Afterward, however, make it clear, “I have now made a decision to forgive you. I let go. ”You can also describe how this decision will inspire you, for example“ From now on I will be freed from the burden of my negative feelings and look ahead positively ”. You can then proceed in different ways: Above all, if you want to save a relationship, send the letter to the other person or - even better - exchange ideas with them (in addition). If you do not want or can no longer reach the perpetrator, for example because you do not know where he lives now or because he has passed away, simply regard writing as a helpful act for yourself. For some people it also helps, as a symbolic act of letting go afterwards to "erase" the writing, for example by tearing up the letter and throwing it away or by (careful!) burning it.


We cannot decide whether other people cause us pain. Even in the best of human relationships, there can always be mutual harm. And as long as we live, we are also exposed to the risk of being involved in accidents or other tragic events, for example. However, the consequence for us should not be that we close ourselves off from everyone and wear once we have experienced disappointments like armor around our vulnerable insides. It is up to us to forgive ourselves to “regain our strength” and to rewrite the rest of our lives.

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