We all suffer slights, hurts, and betrayals, and it’s natural to be upset with the people who hurt us, or sometimes even cut off contact with them. But holding onto a grudge too deeply or for too long can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health—it can elevate stress, increase our blood pressure and heart rate, and even compromise our immune system.
Forgiveness entails letting go of resentment or vengeance toward an offender and making peace with what happened so you can move on with your life; it doesn’t necessarily mean reconciling with that person. Because forgiveness can be a daunting challenge, Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University has designed these nine steps to walk people through the process of forgiving someone who hurt them.
The process of forgiveness takes time and should only be initiated when you feel ready and have had time to grieve the wrong that was done to you. Research suggests that practicing forgiveness can not only strengthen relationships but also reduce toxic feelings of stress and anger and boost happiness and optimism.
For more on the benefits of forgiveness, see the Greater Good Science Center’s forgiveness definition page.
Each person will forgive at their own pace. We suggest that you move through the steps below based on what works for you.
Harris, A. H., Luskin, F. M., Benisovich, S. V., Standard, S., Bruning, J., Evans, S., and Thoresen, C. (2006). Effects of a group forgiveness intervention on forgiveness, perceived stress and trait anger: A randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(6), 715-733.
259 adults who completed a six-week forgiveness training (90 minutes/session) reported lower stress, anger, and hurt than people who didn’t undergo the training. They also felt more capable of forgiving and greater optimism immediately after the training and four months later.
Dr. Luskin led the training, which involved teaching participants the core elements of forgiveness outlined above, including taking less personal offense, blaming the offender less, and offering more understanding of the offender and of oneself.
By reducing feelings of anger and resentment that are not serving a constructive purpose, the steps described above can help shift people’s mental attention away from ruminating on negative events in their past; this can decrease stress levels and potentially even improve physical health. In addition, these steps encourage people to focus on and appreciate the positives in their lives, such as experiences of receiving kindness and love—an orientation to life that, research suggests, can increase happiness and improve relationships.
Fred Luskin, Ph.D., Stanford University
Learn more about Dr. Luskin’s work on the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and through his book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (HarperOne, 2003).