Forgive for Your Own Good: Getting Past Your Grievances

Rear view of person in casual blouse with hair in ponytail looking out over city at sunset in a blue sky with a few cloudsDo you have a grievance you think about more than the positive things in your life? If so, do you think the same, repetitive thoughts about it? Do you seek out people who will listen to you tell the same painful story many times? Does this story have a villain?

If you recognize these patterns in yourself, maybe it is time to forgive.

Why Forgive?

When we hold on to hurt, we remain locked in an unhealthy bond that keeps the people in our lives from having all of who we are. Hurt also robs us of our personal strength. Left unresolved long enough, it can even develop into a victim story that becomes part of our identity.

Some research suggests forgiveness correlates with fewer health problems and less stress (Luskin, 2002).

What Is Forgiveness?

Some question what forgiveness is and is not. According to Dr. Frederic Luskin, author of the 2002 book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, forgiveness is:

  • Taking back your power
  • Taking responsibility for your feelings
  • For you and your healing, not the offender
  • A choice

Per Luskin, forgiveness is not:

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  • Excusing bad behavior or unkindness
  • Minimizing or denying your pain
  • Forgetting a painful event happened
  • Reconciling with the offender

Focus on the personal aspect of a hurt often comes from our beliefs and expectations that were not met. Luskin (2002) shares some common beliefs and expectations he refers to as “unenforceable rules”:

  • My partner must be faithful.
  • No one should ever lie to me.
  • People must treat me the way I want to be treated.
  • My life should be easier than it is.
  • Life should be fair.
  • My parents should have done a better job.

Challenge Unenforceable Rules

Forgiveness centers on giving back peace of mind. It prevents a past hurt from determining a negative future. Luskin (2002) offers the following steps to address unenforceable rules:

A big part of forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be anything other than what it was.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings: confusion, anger, indignation, etc. Ask yourself if you are experiencing feelings in the present over events in the past.
  2. Concede that you feel bad because your expectations were not met.
  3. Give yourself the grace to challenge the unenforceable rule underlying your hurt.
  4. Identify the unenforceable rule. What is the experience in your life that you demanded to be different?
  5. Change the unenforceable rule you demanded into something you hoped to get. Express it in positive terms. “I wanted a partner who did not cheat on me” is different from “I wanted a monogamous partnership.” The latter is a positive expression.
  6. Notice what changes for yourself when your demands change to hopes. Do you feel more peaceful?


Luskin (2002) further offers a HEAL (hope, educate, affirm, long-term) method to help forgive:

  • Hope: Hope statements remind us of what we wished went our way. They remind us of life’s uncertainty. They are a statement of power when we understand not all our hopes manifest. They declare we will continue to hope for good things to happen.
  • Educate: This is to remind us there are limits to what we control and we don’t always get what we want.
  • Affirm: Affirm your positive intention. For example: “I want to use my experiences to be a more compassionate person.” This reminds us that we can grow from any hurtful experience. Consider repeating the intention to yourself.
  • Long-Term: Make a long-term commitment to healing and well-being. Practice the HEAL steps. Set aside 15 minutes each day to mull over the grievance and write about your feelings for a period of time. Ask someone close to let you know if you slide into old habits and repeat the grievance story. What else could you do to take care of yourself? Would counseling, an exercise program, or parenting classes help?

A big part of forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be anything other than what it was. It is important to acknowledge the feelings that come with an injustice, but also to not remain locked in them. If you have tried to forgive and not been successful, a therapist can help you process a grievance.

Something happened that we did not want to happen, or something did not happen that we wanted to happen. Forgiveness is the power we receive as we assert that we have a well of resilience to draw upon. It gives us the chance to rewrite a story about a victim into a story about a hero (Luskin, 2002).


Luskin, F. (2002). Forgive for Good. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Alyce

    January 24th, 2017 at 8:44 AM

    I finally had to get to this point with my ex husband. I recognized that hanging on to all of the hurt and the hate really that I felt toward him was in the end doing nothing to hurt him but it was causing me to be someone that I did not recognize and I didn’t really like all that much.
    There just came a day when I had to let it all go, and it was hard I will admit that and there of course have been times when I have felt it all over again.
    But for me and the kids to be happy and really for me to get healthy I honestly had to leave all of that anger in the past where it belonged.

  • Jon

    January 24th, 2017 at 11:30 AM

    Granting this type of forgiveness can often be difficult, especially when we have become so accustomed to feeling blue. It’s what we are accustomed to so that’s what we continue to do.

  • Reginald

    January 24th, 2017 at 3:52 PM

    So I get it, forgiving another as well as forgiving yourself it is good for the soul and all that business.
    And I want to be there, I do, but I’m not ready to let go of that anger just yet because honestly it is the only thing that gets me out of bed these days.
    I know that that sounds pathetic but this is my one thing that I can focus on, that anger, without breaking down, so really it is the main thing that is driving me.
    I’m not sure what I will have once I can actually let go of that.

  • Laurie

    January 25th, 2017 at 7:09 AM

    People who are perpetually miserable? I think that those are the picture of someone who hasn’t been able to leave the bad in the past.

  • Fran

    January 25th, 2017 at 10:26 AM

    We all have to do more to throw out the old, make room for the new, and don’t let the past keep us down

  • Eric G

    January 25th, 2017 at 2:13 PM

    The longer I live the more I see the truth in the fact that we are all our own worst enemy. Even when others have long since forgot about a slight or have forgiven us for something we hold onto that hate against ourselves far longer than is ever going to be healthy. You have to ask yourself if things don’t seem to be going right for you how much of this are you truly bringing about on yourself? My guess is that it is always going to be mroe than we would care to admit.

  • eve

    January 26th, 2017 at 7:07 AM

    can’t ever change the past
    live in the moment
    look for ways to improve the future

  • Berry

    January 29th, 2017 at 9:51 AM

    But why not force those what you call unenforceable rules? Those are all things that feel very critical to me.

  • Zoe

    January 31st, 2017 at 10:22 AM

    There will come a time when you have to own up to the things that you have done, the pain that you have intentionally or unintentionally caused another person, or even yourself.
    Be strong enough to own up to that, so that once you do you can start learning to shed that burden and move forward with your own life.

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