How to Forgive When it is Hard to Forget: a 7-step Guide

Red coffee cup with paper that reads forgive yourself and others

How to forgive when it is hard to forget: a 7-step guide will help you gain a better understanding of what forgiveness is, what forgiveness means, and how forgiving someone can help set you free.

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“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”-Matthew 18:21-22


Rabbis thought it was not necessary to forgive anyone more than three times based on Amos 1:3-13, where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them.

What does forgiveness mean?

Forgiveness means to release someone from a debt or an obligation that occurred. It is the choice to release a person from a wrong committed against you.

It does not mean approving or excusing or justifying or pretending not to be hurt. It is merely releasing by choice.

Unilateral forgiveness: to go one way, forgiving people who have not asked you to forgive them (Acts 7:54-60—Stephen forgives the stoners]), forgiving someone unable to ask you or forgiveness.
Even if direct communications are trying with a person we would like to forgive, we can forgive them in our hearts without ever talking to them.

Transactional Forgiveness: Forgiveness that comes because a person has confessed and repented of a wrong against you.
  • Reconciliation can occur when there is transactional forgiveness.
  • Reconciliation is not required, but it is ultimately the goal.

What forgiveness is:

  1. Releasing a debt that the offender owes to you.
  2. Removing the control, the offender has over you.
  3. Giving a gift to yourself and your offender (you can move on).
  4. Forsaking revenge (Romans 12:19).
  5. Leaving ultimate justice in God’s hands.
  6. An ongoing process (keep forgiving).
  7. Wanting good for your offender (you know you have forgiven them when you hope that their future is better than their past).

What forgiveness is not:

  1. Denying that sin occurred or diminishing its evil (committed a crime, need to pay it back).
  2. Enabling sin (addiction, abuse, etc.) (Forgiveness can include confronting and rebuking)
  3. A response to an apology (they may never say they are sorry).
  4. Ceasing to feel the pain (okay to acknowledge the hurt/pain, it is how you behave).
  5. Amnesia. (do not allow their past actions to shape your interaction with them in the future).
  6. Trust (gained/built slowly but lost quickly) (some people should never be trusted because the risk is too high).
  7. Reconciliation (takes one person to repent/forgive…takes two people to reconcile) (Forgiveness is an invitation to agreement but not a guarantee).

How to forgive when it is hard to forget: a 7-step Guide

How do we forgive?

1. Let go of the Emotion (Ephesians 4:31-32)–Holding on to your emotions, especially those associated with an incident or experience that causes us hurt, can lead to hate (action) and perhaps a lingering desire for retaliation or revenge.

A lack of forgiveness is selfish. 

2. Be Willing to Compromise (Hebrews 12:15)—it is natural to hold on to answer and hurt feelings, especially those associated with perceived injustice. We become comfortable with the sense that we are right, and the other person was wrong. Be willing to compromise your views, emotions, and personal beliefs (not your faith) to move forward, otherwise your feelings will keep you from moving forward.

If someone already hurt, you then do not spend the rest of your life hurting yourself. A lack of forgiveness destroys those who cannot forgive. The more you let unforgiveness become rooted in you, the harder it is to forgive.

3. Stop Thinking of Yourself as the Victim (Romans 3:23)—generally, if we are angry at someone, it is because we feel that they have committed a grave wrong against us. Whether the feeling is real or perceived, we still think that an injustice or being mistreated. (Fair is not a standard that Christians should hold). If we remain the victim, then we can never get the proper perspective, the Godly perspective. Most times, no one is a complete victim, and no one is an absolute offender.

Look within yourself to see if and how you contributed to the situation (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Think before you speak. While we have a constitutional right to the freedom of speech, we do not have an “inalienable right” to say whatever we want, any time we want, mainly if it may be hurtful. 

4. Do Not Allow your Future to be directed by the past (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Dwelling on the past only perpetuates hurt feelings that resulted from the problem in the first place. Continually bringing up sore points or issues of the past will only make the rift larger.

  • The statement “forgive and forget” has been misconstrued. To forgive, we must release ourselves from the emotional constraints that the offense caused us. We do not forget, but we do not allow the matter to guide our future (Romans 12:17-21).
  • As stated, forgiveness is not synonymous with trust or reconciliation. Consequently, it is possible to forgive someone without offering immediate agreement.
  • Trust must be earned and can be lost quickly.
  • Reconciliation focuses on restoring broken relationships. Restoration is a process—sometimes a lengthy one. 
  • Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation, is often conditioned on the attitude and actions of the offender. Those who are genuinely repentant must recognize and accept that the harm they caused takes time to heal.
  • Even when God forgives our sins, he does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. It is essential to understand that the offender’s and the offended’s actions and attitudes affect the rebuilding trust process.
  • Reconciliation is only possible if there is genuine repentance (Luke 17:3).
  • Offended must establish boundaries and define steps towards reconciliation that is restorative rather than retaliatory as well as reasonable.

5. Be Reasonable in Your Expectations of Others (Luke 6:36-37)

Amid anger, our emotions are high, and frequently our judgment of fairness is clouded. We expect others to recognize the injustice they have done and apologize immediately and profusely. We want the person to atone to us in some elaborate or excessive manner. 

The mindset is that this is our way of ensuring that an apology is genuine if offered.

Most acts or words that hurt us are not done intentionally, so frequently, a person may not even know that they have done something to hurt you. 

If the other person does not feel that they have done anything wrong, or does not realize it, we may have unreasonable expectations of their behavior.

We must recognize that no one owes us anything. 

However, the world does not revolve around us as an individual, and we should not attach expectations to a situation that may be impossible for the other person to meet. 

We must leave room for reasonable attempts at reconciliation to occur.

6. Be Patient (Colossians 3:13)

Healing from a hurt may generally come over time, but you must allow yourself time to reach the level of forgiveness appropriate for the circumstances. Deeply emotional circumstances or extremely sensitive hurts (such as the loss of a child or spouse to crime or spousal infidelity) will take time to move beyond the hurt before a person can even begin to consider forgiving those who caused the pain.

Also, change takes time and hard work. Periodic failure by an offender does not always indicate an unrepentant heart. 

A key indicator of change is the attitude of the offender. Setbacks and disappointments are often part of the process of change. Do not give up too quickly. 

7. Ask God for Guidance (Mark 11:25)

Being able to forgive or seek forgiveness is not just an intellectual decision, but also a spiritual dimension.

We must be willing to forgive someone for a transgression time and time again without seeking retribution. This is a powerful message. For most of us, this standard may seem impossible to meet. Nonetheless, it sets forth the objectives we should attempt to achieve in our lives.

To achieve this level of forgiveness, we must pray for strength, patience, and perseverance in our relationships that may require forgiveness (pray for both yourself and the offender [Luke 6:28]).

Know that God can work any situation for the benefit of those who are obedient (Romans 8:28).

Now, together, work on forgiving those from your family of origin who have wounded you—support one another in striving to grow in the virtue of forgiveness. The goal is to wipe the resentment-slate clean so that you do not bring those wounds to the breakfast table (and lunch table and dinner table) every day.


In conclusion (and in case you scrolled down to the bottom, LOL) the key elements on How to forgive when it is hard to forget: a 7-step guide includes:

· Let go of the Emotion (Ephesians 4:31-32)
· Be Willing to Compromise (Hebrews 12:15)
· Stop Thinking of Yourself as the Victim (Romans 3:23)
· Do Not Allow your Future to be directed by the past (1 Corinthians 13:5).
· Be Reasonable in Your Expectations of Others (Luke 6:36-37)
· Be Patient (Colossians 3:13)
· Ask God for Guidance (Mark 11:25)

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