Forgiveness: What it is and what it isn’t

by | Feb 1, 2023 | Therapies


Many people, myself included at one time, have thought forgiveness to equal letting someone off the hook, saying it (whatever needed forgiving) was Okay. Sometimes that just isn’t possible or desirable.

Sometimes things seem unforgivable, or the other person doesn’t even want or care for our forgiveness – what then? We are told we should be forgiving but why? Especially if they don’t ‘deserve it’ in our eyes or don’t even seek it?

However, the important thing I have learnt about forgiveness, both in my life and through my work with many clients, is that forgiveness is rarely for or about the other person. It’s ultimately for you and it can be truly liberating and transformative.

I’d like to put a case forward for leaning into the transformative magic of forgiveness and clear up what it is, what it isn’t, and why it is such an important topic in personal development.


Why it can be hard to forgive:


When we perceive that someone has wronged us and we have strong emotions about that, it can be hard to let the thoughts and feelings around the incident go.


It can feel that if we forgive them, we are somehow ‘letting them off the hook’, or saying that ‘it’s ok’ or ‘we’re over it’, when it’s not ok and we aren’t anywhere close to being over it.


There can also be a sense that they’ve got away with something and by holding on to the negative feelings around the incident or person you are somehow subconsciously trying to remind the universe that there is some karma still to pay over there and you’ll keep shining an energetic light on that injustice until something is done about it.

The consequences

However, you holding on to that energy mentally or emotionally tends to do the following unhelpful things:


  • Hurts you by maintaining low emotional frequencies and re-triggering hurt when you focus on it
  • Keeps you focused on the past – which dilutes your present power
  • Lowers your immune system (as emotional stress does)
  • Keeps you energetically entangled with the person and incident
  • Robs you of deep inner peace and that is a high cost


We all know stress causes illness. Emotions such as anger, resentment and ‘unforgiveness’ create a stress in the body and the nervous system and are very draining to hold on to. They can keep you highly ‘triggerable’ and stuck in fight or flight, sometimes for years.


You might rightly say:


“But I can’t just wave a magic wand and forgive them, I can’t change how I feel about it”.


And the whole world will understand you and will have felt like that about one thing or another.


No–one is saying this is easy. Nor making light of the significant impact some people and incidents can have on a person.


Yet it’s in working with these topics, emotions and hurt, that you can mine your deepest growth on all levels. And that is where the gift is.


So first let’s look at what forgiveness is and isn’t, then look at how we might approach it.


What forgiveness is and what it isn’t:


Forgiveness ISN’T:

  • Letting someone off the hook or condoning their behaviour
  • Implying what they did was OK
  • Saying that what they did didn’t hurt you or matter a great deal
  • Minimising the impact of their actions or the consequences
  • Saying it through gritted and not meaning it
  • Half-hearted
  • Naivety or allowing the same situation to arise
  • Weakness
  • For them


Forgiveness IS:

  • Releasing yourself from the burden of physical/mental/emotional energy that was created by the other person/ incident.
  • Relieving your nervous system from the energy drain required to hold on to anger, resentment and unforgiveness.
  • Relieving your mind from replaying the thoughts of what you could have/ should have said, the second guessing and mental distress.
  • Acknowledging that any behaviour that hurts another person is often caused by a level of unconsciousness, wounding, disadvantage, ignorance or lack of development. It is not really about you.
  • Releasing you from energetic-emotional cords between yourself and the person or incident.
  • Considering and trying to find the eventual potential positive consequences of the incident. (E.g., increased wisdom or discernment, discovering boundaries and self-respect, beginning a mission of self-healing and exploration, seeking transformative help, new people that entered your life as a result, or a deeper understanding in some way). Often the things that hurt us create a seeking for healing or understanding and this can transform us for the better if we let it.
  • In some cases (not abuse of course) considering the role we played in it and what we can learn or change going forward. Did you ignore your gut? Did you self-sabotage?
  • Self-forgiveness.
  • Healing at the deepest levels.
  • For your own well-being.



In my work with clients, it is often when they can get to the place of sincere forgiveness that the biggest shifts take place, physically, mentally and emotionally. Even forgiving the unforgivable is possible and the effect of the release of tension and trauma that had been carried for years can be truly transformative. Like a weight released.

It can transform someone’s self-identity too which, as we know, plays a huge role what you believe is possible for yourself.


How to approach forgiveness:

It can take time, the right therapist or therapy, or self-discovery technique, timing or a combination of all of the above. But it is possible. Even starting with small things can start to lighten your emotional energetic load.


Here are a few examples of approaches you can take:


a) The ‘like for like’

“Forgive us, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”:


A helpful technique to get you started can be to mentally find something you wish to be forgiven for alongside something you need to forgive. It works best if they are of somewhat equal energy but it doesn’t need to involve the same person. Starting small helps builds up the muscle.


See yourself first asking the person for forgiveness, or sending them a mental apology, then in equal measures consciously release the energy you are holding about the person you need to forgive.


Adding in Ho‘oponopono practice below can help:


b) Ho ‘oponopono

This is an ancient Hawaiian spiritual practice that acknowledges the interconnection between all things, thereby acknowledging our power to transform things we are part of through compassion for self and others.


The four lines of this practice are as follows, it doesn’t really matter who or what you are talking to, I have given some examples in brackets but embodying the energy of the statement, with the person or scenario loosely in mind is enough:


– I am sorry  

(for whatever conscious or unconscious role I have played in this scenario)


– Please forgive me

(for whatever conscious or unconscious way I have contributed to this scenario)


– Thank you

(to the universe/God/ higher-self/ other person, for the opportunity to release these energies through divine compassion, and for all the other wonderful things in your life, your body for holding these energies all this time and for releasing them now, whatever you are grateful for)


– I love you

(To life, your body, God, the universe, the other person, whatever feels appropriate)


Repeat the statements over until you feel a shift.


This is a very brief intro to this powerful practice but a good one to have in your pocket that can be used with a multitude of situations, in meditations or as a soothing mantra.

See here to find out more:


c) EFT and Matrix Reimprinting


These are great techniques for deep healing forgiveness. You can practice EFT alone if you are familiar with the points. Focus on the issue and how it made you feel, until you start to feel a shift and can reframe the experience. More details are available on my site if you are unfamiliar with EFT or the Tapping technique.


Alternatively for a deeper experience or for tough scenarios, working with qualified practitioner and combining EFT with Matrix Reimprinting can be life changing.



d) Self-forgiveness

Forgiving the self can also be a big part of the work too. Looking at where you have been less than good to yourself or have contributed to any of your own or others suffering can be enlightening albeit a little uncomfortable at first.


Shinning a light on these areas, owning them and forgiving them helps release self-devaluing shame and blame that is so often just under the anger we use to protect ourselves.


e) Trusting the Universe

Having a sense that some things happen for a reason and that great transformation and enlightenment can come from suffering. I’ve seen people set off on life paths as a result of struggles or pain that far exceed the fulfilment they were getting from the path they were previously on. Approaching the issue with curiosity instead of victimhood can be transformative.


f) Karmic Balancing

Many belief systems inform us that there are karmic mechanisms in place to ensure that all things are balanced. You may or may not personally witness that balancing but it will happen at the most appropriate time in the most appropriate way, and it is not your responsibility to deliver it, nor to will it. You can let that go.

If you must, you can just wish them all the lessons and resources they need to be their best self. Then mentally release any ill will you may have had towards them. Karma spares no one. Wishing someone ill keeps you karmically entangled to them. Forgiveness brakes karmic entanglement.


g) Sacred contracts

Some people belief that we can have pre-incarnational or past-life contracts with people to play out certain roles or be a particular catalyst. There could be karma to play out or the gift of a necessary catalyst for change. There is so much we don’t and can’t know.

Whatever your beliefs are on these topics, finding the framework and practice that brings you the most peace can assist you in releasing the past and your nervous system and future self will thank you for it!


h) Spiritual study

After contemplating the above, it is no surprise that forgiveness features in most spiritual texts and philosophies. Finding one that resonates with you can help you expand your thoughts around the topic.


i) Journaling or creative writing

Writing it out journal style so it is all out of your head, even writing them a letter that you don’t send can be helpful. Burning the unsent letter afterwards can feel symbolic.

If you are creative, you could use it as inspiration for a story, art or song, expressing it in whatever cathartic ways feel good for you.


j) Sharing 

Through my work with clients and in my own life, I’ve discovered that for pain to heal there is something cathartic about sharing it or having it acknowledged by a witness.

Pain unacknowledged tends to hang around like a child wanting attention. Seeing it, sharing it, speaking it aloud (to the right person, at the right time, in the right situation) can help that part of you feel seen and better enable it to integrate.

We can sometimes ignore or push the parts of us that hurt away to try and minimise our suffering. A healthy version of us is fully integrated and all parts of us acknowledged and accepted, ideally loved, even the painful parts.

Doing this with another person like a loving partner, understanding friend, or qualified therapist or counsellor can really help this process.


In summary

We are ALL works in progress and the more we can forgive ourselves and others for our inevitable failings, the quicker we can heal and move into the high frequencies of compassion, wellness and abundance. It changes our perceptions, relationships, sense of self, point of attraction and therefore our life experience.


Forgiveness can be a big piece of work but is worth every bit of effort you put towards it and like anything, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.


Just as the anger you feel only really harms you, forgiveness is the antidote and the key to our deepest healing.


Sometimes even knowing you don’t have to carry something forever can be a relief, even if you aren’t ready to let it go right now.


If and when you are ready, try some of the above or if you would like support in any of these areas feel free to reach out or check my website for further resources.




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