Forgiveness is the conscious decision to let go of resentment after you feel you have been wronged.

It’s natural to feel angry, betrayed, and disappointed after someone has hurt you. But forgiving them can benefit your mental health.

Forgiveness may mean different things to different people. In general, forgiveness is about moving on from the emotions you’ve experienced after feeling hurt by someone.

Some of these emotions may include anger, confusion, and sadness. In some instances, you may want to get even or carry feelings of rage and bitterness with you for a long time.

Forgiveness is about choosing to let go of those feelings and thoughts. It doesn’t mean being OK with what happened. Instead, choosing to forgive is about making a conscious decision to move forward and letting go of the pain.

Your personal idea of forgiveness might be influenced by your religion, culture, and moral code as well as your life experiences and mental health challenges.

Health challenges related to resentment

Anger and resentment are natural human emotions, especially when you feel hurt. However, research has linked these emotions to ongoing health challenges.

In a 2019 study with older adults, anger was associated with higher levels of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause fatigue, pain, and gastrointestinal complications, as well as facilitate conditions like heart disease and cancer.

A 2018 study also found an association between feelings of hostility and cognitive impairment over 10 years. Cognitive impairment is when you have difficulty focusing, remembering, and learning new things.

The study found that greater hostility was associated with more cognitive impairment symptoms, but that practicing forgiveness could mitigate these negative effects.

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Just as resentment may compromise your health, forgiving may enhance it.

Research ― such as a 2020 study on female nurses and a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis ― found that practicing forgiveness is associated with better psychological and social health.

In those studies, people who said they had forgiven past hurts reported:

  • higher relationship quality
  • positive mood
  • lower levels of hopelessness
  • lower levels of loneliness
  • fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety

Forgiving yourself may also offer several health benefits.

A 2019 study review found that people who practiced self-forgiveness and self-compassion experienced lower incidents of self-harm and suicidal ideation. This was true even among those people who had experienced traumatic life experiences.

You can practice forgiveness in many ways. One is the REACH method, developed by Everett Worthington, a researcher and expert on the psychology of forgiveness.

The REACH forgiveness method involves:

  • Recalling the hurt. Try to acknowledge and face the pain.
  • Empathizing. Imagine that the other person is sitting opposite you. Try to pour your heart out to them and imagine how they’d respond. This helps you understand their perspective.
  • Altruistic gift. Consider forgiveness as a gift you give yourself and others, despite what they’ve done.
  • Committing. Worthington suggests writing a note to yourself to acknowledge your commitment to forgiving someone.
  • Holding onto forgiveness. You may often forget that you forgave, or feel tempted to slide back into resentment. Holding onto forgiveness is about reminding yourself of your decision to let go.

Here are some other tips for practicing forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily have to include reconciliation: you can forgive someone without continuing a relationship with them.
  • If you’re having a hard time moving past hurts, you can try reflective activities like prayer, meditation, and journaling to go deeper into reflection.
  • Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you were wrong to be angry with them in the first place. Those feelings might be entirely valid, but you may still choose to let go of that anger for your own sake.
  • Try not to pressure yourself to forgive immediately. Give yourself permission to feel hurt and work through your feelings of resentment and hostility.
  • There’s no need to “forgive and forget.” You can forgive without forgetting the offense or pretending it didn’t happen.

If you’re finding it hard to forgive, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Forgiveness therapy and other kinds of therapy can help you process emotional hurt and provide tools to let go of resentment. Finding a therapist can be a great first step.

Quotes about forgiveness

If you need a bit of inspiration, these forgiveness quotes may help:

  • “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ― Saint Augustine
  • “Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed.” ― Desmond Tutu, human rights activist
  • “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ― Lewis B. Smedes, author and theologian
  • “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” ― Maya Angelou
  • “When you forgive, you in no way change the past ― but you sure do change the future.” ― Bernard Meltzer, radio host
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Forgiveness is moving past the pain others cause you. It can have a positive impact on your mental, physical, and social health.

It’s not always easy to forgive someone, but it can bring you a great sense of peace and closure.

If you’re finding it difficult to process betrayal or trauma, you might benefit from speaking with a therapist. Therapy can help you understand your experience and forgive the person who hurt you and yourself, if you’d like to do so.