You might find it easier to forgive if you change your mindset instead of relying on your feelings. Here’s how forgiveness works best, with inspiration from a painful family estrangement I faced, the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love by Richard Carlson, and a sprinkle of the Psalms.
Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a deliberate choice to change your mindset and let the past sleep. Maybe you need to learn how to forgive your husband after an affair or some other betrayal. Or maybe your task is forgiving yourself for neglecting a loved one. Maybe you’re like I was, and you’re struggling to forgive your parents for childhood neglect or abuse.
When you’re learning how to forgive (and it is a process!) remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, condoning or excusing the incident. To forgive means to acknowledge the hurt and then let it go. The bonus is that you also become free from the burden of anger and resentment. Here, you’ll learn how changing your mindset leads to forgiveness by helping you think about yourself and your relationship differently.
I’ve had two major struggles with forgiveness in my life, and both were related to family issues. My mom is schizophrenic and my dad left us when I was a little baby; I had to learn how to forgive them for not giving me the care, love, and support I longed for when I was in my twenties. I’m 46 now, and have long ago forgiven my parents.
I also had to forgive my sister. She stopped talking to me 10 years ago, and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. It was easier to forgive her because I thought it was my fault that she cut me out of her life. I hadn’t done anything wrong or bad to her…her decision was based on her own issues.
Learning how to change my mindset was the biggest, healthiest step I’ve ever taken towards forgiveness. Here’s what I learned…
How to Forgive by Changing Your Mindset
Forgiveness is a daily – even an hourly – choice. It’s about setting aside how you feel, and focusing on where you want to go and what you want to accomplish in your life.
1. Acknowledge the pain and anger you feel
You’ve been hurt, offended, insulted, grieved. Your heart may be broken and you may feel incapable of shaking off the past and moving forward. It’s now time to stop allowing those feelings to overcome you. You need to choose to forgive, make a commitment to filling your mind with thoughts of the present moment instead of feelings from past experiences.
Process your grief by writing, sharing your experience with other women, or expressing yourself creatively. Don’t hold it in. Many women hide their feelings of shame and embarrassment, especially when they’re struggling to forgive someone who betrayed them. Don’t hide! Bring your thoughts and feelings into the light.
If you need support and healing, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken.
2. Recognize that healing requires you to change how you think
“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” – Robert Brault.
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Maybe the person who hurt you has to change his behavior – but that is secondary. It doesn’t matter, because you don’t have the power to change him. Do you want to let your happiness, joy, and peace be controlled by someone else? You do have the power to change yourself, and that is what you must focus on.
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future,” said Paul Boese. Forgiving doesn’t mean you condone the action; it just means you won’t let the action continue to affect you.
3. Decide that today is the focus of your relationship
“Making the fresh-start commitment means making the decision to drop all concerns, regrets, and disappointments from your past, as well as all of your expectations regarding the future,” writes Carlson in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love. “Today becomes the focal point of your relationship. This day becomes more important than past mistakes or future plans.”
Learning how to let go of the past is easier than you think! You CAN be free from the pain of hurt and betrayal – but you have to choose to focus on the present moment. You need to change your mindset from “I wish he didn’t do that” to “I accept that it happened. I didn’t choose it but it’s over now. I am now focused on today.”
4. Experiment with different ways to change your mindset
When I was in university for my first degree, I was consumed with jealousy and bitterness. Other students had parents to help them financially, emotionally, socially, professionally, and academically. My mindset was that I had no family, except for my younger sister who didn’t graduate from high school. Other students had reliable cars, loving family members to visit between semesters. My mindset that I was weird because my mom is schizophrenic and unworthy because I grew up in poverty.
But then I changed. I don’t know exactly what happened – I’d have to go back and read my old diaries to find out! Maybe I read a book, or talked to someone about how to forgive. Somehow I realized that it is what it is. My parents were my parents, for better or worse. My childhood was my childhood. And my negative, bitter mindset was holding me back from creating a fulfilling life and becoming fully myself. We really are our own worst enemies. Not forgiving my parents was just making me feel unwanted and unloved.
5. Learn how forgiveness affects your health
Holding a grudge appears to affect your cardiovascular and nervous systems, according to Learning to Forgive May Improve Well-Being on the Mayo Clinic’s website.
In their study on forgiveness, people who focused on a personal grudge had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, as well as increased muscle tension and feelings of being less in control. When participants were asked to imagine forgiving the person who had hurt them, they said they felt more positive and relaxed and thus, the changes dissipated.
Other studies show that forgiveness protects women from depression and improves well-being. And, research shows that making amends increases your self-forgiveness. So if you’re trying to forgive yourself for, say, having an affair or accidentally harming your pet, forgiveness is more likely if you do something tangible to make up for your behavior.
6. Find new ways of thinking about the person
Your old ways of thinking about him – your old mindset – is causing you pain. So, it’s time to find a new way to think about him. For instance, what was happening in his life when he hurt you?
I found it much easier to forgive my sister when I changed my mindset. I put myself in her shoes (empathy), and realized that she has experienced painful things in her life, too. She cut me out of her life because it seemed like a good idea to her at the time. It bewildered, confused, and devastated me…but instead of continuing to focus on how she “made” me feel, I chose to believe that she was doing the best she could.
We all learn how to forgive differently. Me, I trust God. I learned through my sister’s estrangement that there may be some reason for the pain I went through. Instead of dwelling on what I wish I had, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of my life right now.
That is how changing my mindset helps me forgive: I know God loves me, wants the best for me, and is protecting me. It wasn’t an accident that I was born into my family. I trust that God know what He is doing, and I let my faith carry me through.
7. Taste the sweet freedom of forgiveness!
O, the joy of freedom! I LOVE the feeling of relief, light-heartedness, peace, love, and power that comes with learning how to forgive. It happened gradually – I practiced changing my mindset or how I thought about my sister and noticed that I felt lighter, happier. Then I went back to dwelling on all the bad things I thought about her. That made me feel heavy, dark, bitter, and unhappy. So guess what? I chose to change my mindset.
And I broke free.
Do you know how much God loves you? He created you; He knows every cell of your body. He wants to bless you with love, freedom, forgiveness, joy and peace. He has so much to offer you…and all you need to do is open your heart and receive His love.
What to Do Next
Learn how to let go. I wrote How to Let Go of Someone You Love: 3 Powerful Secrets (& 75 Tips!) for Healing Your Heart after my sister stopped talking to me. I needed to learn how to forgive her, how to change my mindset, how to be free. I interviewed counselors, psychologists, and life coaches and put everything I learned into that ebook.
Practice forgiveness by simply noticing your thoughts. When you start dwelling on the past or negative emotions, replace them with the present moment and positive thoughts. You might also want to ask yourself what’s holding you back from making a fresh start. How does it serve you to not forgive? Perhaps unforgiveness is serving you someone, perhaps by allowing you to be a victim, use the past as a tool to wield power in your relationship, or feel superior.
Learn how to forgive yourself by accepting all of you. “If you reject or push away some aspect of yourself, it only gets bigger,” writes Isha Judd. “You have to embrace it – it is a part of you and you cannot deny it forever. Don’t label something as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; embrace it with honesty and acceptance.”
While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of learning how to forgive by changing your mindset. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
Forgive your past and choose not to fear the future. Bless the gift of today. Blossom.
If you feel all alone in your struggle, read 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares.
Do you need relationship help? Get Mort Fertel's 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage. It's helpful - and free!