2020.06.30   |   7 min read

How to Forgive and Let Go of Resentment

When We Still Want Them in Our Life

What does it mean to forgive?

Forgiveness and letting go of resentment, pain and perhaps thoughts of revenge. It is a decision we make to be at peace. We can decide to no longer let someone else’s actions impact how we feel about ourselves or the injustice we experienced. Forgiving others is such a powerful place to be because it frees us from the burden of suffering.

When we allow others to affect how to feel… we let them control our emotions and we get stuck in the victim role.

When we forgive, we obtain greater understanding and compassion for them and the circumstances which may have led others to hurt us. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we condone, excuse, minimize, justify, or deny their responsibility.

Consequences of not forgiving


The first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.
— T. D. Jakes

When we choose to hold on to resentment, we are the ones that miss out. We are the ones that get trapped in a cycle of anger and hurt, or become depressed or anxious. When we become wrapped up in someone else wrong, it’s difficult to enjoy the present moment.

We need to learn to forgive and let go to allow ourselves to be happy, enjoy the beauty of life and honour the deep, valuable and enriching connections with others.

How can we forgive?

1. Acknowledge what happened and work through the emotions

Admit that it happened and allow ourselves to feel the pain and express the anger and disappointment in healthy ways.

Tara Brach, an American psychologist, has a method she teaches, using the introspective technique called RAIN, which is an acronym for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. When we are emotional, we want to allow space to:

R: Recognize what is occurring. I am angry, hurt, and feel betrayed.

A: Allow the space for feeling the emotions. Allow ourselves to feel the emotion through, if we want to cry, then allow ourselves to cry.

I: Investigate what is happening and to determine the source of our reactivity. Is it we don’t feel good enough, cared for, loved, appreciated, etc.

N: Nurture that part of ourselves that needs that attention, comfort, love, appreciation. This could be an affirmation such as I am worthy, I am loved, or giving compassion to ourselves at this moment.

This entire process can take a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks or months. It all depends on how well developed we have built our emotional muscles.

If we are prone to rumination and constant looping, it might be best to schedule a specific time and day to conduct this exercise. Then we can allow ourselves to the rest of the time to be present and enjoy the moment.

2. Gain Perspective

Most people conduct their actions through personal interest, fear, from their pain rather than malicious intent. We do things to survive, protect, or satisfy their own needs. We are blind to how it will affect others in any manner. When we look at situations from a greater perspective, we realize it’s not a personal attack on us, but a reflection of their character and how they act.

How another person behaves, says more about them, and where they are in their lives, what they believe about themselves and what is going on in their world, than it does about us.

3. Redirect Our Focus to What We Learned and the Benefits

When we focus on the hurt, we will continue to suffer, look for the lesson, we will grow. When we can find what we gained in the circumstances, we feel empowered. Life brings on many lessons if we are willing to learn and find the benefit of the betrayal.

We could have learned to be more emotionally resilient, independent, and have clearer boundaries. The situation could have made us realize what our core values are, and our non-negotiables. We could have obtained an education in seeing red-flags or gained some insight into what made us vulnerable to being and staying in the relationship. The circumstance could have taught us how to speak up and express how we feel more precisely, we even can discover the situation can lead us to a launching ground for greater self-confidence, self-love and self-esteem.

After Betrayal Can They Still Be in Our Life?

It’s much easier to forgive and let go of resentment when the person is no longer in our lives. We have time to process, see the lesson, and learn what we could have done differently. We also do not have to interact and with them anymore, and the possibility of them letting us down once again. It’s much easier to burn a bridge than to walk away with it intact. There are circumstances where we still want the other person in our lives or we have no choice but to still be connected to them. Here are three components to help us decide:

1. Honour our need to be secure and happy

The diagrams below describe close relationships and ways of relating. Healthy close Relationships are based on equity and respect they seek teamwork and synergy, while Unhealthy close Relationships exert power and control.

Note: The Duluth Wheel, developed out of a program in Duluth, Minnesota in 1981. Modified to reflect the dynamic of close relationships (adult children and parents, intimate partners, close friends) instead of referring to solely dating relationships, as they have similar core components. It has also been modified to reflect a dynamic between both parties, rather than labeling one as the victim and the other the perpetrator.

After taking a good look at the diagrams above and answering (honestly and realistically) the questions below, we can figure out how close we can be in each other’s lives.

  • Why do I still want them in my life?
  • What do I need from this person and why? How important is that to me?
  • Are we both able to feel listened to, hear each other, and feel understood? Are we able to shift our dynamic? Am I capable of shifting? Is the other person capable?
  • Is there a trust breakdown? Can we work to re-built trust? If the answer is no, then;
  • To what degree can we be close? Am I able to meet them at their level of capacity? Am I okay with that?

2. Be Realistic About our Relating

If we still need or want them in our life, we need to be realistic about our capacity to relate to each other healthily. There are people in this world who are whole and actively willing to work on healthy relating. For many of us, communication is difficult.

“Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you as deeply as they have met themselves.”
– Matt Kahn

Expecting others to change and become suddenly self-aware is unrealistic. People do the best they can with what they know. When we are asking “why can’t they just understand?” Many times they are not where we are yet – or may never be. We have to allow those around us to grow and develop at their own pace and through their lessons and experiences.

We can’t get mad at a cat for being a cat – that’s how they are. If they are not capable, we have a choice to leave or meet them where they are, which usually means we can’t be close or as close as we want… and we have to mourn our expectations. We can still have a great relationship, we have to adjust our expectations and accept their limitations. Some conversation topics might be off-limits. We have unique relationships with each person, all relationships go through waves and we are closer at different stages in our lives.

When we consistently inflict our views onto another, we are the ones that get disappointed and hurt. We would also contribute to unhealthy relating by trying to force them to hear a message they are not ready to hear.

We can’t change anyone, we are not anyone else’s social worker, caseworker, or imposed mentor. When people want to change they actively seek to do so; they read articles, buy books, actively listen, attend therapy, take courses, etc.

Relationships are an exchange. What if we are the ones exhibiting unhealthy behaviour? Lucky for us, we have control over that. If we find ourselves in a close relationship with a person who is not actively seeking to shift and who exhibits and elicits toxic behaviour, we need to create boundaries to keep us emotionally, mentally and physically sound. It is not our responsibility or even our place to open the mind or heal a person who believes they are fine as they are.

3. Healthy Boundaries

The best way to know our boundaries is to pay attention to our feelings and acknowledge them. If we experience anger or pain etc. then we need to lovingly communicate how we feel, where our limit is, consistently. If someone continues to violate our boundaries, when we already set and establish that limit, then we need to distance ourselves or let them go.

Focusing our attention time and energy on the other person to grow and develop is futile if they are not open to it. We need to concentrate our focus on ourselves by healing, while simultaneously meeting people where they are without denying ourselves. The need for others to change so we would be happy speaks volumes about our codependency – the dysfunctional association we place that their treatment of us has anything to do with our well-being, value, or worth. We can let go of that responsibility by deciding not to carry the burden when someone does us wrong – that’s a reflection of them. How we choose to respond – is a reflection of us.

Let’s question why we need others to change, especially if they feel perfectly fine the way they are. Let’s focus on healthy ways of nourishing and loving ourselves by working through the emotions, gaining perspective, learning the lessons, and seeking the benefits out of the situation. It’s best to be realistic about our collective capability to relate healthily – where both parties are seen, heard, and understood. If that can’t be done, then we can choose to leave, meet them where they are, and create vital healthy boundaries that nourish our well-being.