Writing a Forgiveness Letter Can Change Your Life

Writing a Forgiveness Letter Can Change Your Life

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It’s a good thing that time heals all wounds, because if it didn’t I wouldn’t be able to talk about writing a forgiveness letter at all. Like the pain of giving birth, you can eventually recall that something hurt, but you don’t relive every nuance of the experience. Unfortunately, our hearts don’t heal nearly as quickly as our physical selves.

We have a tendency to hold our hurts close and cherish them for some reason. I suppose there is the childlike (or childish?) fascination with wanting to pick at the emotional scab to see if it still hurts after a time. If you don’t do that, how will you know whether you are healing or not. Unfortunately, every time you revisit the event that hurt you, it brings up the pain like it was yesterday – at least it did for me.

A Painful Trip through Time

I was immediately transported right back to the incident. Everything was just as real as if it was happening in the moment. But – and this is an important thing to think about – I also had the disadvantage of hindsight, so I could add in the things that I should have said at the time. I now knew how I should have handled things or what I wanted to say in the moment.

On top of the initial hurt, anger, and sense of betrayal, I could add frustration that I didn’t defend myself better or that I wasn’t aggressive enough in the argument. What made this particular argument worse was that when I approached the other person, apologized and tried to make amends, it was not accepted. Instead, the situation escalated into name-calling and verbal abuse.

Hurt and Betrayal

I think that’s what hurt the most: making the choice to do the right thing in this situation and having my efforts rebuffed in such an uncaring, hurtful manner. It felt like an emotional slap in the face and from this other person’s demeanor, there was absolutely nothing I could do about the situation. I was left feeling like the person who was the proverbial inch high.

I’m not ashamed to admit that for at least the next few weeks, I got teary every time I thought about the situation. Was there something, anything else I could have done? Unless I could somehow invent a time machine and go back and rewrite history, there wasn’t anything else I could do. I had done everything that was in my power to deal with the situation. So why was I still feeling terrible?

The Burden of Bad Feelings

I was still carrying around this heaviness of bad feelings. I had no way of knowing whether the other person involved was feeling similarly icky – for all I know, he had dumped his emotional bags and walked on. I needed to do something to release the tension and free myself from the burden of guilt I was still carrying.

Writing the Forgiveness Letter

I decided to write a forgiveness letter. It was important that the note would have a physical form, so I actually picked up a pen and got out a note pad. I described the situation in detail and how I had felt about it at the time. I wrote down how I still felt about it, including feeling hurt, guilty, angry, disappointed, and ashamed.

Then I wrote that I was making a conscious choice to let it go, as of today. It’s done. I forgive the other person. This event and this person no longer have the power to hurt or define me. It’s finished. Done. History.

Then I had a brainstorm. There were two people in this situation I needed to forgive, and one of them was myself. It was time to draw a line under past events that I can’t change. I had done everything a reasonable person could be expected to do in the situation. The other person chose not to accept my apology and I can’t control that. I don’t have to like it (and I don’t) but I do have to accept it and move on.

I didn’t send my forgiveness letter to anyone. It was for my eyes only. Some people would say it should be burned. I think I shredded mine. That was symbolic to me of getting rid of the icky feelings, but it was a way to feel lighter and move on.

Forgiving someone does not absolve them of something they have done or make it OK. It does free you from having to live under the burden of having to deal with it all the time. I felt better after writing and getting those feelings out. It’s not a magical solution and I don’t have a relationship with this person again because I wrote the letter. I can say that probably did wonders for my mental health, though.

Photo by Gibson Claire McGuire Regester

Leslie Anglesey

Leslie Anglesey is an associated educator at the University of Southern California and adviser at the company providing paper writing service

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22 Comments

  1. I wonder why we feel the need to revisit hurtful dramatic events and think of the “I should of’s.” This has come at a perfect time for me and I’m copying this link for my friend to read it also. I have a few letters to write to finally let go of the hurt. Thanks!

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  2. Heck, I wrote a “forgiveness book” that will hopefully change others’ lives, too. A Train Called Forgiveness is a story about dealing with forgiving those involved in abuse in the cult of my youth. Learn more at http://www.danerickson.net

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  3. Beautiful read. Hugs,Leslie!

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  4. Hi Leslie, thank you for sharing this with us :)

    I have learnt BIG time from experience how much the ability to forgive others and myself can dramatically heal stuck emotions. The story of the past (which require forgiveness) will often subconsciously replay itself whenever we revisit moments that trigger the memory of what caused the hurt in the first place.

    An excellent book which provides an amazing process for forgiving others and overcoming stuck emotions is described within John Gray’s “How to Get What you Want and Want What you Have”. Seriously this book has been a bible to help me overcome any stuck emotions.

    In addition, I find it really powerful to go back in time (imaginative time-frame) and re-experience that moment when the hurt first happened . This can be done during meditation, ideally with soft music in the background (which is what I specialise in creating). Then replay that moment and visualise how you would like the story to be changed. For example, imagine seeing the person who upset you reacting differently in a way that is supportive. This will change the energetic vibration of the experience and will help re-programme the sub-conscious. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between now, past and future, so these techniques work. This can be followed by feeling the hurt for 20 minutes, because we release quicker if we allow ourselves to feel the emotions first. Then finish up with standing in front of mirror chanting the ho’oponopono forgiveness mantra in front of the mirror (you can Google this).

    If we do not learn to forgive others we cannot forgive ourselves. Thank you to again Leslie :)

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  5. Lovely heartfelt article Leslie. The reason we hold onto these sort of incidents in our life is not the incident itself, it is because we are still carrying around other hurts from childhood that have not been resolved and the memory of them are stored in our subconscious When a hurtful situation like this comes up, it brings back memories of the old incidents that have been filed away.
    It is like having a tooth that needs to be filled, we keep sticking our tongue in the hole.
    Writing makes a physical connection to the subconscious mind and that is why we feel better after writing out our feelings, it acts as a release. Although, it is not a total release of the old memory, it helps.

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  6. Some years ago I received a letter from an old boyfriend. We had no contact before years so I was really surprised. He wrote that letter to apologize because when we were teens he cheated me and left me without a word. He wrote it when he became 30 and realized he needed to forgive himself.
    I never answer it because it came in a really difficult time in my life but it seemed such a great action to me that I forgive him and once in a while I think of him and hope he has a good life.

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  7. Beautiful narration. Unpleasant experience of the kind mentioned probably happens in every one’s life, some lucky ones excepted. Time does heal the past hurt provided we allow it to heal.Re-living the hurt , consciously or unconsciously, recalling the incident time and again, keep the wounds raw. I tried the same trick of writing a forgiveness letter but did the foolishness of sending it over. My apology was not accepted. I felt hurt even more. The only way was to seek forgiveness from God. It salved my conscience. The hurt diminished over time.

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  8. I love this idea. As you say writing it down brings it ‘out’ of your mind more. In the articulation you get to explore it deeper. I would say, instead of destroying it afterwards – post it. Just put the first name of the person you are forgiving on the envelope and post it. This is even more symbolic as we know that when we put something in the post box, it has effectively arrived at its destination. Except, this forgiveness letter in reality – can’t, as it isn’t addressed properly.
    My own 2 steps to forgiveness are: #1 What is my main benefit by Not forgiving? (could be that I get to blame someone, or feel superior to someone etc.) then, #2 What is my main benefit if I forgive? (this usually ends up being a no-brainer of a choice!).

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  9. Unforgiveness is akin to cancer, that only human beings have. We hold the hurt within our minds and hearts and by doing so, we think that we are exacting revenge on that someone when we ignore or by choosing not to speak to that person ever again. Little did we know that this unforgiveness will slowly, yet surely, erode our hearts and peace of mind, yes like cancer.
    We have to learn to let go of those past hurts. Be kind to yourself – choose to forgive. Life is too short to bear grudges. Forgive and be on your way to healing.

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    • I agree that writing down your feelings relieves the pins that keep poking at the wounds. What is frustrating is not being able to do anything about it as a good friend walks away and years of memories melt into one big fat bucket in your heart and mind. Here I am years later wondering what happened and trying to figure out how to get answers to all my questions. The most nagging being “how can you just turn it off and walk away as if it meant nothing?”.

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      • I know exactely how you feel Michelle. I was in a relationship with someone for ten years and no more than a couple of months after breaking up, he was spending all of his time with someone else’s girlfriend. I could not believe or except what I was seeing. The man that I had loved so much, turned into someone that I dont even know anymore. It’s the saddest/most heartbreaking thing to watch someone that you love, love someone else. Especially in those circumstances…he thought that I had cheated on him, which I didnt, but then he picks up with someone who is cheating on her bf of five years. All I can hope for is the saying, “Karma’s a bitch” to come to fruitition. I hope your heart heals and you are happier than you’ve ever been. It definately takes time though. Take care :)

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  10. i think i should write one myself as well :)

    let go and move on.. simple words although at times i feel hard to do so, ahahaha :D

    thanks for sharing this ;)

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  11. I am myself am a firm believer in the phrase – time heals all wounds. However, off late, I have realized that no matter how much time YOU have to get healed, the other parties involved in the “wounding” process may not have enough time in their lives to wait for your wounds to get healed. So, at the end of it, YOU get healed completely, what about the others? Or, like all the other things in today’s individualistic world, will we sit back and be happy becase OUR wounds are getting healed?

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  12. How can I forgive myself? I’ve estranged and lost my ex-girlfriend through, I believe, my bad and negative behavior. I had a soul sucking job, was very grumpy and had a short fuse and was not in control of my negative emotions. And she had to bear the brunt of it. I was … unhappy. Unhappy about myself and my life and yet the one person I really appreciated, I didn’t treat well enough.

    I just don’t know how to forgive myself. I feel like a damn tool, a dumbass who alienated his girlfriend and subsequently lost the one person he truly loved.

    I keep hearing over and over again there were two people at fault and I shouldn’t take all the blame, but this is how I feel. Yes, she cheated in the end and effectively ripped me apart with the things she said and and didn’t say (I had to find out on my own she fell in love with a colleague of hers). But through some crooked twist I feel like I pushed her away from me and literally in his arms.

    So how do I start forgiving myself?

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    • That is a very good question. We often hurt the ones we love the most when we are angry or unhappy. Unfortuately that is part of human nature. We are all guilty of doing that at some time or another in our life time. The road to forgiveness is to realize why you behaved the way you did and find relief in the fact that you were truely hurting in aspects of your life that were out of your control. You can apologize to the other party and then start apologizing to your self. You need to move on and learn from your mistakes. You know the saying “if you love it; set it free. If it’s meant to be; it will come back”? or something to that affect. Though you look back and feel the way that you did about the relationship she has moved on and found what she was looking for in someone else. Sadly we don’t always get to be with the one we love the most. We can always cherish the time we were allowed to spend with someone who had such an impact on us. Hold on to those memories and try to move on in your life.

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  13. Wow! What a fantastic article. Forgiveness is really big for me. Like you, I often find the hardest person to forgive is myself. That is something I am really working on now. One of the best definitions of forgiveness I have heard is that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not the other person. It is releasing the anger, frustration, pain and hurt for you. Holding on to anger, resentment, frustration and grudges is toxic. And like you said, the other person may have moved on from the situation.

    I like the idea of writing it down. I find writing really clears my head. And the thing about a forgiveness letter, is you don’t even need to send it. So you get the benefits of writing it down without the potential reprocussions of sending it.

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  14. Thank you for your article. Forgiveness is so important. When we hold on to painful circumstances, we’re holding on to negative energy, which can adversely affect the happiness in our lives. When we learn to forgive, we’re releasing the pain, and releasing ourselves from a cycle that could continue to plague our lives until we chose to forgive. Circumstances that we don’t forgive and learn from, we’ll continue experiencing in other circumstances, until we let go. Forgiveness is such a releasing and calming virtue. Forgiveness releases and frees us. It allows us to move on in life.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts in comments! It’s so nice to meet people who feel the same and make the choice to forgive!

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  16. Forgiveness is something I believe in with all my heart. I forgive others and have been forgiven many times. God wants us all to be forgiving just as he has forgiven us always. I put myself down to earth let others do there things.

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  17. How do you know if you have forgiven someone? You no longer condemn them for their actions but instead you offer peace.

    This happens within our thoughts.

    Forgiveness is not a pardon. It’s a letting go and an awaking to the truth no one has the power to hurt or destroy you. Only in your thoughts can you hurt.

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  18. Thank you for this post. I had experienced this kind of situation also. It scars me inside. I knew the feeling of being punished emotionally of the things you didn’t did. I am not sure if i could forgive them so easily…the pain is still there it seems it was happen just yesterday. Thanks for this one, will try and i hope it could help.

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  19. Leslie, this post is just amazing! Thx a lot!

    Reply

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