Can You Really Learn to Forgive and Forget?

The old saying "to err is human; to forgive divine" are good words to live by. The act of forgiving others provides powerful health benefits. In fact, even renowned medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic advocate forgiving as a sound strategy for good mental health.

What is Forgiveness?

The PBS special This Emotional Life describes forgiveness as a "'shift in thinking' towards someone who has wronged you, 'such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.'"

Mental health experts say forgiveness is not reconciliation, although you may eventually reconcile with the other person. Forgiving doesn't condone the hurtful action, excuse the person who harmed you, or render justice. However, forgiving someone allows you to move forward in peace.

Mary Hayes Grieco of the Midwest Institute for Forgiveness Training does not subscribe to the idea of forgiving and forgetting. Instead, in an article in Counseling Today, she says, "We need to forgive and remember. Remember who people really are, remember what we can and can't expect of them, and remember how stuck we feel when we hold on to unrealistic expectations." Grieco says that when you carry a grudge, the other person doesn't suffer-you do.

Emotional Benefits of Forgiveness

Forgiving others bestows many health benefits, including:

  • Lessening feeling of hurt and anger
  • Healthier relationships with others, including more friends and a longer marriage
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well being
  • Less anxiety, stress, hostility, negative thoughts, depression, and grief
  • Lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease or substance abuse

Learning to Forgive

Carrying a grudge or lingering resentment can create an emotional prison, says Sandy Walker of the American Counseling Association. Learning to forgive someone who has deeply hurt you is really a process. The International Institute of Forgiveness has a model to help people through this process. It includes four broad phases: uncovering your anger, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness, and discovery and release from your emotional prism.

If you believe you should forgive someone, the Mayo Clinic suggests you first consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life. Reflect on the incident that hurt you. Evaluate how it's affected your life, health, and other relationships. When you're ready, actively choose to forgive. You'll abandon your role as victim and release the control and power you are giving the person who hurt you.


Mayo Clinic. "Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness." Web. 23 November 2011.

American Medical Student Association. "Health Hint: Healing Through Forgiveness." Web.

"What is forgiveness?" This Emotional Life. PBS. Web.

"Benefits of forgiveness." This Emotional Life. PBS. Web.

Shallcross, Lynne. "The benefits of forgiveness and gratitude." Counseling Today. Web. January 2012.

International Institute of Forgiveness. "Enright Forgiveness Process Model." Web.