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What is forgiveness?

When we feel wronged by someone, it may be very difficult to forgive. In part, it may be difficult because we are holding on to hurt, but it might also be because we are not sure what forgiveness is. Some common misconceptions of what forgiveness means are: accepting or approving of what was done to us, forgetting that we have been wronged or hurt by the person, something we do for the other person, or something we do to move on as if it never happened. Forgiveness is none of these. Forgiveness is an act of letting go of hurt feelings, a personal decision, a process, and an opportunity to heal. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves and can happen at any point, even if this person is no longer in our lives. 

How does forgiveness impact me?

Forgiveness can be a difficult and painful process. However, when we are able to learn to forgive, there are countless positive effects on our mental health. Some of the benefits that forgiveness can have on us include: reduced anxiety and depression, healthier relationships, higher self-esteem, and better personal boundaries. There is also some research which suggests that forgiveness has been linked to better physical health outcomes such as lower blood pressure and improved immune health. On the other hand, when we are not able to forgive, we have poorer health outcomes such as, increased anxiety and depression, poorer self-esteem, unhealthy relationships, and prolonged anger and aggression. 

How can I practice forgiveness? 

There are four stages of forgiveness. Stage 1 is “uncovering”. During this stage, it is important that we reflect on the wrongdoing we experienced and how it has impacted us. Stage 2 is “decision”. During this stage, we reflect on how the action impacted us and we decide whether we will accept or reject forgiveness as an option. We cannot progress through the stages of forgiveness if we do not accept forgiveness as an option – it may mean we are not ready to let go of the pain. Stage 3 is “work”. During this stage, we make attempts to view and understand the person who hurt us (as well as ourselves) in a more positive way. Finally, Stage 4 is “deepening”. During this stage, we begin to let go of negative and painful feelings. The goal of Stage 4 is not to forget but to observe how we may have grown from the offense.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.