7 Steps to True Forgiveness

02/15/2015 01:56 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2015

"I forgive you" are three of the hardest words you can ever give to someone else. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but it can be the greatest gift if you are willing to give it.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?

  • Forgiveness is a heavy burden. You have experienced pain and hurt that doesn't feel fair. You want to unload your pain, but have nowhere to put it, so you continue to carry the burden.
  • Forgiveness doesn't make sense. It's illogical to forgive someone who has caused great pain to you. You rationalize by telling yourself, "He should be forgiving me. He hurt me. Why should I need to forgive him?"
  • Forgiveness takes immense courage. You need to make yourself vulnerable when all you want to do is protect yourself. You fear being hurt again and again. You lose control when you put yourself out there.

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Over the course of my life, I've failed miserably at forgiveness -- or lack thereof -- and have learned from my mistakes. I kept forgiveness sealed and locked tight away in the depths of my heart. I considered giving it away as a sign of weakness and vulnerability.

I've been getting better at forgiveness in recent years. Perhaps it's because I have children of my own now who are a direct reflection of my attitude and demeanor -- both good and bad. And perhaps it's because I'm getting older, more faithful, and hopefully wiser. Slowly but surely, I'm breaking down my years of accumulated stubbornness to become a more compassionate, forgiving person. By forgiving, even in the toughest of situations, I've been able to live a healthier, fuller, and more liberated life.

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These are the seven steps I've utilized to live a life of true forgiveness:

1. Identify your hurt.

Start by pinpointing the source of your hurt. Was it a failure, a missed opportunity, a heartbreak, a person who was mean to you, or someone who neglected you? Get to the root of your pain.

2. Acknowledge your hurtful emotions.

What are you feeling? Is it sadness, grief, anger, pity, or loneliness? Or is it something deeper like hate, disgust, jealousy, or depression? The hurt may strike more than one chord on your heart strings, but in order to get rid of the hurt, you need to recognize your feelings toward it.

3. Forgive yourself and let go.

Forgiveness starts from within. You were not the reason that someone hurt you. It's not your fault. You need to forgive yourself first before you have the capacity to forgive others. Only then are you able to let go of the negative emotions associated with the hurt caused by someone else.

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4. Breathe in compassion.

Let compassion flow, one breath at a time. First, with yourself, then for the person who hurt you. You need to empathize with that person's motivations, emotions, and circumstances. You need to challenge yourself to put yourself in that person's shoes and view the situation from their perspective.

5. Forgive unconditionally.

Compassion and empathy materialize into action when you forget about the problem and move on to the solution of forgiveness. Give your forgiveness to that person, with no strings attached.

6. Be grateful.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful ways to empower personal growth, both for the forgiver and the forgiven. When you let go of the burden of the hurt and all the negative energy of the emotions associated with the hurt, you are given the peace and freedom to live as a better version of yourself. You're also empowered to transfer that positive energy to the other person and people around you, so that they can become better versions of themselves.

7. Love again.

Forgiveness lets you love again. Once you forgive, your heart is full of love. You are stronger because you love yourself and love others, no matter the magnitude of their shortcomings or transgressions. You forgive because you love, and you love because you forgive.

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Originally appeared on LiveFamilyTravel.com. Images courtesy of author.

Cliff Hsia is a father who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. He's currently on a gap year of world travel with his family. He writes about travel, family, love, happiness, faith, and everything else that life throws at him.

Read Cliff's articles at Live Family Travel and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.