How to Forgive When Someone Hurts You

When you’ve been hurt there is a journey to find healing through forgiveness.

As someone who’s walked through domestic violence, spiritual abuse, church hurt and just having relationships with other people, I have had to learn a lot about forgiving. Forgiveness is something that gets talked a lot about, especially in the church, but sometimes we either get it flat-out wrong or we’re not clear on what God is asking of us and what we’re supposed to do. 

Today, I want to talk to you about how to forgive when somebody hurts you. We’re going to look at what forgiveness means, a step-by-step guide to what to do. I’m also going to tackle the questions of what if you can’t forgive and what if the person never asks for forgiveness.

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When I was going through my first divorce, it seemed like everybody at church wanted to know if I was praying for my husband. I was told over and over that I had to forgive him and continue to pray for him. They were right. I needed to forgive and I believe that we should pray for people. 

God tells us to pray for our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us, but I was not in a place where that was possible. I was struggling with grief and loss. I was in law school and single parenting and I found it hard to forgive. I found it hard to pray, so I tried to find something that was manageable for me. 

So I started small. I would ask God to make sure that he didn’t die on his way to work because I needed him to be able to pay child support. I know that sounds shallow but that’s where I was. I prayed that prayer for a long time until I was able to pray a little bit more, and then a little bit more.

Eventually, within a year I would say, I was finally at a point where I was able to say, okay, God, I think I’m ready to start forgiving. But I didn’t know what to do. I needed God’s help to show me what forgiveness looked like. 

To show me what I was supposed to do in the situation with a person who had hurt me and my kids so badly and continued to do hurtful things. I struggled with that, and I had the same issue when I went through my second divorce. 

Again, there was a person who had done horrible things to me and my kids. I didn’t know if forgiving was fair and I didn’t understand this whole thing. Before we get started, I want to let you know that I understand if you’re struggling with it. I understand where you’re coming from because it’s something that I struggled with for a very long time.

It is dang near impossible to forgive somebody who has hurt or abused you or somebody close to you. It’s hard to forgive when the church has spiritually abused you, been unto you, and has wounded you in so many ways. 

It is so hard, it’s not easy but I want you to know a couple of things. One, it is possible. Years later, I am in a place where I have been able to forgive all of those people, and it feels good to be in this place. But I didn’t start in this place. It is a journey. 

It has taken me a long time, a lot of prayers, counseling, coaching, digging into God’s word, and a lot of wrestling and arguing with God about things to get to this point. Without those things, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive. 

I have been able to continually walk in forgiveness despite all these things that have happened. So I want you to know that I’m not telling you this to beat you over the head. I’ve been on this journey. I’ve been where you are. I understand and I know.

The second thing I want to remind you of is very important.  I’m going to say this right off the top, so if you disagree with me you can go ahead and read a different post. When I talk about forgiving somebody who hurt you and praying for them what I am not saying is that it is your responsibility to change this person. 

I am not saying that at all in any way, shape, or form. As a person who has been hurt and wounded, it is not your burden or responsibility to pray for this person to change, to find Jesus, or to act right. I’m not putting any responsibility on you for the other person. 

I am only talking about you. The other person doesn’t matter in this conversation. If somebody is abusive and mean towards you and they want to stay abusive and mean towards you, all the prayer in the world isn’t going to change that. 

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What Forgiveness Means 

I want to talk about forgiveness today because it’s important to understand this when you are walking through hard things. I see women time and time again get stuck here. It causes bitterness, it causes frustration, it causes anger and it keeps you from moving forward. 

The first thing that I want to do is define what forgiveness means so that we’re all on the same page. When I look at forgiveness in my study of scripture and looking at what forgiveness means, this is where I landed: Forgiveness is letting go of the right to get someone back. 

You’re going to let it go. You’re not going to demand repayment of debt. You are not going to repay evil for evil. You’re not going to seek out vengeance. It’s saying, “You suck, you did something really bad, and it wasn’t okay, but I am not going to continue to seek retribution or restitution from you on this thing. I’m going to let it go.” 

What you’re actually doing is giving it over to God. You’re letting God handle that person and that situation in the way that he sees best because he knows what’s best and he’s the only person who can fix the situation. 

And when we look at scripture, there’s a really good example of this in Matthew 18: 23-35:

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling * and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

What is happening here is that we’re given examples of either forgiveness or a lack thereof. When the first slave, goes before his owner and asks for grace and compassion, what does he say? He says I will repay you everything that I owe you. The lord tells him not to worry about paying the debt. 

He forgives him and he says don’t worry about repaying the debt. Then we get the second example. That slave who had his debt forgiven goes after another slave and refuses to forgive that debt.

When I say that forgiveness is about letting go of the right to get somebody back, this is where I pulled this principle and definition from. When we want to forgive someone, we are not going to force them to pay back what they owe. 

You’re not going to force them to do anything actually, because it is about you, your heart, journey, growth, and healing. Why does this matter? It matters because, no matter what somebody does to you, if you are stuck feeling bitter, angry, and resentful, you continue to allow that person to hurt you. 

The things that they did are going to continue to have power over you and you don’t want to be stuck to that person forever because you couldn’t let them go. 

Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Reconciliation

Forgiveness does not mean that you forget. God is not calling you to have amnesia when you forgive somebody. That would be unwise. It is very unwise to forget that somebody has a pattern of being disrespectful, jumping over your boundaries, being untrustworthy, stealing, or lying. 

God is not saying forget what this person has done, because that is unwise. We do not forgive and forget. That is not in scripture. It also does not mean that you have to reconcile with that person. Nowhere in scripture does God say you have to forgive and then go back into the same relationship that you had before. 

That’s not required. Okay, because reconciliation requires work on both sides. Right, that person has to own what they’ve done. They’ve got to apologize, they’ve got to make changes, they’ve got to repent.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in reconciliation. That’s not an instant thing and sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes the damage and the hurt are so bad that reconciliation is just not possible. 

Another thing that forgiveness does not mean is that you’re changing the past. It doesn’t mean that you’re writing a new story to start with a clean slate.  Forgiveness does not make all the stuff go away. God does not want you to act like things never happened. 

Also, forgiveness does not mean that the person who has wronged or hurt you is sorry. They don’t have to come to you and repent or ask for forgiveness or even acknowledge that they’ve done anything wrong for you to forgive. 

This also means that this person doesn’t even have to be alive. Sometimes you have to forgive people who have passed on. They don’t have to still be in your life for you to forgive them either. They don’t have to know that you forgive them, for you to forgive them. Remember, this is about your journey and your healing. 

Benefits of Forgiveness

I want to talk a little bit about some of the benefits of forgiveness. First, you get this sense of freedom. When I was so hurt and angry, no I wasn’t angry, I was pissed! I was pissed, devastated, and frustrated because of what I had experienced from being in an abusive relationship and going through spiritual abuse. 

I was a slave to all of those feelings. Every thought and action that I had was filtered through those feelings, It was keeping me from living and enjoying my life. It was so bad that I had to find a whole new circle of people to be around because anybody from that church was triggering to me. 

I couldn’t drive down the street the church was on because it would trigger me. I was so bound by that. It was like my life was literally being suffocated out of me. It felt icky, it didn’t feel good, and when I was able to forgive, I got freedom from that. 

From that freedom, I had lower stress and anxiety because I wasn’t being so deeply affected by that situation, those people, or that place. I had much less stress and anxiety in my life, which was much-needed and amazing. 

It was so great that when I saw one of the leaders from that church a couple of years ago,  I just walked by him. I didn’t have any emotion whatsoever. It was really nice. With this lower stress and less anxiety in your life, you’re also going to have improved mental health. 

So much of my depression and anxiety was from this hurt and going through the process of forgiving improved my mental health. My depression went away because I was able to let that stuff go and process and work through that healing. Forgiveness was important for my healing.

It also allowed me to have better relationships. I was so wounded and hurt that I couldn’t form new friendships. I couldn’t connect to a church. It didn’t feel safe and people didn’t feel safe. I need to get to a point where I could say, “I walked through that. It was hard, it was ugly, and it was wrong.” 

Once I was able to let that go and move past that I was able to fully heal from those experiences. Now, on the other side a decade or two later, I have much better relationships than I did even before that happened. 

I have lots of practice in forgiving so I’m able to more easily forgive the people in my life when they ask for it. I’m able to go to somebody else and ask for forgiveness. I am a better friend and mom. I’m a better everything because I’ve learned how to let things go. My healing journey has strengthened my relationships and set me up to have better relationships in the future.

What Forgiveness Looks Like

Now that we know what forgiveness is, what it’s not, and what some of the benefits are, I want to spend a couple of minutes walking through the steps to forgiveness. The first thing when you are trying to forgive is that you’ve got to acknowledge the hurt and the pain. 

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Hurt

If you do not acknowledge your hurt and your pain, you cannot forgive, because what are you forgiving? You don’t even know. No blanket forgiveness allowed! You have to acknowledge the hurt and the pain that was done to you even though it doesn’t feel good. 

It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, it’s stressful, but you’ve got to do it. It’s crucial to your healing and being able to move forward. You’ve got to acknowledge what was done to you and the effect that it had on you.

Step 2: Process Your Emotions

Okay, once you’ve done that, step two is to process whatever emotions come up. I am not here to judge you or tell you what you should feel or should not feel. Whatever you feel, as you are acknowledging that hurt and that pain, that is what you feel, and there’s nothing wrong with what you feel.

Process the thing and identify what it is. What does it feel like? How is it showing up in your life? What kind of results are you seeing? What actions are you taking because of those feelings? Process all of those things. 

Step 3: Examine Your Thoughts

This is where you might need counseling, coaching, a mentor, prayer, and lots of support because this is not easy stuff. Next, it’s time to examine your thoughts. I’ve talked before about how your thoughts and emotions are so incredibly linked. 

What you think influences what you feel and a lot of times, what you feel will reveal what you think. So look at your thoughts, specifically, what you are thinking about yourself. I struggled with believing I was dumb, it was my fault, and I was solely responsible. 

I had a lot of thoughts about myself because of what I had been through, and none of those thoughts were serving me. So examine your thoughts. What are you thinking? What beliefs do you have about yourself, about God, about your situation, about that person? All of that goes into being able to forgive. 

Step 4: Forgive

Now it’s time to choose to forgive. Yes, forgiveness is a choice. I’m going to be honest with you here. It is not usually a one-time choice. Every single time my ex did something mean and hateful, I had to forgive. Every time that I thought about it, I had to forgive. 

There was a season in my life where I felt like I was forgiving a million times a day. Every time it came to my mind I would have to stop and forgive. I would have to stop and remind myself that I chose to forgive, that I was choosing to let it go, and that I was choosing to not repay evil for evil.

I was choosing not to make him repay a debt that he honestly couldn’t pay. There’s literally nothing that he was going to do that was going to make what happened in the past better. Truth be told, he wasn’t even interested in asking for forgiveness because he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong. 

Just decide in your heart and mind, that you’re going to forgive. And know that you might have to forgive a lot. At the beginning of my forgiveness journey, I had to forgive all the time. I had to forgive constantly. That’s okay. 

That’s why I said in the beginning this is not easy. It’s taken me decades of learning to forgive, decades of processing this thing, and decades of working this out. The bigger the hurt, the longer it may take for you to get to a point where you can forgive. So give yourself that time.

Step 5: Boundaries

The fifth piece to forgiveness is to implement boundaries if and when they are needed. As I said originally, reconciliation and forgiveness do not always go together. Sometimes it’s not possible to reconcile with that person, and you’ve got to figure out what boundaries need to be in place and be okay with the boundaries that you put in place. 

There’s nothing wrong with putting boundaries in place, Jesus did it all the time. Boundaries are a good thing. They’re necessary and they’re helpful and people who love, care about, and respect you will respect your boundaries. 

If you need boundaries, put them in place. And you will need boundaries whether you choose to reconcile or not. If that person is going to be in your life, boundaries. If they’re not going to be in your life, boundaries. 

Hear me. Do not try to do this on your own. You will need all of the love, all the support, all the care, and all the community that you can get during this process. Go to counseling if you need it. I spent so much time in counseling and I’m still in counseling because it’s needed. 

Go to your community. Find the safe people who are in your life and let them know what you’re doing and ask them to pray for you. To be there for you. Find those people you can call when you’re really struggling and just cry or ask them to come sit with you.

How to Forgive Someone Who Keeps Hurting You

Before we wrap up, I want to look at how to forgive someone who isn’t sorry and what to do when you can’t forgive someone. The way to forgive somebody who isn’t sorry or somebody who keeps hurting you is the same steps that I just laid out for you already. 

It doesn’t change. If this person is not alive, if this person doesn’t think they did anything wrong, even if they are continuing to act in a way that’s causing you pain. The steps are the same because it’s not about them, it’s about you. 

It’s about your journey, it’s about your healing and your growth. So the steps are the same. They might take longer though. You might need to give yourself lots and lots of grace, but the steps don’t change.

When You Can’t Forgive Someone

If you’re in a position where you feel like it was so awful, it was so horrible, you can’t forgive them. Listen, I hear you, I understand, and there’s zero judgment here. There is no shame, there’s no guilt, there’s nothing. If you are at a point where you cannot forgive, this is where you are. 

Take that to God. Tell him you cannot forgive or let it. Go to him with that and I promise you he will help you, because that was me for a long time, with a lot of different people for a lot of different things. 

I was like “Lord, I know you say that I’m supposed to forgive and I know that’s what the bible says, but it ain’t happening.” I wrestled with that for a long time. Guess what? God still loved me, I was still saved, he was still listening to me, and he was still there for me. 

If that’s the point that you’re at right now I know it’s hard. I feel for you and I am praying for you. Give yourself grace and time. It is a journey to heal, let go, and walk this thing out. However long it takes you to get there – that’s your journey. 

Know that you are loved, cared for, and can be supported by so many different people in so many ways. 

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Healing through forgiveness is possible when you understand the steps and give yourself lots of grace.

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