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How to Grow a Forgiving Heart

Want to be more loving toward others—and yourself?
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In kindergarten, a classmate stole my favorite toy, a small cat figurine. I never forgot it. Even though decades had passed, that awful feeling of being wronged pulsed through me when I saw her at my twentieth high school reunion. Then I found myself on the buffet line beside her. “I remember you,” she said. “I almost didn’t come tonight. I hated school. Glad I’m here, though.” She smiled and I forgave her. Just like that, the resentment I’d harbored for years disappeared. Sometimes forgiveness just happens; other times it takes effort. Here are 12 tips I’ve learned since then to let go of anger and grow a more forgiving heart.

How to forgive someone

1 of 12 Decide to forgive.

As Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, says, “Forgiveness changes the present, not the past. It’s a choice you make to heal yourself.”

A patient woman gazes out a window

2 of 12 Be patient.

Sometimes a hurt you thought was healed might resurface. If that happens, look at the situation from where you are now. Recognize you have grown and will continue to grow.

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A boy forgives his younger brother

3 of 12 Surrender the idea that you are right.

Instead of rehashing an offense, try to be kind, compassionate and understanding.

A woman breathes deep at an open window

4 of 12 Breathe out past hurts.

When you feel stuck in anger, take a deep breath, let yourself relax and as you exhale say, “I’m ready to move forward. I forgive.”

A woman writes out an apology

5 of 12 Write your own apology.

If the person who hurt you is no longer in your life or isn’t able to apologize, you can still have closure by writing down the words you long to hear. Consider it a gift to help you forgive.

A woman walks away her emotional hurt

6 of 12

Go outside with the intention of working through whatever is weighing on your heart. Sometimes physically moving forward can help you move on emotionally

A peace lily plant for forgiveness

7 of 12 Cultivate a forgiveness plant.

Use a plant that you have, or buy a peace lily or a purple hyacinth, which traditionally means, I’m sorry. Every time you water it, picture yourself releasing bitterness or regret and finding peace.

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A woman embraces herself

8 of 12 Forgive yourself.

Dwelling on something you wish you hadn’t done? Give yourself a hug and say, “I’m ready to let go of this guilt and begin anew.”

A woman greets her dog in the morning

9 of 12 Look to animals for inspiration.

Often they are harmed by humans, yet they open their hearts again and again to love.

A woman reads the Bible in the morning

10 of 12 Turn to Scripture for healing.

If you keep a mental list of who harmed you and how, replace it with a list of Bible verses about forgiveness, such as Corinthians 13:4-5 “Love is patient and kind…and it keeps no record of wrongs.”

Praying hands in a car.

11 of 12 Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Did someone cut you off in traffic? Make a snarky comment on social media? Let it go.

A woman clutches her forgiving heart

12 of 12 Envision a bright future.

Focus on feeling better by releasing the pain or guilt of wrongdoings. Every moment is a new opportunity to grow a more forgiving heart.

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