How To Strengthen Your Forgiveness Muscle

by Eileen Donnelly, Ed. D., Forgiveness Mentor

Eileen Donnelly is a Forgiveness Mentor working with clients across the region. Questions? Contact her directly at

Strengthening muscles takes work. It requires focusing on effective exercises and ongoing practice. Strengthening muscles requires knowledge and commitment. Determining the right practices and doing the work can lead to desired results.

How we strengthen our muscles can be applied to learning how to forgive. There can be uncomfortable moments one might have when building the forgiveness muscle, much like the “good hurt” that occurs when we work out. Practicing forgiveness has been linked to positive physical and emotional health outcomes. Conversely, holding on to resentment and hurt based on past unhealed wounds can lead to symptoms that can hurt our bodies. One leading researcher, educator, and author has done extensive work on the topic of forgiveness. Dr. Fred Luskin, the author of Forgive for Good, states that, “a number of conclusive scientific studies attest to the healing power of forgiveness”, specifically in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. He also warned that anger, resentment, and hurt can result in increased blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rates. However, learning to forgive can lead to increased energy and a sense of well-being. The Dalai Lama said, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”

Grievances can be large and small. The time and the process of forgiving may differ based on a grievance’s extent and longevity. However, some practices can strengthen our ability to forgive. Just as with anything we want to learn, the more we practice using effective techniques, the more proficient we can become.

Outlined below are ten practices compiled from various authors, practitioners, and educators that can enable us to strengthen our forgiveness muscle. The more you apply these principles, the easier it is to build this muscle.

  • Recognize that forgiveness is for you, not the person that hurt you. Forgiveness provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Countless stories exist of people who have forgiven others, even when they don’t deserve it or it is very difficult, and they have gone on to live incredible lives that enrich others. You don’t have to reconcile with another person to forgive them. In fact, they don’t even need to know.
  • Learn not to take things personally. Remind yourself, “it is not about me.” Don’t increase the suffering of the event by focusing on what other people do to you. You do not know their intention, and creating a grievance based on your own assumptions may lead to a faulty and hurtful conclusion. They may not even be aware of the hurt they have caused you.
  • Learn to pause and not react immediately. By giving yourself time to stop and respond, you are more likely to diminish an inflammatory situation. Recognize you have control over your responses. Be intentional, not reactive. Learn to take deep breaths and slow your body down.
  • Accept what is. Accept who people are. Allow others to be who they are without trying to change them. You can create unenforceable rules by holding others to your expectations. You can wish all you want that people and situations were different, but that could result in causing yourself more suffering. Being attached to a particular outcome can cause stress. Learn to accept reality. If it is a reoccurring hurt, there may need to be an acceptance of what is. Accept the limitations of some relationships.
  • Let go of the hurt. Go with the flow of life when and where possible. The freedom of letting go is so much better for you than holding onto the hurt and suffering.
  • Ask yourself, “What else could this mean? What else can I learn?” Find out more information before you create a story of what happened and why. Try not to create a negative story where you are a victim. Life provides many opportunities for us to learn, grow, and develop. Sometimes the learning is pleasant and fun. Other times it is difficult. Ask yourself, “Does telling the story of my grievance and replaying it in my head serve me well?”
  • With a grievance that is large and traumatic, learn a process to forgive and trust that process. Understand the grievance and how it may tie to your past. Look at the negative and positive impacts of the event. Be aware of how toxic resentment, anger, and worry can be. Write your current story and then create a new story. Determine how to imbed the new story into your life. If you need help with this work, find a mentor that can help you.
  • Cultivate a small community of supporters. Create relationships with a few people that can listen, not just to provide answers, but to be there as you process hurts in your life. Telling your story to a couple of people can help you to handle your grievance. Telling your grievance story to many people can make it more challenging to move away from the pain you have experienced.
  • Know what self-care is for you and practice it. It could be prayer, meditation, exercise, journaling, reading, time with friends, music, hobbies, or silence. All these things and more can restore you and enable you to be more effective when dealing with hurts.
  • Cultivate gratitude for all that is good in your life. Recognize and focus on your blessings. Write them down. Be thankful for the people and things in your life. Notice the beauty of nature and the goodness in people. Make a conscious decision to desire to live in peace and be at peace with yourself.

Practicing these techniques may enable you to let go of what has hurt you. Freeing yourself from the burden of holding onto grievances can result in less stress, less disease, and more peace.

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