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How to forgive someone who hurt you

You were in a vulnerable spot and were blindsided. That person you trusted hurt you in an unthinkable way. The thing that was most precious to you was stolen and now life can never be the same. Every day you live with the pain of raw, exposed nerve endings – the throb of bitterness, the flashback…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

You were in a vulnerable spot and were blindsided. That person you trusted hurt you in an unthinkable way. The thing that was most precious to you was stolen and now life can never be the same. Every day you live with the pain of raw, exposed nerve endings – the throb of bitterness, the flashbacks, the thoughts of how things could have played out differently. What do you do?

We all deal with it. To be human is to at times suffer extreme pain – rape, abuse, robbery, murder or merely betrayal. You’re not unique – we all get wounded. Yet, sometimes the pain of that loss is so unspeakable that we don’t even have the vocabulary to describe what it’s doing to us.

The result is often a feeling of bitterness that holds us prisoner and walls us off from a part of ourselves. It’s irrational, yet we feel powerless to change – we’re actually punishing ourselves and expecting the person who wounded us to suffer.

The only way out of that prison, of course, is forgiveness. I remember suffering two betrayals, forgiving both parties right away, and still struggling for a couple of years to figure out whom I could ever trust and how I should feel.

The way out for me began when I chose to forgive. It didn’t stop the pain or the flashbacks, but it did drain the infected wound inside me. Then, every time that those memories came to mind, I chose to forgive again, because forgiveness is never a one-time event. Every time the old memories are stirred up, you have to belly up the bar and forgive again.

Jesus began his ministry by pounding this theme. Read Matthew 5-7 and count how many times he said things like, “Pray for those who give you a hard time.” If we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we’ll do what he says (1 John 2:1-6 is unequivocal on this score – we have no wiggle room). As hard as this may seem, we simply have to forgive; we have no other scriptural options. So here’s a process:

  1. Be clear about your wounding – who was involved and what they did.
  2. Try to understand what their motivations may have been.
  3. Recognize what unforgiveness has done or will do to you – it keeps you from being your best self.
  4. Choose to forgive. Write out your forgiveness in a journal and then, better still, a letter.
  5. If possible, ask to sit down with the person. Tell them how what they did hurt you; then forgive them, no strings attached. True freedom only comes when forgiveness is total.
  6. Realize that how the person responds is irrelevant. You do the right thing; if they can’t respond with grace, that is their issue, not yours.
  7. Every time old memories and feelings come up, forgive the person again, and keep forgiving.
  8. Pray for the person. Ask God to bless them.
  9. Meditate on Jesus’ radical words about forgiveness. Soak in them. Remember that, like old age, forgiveness ain’t for sissies.

Also, check out: Admitting My Mistakes
For more on this, visit my “Living Free” topic on this blog.

Comments (33)

  • number 8. pray for God to bless them. Forgiveness isn’t complete until you can actually wish them well. When you do…it changes everything.

  • Thank you for your article on forgiveness. It has helped me so much. I have been battling with unforgiveness in my heart for almost a year now and it has nearly destroyed me. I lost my best friend by having an emotional affair with her husband. When I could no longer carry on lying to her i told her about the affair. Unfortunately she believed her husband who lied to her and told her that I was mad and that I hated her. I have lost everything I hold dear by telling the truth and in the process also earned the hate of the whole family (They all believe the husband) They have blackened my name in the town where I live and have made my life a misery by repeating the untrue things that was said about me to others. Thank God that there is hope, through Him.

  • Amen. I’ve seen this happen first hand. I watched other people do it, saw how it set them free, and then I did it myself, only to see if transform me and others around me.

  • I love the word picture – a festering abscess. It requires being cut open, then frequent washing out until it closes up. If you don’t keep the wound open and washed out, it will just reform and keep causing problems. May God open up more of our abscesses of unforgiveness so they can be healed.

  • amen, andy. i agree. i love how this is something you do to set yourself free… not in a selfish way, just a realistic one. you can only control how you react to the issues in your life. if someone doesn’t receive the grace you’re extending them, that’s not your problem. you’re off the hook, free from the plague, ready to go live your life.

  • “…forgiveness is never a one-time event”
    How true! We forgive and we think we are DONE WITH IT until another reason to feel hurt props up… I learnt it very recently … when I, who deserves nothing, has been permenantly forgiven by my heavenly Father, how can I (or who am I to) not forgive someone who wronged me? Freely I received the gift of forgiveness and freely I must give it… Praise the Lord! Thanks for that one!

  • This past weekend I heard something related to this that was simple but so profound. A speaker said “When someone asks for your forgiveness (meaning they are confessing that they did something wrong to you), look them in the eye and say ‘You are forgiven’. Saying ‘it’s okay’ does not extend forgiveness.” That was huge for me! Not only do we not offer forgiveness when we are hurt, we are horrible at giving forgiveness when asked! Praise God that He is so much better at this than we are!

  • Henri Nouwen talks about forgiveness as climbing over a wall, its is something I am working on… Daily…thanks for the insight tips!

  • I forgive to receive forgiveness. If I do not forgive, I place myself in the same category when I mess up again, and treat myself bad as I would others. All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God, and we must continue to love God’s creation, but hate the sin that the Devil has fouled people’s souls.

  • To: Little Person,
    I have been struggling for two years with forgiving a friend whom I no longer see. Tough one. I struggle with forgiving this person every single day of my life. I thank God for the teaching and the reader comments that are in this site. It has given me new and fresh ideas as to how to approach forgiveness and I pray that this helps you as well.

    Please log on to CBN.com and find Gordon Robertson’s teaching on forgiveness. I think you will see the link after clicking into “The 700 Club”. This is another good teaching that may help you, too.

    God Bless and I will pray for you. Susan

  • My partner did something to me that really hurt and I made the mistake while I was angry and hurt, of hurting him back. I feel really guilty and wish I hadnt done it.
    I need to forgive him, so I feel like myself again and be free of the worry and hurt. I want to forgive him so we can move on with our lives together, as we love each other very very much and are very happy. Can you give me some personal advice please.. would be extremely grateful.

    • Kiiirst,

      Do what you can control and be at peace. Jesus was big on forgiving others, even the ones that have hurt you.

  • Thanks for the advice. Was just wondering, when i’m with my boyfriend or think about him, how can I forget the horrible memory and just feel free and myself..? Because it reminds me off it sometimes when i’m with him or thinking of him.

  • No one is perfect. We ALL make mistakes. We are human and to be that we make mistakes to learn from them and become better, stronger and more educated people. Remember that 🙂

  • Seth, I googled “forgiving someone who hurt you in ministry” and your blog post came up first. First it made me laugh that Seth Barnes would of course be the first post that came up. Then I read it and was incredibly blessed and ministered to.

    Thanks Seth!

  • Hi, My name is Marie and I am about 19 yrs. Old. As you may know adolescence is one of the hardest things. Well when I was about 17 I met this boy. He was 19. He had attractive features which drew me to him. I ignored all the warnings my best friends told me about him. I ended up giving him my virginity. And about a week afterword I called him and he said before hr quickly hung up “I don’t fuck wit you anymore” and all I could say was okayy. After that I became depressed, I gained weight, my hair fell out, and my grades declined. I ended up dropping out of high school that he also attended. I cried three months stairght andfood became comfort. I gained about 40 pounds. Recently, he wrote to me on facebook. I since then have graduated high school, I’m working as a CNA and I’m doing really well. He told me in the message I really want you. And at first I was considering speaking to him. But then I had flashbacks about everything. How I wished everyday that he would speak to me. How I cried every morning because I couldn’t face him. That’s when I realized that chapter in my life hadn’t been closed. I hadn’t forgiven him or myself. What should I do?

  • You did the right thing, Michelle. Truth and time go hand-in-hand. Just as you felt compelled to tell the truth, so others will too.

    God bless you as you wait for healing to come. It will.

  • Recently, I was given a notice to move out of the house that I’ve been renting a room in for the last 2 yrs. The owner of the home and I have been getting closer as friends and we always talked about how we would live together forever. I really believed that I had a home. She asked me to leave out of the blue. I never saw it coming. She has hurt me very deeply. I am a born again christian and am having a real problem with anger, hate and unforgiveness. These emotions are affecting my relationship with God. I am stressed, weak and experiencing severe headaches. I know in my mind that I must forgive if I want to be forgiven. God says if we cannot forgive that He will not forgive us. But, my heart is in pain by the way she has hurt me. God is the only one who can help me to forgive when all I want to do is hurt her back.

  • Dear Hurt Deeply,

    I suggest that you talk to her. There is more to the picture than meets the idea.

    One reason you are stressed is that this is an unresolved situation. The way you are responding now is probably one reason that your friend dumped you so suddenly. She probably dreaded doing that, but felt like she couldn’t talk to you about why she needed to do so, knowing that you’d probably respond as you have.

    Perhaps she is hurting too. You owe it to yourself and to her to find out what motivated her action.

    And independent of what she says, forgiveness is the one action you can take to relieve the stress that requires no response on her part.

  • Thank you seth for your insight and wisdom. Forgiveness is the only way for me especially as a Christian. God says to love your enemies. She is my enemy. I thought she was a friend but she is the devil in desguise. She knows how much I loved living in her home and how much it meant to me. There is no excuse for her cruelty. She has a problem with herself. I have never done anything to deserve this type of treatment. She is being intentionally evil. There is no excuse for her inappropriate behavior. She could always talk to me about anything and she knows that. Why do people hurt others so deeply???

  • how do I forgive somebody that hury me so badly ….. do i forgive him or just leave it to god…. but this preson is always hurting me ……..

  • Sarah,

    Forgiving him doesn’t mean trusting him. It just means choosing to not hold him accountable for the hurt he inflicted (leaving that to God) and choosing to not be bitter about what he did.

    You forgive him not to help him, but to help you. The bitterness will continue to make you miserable. God made you for joy. Choose joy by releasing the bitterness.

  • My name is Paulette Jenezon I’m livein in Suriname.
    With my two children . My husband have passway on the 25/1/2011
    Why I need to forgive this man he is cost of my husband dieat.
    he was the partner in a timber company
    My husband had blood pressed and he was sick.
    And that man had a big fight with my husband over the phone. And my husband had a heart Acct and die infringe of me.
    Every day I live with this hurt in me.
    now I wont to forgive this man not that he have done any good for me and my kids.
    just to move on with mylife and be good for my kids ans to fined price

  • Seth, God bless you for sharing this with us today. God never ceases to amaze me by the way he provides the right solutions for me exactly when I need it the most. Your blog today was truly a balm in Gilead for me. I’m continually grateful to our Father for you and your ministry.


  • Seth, I wanted to share with you the
    revelation knowledge that I got last night. I was thinking about your blog
    and the scripture where Jesus tells his disciples to forgive “70 X7”. That
    verse has always disturbed me. I used to ask myself, “how can I keep
    allowing anyone to hurt me that many times over?” But what you shared,
    coupled with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, led me to realize that the verse can
    also apply every time the memory of hurts (regardless of what they are) come
    up. The power of forgiveness is that it heals the wound every time it
    reopens. It’s so simple, but, still blew my mind last night!


  • What if your peers at work that you loved so much, went to court against you and spoke lies against you. The Judge ruled against you because all your peers lied.

    how could you forgive? I still pray for these people but I am bitter for life. Will God ever bring justice on earth?

  • I am currently being hurt by my wife and another man; they are having an emotional affair. I played my part by leaving a void in my wife that was taken up by another man. But I know my mistake and have asked for forgiveness. I want to work things out with my wife, no doubt about it. But the connection she feels with this man is still there and they still talk; he does live 3 hours away. The problem I’m having is that fresh wounds and new hurt takes place every day because this is not something that took place in the past. So how can I forgive somebody when the pain is basically current and takes place daily? I am being challenged like never before and need strength. I do believe if my wife and I get through this, we will be stronger than ever. Thanks.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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