The heart of forgiveness -

Forgiveness is about understanding hurt, which becomes anger when not dealt with, preventing healing. Understanding hurt, dealing with the anger and releasing the person who hurt you helps to become whole once more. My blog will be explaining how to forgive as simply as possible.

Do you understand how to forgive and do you struggle with anger?   I certainly have for many years. My life was ruled either by exploding at the slightest event or sinking into the depth of despair. M. van der Merwe, my psychologist, pointed out to me that solving anger through forgiveness was the answer. Reading an article by David Benner explaining forgiveness and anger was the cure I needed. If you would like to find out more about Dr Benner, I have included a link. I have given D Benner’s thoughts on how to forgive confidently.


Living with anger, a  large portion of my life, I discovered that pain and hurt from childhood wounds were to blame. The anger I discovered was a  protective mechanism which parades as an internal disruptor in emotions, blocked healing.


Forgiveness is crucial for healing and as Benner says, “There is nothing that cuts more deeply to the core of our humanity than to be asked to let go of something that feels like our unalienable right”.  Two emotions occur when we are hurt. There is a sense of loss, causing vulnerability; a diminished sense of self and a feeling of being smaller and unprotected. Anger, on the other hand, gives strength and restores power which protects us from sadness, hurt and vulnerability.  Twenty-Four years ago, I did not understand this, and my interpretation was that if I vented, I was releasing the anger healthily?        


The realisation that I needed to forgive myself was a primary factor in the healing process.  Lingering for any length of time in front of my mirror was not a favourite past time of mine.

Reading a book called Self-compassion by Kristin Neff I understood that being gentle and kind to myself rather than harsh, critical and judgemental  was more helpful.


My motto was time heals, so instead of dealing with the pain, I became reclusive, licking my wounds and trying to forget. The problem, however, never resolved itself. According to Benner, this leads to suppression or denial by pushing the feelings down.   Unforgiveness, in turn, caused negative energy to seep into relationships.


There are three main steps to master forgiving according to Benner:-

  • Re-experience the painful place – this is where the emotional preparation for forgiveness begins [the difficult part].
  • Reinterpret or find new ways to understand forgiveness – the thinking part of the steps [not so easy either].
  • Releasing is an act of the will, by letting go – allowing forgiveness to happen [did I say this was not an easy exercise].


Expressing the anger and loss, sometimes over and over again, is cathartic; however, only expressing the anger does not allow healing to take place. Once we penetrate the anger and express what is beneath the anger, healing occurs, which is not easy and requires experiencing and re-experiencing until the pain lessens.


Reinterpreting has three phases:

  1. Having empathy with the other person, realizing that they are hurting as well: hurt people hurt people.
  2. See the person as separate from what they did to you and seeing them with compassion.
  3. We also understand that we make mistakes, that we are people who need forgiveness as well as having to forgive.


Releasing sounds easy, but none of these steps occur without lots of struggling and grappling with what hurt you in the first place. Allowing yourself the liberation of freeing yourself helps achieve the releasing though.

  • Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting Benner says as it is easy to forget and not as easy to forgive: not thinking about it is not forgiving.
  • It is not excusing either: Forgiveness is required precisely because what they did was inexcusable. 
  • Nor is it ignoring or pretending it did not happen.
  • It is not unconditional trust and what has happened; cannot be removed.


 We resist forgiveness as a means of punishment. However the only person receiving punished is ourselves.

 Forgiveness makes us feel vulnerable again, bringing back the sense of loss and smallness. Grudge-holding gives us an advantage over the other person, which makes us feel superior. It’s about letting people off the hook rather than carrying resentment.

forgiveness on the hook
Let them off the hook
To move on, we have to let go:-
  •  of the right to retaliate
  • the right to get back
  • of holding a grudge
  • the right to hurt them
  • of the victim role and the identity as a victim

Forgiveness is difficult amid the hurt. Practicing and looking at the steps above often helps grow your thinking into finding the resources to move forward along the forgiveness path.

To end off with a few famous quotes.

“To forgive is to reach back into the wounds of your past and discover that love is stronger than hate.

To forgive is to allow God to change hatred and bitterness to care and compassion.

To forgive is to invite God to help you forgive even as He has forgiven you.

Invite God to forgive you even as you have forgiven others.”



Creating a life worth living is not only about personal growth, but also about learning to live in the greater world around us. We search for the possibility of trying to be of some service no matter how small to lighten someone else’s load.   The saying goes ‘a stranger is just a friend you do not know’; so growth is about looking inside, and outside of ourselves?



When we mention forgiveness in global terms, stories of WWII comes to mind. My dad went up north, and up until the day he died, he never spoke about what he experienced. A lovely coffee table book on WWII has never been opened; the trauma he experienced too great. Remembering the atrocities of this war is crucial for us to learn not to repeat these mistakes; forgiveness is crucial for us to be able to continue living together.


Nelson Mandela is another icon that reminds us of what forgiveness is all about. When I was a child,  I often wondered why our maid had to eat and drink out of a metal plate and cup. An appropriate answer was never forthcoming that satisfied my curiosity and as a child who did not question authority, this became ‘another acceptable cultural practice’. Not fully understanding what democracy was or that apartheid was not acceptable, my heart still questioned the ethics of this way of life. It was difficult, and I felt helpless in finding solutions. 

 Mandela on forgiveness
We were lucky enough to see Nelson Mandela at my daughter’s graduation. Nelson Mandela’s grandson was graduation at the same time.

When Nelson Mandela came out of prison, the enormity of what was happening, albeit excited at the prospect of living in this ‘new’ democracy, escaped me. However, this was a chance to finally release my ill-at-ease feelings about South African Apartheid and live hand in hand with different cultures and races.   My visualisation of this rainbow nation coming together to live in harmony did not seem to happen as I had hoped.


Not being exposed to nonracial living, I found it difficult to adjust to the new world around me.  Considering my difficult journey in life trying to come to terms with my past hurts, I wondered how an entire nation could heal their wounds without any form of psychological help. Empathy plays a part in helping understand each other’s pain in situations like these.

The truth and reconciliation commission. (“a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” Mr Dullah Omar, former Minister of Justice) has been internationally recognized as a key component of the country’s democratic transition despite its problematic aspects ( Understanding the truth and reconciliation was hard for me, however, it was not helping me understand how to relate to other cultures. Although it was perfect for people deeply affected,  I somehow felt stranded, almost like a forgotten toy left out in the rain, slightly damaged and no way of fixing it. How could I understand the trauma?

 If one considers that forgiveness in this country is a two-way street affecting all races, then change could begin to occur. There are so many fantastic stories on integration, however, problems run deep; there are still areas where emotions run so high, that it seems impossible to find solutions.


A South African choir was on America’s Got Talent recently; the reason they had created the choir was that their lives were affected by poverty and their chances of obtaining a better way of life slim.

It is so sad to hear stories like this and answers to these problems so difficult to solve; life goes on as usual until another jolt of reality forces us out of the peaceful existence of accepted normalcy. In order to be a part of the solution, rather than the problem, I take personal responsibility in healing myself and seeing all people equally. With the limited knowledge and wisdom I have right now; being compassionate and having empathy for those less fortunate than myself I do the best I can with the resources I have, hoping for answers to solve the criteria.

A famous quote from Nelson Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.



The heart of forgiveness

‘Life is difficult’ – was the short first sentence in the book called The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, and when life is difficult life becomes introspective.  I remember crying daily for two years after severe and painful events in my life, a rather long time to be in such misery, fighting undefinable symptoms: coughing, headaches, exhaustion and puffy eyes.


My next consideration was suicide, but, I realised having children made it rather difficult as who would look after them.  That was the day I reached out for help – the turning point of my life.    Thinking of my sadness for all those years and the damage my sadness caused my children, a lot of self-forgiveness had to take place; however, in those two years, I mourned for many hurts. My entire dysfunctional childhood, my loneliness, rejection and feelings of invisibility, my poor self-image and my low self-worth.  

 I am sad to admit, forgiveness did not come easy to me, and even although I had read Dr Benner’s notes, at the time, many years ago,  I struggled with forgiveness.  Instead of being sad, I became angry, giving me the power to go forward, yet left me with none of the healing.  Anger became the ruling force, and I forgot why I was angry. Reading Dr Benner’s notes again, I wondered why it took me so long to heal.  It said what I needed to hear.


 Finding healing was critical for my well being, no matter how long it takes, as experiencing the joy that life offers propels me towards a more wholehearted way of living. Finding out how to forgive enabled me to create a stepping stone from which to launch myself into a more positive direction. Learning to forgive daily even hourly is a discipline I have started practicing following Dr Benners three-point plan. 

The minute I could understand why I was feeling diminished, vulnerable and small helped me. Instead of ruminating and becoming the victim,  empathy and compassion was introduced for myself and the other person, creating a new way to look at the problem, enabling me to let it go. 

One step at a time the heart of forgiveness
Poem on coping with forgiveness.
When I was struggling as a teenager, my mom gave me this card which helped me a lot.

Forgiveness is difficult; however,  once you allow yourself to forgive, it becomes easier.  If you have a plan, discipline, empathy, and compassion,  you are creating a heart for forgiveness.


Matthew 6:14 the Message version

“In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do.  You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.  If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”

This is our daily bread forgiveness
“Give us this day our daily bread”

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.”   Excerpt. The Lord’s Prayer.

I say the Lord’s prayer with as much meaning as possible every night and every morning, pondering on each sentence to enable meaningful interaction between God and myself. When I get to that part on forgiveness,  I say Lord, I am doing the best I can.  On reading Matthew 6:14, I realize that those times when I feel disconnected from God is when my heart is not in the right place, so I need to become more authentic with what I say and what I do.  Wanting a deeper connection, becoming more obedient to His word, I can become more connected with God.  Therefore, forgiveness has to become more of a necessary practice, rather than a desire or need.

Next week I will be discussing gratitude and how simply being grateful creates a life worth living.


Dr David Benner, an internationally known depth psychologist, author, and wisdom teacher.

Van der Merwe, H. Clinical Psychologist.

Neff K. Phd. 2011. Self Compassion, Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Hodder & Stoughton.


    1. Thank you Bev, Those are such kind words and I appreciate them so much. Hopefully, through my struggles, someone else might not have to take such a long time to recover as I have done. Keep well and many blessings.

  1. Such great insights !if we could only all think like Nelson this beautiful country would not be crying at the moment !
    Keep going Les you are doing a superb job.

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