When we are hurt, it is natural to experience fear or anger. So, when you encounter the wrongdoer in person or in your thoughts; you might tense up, withdraw into your shell or lash out at him or her in your mind. Fear prompts us to run, and anger prompts us to attack. It can be difficult to forgive if fear or anger still dominates your thoughts. Here are some steps you can take to focus on forgiveness as intentional, a choice rather than a feeling.
Step 1: Empathize with the person who hurt you. Explain the hurtful act, not from your perspective, but from that of the other. Why did the wrongdoer do what he or she did? Still better, explain the hurtful event as the wrongdoer's lawyer or a mutual friend might do. The purpose of this imaginative exercise is not to arrive at the most accurate explanation of the wrongdoer's actions but to find a plausible explanation with which you can live and let go. For example, you may say to yourself, "People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, anger or hurt" or, "People are not thinking rationally when they hurt others."
Step 2: Give the unselfish gift of forgiveness. Recall a time when you felt guilty for hurting or offending someone. Consider how that person forgave you. The person you hurt gave you a gift and you perhaps felt grateful. Why did that person give you that gift? Because he or she realized that you needed it! Giving the gift makes us feel better. As the saying goes, "If you want to be happy for a lifetime, help someone." A gift is given to help the other person. Offer the gift of forgiveness for the wrongdoer's own good. You might get a gift in exchange, that is, your own peace of mind.
Step 3: Hold onto forgiveness. Memories of the hurtful event will surface even after you have forgiven the wrongdoer. Hopefully, the memories will not be as emotional and disturbing as they were before you exercised your prerogative of forgiveness. Forgiveness should be genuine. Learn to interrupt all thoughts related to revenge and self-pity. Work at learning and practicing forgiveness. Studies show that forgiveness reduces chronic anger, fear and stress, and increases optimism and brings health benefits.