Write a Forgiveness Letter

Process the emotions of painful experiences

Jettison grudges and reduce chronic stress

If you harbor a grudge against someone, would you consider letting go of that grudge? Many people who harbor toxic, unprocessed feelings about another person have let go of those feelings by writing a forgiveness letter.

Writing a forgiveness letter is one version of expressive writing. James Pennebaker and Sandy Beall published this technique in 1986. The procedure involves writing for a short period of time (for example, 15 to 30 minutes) about a significant or even traumatic life event that led to a grudge. A forgiveness letter can help you let go of a long-standing grudge and reduce stress in your life by coming to terms with an unresolved, emotionally charged event. It doesn’t matter if the person against whom you hold a grudge is alive or dead.

The following instructions for writing a forgiveness letter were inspired by Opening Up by Writing It Down – How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain by James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth. I highly recommend reading this engaging and useful book.

Find a quiet place where you can think and write for at least 30 minutes without being interpreted. Identify a grudge in your life that you want to eliminate. Bring to mind the person against whom you hold the grudge. Think about the situation(s) that led you to develop the grudge. Think about the words that this person said to you. Think about this person’s actions that harmed you or otherwise caused you to feel bad. Explain how you felt about the situation and how long you’ve held these feelings. Explain how the situation affected your life and how your life might have been different if the unfortunate experience had not happened. Now state that you forgive this person completely for his/her words and actions. Explain that you no longer hold any negative feelings toward him/her. Sign the letter.

When you’ve finished your letter, read it slowly and make any need changes. Decide if you want to give the letter to the person against whom you held the grudge. If not, you might want to burn the letter to signify that you have extinguished your grudge and are moving on with your life.

Years ago, I wrote a forgiveness letter to my deceased father. Writing that letter (it took perhaps 30 minutes) released decades of ill feelings and helped me get on with my life. Why not get rid of your grudge today?

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