Forgiveness is a powerful tool! However, for most of us, it’s not an easy thing to do. For this reason, I use journal prompts to forgiveness with my clients. I, myself, carried unforgiveness in my heart for my maternal grandmother and my father for years. Being a licensed counselor didn’t keep me from experiencing pain in life. I had to walk through the forgiveness process much like I teach my clients to do. A part of my healing journey came through writing my first novel A Time to Heal. But, it was only the beginning.
How do you truly forgive someone?
I want you to consider how you would want to feel if you hurt someone and you wanted forgiveness for it. Truly forgiving someone frees you. It’s necessary to feel your feelings but you also need to heal your hurts. Unforgiveness keeps you stuck and anchored to the person who hurt you. Release them and you free yourself. Hold on to the pain and emotionally imprison yourself for life.
You can forgive and remember. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget the offense and give the person a free pass back into your life. However, you only want to remember so you set the appropriate boundaries to make it less likely that this same person will be able to hurt you in the same way again. Using journal prompts to forgiveness offers you a written strategy to walk the process through in your mind before you activate it in your life.
There are studies which suggest a link between unforgiveness and physical illness. Cancer, heart disease, pain, anxiety, and depression are among the ailments named. As a mental health professional, I can tell you that anxiety and depression are most certainly tied to unforgiveness as well as other unresolved traumas. As a person of faith, I also believe there is a spiritual component to unforgiveness as well. If you’re not interested in this aspect, you can simply skip to the next session. But, I do want to address this as it pertains to followers of Christ.
What is forgiveness according to the Bible?
Matthew 6:14 in the TLV states “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 18:22 tells a detailed story of this Biblical truth while likening Heaven to the parable. If you’re a believer, you must forgive so that you are also forgiven when you ask. Because I write many of my prayers, I use these journal prompts to forgiveness to help me learn to do this as well.
Although this may not be how you choose to process your thoughts and feelings from now on, I do want to encourage you to try it. In this article I’m going to share 7 journal prompts to forgiveness to help you reach the freedom you so greatly deserve. From this blog you can expect to work through a process along with me. I will give you the prompt, show you how I would respond to it, offer my best explanation of why the question or command is here, and how you can walk it out in your life. If you don’t have a journal, check out the one linked here. For now, grab your pen, paper, and get ready to write!
Replay the event that needs to be forgiven
Honestly, even though I don’t think about it often, I still haven’t forgiven my dad for giving away my earned track medals from middle school and high school. When I went back to my childhood home, I noticed my trophy case was empty of medals. I asked him where they were and what he told me sounded utterly ridiculous! He said he gave them to some kids who didn’t have any. My thought, rightfully so, was that they didn’t have any because they didn’t earn any! Oh, my goodness I was so upset. As I think about it now, I can still feel it.
What I need to do now is the same thing I’m going to ask you to do. I’m going to choose forgiveness. Using journal prompts is an excellent way to do this. My father is still alive, and I still have a relationship with him. However, even if I decided to bring this incident up to him, he probably would vaguely remember it. One huge reason you want to forgive is because your unforgiveness is causing more damage for you than it is the person who wronged you. Get comfortable with letting go of the hold other people and events have on you. Then you’ll be able to move forward with your healing process.
You’ve just acknowledged something and/or someone you need to forgive. Remember, this is not for them. This is for you. I wanted you to replay the incident so you bring all the details you recall to the forefront. It’s okay to feel the feelings. Now, it’s time to heal the hurt. While mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, they typically attempt to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune time. You can take control of your healing process and do it in your own way if you’re intentional about it.
Know where you are mentally and emotionally. If you need help, get the help you need. Find a therapist, psychiatrist, coach, mentor or whatever type of mental health provider you need. If you find yourself in crisis or simply do not know where else to turn you can dial or text 988 nationwide, 24/7.
Own the part you played in the incident
This is usually a really difficult topic to discuss and to see. I played a part in my own pain. How? I left my medals in the house on the assumption that they would always be there. I was an adult, with my own apartment, and my own life. So, I could have and, now looking back, I know I should have taken all the things that were precious to me, with me. I’m in no way taking ownership of my dad’s thought process and actions of doing what he did. However, I am taking responsibility for my own.
I need to at least try and see the incident from my dad’s point of view. Maybe he thought since I left my medals I didn’t really want them. If I look at this way, it’s a lot easier for me to show forgiveness toward him. It’s also a reminder that I need to forgive myself too! Sure, he could have asked me. But he didn’t. I could have just as easily told him to make sure he took good care of my medals because they were important to me. But I didn’t. When I view the incident from both perspectives there’s an opportunity for forgiveness on both sides. I need to forgive myself as well as my dad.
I say out loud, in front of a mirror, to myself “I forgive you for not taking the medals with you. You didn’t know they would be given away. They’re gone now but you can still cherish the memories. I release you from feelings of frustration with yourself and with your dad. You are completely free.” You do something similar for yourself and your situation.
Then, you use your journal prompts to write out what it would sound like to show this same type of forgiveness to whoever you need to forgive on the other side of the incident. Call the person by name and release them. This is your first step to freedom whether you ever tell them about it or not.
Now, you’re free to move on to the next steps. Just because you freed yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have to heal from the damage that may have been caused from the incident. Forgiveness unlocks you so you can move forward and get out of the stuck places you may have been in. Keep going!
Describe what you think the other person is experiencing around this incident
As I stated earlier, my dad would likely remember giving away my medals, but not in the same way I do. My dad is the kind of person who would do things for people so they see him as a good person. He really is a good person but I don’t know if he knows that. So, I suspect that he wasn’t looking at this incident from my perspective at all. He was probably trying to impress these kids and make them happy by receiving something. And, I’m sure he accomplished that! I don’t believe he has or had any idea of how I felt about my medals. I’m pretty sure my feelings didn’t cross his mind when he considered doing what he did.
Often, attempting to understand the other person, whether it’s fact or not, can help lessen your degree of emotion. Do you think the person had ill intentions or was it an accident? Were they deliberately hurtful and unapologetic or was it an unintentional offense? Did you ever tell them how deeply you were hurt by their actions or did you just go away holding onto resentment? If there were no boundaries set by you around this topic or subject, is the person truly at fault? Looking at it from their perspective might give you some assistance on how you’ll go about your forgiveness process.
Use the questions I just asked you. Think about who you know this person to be in all areas of their life. Do they hurt a lot of people in this same way or in other ways? If you dare, bring up the incident to them and ask them about it. Let them tell you what they were thinking when it happened. You can literally take your cues from them if you have the chance. If not, you’ll have to use your imagination. Err on the side of it being unintentional if you don’t know for sure. Use your journal prompts to create different scenarios of forgiveness to work through. But, whatever you do, decide you’re going to forgive no matter what.
Write out what a true apology would sound like to you
An apology from my dad would sound something like this:
Frog (which is what he calls me), I didn’t really think about it when I did it. I just thought the kids would like them so I gave them to them. If I knew you wanted them I wouldn’t have done that. If I could get them back for you I would. If I could buy you some new ones I would. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first. Tell me what I can do to make it up to you?
You need to know your apology language. Sometimes people will say they’re sorry and leave it that, which is unacceptable to you. But how is anyone supposed to know that if you don’t know it? Learn how you need to hear and feel an apology so it resonates with you. Don’t leave the other person thinking everything is okay because they said “sorry” when it’s really not what you needed. It’ okay to teach people how to treat you. But you have to know how you want to be treated and not just how you don’t.
Take the example I gave you in the first paragraph in this section and tailor it to what you need to hear. What would make you feel like the person is really sincere? Do you need them to tell you how they will make sure it never happens again? Be confident in what you need to hear as an apology. I’ve also included a link to a quiz where you can find out what your apology language is. Dr. Chapman is the creator of the 5 love languages and he has another component of that for apologies. If you know what that is then you can teach other people to make amends in such a way that makes forgiveness a whole lot easier.
How is unforgiveness affecting your life now?
I have done a much better job of forgiving lately. But, in the past, it was keeping me stuck. Sure, I was working and doing all the things. Then every so often those bad and painful thoughts would creep up. The next thing you know, I’ve lost an hour of productivity because I wasn’t in control of my thinking-feeling cycle. My thoughts had taken over and I couldn’t seem to do anything else until I pulled myself out of it. Very annoying and sometimes debilitating.
You might believe unforgiveness is not a big deal. Possibly you’re thinking that you’re punishing the other person for what they’ve done to you. But, stop and think for a moment. We’ve already discussed that it’s highly possible that the person you’re refusing to forgive hasn’t been thinking about you or the incident at all. You’re potentially holding back your forgiveness of a person who doesn’t even remember hurting you. I want you to take note of the things that you’re being held hostage to that is only effecting you and no one else.
You’re stuck and everyone else around you is moving on and leaving you behind. If you understand how unforgiveness if effecting you, it gives you an idea of what you could be doing with your life if you would decide to forgive.
Consider the things you keep saying you want to do. Could it possibly be that you haven’t done them because unforgiveness has you bound? Think about the mental space you could free up if you were able to stop getting lost in thoughts of paying someone back for your pain. Forgiveness might allow you to take the course you’ve been wanting to take if you stopped blaming someone for your money problems. It might free you up to move to a city you want to live in if you’re able to process through moving to the place you’re in for the relationship that didn’t work out. Go deep. Unforgiveness is holding you back. You get to decide, from what.
What will your life look like once all is forgiven?
I won’t have anything holding me back! Those thoughts that try to creep up on me at the most inopportune times will have nowhere to land. I will no longer give space for the past to go unresolved. It’s not that things will never happen again. But once I learn how to forgive quickly and for good, I will be able to use that in any situation I face going forward. In the incident I’ve used as a part of these journal prompts for forgiveness, I will no longer have anything keeping me from having the best relationship with my dad that I possibly can.
You want to use your imagine to go to the place where you are no longer stuck and holding a grudge. You’re free! You have no reason to have someone on your mind. There’s no need to get tight in the chest when you have to go somewhere and possibly run into them. Your mind is powerful. Your actions will follow your thoughts. See yourself free in your mind so everything you do going forward will lead you down that path.
Use your journal prompts to forgiveness to start leading your thoughts in the direction of freedom. In your journal and in your mind, it’s always okay to dream. If you can see and feel it you’ll want it. Once you want it, you won’t let anything stop you from getting it. You have a say in whether or not your dreams come true. If you will imagine yourself living in a world where you are mentally free, you can then start taking steps toward that level of freedom. Believe it’s possible. Know that you don’t need the other person to apologize in order to have this experience.
How could you use the pain of what happened in your situation to help someone else?
I use my own pain everyday because I’m a mental health professional. I write books and create content about things I’ve been through as well as my clients. I have the power to at least tell someone about what I’ve been through. I hope you and others will follow my lead and not remain stuck as long as I did. I always want to remind myself and encourage others to intentionally seek mental freedom.
What happened with my dad wasn’t the incident that went wrong our relationship. But I encourage you to forgive each event at a time. I don’t want you to focus on getting over stuff. I’d prefer you process through it so you learn not to allow yourself to ever go back to that space.
You weren’t put on the Earth just to suffer. We are all here to help and serve others. What you go through doesn’t end with you. I can almost guarantee that someone else who crosses your path will be in the same situation you were in one day. You could help them do it better and sooner than you did. We don’t all have to experience the same struggles if we’re willing to take advice for someone who’s already been there. We don’t have to let people believe that experience is always the best teacher. We could share what we know if they’re willing to listen.
Be intentional about working through your forgiveness process. Then, go back and look at how you did. How long were you unwilling or unable to forgive? How did you get to the point where you were able to do it? Capture all of that information and then start sharing it with people. Offer it to your family and friends first. Then move on to strangers. Put it on social media.
Of course, you don’t have to share all the gory details of certain aspects of your incident if that isn’t appropriate. Just focus your attention on helping those who want the help. They see you as an expert because you’ve been through it. Don’t worry about being a “no name”. When people are hurting and looking for answers, they don’t really care who you are or where you’re from. They just want to stop hurting and you can help them with that!
Final Thoughts On Journal Prompts to Forgiveness
So many people withhold forgiveness because we don’t understand how important it is for us. We typically think it’s for the other person. Letting someone off the hook for hurting us is unimaginable. But I want you to come to terms with knowing forgiveness is for you! Forgiving the other person doesn’t grant them automatic access back into your life. It simply frees you from the stuck place you’re in because your unwillingness to forgive.
No matter what hurts you’ve experienced, you always have the opportunity to forgive. I always encourage anyone I work with to be proactive about your mental health. The 7 journal prompts to forgiveness I’ve outlined in this blog will help you get on the road to doing just that! If you need additional resources, check out Psychology Today. If you’re in crisis you can dial or text 988 at any time, nationwide.
If you’re like me and need an opportunity to forgive one or more of your parents, please consider joining us in the LOVE YOU, FORGIVE THEM Challenge. It’s a 7-day virtual challenge that will give you some tips, steps, and tools for your healing process. This is not about bashing your parents or even having them forgive you. It’s about you healing from childhood trauma caused by your upbringing.