Mon | Mar 30, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | Three critical first steps to forgiveness

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2020 | 12:07 AM

The stakes are high. The corrosive, debilitating and costly effects of unforgiveness must be reversed as a matter of urgency. This societal disease needs to be addressed frontally and no longer passed off as being ‘a natural part of human nature’.

We have expressed and heard reasons for unforgiveness in many forms:”It takes time”, “It depends on the circumstances”, “But they have not apologised”, “I don’t think they are truly sorry”, “But it happens over and over”, “I really want to forgive, but I don’t know how.”

Here are three critical steps for those who seriously appreciate the terrors of unforgiveness and genuinely want to move to a better place in their lives.


Imagine that you are on a deserted island away from all that you currently know. This is just you, free from everything and everyone that might influence your thoughts.

In that space, come to grips with how YOU really feel. Strip away what others might think. Close your mind to the offender and what they did, are doing, or refusing to do.

In your little world – just you – reflect on how you feel. Critically, you must also ask yourself why you are feeling the way that you do. Don’t skirt around it. Be brutally honest with yourself. It is our interpretation and how we internalise the event(s) that are driving the lingering hurt. Find how you chose to respond and why.

Could it be pride, jealousy, envy, low self-esteem, thoughts that you deserved better (life is unfair to you), feelings that this situation is unique to you, or a desire for revenge?


When we are going through the throes of unforgiveness, the reality is that the situation that we are dealing with now is unlikely to be what actually happened at the outset.

Unforgiveness comes from planting the seed of what we perceive as a negative action. We then nurture it, through constant rumination, into becoming a huge tree.

The incident takes place, and we dig the hole. As we reflect, the person’s face is now more angry or disdainful than it was in reality. The tone of voice in our edited version is far more upsetting than an actual recording would reveal. Roots of unforgiveness start to take hold.

Still worse, we share our edited version with others who were not present, and they add disturbing possibilities to the picture. Watering and fertiliser are lavishly applied.

Each replay of the situation moves it further away from what really happened and all factors that contributed to it. Nice, this tree will soon bear the fruits of unforgiveness!

The route to forgiveness includes this step of unpacking. From a calm place, work to look beyond the hurt that you are feeling, and distill what really happened and the surrounding circumstances.

Depending on where you are mentally, you might not be ready for this next mini step. However, giving thought to what could have been in the thinking (or lack thereof) on the part of the object of your unforgiveness makes a huge difference to the outcome.


Unforgiveness must be classified as a silent killer.

Medical science documents the significant impact of unforgiveness on our immune system. A scary number of serious, even life-threatening illnesses are directly linked to unforgiveness. Not letting go of hurt eats away at your physical being.

Impaired health is costly in so many ways. Is the suffering really worth it?

What about the medical bills or lost earnings?

One overlooked cost is the impact on your social support system. Operating under the constant cloud of unforgiveness, we develop antisocial mindsets.

We either push people away because they prefer to stay clear of our negative vibes or we just don’t feel like interacting with others.

People with a strong support network do far better at coping with life and overcoming challenges.

What about costs related to your mental well-being?

Unforgiveness can wrap us in a blanket of victimhood. This then causes us to reflect on how unfair life is and to become moody. In effect, unforgiveness can steal our joy.

Unforgiveness also costs us spiritually. We were drilled into reciting the Lord’s Prayer. In it, Christ asks for us to be forgiven. Note, however, that it is in proportion to how we forgive.

Are we willing to take that risk with our souls?

Unfortunately, unforgiveness is not only costly to you as an individual. Unforgiveness frustrates teamwork, breaks up relationships, and promotes confrontation in communities.

When we take into account the direct and ripple effects of unforgiveness, we cannot avoid being called to action in our homes, workplaces, and recreation facilities to teach and reinforce a different mindset with respect to how we handle conflict and the issue of forgiveness.

We see the impact of unforgiveness on teams and their effectiveness, and so we have developed a 90-day high-performance boost for teams. More here:

- Trevor E. S. Smith with the Success with People Academy. We guide the development of high-performance teams. We are interpersonal relations, group dynamics, and performance-enhancement specialists. We provide learning and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. We offer behavioural assessments from extended DISC, sales and sports competence assessments on the FinxS Platform, and e-Competency frameworks and e-Onboarding solutions in our SPIKE technology platform. Email: