ADVICE: Finding forgiveness

By Drum Digital
10 October 2011

When we’ve been hurt it’s not easy to forgive the other person and move on. Here’s how to get on with your life.

When something bad happens or someone betrays you, feelings of anger and bitterness can linger for years before you can find it in your heart to forgive the person and move on.

This is what happened to Stella Masego* when her aunt and two nephews were brutally murdered on the East Rand by their 19-year-old neighbour.

Stella found it hard to come to terms with her senseless loss. For five years after the murders she felt rage and hatred towards the murderer. She also wanted revenge.

“I wanted him to suffer for what he did,” she explains. Then, while working through her grief by keeping a journal, she was suddenly able to empathise with the young man who had ended the lives of her loved ones.

“One day I was writing a poem and all of a sudden I put myself in his shoes and realised something must have gone terribly wrong in his life for him to have those feelings. My pain, and the resentment I felt towards him, vanished and I decided to forgive him,” Stella explains.

Her faith played a big role in her being able to forgive the young man but she still regrets not formally reconciling with him.

“I was afraid of him . . . and he later committed suicide in prison. I wish I had written to him,” she says.

Joburg social worker Monique Starkowitz, who works at the Family Life Centre, says you don’t have to approve of what has happened to be able to forgive unconditionally. But the act of forgiving gives you permission to move on.

“It’s a form of taking emotional responsibility for your life,” she says. Reaching the stage when we’re ready to forgive is a delicate balance.

“When we’re hurt there’s often a lesson to be learnt. We need to acknowledge that, grieve and then let go,” she advises.


1. Take back control

If something bad has happened to you, you need to acknowledge it and work through it. Don’t relive it or hold on to your hatred or anger because you’ll stay the victim. Free yourself from the past so that you’re empowered,  says Monique.

2. Be positive

You can’t change what has happened but your reaction is entirely up to you. Be positive and make a list of the good things that have come from a very traumatic or awful experience.

For example, you might have found inner strength or courage to help others or met new friends through the ordeal. By responding in a positive way you can find comfort and feel empowered.

3. Be patient

Work steadily towards reaching a point where you can forgive and move on, but realise that the process might be slow.

“It may take you some time to move on from your hurt,” says Monique. “And other people should respect this, as the process can’t be forced. What’s important is your honest attempt to let go of past pain,” she adds.

4. Be realistic

It takes courage to retrain your thoughts about someone. One day you will feel as if you’re making progress but the very next day you might feel you’re back to square one. Don’t give up!

5. Get help

Speak to a close family member or friend about how you’re feeling and why. If this doesn’t help, go for professional counselling so that you can work through your emotions.


Lifeline National crisis line 0861-322-322

Family Life Centre 011-788-4784 and 011-833-2057

Read DRUM, 13 October 2011 for tips on how to move on.

Find Love!