Forgiveness in 6 Steps

Many years ago, my youngest daughter, then aged 8, came home from school with a deep scowl on her face.  She made a dramatic entrance through the front door, slamming her bag down on the floor, stomping her feet as she walked towards her room. I followed a few moments later, stopping along the way to pick up a balloon from the craft box. She was sitting on her bed, looking miserable, resting her chin in her hands and the scowl even more deeply set on her face.

“What has happened?” I asked her quietly. She burst into tears and through a sobbing fit she began gushing out a barely comprehensible tirade of vicious invective aimed squarely at her, until recently, best friend Suzie. “Suzie didn’t play with me today!” “She played with the new girl”. “I wanted to play with them but they didn’t let me”. “I hate her”, “I hate school, I’m never going back”, “I will never forgive her”.

During her outburst, I blew into the balloon once for each reason my daughter gave. It wasn’t long before the balloon was quite stretched and very large.

Looking at the balloon, she stopped her complaining and asked,
”What are you doing with the balloon daddy?” “The balloon is you sweety and it is filling up with all your bad feelings about Suzie, the ones you are not able to forgive.” “There is now so much air in the balloon, I can barely hold it in now”. “Is there anything else that you are angry about?”. She looked at me intently and said “She hurt my feelings!”.

I blew into the balloon one last time and let it go. It flew wildly around the room, loudly expelling the air that had filled it to capacity.

When we hold on to anger, frustration and other unresourceful thoughts and feelings, we risk them overflowing and bursting out in an uncontrolled manner. This result is likely to cause more regret and grief in our lives.

After retrieving the balloon, I asked my daughter “Pick one thing you are unhappy about Suzie doing.” “She made me feel sad”.
 I blew it into the balloon. This time however, I let the air out immediately after. The balloon returned to its normal state. Forgiving takes the pressure of the person who is holding the ill feelings.

“That’s just a balloon daddy”, she said to me. “It doesn’t feel hurt!”

What wise insights from one so young!

We don’t forgive for other people; We forgive for ourselves.

Why is it so hard to forgive? Why are we prepared to hold onto pain, rather than release the pressure? Some common responses include, “I don’t want to appear weak.” “I don’t want to condone what they did.” “I want them to know I was hurt.” “I don’t want to be hurt again.”

One very important part of the process, is to realise that the act of forgiveness takes place in our minds. It actually has nothing to do with the other person. It is us that needs to forgive, even if the other party doesn’t want or need our forgiveness.

NLP provides us with an effective model for forgiveness and it is all about us, we own our state. By combining a few simple techniques that can be learned in an NLP Practitioner course you can shift the anger, resentment or grief to a resourceful state of forgiveness.

6 Steps to Forgiveness

Before beginning this process, you must be willing to forgive, for your sake. Without this commitment to yourself, the process won’t succeed.

Step 1 – Clarify the Issue

What is at the centre of the need to forgive? This may be a person or an event you have experienced in your life.

As you recall this moment in your life, pay attention to how you see, hear and feel this person or event. The structure of how we recall things in our minds is referred to as the ‘submodalities’. They are what creates the sensory experience we attribute to the things we experience.

Thinking of the issue right now, it will appear spatially in your mind, it will appear somewhere. The memory will have size, distance, it will be in colour or black and white. There will be voices or sounds and of course the memory will generate feelings within you. Depending on your preferred representational system, or modality, you will notice some aspects more clearly than the others.

As this step sets up the process, it is important to pay close attention to the qualities of this internal representation and identify with as much detail, the structure of the event.

Step 2 – Identify a counter example

At this point look inside yourself and remember a person or event that did hurt you, that did create a sense of resentment or anger, but which you now have reconciled or forgiven.

Now you have that memory, complete the process you used in step 1 to identify the submodalities of this positive experience of forgiveness as clearly as you can.

Step 3 – Contrastive Analysis

You now have 2 events from your life, each representing a different sensory experience. Compare the two sets of submodalities. Which are similar and which are different? Don’t rush this process as it can often be the smallest difference that leads to the biggest change.
Pay particular attention to those modalities that seem to create the most intense feelings.

Step 4 – Find Congruence

Shifting negative emotions is not always easy to achieve. It is natural to defend our position in the event and to believe we have good reason not to forgive. As mentioned earlier, we don’t want to appear weak or to condone the behaviour and therefore encourage the person to repeat it. Take your time and don’t ignore any objection that may surface. Reframing and Perceptual Positions are wonderful techniques that could be utilised here to assist the process.

Step 5 – The Difference that Makes a Difference

It is now time to begin letting go of the unresourceful state created by not forgiving. With your two lists of submodalities, start shifting the resentment/anger state to the same size, colour, position, volume, weight etc. to the way they are represented in your forgiveness state.
Start this change process with the stronger submodalities identified in Step 3. It is possible that moving one or two of these will automatically create a shift in the others.

Step 6 – Test the Change

Once you have completed the steps above, it is time to test the transformation. You have found alignment and congruence with your inner objections. You have mapped across your submodalities and should be experiencing a sense of freedom from letting go of your resentment and replacing it with forgiveness.

Think again about the person or event and take note of how you feel about them now. If you have completed the steps with commitment, the feeling of neutrality will provide you the release you deserve.

Your heart fills and empties, your lungs do the same; your muscles tense and relax, it is the way of healthy living. So, it follows that you should allow your mind to do the same. It is natural to have it fill with experience, but don’t forget to let go of the parts that build the pressure.
You can learn more about the NLP techniques in this article at

Categories: NLP Coach