I don’t know how to forgive, so my depression lingers

I’ve been told so many times that forgiving is a huge piece of overcoming depression. On top of addressing the brain’s chemical balance, exercising, eating well, reaching out for help, and repeating mantras and good thoughts, I’m supposed to forgive those who have wronged me. I also need to forgive myself.

Except I don’t know how to forgive. And that makes me feel sometimes like I’ll be stuck with depression forever.

Some people talk about forgiveness like it’s simple. It’s not, especially if you don’t know how. It’s not just a matter of saying “I forgive you” and “I forgive myself”. I’ve tried many approaches and I keep working at several. Whatever I try doesn’t magically wipe away all the shit stuck in my head. It doesn’t make me forget it all and how it feels. Even if time takes the edge off the rawness of the feelings, I’m still very reserved around people and situations where hurt has happened before. Worse, when more shit happens, it accumulates on top of what’s in my head. My mind traps it. The buildup is heavy and doesn’t go away, while negative feelings and emotions can repeat on a loop.

Sure, I’ve been working on doing helpful, positive things and changing my mental programming. Guess what, though? The shit’s still there. The good news is my depressive episodes are fewer and farther between, and are generally shorter in duration. But the shit is still there.

I’m sure fear is what keeps me from forgiving. But sure, OK, I’ll work to lose the fear. Then what?

Here’s what I know

  • Without forgiveness, there’s no true healing.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a mental shift over time.
  • Forgiveness is letting go.
  • Forgiving myself is part of it.

Here’s what I don’t know

  • How to forgive.

I haven’t figured out how I can let go of stuff that will never be forgotten. Experts say the pain gets less, but that pain remains a blueprint for how my mind works. So, how the hell do I reform my thinking and my life while still carrying this crap inside?

Forgive, they say.

Well, fucking how?!

It’s like a chicken and egg thing. I need to forgive to heal, yet I feel like I need to heal in order to forgive.


Power vs letting go

When you don’t know how, it’s easy to associate forgiveness with being a doormat. Just forgive them and let them walk over you again.

Yes, I know, forgiveness isn’t really like that. It’s supposed to be about letting go, so whatever happened no longer has power over me. But I’m still stuck at the question… HOW?

Before you say it…

Don’t tell me I need religion. I grew up the son of a clergyman in a liberal branch of Christianity that is open, tolerant, accepting of science, and not literal in its bible study. Forgiveness was mentioned so many times through my upbringing, so I know what it is. I just don’t know how to do it. None of the religious stuff I’ve come across addresses how. It just says to do it. For me, forgiveness is a distant idea.

I’ve left religion behind now, not out of resentment or pushback, but for thoughtful, considered reasons. Religion makes no sense to me. Furthermore, it involves a lot of circular thinking – and circular thinking is a big factor in depression. I don’t need any more of it.

Meanwhile, I still need to learn how to forgive, otherwise my depression will continue on a loop.

I’m making an effort

I do daily mantras that are based on the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono. They involve invoking people, situations, ideas, and goals and saying, “Forgive. I love you, I forgive you, thank you.”

I also know empathy is an important part. I have lots of empathy for those who are wronged and suffer bullying, discrimination, and persecution. But my empathy disappears when somebody wrongs me. It’s a real struggle there.

The last place to find forgiveness is online

Everywhere online, we don’t see forgiveness. We see arguing. We see raging. We see people acting out. Especially in comments and discussion sections. I’ve done a lot myself. When people argue or rage online, they’re most often acting out against somebody in their life or against something that happened. They can’t yet face the source of their emotional upheaval. Inside they’re hurting and stuck in the grief process, usually fluctuating between the denial and anger phases. People get triggered to act out through road rage, fighting, being tough on their children, telling others to toughen up and not be snowflakes, and so on and on. Whatever it takes for them to pretend they’re stronger than what happened to them. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, they’re acting out against a target they see as easier. Hence a lot is done online behind a screen. photo-1529525066119-6d86dbc1057b

Those with the loudest voices online are the ones who have grown up with the least empathy or had something happen that took it away from them. These people may or may not have some kind of depression, but it’s easy to see how depression can develop and why it’s so prevalent. They shit on others and have an approach where they have to make others feel stupid and worthless in order to feel better about themselves. Some rage openly, some just act superior and pompous.

The superior thing has been me, many times. I know I’ve acted out against anyone triggering my emotional memories and anyone who “stood in” for the people and conditions at the heart of my depression. I had to prove them wrong. I had to “win”. I’ve cut down this behaviour, a lot.

For healing to occur and peace to reign, the source needs to be addressed. Forgiveness is huge for this. I know that much.


In my case, the acting out includes pushing people away and keeping them at a distance. That’s because my depression started with isolation as a child and the emotions and feelings that went with it at that age. Stuck in the anger phase of grief for so many years, I was bitter about isolation and so dished out isolation to others. I wanted them to know how I felt and even experience it themselves. If anyone vaguely wronged me, I wrote them off. If anyone betrayed my trust, I hated them intensely and cut them out of my life entirely. I thought I was giving them a taste of my isolation. What I was doing was acting out against the source of my own isolation and making it worse.

I needed forgiveness. I needed to learn what forgiveness is.

We all need forgiveness.

My question remains

How? I don’t know how to release the wrongs I felt people did to me. It’s so hard not to lash out and act out.

I guess I have to keep going and doing what I can, one baby step at a time. Maybe I’ll discover the secret to forgiveness. Maybe one day I’ll forgive everything and everyone at the heart of my depression.

Maybe one day I’ll forgive myself. It’s not that I did anything wrong at the time of my depression’s causal incidents, but I still put blame on myself. The incidents, the unresolved emotions, and the depression itself combine together to make me feel powerless and I blame myself deep down for that.

Here’s to learning how to forgive.


  1. When I was in junior high (10th grade? 1991?), I was in Chemistry class using a Bunsen Burner to heat up something in a ceramic crucible, but the burner was off-center, so the flame was heating up the metal o-ring support bracket that was holding up the crucible instead of heating up the crucible. (stay with me) When I noticed, I moved too quickly out of surprise, and I accidentally knocked the structure onto myself, causing my upper arm to get branded (quite literally) with red-hot metal. Over time, I forgot about it, but the scar never healed. It’s still there, even after decades.
    My point? I respectfully disagree with your definition about forgiveness. Pain (both physical and emotional) leaves scars (both physical and emotional). “Time heals all wounds.” is a B.S. phrase, in my opinion. A more appropriate phrase could be “Time heals all wounds, and eventually you stop caring about the scars that don’t heal.” Forgiveness doesn’t require a clean wash of some proverbial slate. To me, if I forgive you for causing me pain, I don’t “let go” of anything, I just make a mental decision that it’s not going to bother me as much as it did, and I choose to move forward with the knowledge and understanding and learning that the situation has taught me. You learn from other mistakes, right? Why not learn from the ones you need forgiveness for? Don’t forget them, don’t get rid of them. Learn from them. Forgiveness doesn’t make the scars vanish, in my opinion. Forgiveness just gives you permission to move on, and stop dwelling on the pain. And that’s the healing power of forgiveness. That’s the peace you get. Just my two cents. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Terry. You’re right that keeping the learning is important. The memories are for knowledge and wisdom. But I wish I could I could stop shit bothering me. Having a shit day today. Got a total “fuck the universe” attitude. I’ve worked my ass off for two years to lift myself and change my attitude and approach. People say I’ve made great progress, but I’m calling bullshit. I just want an increase in income so I can do better with bills. Not happening. Nothing. No signs. No anything. And I’ve put myself out there a huge amount. I’ve been told for so long how changing my life, forgiving, loving, letting go, saying the right things, meditating, following what my heart says… it’s all supposed to bring an improvement in my life. Nope. Still stuck with this shit. I feel lied to.


  2. Sorry to flood the comments, but I was just thinking of a corollary comment that I forgot. Since barbershoppers love tags, and I write them, I thought maybe you’d like this particular tag I wrote a while back. The lyrics are: “It wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t care, but I do.” The lyrics seem particularly appropriate to this discussion, that’s all! I’m not self-promoting, I swear! If this tag were written by someone else, it’d still have the correct meaning for this situation.
    Sheet music: https://www.barbershoptags.com/tags/If_I_Didn_t_Care.pdf
    YouTube vid clip of the tag: https://youtu.be/zvv2Dc5yhps

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HUGE question John. There’s no definite answer really, in my opinion. Situations and circumstances play a huge part in forgiving.
    I found that if I expected an apology or had ANY expectations of change coming from the person I was “forgiving”, I was sadly unrewarded. There are to be no expectations of any kind in forgiving. Over time, separation and loss , I’ve learned that the people who have mistreated me or others really have either no idea they’ve done it or they truly don’t care. For those whom I have faced and challenged with the mistreatment against me, most have apologized. The ones who truly don’t care, are the hardest to forgive but honestly, I really don’t WANT them in my life. I don’t want them taking up real estate in my brain or heart. I make room for the few who respect me enough to take the care NOT to need my forgiveness. That includes family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m on the same track. That is, the people I really don’t want in my life… aren’t. I know what’s good for me there and what’s not. I just wish I knew how to forgive. I don’t have to have them in my life, but I know the forgiving involves letting go of the poison and keeping the learning. Still searching for how to do it. Thank you for sharing. I’m grateful and encouraged to know there are others going through the same ups and downs.


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