What It’s Like to Forgive Your Parents and How to do It

Louis Laves-Webb

January 31, 2019

Forgiveness is a complicated word that means different things to different people.

For some, forgiving a person feels like giving justification for the wrongdoings. Others think it’s about changing the past or pretending it didn’t happen.

None of these are what forgiveness is about. It doesn’t mean “they’re right” and “you’re wrong”, and it doesn’t mean you have to become close with them.

Forgiveness is a way of looking at your past through a more empathetic perspective that allows you to let go of your resentment for the people who wronged you.

You can’t change the past, and forgiveness can’t erase what you hate your parents for. It can, however, change the meaning you attach to that event.

Forgiving your parents, in particular, is a selfless process (not a single act) that requires you to dig into the most painful parts of your past. Harboring resentment for your parents keeps you stuck in the past. It keeps you attached to them in a negative way. By letting go of resentment through forgiveness, you can change the way you see the world for the better.

Forgiveness Gives You a Safe Space to Heal

Until you create a safe space in which you can reevaluate your trauma, you won’t be able to break this cycle. Forgiveness can be that safe space.

Trauma, abuse, and negligence can cause a child to emotionally freeze, so to speak. It can cause you to bottle up your emotions and pull away from any thoughts of the pain.

When you hate your parents for abusing you when you were younger, you stay stuck in experiencing those same traumatic events emotionally as if you were still a child. You won’t be able to process it as an adult, so you’ll be stuck reliving the trauma as if you were still the same age as when it first occurred.

Trauma can also be difficult to process because it can trigger painful feelings. It’s like a soldier with PTSD. An experience will trigger your emotional wound, causing you to unconsciously lash out in a way that people around you will see as an overreaction. They won’t understand, because the pain that you’re feeling, even though it is real, is not consistent with your present environment.

Though your pain and your reaction were triggered by your present environment, they were in response to the traumatic event that you experienced as a child. Your anger (or sometimes fear) is your ego’s way of trying to escape a pain that you can’t escape from. Because it’s inside of you.

Until you create a safe space in which you can reevaluate your trauma, you won’t be able to break this cycle. Forgiveness can be that safe space.

Therapy can also be that safe space. Part of what makes therapy so valuable is that it provides you with a safe environment to contemplate emotionally charged moments in your past. It gives you the time and space to look inside yourself for the little boy or girl that was hurt and offer them the love your parents failed to provide.

Forgiveness Gives You Back Your Power

Forgiveness is the only path to freedom from being fueled by resentment for the rest of your life. That may sound melodramatic but, as we’ve discussed, holding on to hatred and blame keep you from emotional growth. This means that your anger will never subside.

Your hatred will rule your life if you let it. Hatred is your ego binging on the idea that you were wronged and that someone needs to pay. Feeling betrayed makes your ego feel morally superior, and this feeling can be addictive.

If you hold on to your hatred for your parents and never forgive them, you’re at risk of making the same mistakes with your own children as they did with you. If that doesn’t motivate you to forgive your parents, nothing will.

Instead of thinking of forgiveness as you giving your moral approval to your parents, think of it as you putting your emotional well-being above your parent’s punishment. What do you value more, improving your own happiness, or revenge?

You can’t change the past, and forgiveness can’t erase what you hate your parents for. It can, however, change the meaning you attach to that event.

How to Forgive Your Parents

Stay Openminded About Your Trauma

Resentment traps you in a negative perspective of viewing your trauma, blinding you from all other possible points of view. Asking yourself basic questions like “What happened?”, “How did it make me feel?”, and “How did I react?” can help you open up to other outlooks.

Self-inquiry helps to reveal more positive ways of looking at your trauma. Are there any ways that what your parents did benefited you? Most of the time, our assumption that everything about a traumatic event is negative is unfounded.

It might sound crazy, but what if there was a way you could be grateful to your parents about what happened. Gratitude helps us to see things from the other’s point of view, which is the next step.

Allow Yourself to be Angry

Anger might seem like a strange source for forgiveness.

Forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean you can’t be mad. In fact, holding back your anger will likely prevent you from ever letting it go. It takes a lot of energy to stay angry at someone, but it takes just as much to pretend that you aren’t angry when you really are.

Feeling some resentment towards someone who has wronged you is the natural and healthy response. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of being a normal human. We wouldn’t have evolved anger as an emotional response if it didn’t serve a purpose.

Allow yourself to be angry. Acknowledge it, process it, and move forward.

Practice Empathy Towards Your Parents

We all have higher expectations for our parents than we do for anyone else. It’s human nature. It’s also human nature to be imperfect, which means that your parents are flawed. The mistakes they made were due to their flaws and were not about you.

What your parents did was not about you.

Your parents have their own unhealed wounds caused by their own traumas. This doesn’t give them the right to take their problems out on you. But it’s important to remember that their actions were the result of something inside of them and not you.

If your parents weren’t intending to cause you harm, why did they act the way they did? If you remove yourself from the equation, what other factors explain why someone would act so cruel? Your parents weren’t monsters. They were tormented by their own pasts.

You can learn from them and not make their same mistake of passing on this suffering. The root of this mistake is probably that they never took on responsibility.

Taking Responsibility for Your Emotional Well-Being

Though your abuse wasn’t about you, your attitude towards it 100 percent is. You get to choose what to fill your mind with. When you choose not to forgive, you’re choosing to fill it with feelings like anger and helplessness.

Even once you do feel compassion for your parents, this doesn’t mean you forgive them. After harboring resentment towards your parents for so many years, you will still likely feel that they are solely responsible for not only the trauma but everything that followed it.

This isn’t the case. An essential part of forgiving someone is acknowledging that you played a role in your own suffering. You aren’t just the victim. You may not have had to ability to do anything about it as a child, but you do now.

This is key because the event itself isn’t what took away your power. The decisions you’ve since made in reaction to your traumatic event are what have. Obviously, you didn’t make these decisions intentionally, and this is not to say that you, now, are to blame. You were an innocent child.

This is to say that if you had the power to get into your current negative mentality, you have the power to get yourself out of it.

For many children who suffered by their parents, a traumatic event caused them to feel unworthy of love. As a child, it was your parents’ responsibility to fulfill your emotional needs. As an adult, however, that responsibility has been passed on to you.

You might now know, conceptually, that you are worthy of unconditional love just by being a human being. But knowing and believing are two different things. The fact that a traumatic event is still so emotionally charged means that it’s associated with a dangerous belief.

To heal, you need to give up these beliefs. You give up the belief that you are powerless by taking responsibility for your emotional well-being. You take back responsibility by forgiving your parents for that traumatic event. That was the moment when you gave your power of choice away.


You can’t change your past, but each moment is a new opportunity to let go of your anger and forgive your parents. Forgiveness is never a decision you make only once. It’s a process. A series of decisions.

You have the power (and the responsibility) to choose and to change, little by little, the way you see the world. By repeatedly choosing to forgive, you’ll make the world feel a bit lighter and a bit easier to live in.

The process of forgiveness can be an extremely demanding journey to travel on your own. Our therapists at Louis Laves-Webb and Associates can help make this journey more manageable.

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