Recovery often requires a lot of intense exploration of emotional pain. Learning how to forgive others can help in the process of recovery.

Recovery from substance use disorder can be a long, painful process. A significant part of the work associated with recovery involves forgiveness. Easier said than done – it can be difficult to forgive people who have hurt you. Sometimes it can even be a challenge to forgive oneself for past mistakes. Despite the challenges, the importance of forgiveness in recovery cannot be overstated. 

Steps Towards Forgiveness in Recovery

Forgiveness in recovery is a painful but necessary process. It can be tricky to know where to begin when considering how to forgive family, but family forgiveness is an important part of the healing journey. Some ways you can begin the journey to true forgiveness:

  • Identify and acknowledge the pain. Forgiving family begins with an acknowledgment of the pain that was caused. Sometimes substance abuse is used as a way to mask old pain and frustration; by acknowledging the pain and discussing it, one can move toward forgiveness and healing. 
  • Learn from the mistakes that were made. Self-forgiveness in recovery is just as important as forgiving others for hurting you. Shame and guilt are two major factors for most people with substance use issues. It is important to acknowledge the details of the wrongdoing rather than a blanket statement admitting responsibility. Being truly open about mistakes and admitting one’s harm to another is incredibly liberating. Holding onto anger, guilt and shame perpetuates the cycle of addiction and prevents healing. Self-forgiveness requires the same amount of honesty. It is ok to be merely human and prone to making mistakes; it is healthy to acknowledge your human frailties and errors. 
  • Forgiving is not forgetting. One of the most difficult misconceptions about forgiveness is the idea that one must also forget the transgressions. It is unrealistic to expect oneself to forget a wrongdoing by another person; it is a very different concept than forgiveness. Forgiving family members for their mistakes is a necessary step in moving toward recovery. Forgiving toxic family members can be particularly challenging. Remember that the journey is as much about you as it is about the person who has hurt you; the purpose of forgiveness is to allow yourself to move on. Carrying anger and hostility toward others feeds addiction behaviors and urges. 
  • Release anger, resentment & sadness. Forgiving your family and releasing the feelings of resentment and disappointment frees you up to move about the business of self-care and healing from addiction. Allowing these feelings to dissipate is one of the most important steps in recovery. In some ways, these steps are similar to a grieving process. Experiencing and releasing the pain of past events helps you transition into healing. 

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

The importance of forgiveness in recovery is significant. The act of forgiving may be completely one-sided at times. There may be situations in which the person you are forgiving isn’t offering an apology. Perhaps the person who has harmed you doesn’t acknowledge the behavior or isn’t around to make that apology.

In these types of scenarios, forgiveness is purely for oneself. Carrying anger and resentments that cannot be resolved are perhaps the most toxic of all. When wrongdoings aren’t resolved it leaves us with a feeling of injustice that can carry throughout our lifespan if we don’t release it. Forgiveness of a wrongdoing may not change the nature of a relationship; it may simply be a tool for re-establishing a sense of peace. 

Moving Forward in Recovery

During recovery, the importance of forgiveness is crucial. Acknowledging pain, learning from mistakes and releasing anger and resentment are key components of forgiveness in recovery.

Forgiving and forgetting are two different things; one does not need to forget about the pain someone has caused, but it is crucial to forgive so that the pain no longer consumes you. Substance use disorder is often laden with guilt, resentment and shame. Talking about these thoughts and feelings can allow for release of those emotions and this can be a freeing experience that helps one move toward recovery. 

Those who struggle with substance use do not have to deal with it alone. The trained professionals at The Recovery Village are available and want to help. Reach out to one of the Recovery Village treatment coordinators to learn about options and start your healing journey today.

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By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more
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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
Sources “Forgiveness Information Sheet.” Accessed August 9, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.