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Set Yourself Free: 5 Things You Gain When You Forgive

Breaking Free

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~Catherine Ponder

Somewhere in the middle of my freshman year of college, my best friend from high school broke up with me. Out of nowhere, she just stopped talking to me. I tried relentlessly to reconnect, but she stopped responding and never gave me an answer why.

For years it was the most painful heartbreak I had going in my life. It’s still what I consider my worst breakup. And it haunted me until I decided to forgive her.

Forgiveness sounded ludicrous to me at first, but eventually, the pain of carrying the grudge seemed like it might be worse than the pain of setting it down.

I heard a number of people in my life, including one of my yoga teachers, talk about the power of forgiveness. While I didn’t get there right away, I started to marinate on the idea of forgiving my former friend.

I became curious about what acceptance and non-attachment could look like with someone who had really hurt me. It took months after deciding that I wanted to forgive. Until one night, I was ready.

I drafted the email, did a small amount of Internet stalking, and sent it. I apologized for my role in the breakdown of our friendship, offered my forgiveness, and wished her well. I gave her the best last gift I could: to set my grudge down.

What surprised me was what I gained in the process.

1. Space and quiet 

Forgiving gives us the space and quiet to invest in new people and nourishing ideas.

Once I let go, I stopped spinning the story in my mind over and over. My mind simply didn’t need to keep hanging on to the old narrative any more. It had space to cover new ground rather than rehashing yesterday’s news.

2. Self-compassion 

When I forgave my friend, I was also able to forgive myself for some past mistakes. Forgiveness requires practice, like anything else. It’s like developing a new muscle.

If I could let go of my greatest hurt, I could surely offer that same reprieve to myself. I’m now gentler with myself when I make mistakes. I know that offering myself compassion and then moving on from the situation is not only possible but much more loving.

3. Trust in others

I don’t see friendship through the same lens any more. I have more faith in the people in my life and understand that while friendships end, it’s not the end of the world. I live in my relationships more presently.

I don’t waste an opportunity to tell the people in my life what they mean to me. I trust in my friends. It took me a long time to get there, but forgiveness gave me back that capacity to trust in the people around me. By letting go of bitterness and cynicism, you too will be better able to trust in others again.

4. Perspective 

When I created the conditions for forgiveness and resolution, I was able to see our relationship clearly. I could also see the places where I was responsible and can now address those tendencies.

I also could see that the hurt was a relatively small part of our relationship. Most of it was filled with laughter, and being able to see that has been very healing. Forgiveness allows us to appreciate the good, without the lens of resentment over it.

5. Gratitude 

I’m personally thankful for the memories and what I learned through that friendship. I’m grateful that I had this experience and for all the joy that our friendship brought me. I’ve grown a lot, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the process I’ve been through.

Forgiveness polished the hurt off my heart, and now all that’s left is gratitude. I also appreciate the preciousness of my new friendships and make a greater effort to actively nurture them.

We always gain something, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Forgiveness gives us the opportunity to recognize and appreciate that.

Forgiveness is a delicate thing, and very personal. I would never argue that you “should” forgive someone. But, if you are interested in exploring what forgiveness might mean in your circumstance, I invite you to get quiet first.

Cultivate a little bit of compassion for yourself, foremost, and meet this undertaking with curiosity (rather than an outcome in mind). What could that forgiveness look like? What might pave the way for forgiveness to be possible?

Before you can forgive others, you may need to forgive yourself for past hurts you’ve inflicted. Forgiveness is really a gift that you’re giving yourself; it’s not about absolution for the other person or excusing anything.

Ultimately, forgiveness takes a lot of non-attachment: to the initial incident, to anger, and to a desired response to this forgiveness. You may not get the answer or outcome you’re looking for, and that’s okay. The process (and it can be a long process) and the act of forgiveness are what matter here.

While I never heard back from this former friend, that felt surprisingly okay. I wasn’t attached to an outcome; I just wanted to stop carrying the load. So I did, and that was that.

Not having to carry that grudge has been a huge gift to me. I’ve learned so much about myself that I would never have otherwise—like knowing that I have the courage to forgive and see what’s on the other side. And that I get to choose to be free. You can too.

Breaking free silhouette via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Christy Tennery-Spalding

About Christy Tennery-Spalding

Christy Tennery-Spalding is a healer, activist & self-care mentor for worldchangers. She is the author of Setting Gratitude Free, and has created a free mini-workbook to de-overwhelm your life, called Crafting Your Year. In her free time, she enjoys frolicking in redwoods and soaking in hot springs. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their feral cats, Dorothy & Harriet. She makes her online home at

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  • Love this, Christy. And isn’t it funny that when we truly forgive, truly, we circle right back into gratitude.
    Nice post!

  • ka

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Let me tell you why. I have come across so many articles on forgiveness but most of them were either talking about romantic relationship break up or parents mistreating their kids. Here, for the first time I am reading something related to friendship break-up and I could so relate to it. My close friend and I broke up back in 2012 over something silly. I was angry about what he and his GF did few months preceding to this incident and I decided to take it out on something unrelated.Both are to be blamed and there were some name calling. I called his GF b***h which I regret doing so this very second. We stopped talking since then and I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I thought I moved on. I lost my mom in 2014 and my friend knew her since college days back in 2002. I took a moment to forget everything and let him know about it without expecting much other than an email saying ” I am sorry”. I didn’t get any response though. I was angry and thought what could I have done so bad for someone to lack total empathy.I been troubled by this since August 2014. There were moments of guilt, anger, debating who was right/wrong etc. I wasn’t finding any resolution and one day ( 2 weeks back) I realized that I am not achieving anything by replaying the same situation in my head. I was only hurting myself. I decided to look into everything good he did for me and not bother about what happened in the last stages of our friendship. i also decided that to forgive him, I will have to forgive myself. I realized that doing something bad doesn’t make me a bad person. I wouldn’t have so many friends like I do right now if I was so bad. I wouldn’t have a lovely wife if I was so bad. However,I was also responsible for this. I could have let it not escalate with unnecessary name calling which result in his gf retaliating with further name calling. I haven’t had a fall out with a single friend since that incident in 2012 (Touchwood!) May be some relationships end for a reason and it’s okay if you do not know what that reason is. I am tired of the eternal blame game debating whose fault it was.

    I am truly sorry for the name calling I did. I can’t imagine I stooped so low. I am ready to now forgive myself after punishing myself for close to 2 years.

    Thanks again.Grateful to you forever Christy!

  • Missn

    I wish the posting was on self-forgiveness. I accidentally had a situation with a male that was my fault because I was not exactly infatuated but I it was because I was in a 12 tep group and thought he was some kind of God…because I did not know God…the sight of him now makes me ill. I have blamed hm…blamed me…but most of all live with the shame of it. I try to practice attachment/non attachment…I believe negativity keeps us stuck.

  • This is such a revelation to me. Forgiveness is like a muscle. One has to work on it. I think, we need to include this in our daily routine like we do for gratitude. At the end of the day, find out one person or incident which made you angry or sad. Contemplate other perspectives on the same and forgive the person or the circumstances. It can be just for 2-3 minutes in a day. I will try to practice this and see what changes it brings in.

    Thanks for this beautiful post!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Forgiveness is a long and difficult process. It’s not something that can happen overnight, so it does take time.

    I NEVER forgave my biological father. Him being an absentee parent for more than twenty years left me feeling nothing but animosity and resentment. I do remember seeing him for the first time at eight-years-old in family court. The family court judge threatened to issue an arrest warrant, if he didn’t make an appearance. He did spend some time with my sister and me, however, it was short lived. I wanted to spend the night at his house, but he didn’t show up.

    It took me a long time to realize I’m not the bad person. I was just an innocent child, dealing with rejection from someone who didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

    Thank you, Christy, for sharing your story.

  • What an awesome idea! I’ll have to put this into motion myself. Thanks for sharing such a novel technique. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your story! I too had a recent breakup with a best friend. Worst part is, we currently work at the same office together, but in separate suites. We’re civil to one another on the clock, but outside of the office, there’s zero communication. I’ve reached a point where I’m fine with it, because I did apologize to her earlier on for my part in the conflict that broke us up, and have forgiven her role in it as well.

    Unfortunately, since I’ve seen her other side at the office (not pretty), I’m more than convinced that our breakup was meant to happen, since she is still stuck spiritually, and I have grown.

    I read previous to our breakup that it’s normal for people to part once one has ascended on a spiritual level. I believe that is definitely the case with she and I, so I have no regrets. I do find it sad every now and then about how things ended, but I know it’s all for the best.

  • Rich Harrison

    These types of articles are incredibly frustrating and fraught with ignorance about the forgiveness process. This type of self-help nonsense always assumes that we don’t forgive because we don’t know the benefits, if only we just understood the positives we would drop our resentments like a hot biscuit. The presumption is incredibly offensive to survivors of abuse. Forgiveness is nuanced and time intensive. It is not a onetime decision to do or not do something, based on logic and understanding. One person’s ability or inability to forgive is not equivalent to another’s; every situation is unique. I had to finally comment because I am sick of reading these false assumptions that forgiveness is something you simply do or not

  • Great post. The points you outline in here were some of my greatest learnings last year when I was finally able to forgive the man who assaulted my fiance two days before our wedding. Once the anger and hurt was gone, all that was left was gratitude and compassion. And more tranquility and love to enjoy. Thanks for sharing!

  • ka

    Justine, You are most welcome. I have learnt that forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. I am still battling with thoughts about this incident but I am confident that I will eventually make it. Take care!

  • Thanks, you as well ka!

  • Christy Tending

    Thanks so much for your comment. I love the idea of freedom as a muscle. We need to keep it strong, yet flexible. 🙂

  • Christy Tending

    Thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad that it resonated for you.

  • Christy Tending

    Thanks, Kevin. I love that image of forgiveness as a garden. Grudges tend to poison things, but forgiveness lets them grow. Many thanks for your comment.

  • Christy Tending

    Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate your sharing this story. It’s a vulnerable thing. I feel like this type of experience isn’t discussed as much as the breakdown of romantic relationships, but can be even more painful. Much gratitude for your perspective and sharing your reaction. <3

  • Christy Tending

    Thank you, Susan, for your comment. It really is true. Surprising, but so rewarding. <3

  • Shanker

    Hi Christy,

    To me, your friend disconnecting from you without notice and consistently refuses to reply do not call for any forgiving of her. It calls for awakening your self respect instead. After all, a good friend (not necessarily a great friend) is expected to communicate the disapproval/disappointment to the other, thereby a chance to apologize/resolve it, and then breakup a long term friendship formally if deemed fit. I don’t consider anyone vanishing from scene suddenly without any intimation qualifies to be called as friend – let alone those who refuse to respond to your reconnection efforts. Such ‘friends’ should necessarily be forgotten but never forgiven! it has happened to me a lot and I never fret over it. They simply don’t deserve my attention!

  • Dorie Bisanz

    Wonderful article on forgiveness. It is a process that can’t be rushed. It is a muscle that can be strengthened over time.