5 Steps to Ask Someone for Forgiveness

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I recently had to ask someone’s forgiveness. It’s not the nicest thing to have to do, and our ego tends to scream at us that we’re selling ourselves out or that we don’t owe the other person anything.

However, my mother taught me an invaluable lesson in how to ask for forgiveness when I was little. 

Mom sat next to me on the bed and told me that I had done something wrong (I forget what) and I had hurt one of my friends with my actions. I felt ashamed, and it just felt like such a burden to apologize and ask for forgiveness. 

But Mom insisted, and she stood by as I made my first ever apology. The sorry part was okay. After all, I was sorry. However, I hesitated in asking forgiveness.

The thought of needing something from someone that they really didn’t have to give me (after I had hurt them) was completely overwhelming. 

Mom’s guidance helped me ask forgiveness, and I have carried her lessons on how to ask for forgiveness and why I had to always ask for it with me to this day. 

Have you recently had to ask for forgiveness? Here are the steps to ensure the best chance at success.  

What Does Forgiveness Mean?

Forgiveness is a mental U-turn that you make, choosing to turn from vengeance toward letting go and releasing negative feelings for someone who has wronged you. 

When you know you have done wrong to someone, you ask them for their forgiveness. This is not about just getting the situation moved to the past.

Instead, it’s about really acknowledging that person, what you did, how your actions affected them, and that you seek their release of negative energy. 

The act of forgiving someone is about letting go of anger, resentment, bitterness, and hate. Forgiveness is not about the person letting you off the hook or just throwing away their entire past because you’re “sorry” for your actions.

Instead, forgiveness is about that person feeling seen enough to move forward by stepping out of the position of pain and suffering your actions left them in. 

Forgiveness means the victim can move on. It’s not about the wrongdoer getting a “green light” or permission to be annoying.  

Forgiving Vs Forgetting

The saying of “forgive and forget” has been completely twisted over time, and while most people assume it means to just move on as if nothing happened, this is a far cry from reality.

My Mom told me that forgiving is about moving forward, while forgetting is something you never do because the lesson of that transgression is valuable as long as you remember. 

Of course, once someone has forgiven you for your wrongdoings, they shouldn’t keep reminding you and playing the victim card for the next decade (or more).

Forgiving is about closure. You and the person who suffered agree on what happened, what was done wrong, and you both learn from the situation. 

There’s no point in digging up old bones, but the bones are there. Both you and the person you wronged can remain aware of the memories, without needing to remind each other and sling mud across the fence of blame. 

I like to think that forgiveness lasts as long as the lesson does. If you slip back into the same harmful behavior, your forgiveness is voided. This is why we should never forget, or the lesson will be lost. 

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You have to tailor your apology to reflect your insight of what you did wrong.

My Mom used to tell me that there’s a big difference between remembering the lesson and being constantly reminded of it. As an adult, I remember that 1+1=2, and I don’t have to be reminded of it.

But when my math starts to show I have forgotten, I should be reminded. Likewise, if I did something wrong, apologized, and asked for forgiveness, but then start doing the same thing later, I should be called out on my behavior.  

Why We Seek and Crave Forgiveness

Forgiveness seems like such a mission to obtain. After all, how do you get forgiveness from someone who won’t let go of the past? If it’s such a massive problem, why do we struggle so desperately to get forgiveness? Why not just give up and move on?

When we carry the shame of wrongdoing, we are burdened. Knowing you did wrong to someone is a weight that becomes heavier the longer you carry it. When you ask forgiveness, you have an opportunity to let go of that weight.

You can set aside that responsibility for your actions when you and the person you wronged have come to an agreement

Forgiving and being forgiven is about restoring order, reducing societal stress, and feeling like you belong again.

Remember that in the primitive tribe, the one who was cast out due to sins often ended up starving or dying. So seeking belonging (which we get through forgiveness) is ingrained in our DNA.

Benefits of Receiving Forgiveness

The main benefit of receiving forgiveness is clearly a satisfaction of the need to belong again. We benefit by feeling like we are no longer “locked out,” and as a result, our stressors lessen. Some other benefits of receiving forgiveness include:

  • Better focus as you’re not so consumed with feelings and thoughts of guilt
  • Fewer depression symptoms
  • Improved blood pressure and heart health
  • Increased immunity 
  • Better self-esteem and feelings of wellbeing
  • Regaining valuable connections and reestablishing friendships 

5 Steps to Ask Someone for Forgiveness

Now that you know why you should ask forgiveness to thrive, it’s important to increase your chances of actually getting forgiveness.

Simply telling the person you’re sorry isn’t enough. Most likely, you’ve even apologized before, but it didn’t get you forgiveness. 

What are the best steps to take when learning how to ask someone for forgiveness?  

Step 1: Sincerity When Apologizing

Your first step is to apologize. This is so much more than just saying you are sorry. You have to tailor your apology to reflect your insight of what you did wrong. Be specific, and own up completely to what you did without any reservation. 

This is usually the point where asking for forgiveness fails, because you do it wrong. You end up throwing in an excuse, as your ego gets in the way and trips you up. Your apology should simply state what you did wrong

Use this entry to show the person you are apologizing to that you really know what you did wrong or how you messed up

Apology Examples:

  • I am sorry for sleeping with your boyfriend when I knew you were still together.
  • Please forgive me for running over your dog. I was speeding, and I didn’t look.
  • I am sorry for being late to work every morning. It’s unacceptable behavior for an employee to have.

Step 2: Show Empathy and Insight

Saying you are sorry or that you regret your actions isn’t enough. The victim of your actions has felt unseen and ignored since you wronged them.

Use this opportunity to show them you really do see them and acknowledge their pain. You should prove you are not being superficial or shallow.

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You should apologize, explain how you will change your behavior, and admit to where you went wrong.

When you use your empathy and insights to fully show what you did wrong, it shows the other person you really understand what you are apologizing for.

They are more likely to believe you when they can see that you really get their pain.

Empathy Examples: 

  • I am sorry that I caused you to lose your job by being irresponsible and making you late for work each day. Please forgive me for causing you such pain, worry, and financial ruin. 
  • Please forgive me for causing your family such pain and sorrow when I ran over your family dog. I drove recklessly, and I didn’t check the road before turning.
  • I apologize for spreading rumors about you on campus. I can see how it has caused you pain, isolated you from other students, and led to the issues you’ve had this semester. 

Step 3: Repent and Plan Ahead

Now comes the tricky part. You have to really own the shoes that trampled over the other person’s life. You are making a promise to avoid ever doing the same transgression again. 

You should apologize, explain how you will change your behavior, and admit to where you went wrong. This is also about assuring the person that you won’t do this to them ever again. 

Repentance Examples:

  • I am sorry for missing our anniversary and leaving you alone at the restaurant, which must have been terribly embarrassing to you. I will never miss another dinner date in the future, and I am setting an alarm (or five) to remind me. 
  • My actions led to your wrongful arrest, and I can see how traumatic the experience has been for you. However, I have arranged for your release and hired a lawyer at my cost.
  • Please forgive my rude and angry words earlier. You were just trying to help, and I snapped at you. I am sure I hurt you and broke your trust in me.

Step 4: Restitution 

When you have made it this far in your request for forgiveness, you have to tread carefully. Your request needs to be genuine, not just a cop-out.

To show you are serious about making amends, you have to offer an act of restitution. Don’t think of this as a bribe, because it’s not. 

Instead, you are showing you understand where you went wrong and are showing a genuine willingness to make amends and never do wrong again. 

Restitution Examples:

  • I realize I have wronged you, and my actions hurt you, destroying your faith in me. If you consider forgiving me, I want to show you I have learned, and I can behave differently. Things will be better this time.
  • I can only offer my deepest apologies and ask your forgiveness as I see now what I did wrong. If you are willing, I would really appreciate being able to show you how much I have learned and make amends.
  • You have no reason to trust me again, but if you are willing to forgive me, I only want to prove you can still trust yourself and others in the future. My wrongdoing is not a reflection on your judgment, and I want to make it up to you by being there to support you and doing what’s right by you. 

Step 5: Provide Space for Contemplation 

You can’t force someone to forgive you, and expecting an instant offer of forgiveness because you asked for it is illogical (and a sign you don’t understand how you hurt them). Instead, give them time to think about it. 

Never wait expectantly for your request for forgiveness to be accepted. Don’t make the apology and request for forgiveness all about you. It’s often our own selfishness that leads us into trouble in the first place and causes the conflict

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Show that you understand where you went wrong and are showing a genuine willingness to make amends and never do wrong again.

This is an ideal opportunity to practice empathy and listen to the other person. You can try drawing them into the discussion, if they are ready.

Try asking them to explain how the incident affected them and what they would like to see from you as a sign you understand you did something wrong.  

You can also ask them how they see a future for any further interaction with you and what they believe may have caused the conflict or act that you need forgiveness for. 

Examples of Giving Space:

  • I realize you may need time to think about my apology and what your decision may be, so please take as much time as you need. When you are ready, please let me know if we can talk more. 
  • Please think about my apology and consider forgiving my transgression. If you feel like you need to talk more about what happened, I am here for you.
  • When you are ready to talk about what happened and how I disappointed you, please know I am here, with no expectations. We can meet for coffee when you feel up to moving forward and resolving what happened. 

Final Thoughts on How to Ask for Forgiveness

With these five basic steps on how to ask for forgiveness, you can assure the person you have wronged that you know you acted poorly and hurt them. Your sincerity can show, without getting stuck on a simple “I’m sorry.”

A real apology and request for forgiveness has to show your sincere comprehension of what you did wrong and how it affected the other person. Only then can you hope to gain the person you hurt’s trust and perhaps even earn their forgiveness

In some cases, it may be nearly impossible to speak to them face to face, so you may have to rely on a letter of apology to express your desire for forgiveness.

Read our guide to writing such a letter and follow the steps to ensure you have the best chance of successfully being forgiven.  

Last, but not least, try and remember to forgive yourself too. As John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”.

And if you're looking for more articles about forgiveness, be sure to check out these blog posts:

how to ask for forgiveness | ways to ask for forgiveness | forgiveness
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