How To Forgive Your Parents And Heal Yourself

Some parents do not deserve forgiveness. Consequently, not everyone enjoys Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Maybe you are one of them.

Would it make a difference if I told you that when you forgive your parents you will heal yourself?

But how does a person forgive parents when they don’t deserve it? I am glad you asked. Please keep reading as I want to show you how.

Accept your parents for who they are

Let me just say right out of the gate that accepting is not the same as being best friends. Parents are imperfect human beings like all of us, whether they are your biological parents, step-parents, or adoptive parents. 

Unfortunately, yours may take the trophy for imperfection. As much as you may wish things were different, you can’t change the past.

Often the things that parents do are learned from their parents and the result of their own emotional wounds. Painful experiences can be a cycle that repeats itself generation after generation. 

If you knew all of your parents’ stories and the childhood hurt, you would probably understand their character flaws better.

That being said, remember that as adult children we are not called to go beyond healthy boundaries with our parents or put ourselves in harm’s way, just forgive them. 

The absent parent

Parents can be physically or emotionally absent. Either way, children grow up wondering what is wrong with themselves which caused mom or dad to not be there for them. Examples of an absent parent include:

  • one of your parents abandoned the family
  • your mother gave you up for adoption
  • your family went through a rough divorce
  • a parent was totally tied up in work or personal interests
  • a parent commits suicide
  • a parent is intoxicated most of the time

Regardless of what you may have heard, children are hardwired by God to have two parents that have different strengths and skills. From these differences, all the needs of a child can be met.

The abusive or neglectful parent

Abuse and neglect are close cousins. Both result in childhood wounds in multiple ways according to the Mayo Clinic. There are many causes of child abuse, including these three:

  • A history of being abused or neglected as a child
  • Physical or mental illness, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Alcohol and drug addictions

I am not making excuses for an abusive or neglectful parent. Child abuse is wrong.

However, sometimes the parent is overwhelmed with their own problems as well as lack adequate parenting skills. Furthermore, child abuse is a painful family legacy.

Try to understand what caused your parent to be abusive. Then determine to break the cycle and not pass it on to your own children.

Forgiveness is where you need to begin your own healing while still maintaining clear boundaries with the abusive parent.

What does the Bible say about forgiving your parents?

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness, but I want to focus on just one verse.

“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” Romans 12:19 ESV

Do we really need to make sure that our parents are punished for what they did? When we don’t forgive we are trying to take vengeance into our own hands.

Unforgiveness and bitterness are heavy burdens for anyone to have to carry. We need to give ourselves a break by letting God take care of it. Justice will eventually be served.

How to forgive your parents for their mistakes

Many people don’t want to forgive their parents because they have false beliefs that forgiveness means you have to be friends. Sometimes a friendship will form, but usually, it does not. In the case of abusive parents, it is best that you not be friends if you could end up being harmed.

There are other lies that people frequently believe. Just be assured that forgiveness really has nothing to do with your parents. I know that sounds crazy. 

Here is what forgiveness is really all about.

  • Forgiveness has to do with YOUR mental health and healing. 
  • Forgiveness will give YOU inner peace. 
  • Forgiveness is an important part of the healing process.
  • Forgiveness is the right thing to do and is in YOUR best interest.

Be aware that forgiving and healing is an ongoing and complicated process that takes time. You need to have realistic expectations for yourself.  

So how do you forgive undeserving family members?

1. Stop being resentful

Right now you may be asking, “How is that actually done?”

As adults, we are physically no longer victims of our parents. However, we must decide to not be emotional victims either. We must not depend on them to validate our value and worth.

We must choose to not be the child in that relationship anymore with its dysfunctional dynamics.

We have a Heavenly Father who wants to take our hurt and disappointment and be a “Father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5).

I especially like this quote from Ann Voskamp

“Drop your cares at God’s feet, not only because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7) but because you need a place to set them down before bitterness takes root.” (From the weekly gratitude project)

2. Write a letter of forgiveness but don’t send it

This step is especially helpful in forgiving a dead parent. It also has great value for any injustice that you experienced from one or both of your living parents.

The purpose of this letter is not to blame. It is to zero in on how your parent’s actions affected you. In almost every case of resentment, anger, and bitterness, the initial feeling was hurt. This pain can feel like things are out of control. Anger, on the other hand, feels less vulnerable and that is often what we experience next. Anger then grows into resentment and bitterness if we aren’t careful.

Writing a letter also relieves you of any face-to-face confrontation. So what should you write? Here is an example.

Dear dad,

I wish we could have had a really great relationship when I was growing up. Every kid wants that. As a parent, your attention and love were all I ever wanted. Even now I wish that was possible. I have cried many tears over this desire.

I wanted so much for you to read me bedtime stories and come to my school programs as other kids’ parents did. And on the days when grown-ups took their daughters to work, I was one of the few left at school. I wanted you to be my hero and that never happened.

Even though it is hard, I am choosing to forgive you in order that my emotions can heal and I can move on. I will pray that whatever caused you to leave us will be healed in your life also. I will commit you to God and let Him speak to you in His own way.

Feeling sad, your child

3. Get physical

Unforgiveness not only affects our emotions but also affects our bodies. Those toxic chemicals need to be burned up. That is where physical exercise comes in.

Running, speed walking, and jumping on a trampoline are all good activities. Do what is necessary to get tired.

It will do wonders for your psyche, help you sleep better, and relieve a huge amount of stress caused by unforgiveness.

4. Start being thankful for the good things growing up

If you had a difficult childhood, it is important that you search for good things to remember. Approach it as if you are on a treasure hunt. Here are some possible ideas:

  • a pet that you loved
  • others who showed you love such as a grandmother, aunt, or teacher
  • a special childhood friend
  • any special holiday that you can remember such as a birthday or Christmas
  • a toy that was your escape to the imagination of a better life
  • an award or special affirmation that you got in school

Also, read Bible verses about your importance to God as an abandoned, abused, or neglected child (James 1:27, Psalm 82:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, John 14:18).

Jesus loved children and wanted them to come to Him. He even said that it would be better for anyone who offended a child to have a heavy stone hung around their neck and be cast into the sea (Matthew 18:6).

5. Use your imagination

When bitter childhood memories come to mind, imagine Jesus coming and replacing your parent. Picture Him picking you up gently and holding you in his arms. Tell Him your hurts and cry if you need to. Let Him stroke your hair and tell you:

  • He loves you no matter what (Jeremiah 31:3, John 13:15)
  • He will never abandon you (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6)
  • He will always be there for you (Isaiah 43:2, Matthew 28:20, Proverbs 3:15-16, 1 Peter 5:7)

6. Get to know God better

The more we know God, the easier it is to accept things that are painful. He gives us strength for the hard things.

Let’s face it. The rough places on the road of life tend to wear us out. Even memories of past hardships can be stressful. But …

“They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31) ESV

Once eagles are in the air, it isn’t their own strength that allows them to soar. The wind currents are what cause the eagle to sail effortlessly in the air.

That is what God does for us when we focus our attention on Him instead of our past pain and hurt.

7. Get professional help if needed

If steps 1- 6 do not lead you to healing and freedom, you need to get professional help. Sometimes our childhood pain is just too great for us to find our way out of it alone.

A gift for you as you forgive your parents

You must choose to forgive your parents. It is an action, not a feeling. With that in mind, I want to give you the following Scripture card that you can download. No email is required.

Photo of an eagle soaring and scripture from Isaiah 40:31. We can't forgive our parents and heal ourselves without the help of the Lord.

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