Forgiving the people who have hurt you can be difficult, but forgiveness can be healing for many reasons. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called forgiveness “the final form of love,” and author and motivational coach Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott said forgiveness “forces you to grow beyond what you were.” For advice on forgiveness — because how to go about it is unique to everyone — it may be useful to turn to quotes from writers, artists, and leaders whose wise words have helped many to move on.
While the desire to maintain boundaries and distance after being hurt is natural — and, in certain situations, healthy — forgiveness can bring a sense of peace to an otherwise painful experience. There are many different ways to approach it, and you’ll want to find a method that works for your relationship dynamic and needs. At its core, forgiveness is about letting go. In doing so, we release resentment and anger so that we can feel life’s joys more fully.
From Mother Teresa to Desmond Tutu, the following inspirational quotes shared by the world’s most thoughtful minds highlight just how much forgiveness can help make us whole.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In the compiled collection of his writings, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections, Mahatma Gandhi wrote about the strength needed to forgive those who hurt us. To forgive is a virtue of the brave, an act of courage, compassion, and strength like little else.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained the perspective required to enable forgiveness. By adjusting how we view our experiences, we can more easily forgive those who make mistakes. That forgiveness then acts as protection against pain and a way of more joyfully moving through our days.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain
American writer and humorist Mark Twain views forgiveness as a gift. By forgiving, we find sweetness and light after heartache and pain, and that sweetness is the scent that will remain.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela
Holding onto resentment harms only us, not the person who has hurt us, as activist Nelson Mandela says. Letting go of resentment lifts a weight from our shoulders and makes it easier to breathe and move on.
“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.” – Confucius
Chinese philosopher Confucius speaks to the lasting nature of anger and resentment, and how it can build up and hurt us over time. When we forgive, we continue to live our lives with lightness.
“True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’” – Oprah Winfrey
Oprah speaks not only to the power of forgiveness, but to the lessons that can be learned from letting go of your grievance. They act as guides that protect us as we begin anew.
“They who forgive most shall be most forgiven.” – William Blake
This quote from poet and painter William Blake highlights the circular nature of forgiveness. When we forgive others often and freely, it’s more likely that we will be forgiven when we make mistakes. That freedom helps us forge lasting relationships that make for a fuller and more colorful life.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” — Bruce Lee
This inspirational quote from martial arts legend Bruce Lee is echoed by author Bryant H. McGill, who said “There is no forgiveness without love.”
“Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.” – Marlene Dietrich
This humorous quote from singer and actress Marlene Dietrich is about how forgiveness should be a final destination, not a stop on the path to the next argument. After you’ve forgiven someone, don’t go back to the original grievance when it’s convenient. Instead, make forgiveness a constant. This is how true and honest relationships survive and thrive.
“Compassion, forgiveness, these are the real, ultimate sources of power for peace and success in life.” – Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama often speaks to themes of compassion, kindness, and spirituality. He’s been quoted as saying, “Compassion, love, and forgiveness, however, are not luxuries. They are fundamental for our survival.”
“Forgive your enemies; never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy
This quote from former president John F. Kennedy is an important reminder that forgiveness is not weakness. It can be helpful to allow ourselves to forgive, while still setting boundaries for those who have hurt us in the past.
“Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It’s not for the other person.” – Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou tells us that forgiveness is about the lightness in our hearts and souls. By forgiving someone who has trespassed against us, we give ourselves an important gift: peace and the opportunity to move forward.
“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” – Thomas Szasz
Thomas Szasz was a psychiatrist who spent most of his life practicing in the state of New York. His quote about human naivety and wisdom reminds us that forgiveness is wise and that we can forgive without opening ourselves to further hurt.
“To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” – Alexander Pope
Poet Alexander Pope likened the practice of forgiveness to a daily habit of spirituality and divinity. He reminds us that everyone makes mistakes, and that mistakes are part of human nature. In practicing forgiveness, we transcend humanity and become something spiritual. In that, we find peace.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
Author and theologian Lewis B. Smedes is far from the only faith-based figure to share his insights on forgiveness. Holocaust hero Corrie ten Boom said that forgiveness “breaks the handcuffs of hatred,” echoing the sentiments of Smedes in the quote above. Even Will Smith had something to say about the role of God in forgiveness. “Let God deal with the things [other people] do,” Smith said. Furthermore, Tyler Perry said that forgiveness “frees you,” which isn’t explicitly a spiritual statement, but it’s certainly good advice.
Setting Yourself Free Through Forgiveness
When a friend or loved one says or does something hurtful, it can be difficult to find grace and offer forgiveness. Still, there are many reasons to find that forgiveness. Chief among them is safeguarding our physical and mental health.
But finding forgiveness can be difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. That’s why quotes like these are important. They remind us that we are human; that mistakes happen; and that forgiving grudges is not synonymous with weakness.