How to forgive…Mark Manson’s five-step “SUE ME”approach

how to forgive

By Doug

I can’t remember how I discovered author and blogger Mark Manson, but it was a couple of years ago and I almost immediately purchased his book,  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Mark writes on a variety of topics (including relationships),  stating on his site that “I write about big ideas and give life advice that doesn’t suck. Some people say I’m an idiot. Other people say I saved their life.”

That statement alone makes me want to

Anyways, we’re on his list and received his latest email which had  a link to an article he wrote on forgiveness.   Since we often get comments and emails from folks expressing their struggles with forgiveness – forgiving their spouse and/or forgiving themselves –  I thought I’d share an article from a person who has a little different perspective on how to forgive. 

One word of caution…Mark often uses colorful language, so be prepared for an F-bomb or two.

Mark Manson
Mark Manson

How to Forgive Someone

Forgiveness can be tricky as it’s emotional in nature. It’s easy to say to yourself something like, “I should forgive Dad for missing my graduation because he was too drunk to remember it was June,” but when the rubber hits the road—i.e., when it actually comes time to feel the relinquishing of that anger and judgment, it feels impossible.

Below I’ve put together a five-step process for fostering more forgiveness in your relationships. Since the cool thing to do these days is create an acronym out of the first letter for each step to help you remember them, I’ve created five steps that spell out “SUE ME” when put in order. That way the next time you tell someone, “Fuck you, so sue me,” you can be reminded that you should probably be forgiving someone (or yourself).

The five steps of SUE ME are:

  1. Separate the action from the person
  2. Understand their motivation
  3. Empathize
  4. Mark your boundaries
  5. Express yourself

Let’s take them one by one.

1. Separate the action from the person

There’s a saying called Hanlon’s Razor that I like which says, “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity.”

I love this because I believe there are few truly sadistic people in the world, but pretty much all of us can be totally hateful morons if you put us in the wrong context with the wrong information.

We all succumb to behaviors that are not reflective of who we actually are. Hell, just last week, I ate an entire pint of ice cream by myself and proceeded to hate myself for the next six hours. Does that mean I am the person who eats an entire pint of ice cream out of pure gluttony? No, it’s just an action that I wasn’t particularly proud of. It didn’t align with my values or the person I aspire to be. But it happened. So I forgave myself and moved on.

This separation of the action from the person is crucial to reaching any sort of closure with anyone in your life. Everyone—and I mean absolutely everyone—does bad things in their life. But very few people in this world are bad people.

In Christianity, this is often described as, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Many other religions have their own versions of this concept. Most religions are built around some central tenet of unconditional forgiveness. And that forgiveness begins in separating the action from the person.

See also  Forgiving After Infidelity: A Nine Step Approach

From a secular point of view, if you study enough psychology, you discover that there’s not really such a thing as a “self” anyway. It’s this imagined construct, a mental target that is always moving, changing, and evolving. In that sense, any “bad person” is constantly moving, changing and evolving—or at least has the potential to. Therefore, it’s this focus on the potential for change or evolution—the possibility for new beliefs and actions—that is at the core of forgiveness.

2. Understand their motivation

As a general rule, people who do hurtful things do so because they are hurt themselves. Few people in this world are sadists. Most people who appear to take some sort of pleasure in hurting you or others are most likely compensating for the pain that they feel. Often times, fucked up belief systems have cornered them into doing some heinous shit, and they are some combination of too dumb/scared/insecure to question those beliefs.

“As a general rule, people who do hurtful things do so because they are hurt themselves.”

But whatever this person has done, look for some explanation of their motivation beyond “they are a piece of shit.” Some examples:

  • A woman who cheats on her husband does it because she feels lonely and ignored and the cheating was merely a cry for attention to know someone cared.
  • The man who cheats on his taxes does so because he’s terrified he won’t be able to provide for his family.
  • The dude who stole your phone feels justified as he’s grown up in poverty and been screwed over by a corrupt system repeatedly throughout his life.

Whether these reasons are true or not is beside the point. The point is that no one thinks they’re being evil. Everyone feels justified in what they are doing—otherwise they wouldn’t do it!

Also, you might say, “Okay, but feeling lonely and ignored doesn’t give you permission to break the trust of your marriage.” You’re right, it doesn’t. But we separated the action from the person, remember? These are not excuses. They are simply explanations. And before you can forgive someone, it helps to understand why they did what they did.

Because without understanding someone’s motivation, it’s impossible to empathize with them. And when it comes down to it, forgiveness is ultimately a form of empathy.

3. Empathize

Now the hard part: you gotta empathize with the fucking person. Empathy is a whole skill unto itself. Empathy means you take whatever pain motivated that person and you imagine that you have that same pain yourself.

See also  Dave Carder on Why Men Stay After an Affair

You imagine the confusion and horror of seeing your workplace shut down and lay everybody off. You visualize that pain and stress of struggling with an addiction. You challenge yourself to feel whatever adversity you can imagine they’ve gone through and then pretend you’ve gone through it yourself.

It’s hard to do. But it’s arguably one of the most important of all human skills. Our empathy is one of the only things that separates us from animals. It’s what gives us a foothold into morality. It’s what fills life with a sense of meaning.

If you really want to boil it down, empathy is forgiveness and vice-versa. If forgiveness is the ability to see the person as a multi-faceted and complex human being, empathizing with them is what gets you there. When you no longer see the wrong action as the totality of their character and merely one small resultant part of their character, you’ve reached a state of forgiveness.

4. Mark your boundary

Once you’ve empathized with the person and decided that, no, maybe they’re not a moldy shit tumor after all, it’s time to ask yourself what role you want them to have in your life, if any at all.

The difficulty of this largely depends on your relationship with the person. If it’s a stranger, it’s usually quite easy, just tell them to fuck off. If it’s a friend, it can be a bit harder. If it’s family, it’s really hard. And if it’s you who’s the moldy shit cancer, then it’s literally impossible.

I’ve written a lot about boundaries over the years, but here’s the quick and dirty version:

  • Set rules. Define which behaviors you will and will not accept.
  • Decide on consequences. If someone breaks one of your rules, what are the consequences?
  • Communicate the above calmly and compassionately.

What’s important about boundaries is not necessarily the result. Some people will respect your boundaries, some will not. What is important is that boundaries give you a clear sense how to manage each situation with this individual, no matter what happens. 

So this might look something like: “Look mom, I forgive you for abandoning me to marry a trucker. It has taken me years of therapy to understand that you were addicted to milk thistle and had intense insecurities around handlebar moustaches. But I also want you to know that while I forgive you, that doesn’t give you a right to be a part of my life. I’m happy to talk to you, but for now I don’t want to include you in any family activities. I ask that you please respect that, otherwise I will have to cut off contact.” 

Boom. Nailed it.

5. Eliminate Emotional Attachment

The final step of forgiveness is to let go of the emotional attachment that you’ve developed around hating this person’s guts for so long. Let the hatred and anger wash away, let the visions of revenge and misfortune die. It’s not helping anyone, least of all yourself.

Yes, the emotions will still rise in you around this person, but simply let them go. There’s an old Native American fable that says that inside us all we have two wolves battling for our attention. One wolf is our love. The other is our fear. And whichever wolf we feed will grow stronger and begin to dominate the other one. Feed the loving wolf. Yes, that one there, with the fluffy pink fur. She enjoys steak… and the limbs of small children. There you go, good girl.

See also  Assertive Communication and How to Do It​

How to Forgive Yourself

But what if the awful person you can’t seem to forgive is yourself? We all do things in our lives that we come to regret, that we wish we could take back, and that we harbor shame and guilt for ever doing.

The process is actually totally the same. Sue me, motherfuckers. Separate the action from the person—I did an awful thing but I’m not an awful person. Understand my motivation—what was the insecurity or ignorance that drove me to do this thing?

Empathize. Okay, this is honestly probably the hardest part of forgiving yourself—not only getting at your true motivations, but really, how much stuff do you blame yourself for that was not your fault?

When we’re children, we have a propensity to internalize and blame ourselves for all of the fucked up and awful things that happen to us. We then grow up and carry around that shame and guilt, often without realizing it. It can take years of therapy and inner work to finally undo it.

But once you do, the process is no different. Because next you must empathize. Many of us struggle to empathize with ourselves—or rather, have compassion for ourselves. Here’s one cute trick: that thing you’re mad at yourself for, pretend your best friend did it. What would you say to them if they were upset about it? Would you judge them? Criticize them? Berate them? Probably not. You’d probably have compassion and sympathy. What would you say to them? Now, try saying that to yourself.

Make boundaries – in this case, make rules for yourself, i.e., “The next time I’m drinking, I will not call my ex,” or, “When I become a parent, I will never do what was done to me.” Regrets are only regrets if you haven’t learned something from them. Take your pain and create rules from it.

And finally, eliminate the emotional attachment. Hating on yourself is tiresome and overrated. There are so many better things to do with your energy. Let it go and instead of obsessing on the vision of who you were, focus on the vision of who you could be.

Then take a step towards that. Then another. Then another. Then don’t ever look back.

You can read the full article here:

Please share your thoughts and experiences about your own journey to forgiveness (or anything else) below in the comment section.




    37 replies to "How to Forgive but Not Forget – Mark Manson’s 5-Step Process"

    • Kittypone

      True forgiveness is what’s still holding me hostage as I can’t seem to reply and truly forgive my husband for cheating on me. I have uttered the words “I forgive you”, but in my heart of hearts I know that I haven’t….i sometimes feel so much hatred and rage at him that it scares me, and I wonder if I could really live the rest of my life with him….sometimes I recall words of love and affection he said to that harlot while I have been slowly starved to death for any little crumb of his love and attention, and I truly become homicidal….please tell me that I’m not going crazy and that someone else can relate to my emotions…’s been 3 years since DDay, and some days it feels like it was 3 hours ago, and some days it feels like it was 3 lifetimes ago……please say that it gets better with time!!!

      • Another One

        Hi, Kittypone, I can’t say anything regarding how it does get better with time as I’m only 6 months past Dday myself but I can definitely empathise with your crazy emotions. My CS fell for a damsel in distress act that left me alone and overwhelmed trying to cope with our disabled children while he tried to “rescue” the OW from her own bad life choices. I’m working towards forgiveness, but I’m definitely not there yet, and sometimes I’m full of so much rage I’m scared I’ll never be able to forgive.

        In fact, I’ve given myself permission not to even attempt to forgive the skank who tried to break up my family. I’ve found that even acknowledging I don’t want or need to forgive her has freed me up so much to concentrate on looking after myself and my marriage.

    • True_Love_91

      How can I forgive the narcissist slut who befriended my husband, befriended me, and waited for the opportunity when he was weak from going through MLC and losing a best friend, to throw herself at him?!?! She is in an unhappy marriage and wanted to ruin mine. She’s a professional who’s done it before. To top it off, when I confronted her with my words, she and her friend attacked me and then had me arrested. She manipulated the police the same way she manipulated the cops and continues to come around our social circle as if she did nothing wrong. My hands are tied and my mouth is gagged because I will get arrested again if I have contact with her. Sue me? I’m waiting for her to come up with some way of doing that next! Forgive her? Fuck her!
      I’ve forgiven my husband because I see how she groomed him the way a pedophile grooms a child. He didn’t even see it coming and he quickly became addicted to the feelings of being young again. I’m still suffering 8 months after Dday and I suspected most of the year of the affair so this has taken away 2 years of my life. Forgive her? Never. Not let it hurt me anymore? Yes! My boundary – you don’t even exist in my world. Don’t even look me in the face!

    • Puzzled

      W.T.F? is all I can really type.
      1) Separate the action from the person: a single random mistake might be an option but, when a spouse chooses every day to continually lie and cheat on their spouse, it is a different story. I’ve forgiven my wife but I will always tie her cheating to her. There is no separation. It was her choice. Every day. It was her choice.
      2) Understand their motivation: Holy hell. What motivation is there to choose to daily cheat on your spouse of 20 years? I spent too many sleepless nights trying to figure out what I did that drove my wife away. I’m still at a loss. And she has continuously said that I did nothing to drive her into it. Sorry but this guy is way off here. Way freaking off.
      3) Empathize: Hmmm. Nope. Not a chance. I’m a little confused as to what “pain” my wife had in her life that made her cheat. And I’m not sure how a betrayed spouse can empathize with a person who has caused so much pain and hurt. It’s not about seeing them differently from their actions. Empathy is feeling what they felt so that would make me want to understand that it was ok to lie and cheat? It was ok to try to destroy our marriage? No.
      4) Boundaries: Don’t cheat. Pretty simple in marriage. And my wife & I have talked about our boundaries. Sadly, it’s something that you really should not have to discuss. Don’t cheat. It’s a very simple concept. Love and honor your spouse.
      5) Eliminate Emotional Attachment: Kind of a mixed bag on this. How do you not have some emotional connection to a life event that will always be a part of you? It doesn’t have to consume your thoughts or emotions though. It’s been 5 years since D-day but I will be surprised if I ever detach from the affair. It’s part of the fabric of our marriage. It’s part of “us”.

      My wife and I have made incredible strides in our relationship but it has not been easy. We work every day to love and honor each other. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s an every day choice all spouses have to make. It’s the daily choice of saying “I choose you. Above everything else. I choose you”.
      Maybe this article wasn’t geared towards me so I hope no one is offended by my response.

      • Shifting Impressions

        I’m with you on this…..I agree with everyone of your points!!!!!

    • Alma

      It all started when the corona pandemic started. I can not recall what triggered it. We have had 34 years of loving relationship. I fell in love with a man who I had so much respect, confidence and high regard for his whole personhood.
      It has been excruciating 6 mos of roller coaster intense emotions of hurt, anger, hostility. He has given me drip-drip information and he makes me bleed for 1 lousy answer. He gets angry, yells at ame, blames me, accuses me of being so controlling and what right do I have to scrutinize his life. Finally in the last 3-4 weeks, we have our Ativan in place, we have scheduled appointments with therapists.
      I asked him to memorialize the sequence of events, how the events develop to different sexual encounters. I was not really satisfied. So I ask, repeatedly. My questioning are met with much resistance, refusal, anger, blaming, silent treatment and ugliness indicative of understanding what I I am going through. The pain, the loss of my self worth, my inadequacy, hopelessness and totally loss of myself.
      He does not understand at all why I am obsessed with the details. I don’t either. Yesterday, I was closed to walking out of the whole thing. When he left for few minutes, something happened. I think it is God’s grace. When he came to bed, (I was sitting on the side of the bed), I told him that before all these chaos, I would look at his face (asleep or awake), and I would see Jesus on his face. Then I told him that now when I look at his face, I visualize a scenario wher his face is buried on her genitalia and her face on his genitalia. The sexual encounters are nonstop flashing before me. My negative emotions are heightened.
      Why do I keep wanting to know the details, every iota? If anyone has an effective strategy to erase these thoughts which really happened, pls help me.

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