Forgiving another individual can be hard, but if you learn to do so, the benefits are rich and varied. For one thing, it can "turn your focus to the joyful experience of relationships and values-driven living that can heal both mind and body," says Jeanie Tse, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer at the Institute for Community Living, a non-profit behavioral health organization in New York City. When you stop harboring the negative emotions that can lead to stress and depression, you may reduce your risk for disorders like heart disease, obesity, and headaches, she says.

Yet despite the health benefits, many people hold onto anger and resentment rather than forgive and forget, says Friedemann Schaub, Ph D, MD, author of The Fear + Anxiety Solution.

"Very often, resentment and anger cover up the hurt and pain that someone who treated us unfairly caused us," Schaub says. "But rather than attending to our own pain by being kind and compassionate to ourselves, we focus on the negative emotions toward the other person."

 Here's how to get started on the road to forgiveness.

1. First, become aware of how much energy the anger and resentment are draining from you, Schaub says. "When you live in the past and hold onto the anger, you are giving your power away, which can leave you feeling small and trapped," he says. "To reclaim your power, take responsibility for your feelings by asking yourself: Why did I take whatever this person did personally?" Also ask yourself: Is there anything I can learn about myself from this situation?

2. Remember, Schaub says, that you don't have to wait for someone's apology to heal and grow. "And it is much easier to forgive when you feel better about yourself," he says.

3. Holding onto grudges and not forgiving can "erode our capacity for love, hope, and joy," says Tse. "To forgive, it is important to understand that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes."

4. Put pen to paper! Simply writing out your story of how you feel you have been hurt is helpful. "This helps put the trauma in context of a life that moves from pain through recovery," Tse says. "The traumas gradually lose their power and people begin to see how those who hurt them came to do what they did."

5. Realize that forgiving does not mean that you are accepting wrongdoing, Tse says. "Forgiving is not about allowing wrongdoing to continue," she says. "It is about accepting the person who did wrong as a fellow imperfect human being, which allows you to turn your focus away from that person and toward your own values and choices."

6. Take the time you need. "Sometimes, to rescue a valued relationship, you just need to grit your teeth and forgive right away," Tse says. "You need to trust that you will be able to work through the conflict over time."

7. Be honest with yourself, Tse advises. "When you forgive yourself first, this can free you to forgive others," she explains.

8. Imagine yourself giving away the anger. "Forgiving is very freeing and empowering," Schaub says. "When you realize that you have the choice to let go of anger, you no longer feel victimized."

Jeanie Tse, MD reviewed this article.