Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

The Virtue of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a theme that runs through all the housecleaning Steps, where as a virtue it is practiced primarily as part of the disciplines of self-examination, confession, and restitution.

In identifying and admitting our wrongs in Steps 4, 5, and 10, we come to see that we are just as flawed as others, and others no more flawed than we. This helps us to forgive ourselves as well as to forgive them.

This process extends through the intervening Steps, 6 through 9, as we surrender and make amends for our wrongs.

Forgiveness, both in the giving and in the receiving, is also part of Step 11, where self-searching is combined with the disciplines of prayer and meditation to form “an unshakable foundation for life.”

[Image: Sister Ignatia, who helped Dr. Bob sober up alcoholics at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio.]

“Under very trying conditions I have had to forgive others—also myself.” – Bill W., in ABSI


 “We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.” – Big Book

“Our moral inventory had persuaded us that all-round forgiveness was desirable, but it was only when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly knew we’d be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too.” – 12&12

“. . . and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us . . .” – Matthew 6:12

“Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me, seven times? – Not, not seven, but seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18:21-22

"How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself." – Syrus


“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace   . . . that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness . . .” – St. Francis Prayer

“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.” – Edward Herbert

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope


“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” – William Blake

“A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green.” – Francis Bacon

“'I can forgive, but I cannot forget,' is only another way of saying, 'I cannot forgive.'” – Henry Ward Beecher

“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” – Corrie ten Boom

“To understand all is to forgive all.” – Evelyn Waugh

“There is a hard law: When an injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive.” – Alan Paton

“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, at the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.” – C. S. Lewis

“Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.” – Hannah Arendt

“Forgiveness is an eminent form of giving which affirms the dignity of the other by acknowledging him for who he is, beyond what he does.” – Pope John Paul II

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past—but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” 
– Anne Lamott

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” – Miroslav Volf

“Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness.” – David Augsburger

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
– Lewis B. Smedes

“Every time I try to tighten the noose of resentment around someone’s neck, I am really only choking myself. Today I will practice forgiveness instead.”
– Al-Anon’s Courage to Change

“Gratitude for being forgiven will in turn make us more forgiving and help us to let go of anger and resentment, and, as we give thanks for what has been given us so freely, we will become more generous and desire to give in equal measure.” – PTP

“We found then that much of our wrongdoing when we drank was fueled by anger, resentment, and fear, and that behind these lay specific character defects like intolerance and unforgiveness. These constitute the exact nature of our wrongs.” – PTP

For more BB and 12&12 passages on forgiveness, click on and search forgive and its cognates. See also entries in As Bill Sees It.

Additional Resources

  1. Meditations for 03/11 and 09/07 in NA's Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

  2. C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven, daily meditations February 26 – March 1

  3. “Showing Mercy: The Virtue of Forgiveness,” chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue, by James S. Spiegel

     4. Why Forgive, by Johann Christopf Arnold. Moving stories of great harm and still
         greater forgiveness. Useful for inventory process in Steps 4 – 10

     5. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the novel and the 2012 musical film version directed
         by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). There is also an excellent 1982 French 
         television version of the film, with Lino Ventura. For the relationship between
         forgiveness and grace in the story, see Tim Keller's book
         The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, pp. 184-185 

     7. "Recovery and Forgiveness," by Father Joe M., in "Audios & Videos" in this website

For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.