Psychology defines forgiveness as a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment, anger, shame, revenge, and any other emotions associated with injustice, toward a person or group who has harmed you.
And this is where it gets tricky. True forgiveness comes after you acknowledge these feelings as reasonable. Then you are supposed to turn around and treat the offender with compassion whether they deserve it or not.
Are you kidding me?
That was hard enough for me to type, let alone do.
By any measure this is a tall order. Knowing that the perceived offender may not deserve or even care about your forgiveness makes you wonder why you should even bother. But before we get into that maybe we should take a look at what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is NOT:
- Denying the seriousness of the offense against you.
- Simply forgetting about it and moving on.
- Condoning, excusing, or rationalizing the offenses.
- Reconciling. (This may happen after you have forgiven someone, but you are not obligated to become friends.)
- Releasing them from any legal liability.
The path of forgiveness does not mean you have to downplay the hurt that someone has caused you. And it is not permission given to them to do it again. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t have to do any work to regain your trust or respect.
Forgiveness vs. Acceptance
These two concepts are not the same. While, they are similar. And they both are great things to incorporate into a happier healthier life. Do not mistake one for the other.
When you forgive someone you are not saying what happened is “ok” or acceptable.
Acceptance is more of an acknowledgment that “this” happened. You can’t go back in time and change it. Forgiveness comes in order for you to move forward from that point. So you are not dragging this filth with you down the road. Letting go is found at the end of this process.
I do think both play a vital role in releasing the gunk that can build up as we make our way through life. But they both are best put to use for the specific purposes and benefits they bring on their own.
Why is forgiveness necessary, you ask?
If it’s so hard, why do it?
Greater Good Magazine (GGM) points out that, “forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger.” Being freed from these corrosive feelings that are so deeply attached to being wronged is crucial.
Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” shows us that the emotion that has the most damaging effects on us mentally and physically is anger.
The body part most affected by anger is your heart.
“In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles,” says Chris Aiken, MD,
an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
He even goes on to add that repressed anger is associated with heart disease and stroke. It weakens your immune system. Leads to depression and anxiety. The list goes on and on.
That is just one of the negative feelings that can be associated with being hurt by someone. This is why forgiveness is important for you not for them. GGM goes on to say that, “While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings towards the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings.”
Benefits of forgiveness
Over the past few decades research has revealed enormous personal benefits in the act of forgiveness. Just being able to let go of some anger will benefit you greatly. But there is more. Therapy designed around forgiveness helps patients experience greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and hope than those who don’t.
It can help you sustain meaningful relationships. Let’s face it sometimes the people we love most hurt us as well. Does that mean you don’t want them in your life?
The Mayo Clinic offers us these perks:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self esteem
The most important thing to realize is that all the benefits of forgiveness are for YOU. It is to make your life better.
Do you think you can do it?
At the end of the day forgiveness is a choice. It is an emotional change that occurs within you. But you still have to choose to let that happen. It is hard and it sucks sometimes (A LOT!). But the pain, anguish, and physical harm you can do to yourself by hold on to being wronged is greatly outweighed by the act of forgiveness.
It is always up to you.
Now hopefully you can see that no matter how hard it can be to forgive someone, it is worth it.