Why Should I Forgive? (Read time - 3 minutes)

December 17, 2018

 

'Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong' - Mahatma Ghandi.

 

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful choices that a person can make. I say choice because it truly is something that each person must choose to do or not to do. We are confronted with moments to choose forgiveness each and every day. But, making that choice is not always easy.

 

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. ...Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences.

 

Where forgiveness can become confusing is when we associate forgiveness with condoning. For example, if I forgive someone for stealing from me, am I simply saying that theft is OK? Absolutely not, but what I AM saying is that I am choosing to let go of the anger and negative feelings that I am carrying as a result of the event(s) that occurred. Thus freeing myself from the negative energy that is truly only affecting myself in many cases.

 

When we hold onto all of that resentment, often the other person is unaware, or they may not even care for them to be forgiven. This truly illustrates that forgiveness, at its heart, is for ourselves and our own emotional/mental health.

 

I have been working in mental health for over a decade with several years as a therapist, but I learned about the power of forgiveness in my own personal life. I had someone in my life wrong me in a way that I thought would be unforgivable. I spent a lot of my time and energy being angry at the wrong that had occurred and focusing on the inequality life and how it was just ‘not fair’ that I was feeling such pain and anger.

 

I ended up reading about Desmond Tutu and his work with truth and reconciliation after apartheid had ended in South Africa. His words touched me in many ways and I was able to find my own path to forgiving this person in my life. These words carried so much weight for me: Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor.

 

So as we move toward the holiday season and a new year, take a moment and reflect on anger you may be carrying toward another. Is there an opportunity for forgiveness? Would the absence of those negative feelings allow you to move forward toward a life you desire? Are you ready to no longer be tethered to that person by chains of bitterness?

 

Below are 9 steps for forgiveness as outlined by Marilyn Mitchell MD on Psychology Today. These are meant only to be presented as an outline and first step toward forgiveness and not meant as an easy DIY roadmap. It may be helpful to seek out the assistance of a professional that you trust to process your experience with and that can help guide you on your path.

 

9 Steps to Forgiveness

 

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

 

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better.

 

3. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”

 

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

 

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.

 

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

 

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met instead of how the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.

 

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

 

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

 

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