Although forgiveness is a commonly used word, it is not a concept that is easy to understand or to practice. Forgiveness is a highly personal and distinct experience that varies from person to person. Some people find it easy and natural to forgive; while others find it much harder. These people tend to bear grudges and harbor resentments. Others may even believe that forgiveness, for some things at least, is impossible. The good news is that forgiveness is something that can be learned and enjoyed by everyone in all kinds of situations.
Forgiveness: What Does It Mean?
When a person has been the victim of abuse or maltreatment by another person; they often harbor resentment, anger, bitterness and bad feelings. This also counts if the “victim” is only regarded as such by themselves. Sometimes these people may even desire vengeance. They may also wish for the person to be reprimanded or experience suffering in some way or another.
Forgiveness means that the person who has been abused chooses to change these negative emotions. By forgiving, they can liberate themselves from the cycle of negative thoughts and desires that come from feeling abused. This way, they hope to reduce the power that the abuser has over them. Often, the abuser does not even know that the person they have harmed has forgiven them.
Forgiveness can be aimed at one specific event or a series of events over a period of time.
Sometimes, we can feel offended by something relatively minor. A harsh word, an insult or perhaps even someone questioning our integrity or judgment are all examples of this. Some people can shrug off these perceived offenses easily while others can take them to heart allowing them to develop into larger, ongoing problems. A good example of this would be where family members have not spoken to each other for years due to some presumed insult or disrespect. The point is that allowing a minor issue to develop into something so important that it affects the lives of the people around you is damaging to everyone. With family members or close friends, taking the initiative to forgive can heal old wounds and encourage reconciliations.
In most religions and spiritual institutions around the world, followers are encouraged to practice forgiveness. Why? Because a person who can forgive is generally better adjusted and more complete.
Forgiveness brings peace.
What Forgiveness is NOT About
We often hear the phrase “forgive and forget”, yet forgiveness is not about forgetting. The thing is that whatever happened, happened; and you simply cannot change that. If you feel that you have been hurt, threatened or injured by the actions (physical, verbal or psychological) of another person; then it is up to you to deal with it. You will most likely never forget what has happened to you. But by forgiving the person responsible for hurting you, you can free yourself from the negative energies that may be holding you back in life.
Forgiveness is not about condoning, excusing or approving of the action which has taken place. If you feel that the action or reaction you experienced was wrong, unjustified or unnecessary; then so be it. Forgiveness is how you deal with that situation.
Also remember that forgiveness is not about reconciliation. It can be if the hurt is relatively small and the person is someone that you value. In more serious cases, however, reconciliation is often not a good idea as forgiveness is not about allowing the possibility for the person to keep causing you damage and pain.
Forgiveness does not require a change in the person who offended you. Instead it is the change it can bring about in you that is important.
Why Is It So Hard to Forgive Someone?
Forgiving someone who has caused you pain or suffering is not easy. You may confuse forgiveness with condoning or pardoning the act and, in some way, this could invalidate your pain and suffering. However, forgiveness cannot change what has happened or your past reaction to it. What it changes, is how you deal with it in the present and how you will deal with it in the future. It doesn’t diminish the significance of the event or your reaction to it in any way. It simply closes the door on the negative thoughts which are holding you back. By holding on to negative feelings you will only harm yourself. Keep in mind that the offender is generally unaware, uninterested or even contented by your suffering.
How Do You Forgive Someone?
To forgive someone you must change your attitude and emotions towards them from negative to at least neutral. Some people may even be capable of acquiring positive attitudes towards the person once they have forgiven them.
In specific situations, the damage a person has suffered is substantial. Examples of such cases include sexual abuse and infidelity. In these situations, it is much harder to forgive the offender. Nevertheless, the resentment and negative emotions experienced by the victim can cause serious personal damage. Learning how to forgive is very important.
If you have suffered a serious wrong; particularly at the hands of a trusted or loved person, you may need to seek expert counseling. Professional help can assist you in discovering ways in which you can start working on the steps to forgiveness. A trained counselor can show you how to look beyond the incident itself and to find the potentially life-changing power that forgiveness can bring.
The Benefits of Forgiving for Your Psychological Health
People who forgive are healthier and happier than those who maintain grudges. Studies reveal that they enjoy better nervous system and cardiovascular health and they tend to have fewer health problems in general. These people are less stressed, have lower blood pressure and have fewer aches and pains.
After forgiving someone, people become less hurt and angry, their confidence increases and they become more compassionate. Their relationships can improve and they develop a more optimistic way of viewing life, decreasing the risk of suffering from depression or anxiety. Also, they can forgive with greater ease in future situations.
Forgiveness can free you to live and enjoy the present and take full advantage of the future.
Steps to Forgiveness
Some people may experience a blinding flash of insight and inspiration which allows them to instantly forgive a person for a past wrong. However, for most of us, completing the steps to forgiveness may take a while to achieve.
Express Your Feelings
First, it is necessary to examine the hurtful situation (even if this causes you pain). Be honest and open with yourself about what you feel. Some people may find it helpful to share their emotions with a trusted friend or family member, a mental health professional or a spiritual leader. Others prefer to write down their feelings. See what works for you and consider how these emotions have affected your life and the way you behave or feel.
Some people decide to express their feelings by sharing these feelings with the person involved. This can sometimes be helpful. But be prepared for them to deny or reject what you have written or what you are saying. Remember, achieving forgiveness should not be constructed around the reaction of the offender. Whether they understand what you are feeling or not is of no importance. The person can even be dead or it can be someone you no longer have any contact with. Forgiveness is for your benefit.
Many people choose to burn or tear up the writings they made about the situation at some point during the forgiveness process to symbolize their release from the power that the offender had over them. This could mark the point where you stop being the victim and regain control of your life.
Learn about the benefits that forgiving someone can have for you. Then start making a commitment to taking the effort to complete the steps to forgiveness. Make a voluntary, positive choice to forgive the person who has offended or hurt you; for your own good.
Get Some Perspective
Try to take a step back and observe the reality of the event as impartially as possible. Try to discover why the person may have acted in the way they did. Did they deliberately try to hurt you or was it perhaps involuntary? Do they even realize the pain they caused you? Empathizing with the offender can make the task of forgiveness a lot easier. Then think about your own deeds. Have you ever acted in a similar way before? Have you maybe hurt someone without meaning to? Perhaps you are the one who needs to apologize to someone and ask for their forgiveness.
Focus on The Positive
Try to find something positive in the situation. If this is not possible, at least try not to keep yourself focused on the negative aspects of what has happened. Some people find it helpful to join a group where they can talk about what happened to them and listen to others who’ve had similar experiences. Often, this can help you to find the positive aspects connected to the incident that you might have been unable to uncover on your own.
Find Peace and Move On
Put the incident to rest. Don’t keep reliving it over and over in your mind. Lay aside any thoughts of vengeance and reprisal you may be having. Liberate yourself from the power that this person has over you. Concentrate on the present and you will discover how much better you feel now that you have achieved forgiveness. Enjoy the peace and tranquility that it can bring and move on in your life with a calm confidence. You are now ready to shut the book on your old grievance story and write a brand new version.
The Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness restores your personal power. It gives you back the chance to live and love, freely and honestly. It takes you from being a victim to being victorious.
You may have come to a point where you blame the things happening in your life on a past hurt or grievance. Or you may have fallen out with someone. Maybe it is time to consider the benefits of forgiving the person who has hurt or offended you. It might not be easy, but by taking the steps to forgiveness you can liberate yourself from this burden and enjoy a more fulfilling and positive life.