So, why forgive others? This question is itself misleading; as we’ll see, this journey is not exactly about ‘forgiving’ others. First and foremost, this journey is about connecting with and better understanding ourselves. Forgiveness is a way of allowing ourselves to experience the moments of life in the fullest, pain and joy alike, without being trapped or hindered.
- Forgiveness is hugely beneficial to our health
Forgiveness has exceeded the fields of religion and philosophy, and is now widely studied by psychologists and physicians. In literally hundreds of scientific studies on forgiveness, it has been shown to reduce depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, and increase self-confidence. ¹ Research has shown a correlation between more forgiving people and fewer health and mental problems, as well as fewer physical stress symptoms.
- Not Forgiving is adverse to our health
Research has shown that failing to forgive may be a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic stress-induced problems. ² When anxiety, stress, and depression are countered, so are their accompanying ailments.
- Forgiveness Heals Relationships
Relationships – friendships, family, spouses, partners – are the mana of life. What would we be without them? And where would we be with them if we couldn’t see past upsets? Being better at forgiving means being better at relationships.
- Forgiveness Ends Conflicts
Not only relationships. Wars end, cultures unite, businesses merge, friend groups interact by reconciliation and the letting go of resentment. Understanding forgiveness gets us closer to being part of the solution in the world around us. It makes us a force for good.
- Forgiveness Frees Us
It frees us from the past, helps free us from perpetrators, and protects us from future victimization. It releases us from self-defeating patterns framings that trap us in cycles of pain.
Forgiveness is not a gift that I give to someone else.
It is a gift that gives itself to me.
What Forgiveness Is Not
10 Persistent Myths
Forgiveness is acceptance/tolerance. Simply because we forgive, does not need to mean that we approve of, or condone, the actions taken. Forgiveness cannot be oriented around the wrongness of the other person (what s/he should, or shouldn’t have done), yet can still involve an “unattached” engagement with his/her accountability and “unattached” invitation to take responsibility for his/her actions.
Forgiveness involves trust/faith. Forgiveness need not be a leap of faith as in a blind belief that the other person is ‘really’ a good person, or that they won’t do something similar in the future. Similarly, forgiveness does not need to involve capital ‘F’ Faith in a religion in order to be powerful. First and foremost, forgiveness begins within yourself, regardless of the other person or your spiritual commitments, both of which can impede the process of forgiveness. You also don’t need a higher power to forgive in an ‘impossible’ situation. Even if people could be beyond redemption, redeeming them is not the goal.
Forgiveness is about restitution. Forgiveness need not involve the reparation or repair of what was lost. In some cases, this is impossible in the strict sense; in others, holding on to the belief that we can ‘get back’ to a time before the moment that hurt us can again stand in our way of forgiveness. Restitution may (or may not) evolve out of the process of forgiveness, from the genuine awakening of the other person to a way in which s/he can address/redress the loss suffered through actions in the present. Yet, forgiveness that orients itself around this restitution is a forgiveness steeped in attachment. Similarly, restitution that happens without true forgiveness is hollow and tend to be temporary and easily repeatable.
Forgiveness is about forgetting. Starting the process of forgiving does not mean that you need to start forgetting about what happened. In fact, forgiving as we have seen is often the act of rewriting the past, which can also be thought of as powerfully creating the way we remember the event. The goal is not to forget what happened to us (indeed, in certain cases this may be counterproductive!). Instead, the goal is to find stronger ways to incorporate that memory into who we would like to become. Profoundly re-storying around/with the memory may be a powerful/productive path as well.
Almost Forgiveness is Good Enough. Almost forgiveness, which could mean stopping before moving to forgiveness as a way of being, or stopping before we’ve truly sat well with our forgiveness, is a block to our growth and happiness. In the short-run, it may be a ‘happier’ way to be: to ‘just’ forgive, or to ‘let bygones be bygones’… and these moments will likely circle back around and catch us unaware as we continue to go through our life. Taking the time to truly embrace, and sit well with, our forgiveness will be in service to ourselves for decades to come.
Forgiveness involves apologies, from the offender or from yourself. The word ‘apology’ originally meant ‘a long, drawn out defense.’ Apologies remain, in a certain way, a defense of my actions: “I’m sorry” or ” I didn’t mean to” or “That wasn’t my intent!” or “I wish I could redo that” are all forms of apologies, and defenses of our actions. Similarly, seeking out an apology from the other person, and hanging our hopes on that moment to restore/fix what happened is setting ourselves up for failure. Forgiveness might lead to apologies; and it might not. You may feel yourself letting go of pride. Don’t confuse this with self-respect…healing and removing suffering is a generous thing to do for yourself.
If I forgive, it might happen to me again. Similar to the ‘forgive and forget’ myth, this myth affirms that forgiving places us in a place of vulnerability: if I forgive, I show that it’s ‘ok’ to treat me this way, and others will continue to do so. This leads some people to develop defensive strategies, and to withhold forgiveness for fear of what might happen. In contrast, the process of forgiveness awakens us to what was alive in us at the moment of the trauma. Forgiveness allows us to explore our places of vulnerability from a state in which we’re hoping to forgive ourselves for moving into spaces of anger, frustration, sadness and loss. Sitting well with these feelings helps us to meet future challenges with balance, and to learn from what has happened (and, see point #1).
If I don’t forgive, then I am a bad person/Forgiving will make me a “better” person. Forgiveness has no bearing on your ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’. Indeed, true forgiveness arises not from the desire to be ‘good’, but from the desire to be whomever you wish to be, an ideal self that you imagine. True, many people we think of as ‘good’ people have lived lives of forgiveness [see Appendix B], and these are people who do works that benefit the beauty of the world… and one of those works is forgiveness. Forgiving in order to be ‘good’ is tenuous place to forgive from; a stronger base is forgiving from a desire to find a way to engage with the world that affords you more choice and more intention.
After I forgive, I will never feel hurt/pain about the event again. Feeling pain is part of being alive. Specifically, you may always feel pain and sadness when you look back on that event. Forgiveness is not about finding joy in trauma; it is not about escaping pain/hurt. It is about recognizing the role that sadness played in your experience, and finding balance around those emotions as natural to the human experience.
I might forgive them, and in either case, I need to teach them a lesson for their own good, or the good of others. This myth could be considered the opposite of the first myth – whereas that myth believes that in forgiving we are approving of the specific action involved, this myth believes that in forgiving we must guard against that potential condoning through ensuring that the other party knows that they are bad/wrong. This instructional dimension takes us away from the heart of forgiveness, and puts us back into the realm of judging and punishing.
- To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.
- It is a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human.
- Forgiveness is not easy – it requires hard work and a consistent willingess
- Forgiveness is not weakness – it requires courage and strength
- Forgiveness does not subvert justice – it creates space for justice to be enacted with a purity of purpose that does not include revenge
- Forgiveness is not forgetting – it requires a fearless remembering of hurt
- It is not quick – it can take several journeys through the cycles of remembering and grief before one can truly forgive and be free.
I will forgive you
The words are so small
But there is a universe hidden in them
When I forgive you
All those cords of resentment pain and sadness that had wrapped
themselves around my heart will be gone
When I forgive you
You will no longer define me
You measured me and assessed me and
decided that you could hurt me
I didn’t count
But I will forgive you
Because I do count
I do matter
I am bigger than the image you have of me
I am stronger
I am more beautiful
And I am infinitely more precious than you thought me
I will forgive you
My forgiveness is not a gift that i am giving to you
When I forgive you
My forgiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me
Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook. We can and should still hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions.
Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again. We don’t have to tolerate, nor should we keep ourselves open to, lack of respect or any form of abuse.
Forgiveness does not mean we have to revert to being the victim. Forgiving is not saying, “What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me.” Nor is it playing the martyr, enjoying the performance of forgiving people because it perpetuates our victim role.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we never can get along with him again.
Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It might take some time to work through our emotional problems before we can truly forgive. As soon as we can, we should decide to forgive, but it probably is not going to happen right after a tragic divorce. That’s okay.
Forgetting does not mean denying reality or ignoring repeated offenses. Some people are obnoxious, mean-spirited, apathetic, or unreliable. They never will change. We need to change the way we respond to them and quit expecting them to be different.
Forgiveness is not based on others’ actions but on our attitude. People will continue to hurt us through life. We either can look outward at them or stay stuck and angry, or we can begin to keep our minds on our loving relationship with God, knowing and trusting in what is good.
We don’t always have to tell them we have forgiven them. Self-righteously announcing our gracious forgiveness to someone who has not asked to be forgiven may be a manipulation to make them feel guilty. It also is a form of pride.
We might forgive too quickly to avoid pain or to manipulate the situation. Forgiveness releases pain and frees us from focusing on the other person. Too often when we’re in the midst of the turmoil after a divorce, we desperately look for a quick fix to make it all go away. Some women want to “hurry up” and forgive so the pain will end, or so they can get along with the other person. We have to be careful not to simply cover our wounds and retard the healing process.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. If it were, we would rarely forgive others because we would not “feel” like it.
Forgiveness is not a weakness. A lot of strength is required to acknowledge pain, declare it, and forgive it.
- Forgiveness does not mean pretending it didn’t happen or hiding from it.
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not reality.
- Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing a wrong. And it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. Reconciliation may follow forgiveness, but we can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.
- Forgiveness is not based on the wrongdoer’s actions. Even if the other person never apologizes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive.
- Forgiveness is not conditional. It’s not an If you do this…this…and this, then, and only then, I will forgive you.
- Forgiveness is not justice. Justice usually involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment. Forgiveness should occur whether justice is withheld or not.
- Forgiveness is not about changing the other person, their actions, or their behavior.
- Forgiveness does not mean trust. Forgiveness should be freely given, trust must be earned. Trust must be built with consistent truth-telling over a period of time.
- Forgive For Good, Fred Luskin
- Forgiveness, health, and well-being: a review of evidence for emotional versus decisional forgiveness, dispositional forgivingness, and reduced unforgiveness.-Everett L. Worthington, Jr, Charlotte Van Oyen Witvliet, Pietro Pietrini, Andrea J. Miller J Behav Med. 2007 Aug; 30(4): 291–302.