The Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is generally described as a conscious and deliberate decision to release the feelings of resentment or vengeance towards others who may have harmed you. Forgiveness can be extremely difficult to grant others as we get stuck in justifying whether or not the other person actually deserves our forgiveness. Now to be clear, forgiveness does not mean brushing aside the seriousness of the offensive act or behavior. It does not mean to simply forget about it and move on. And it most certainly does not mean condoning or excusing the behavior either. Forgiveness is about us, not the other person.
Forgiveness brings us peace through the release of the damaging anger and negative feelings associated with us holding onto the wrongdoing. For this reason and many more, forgiveness is empowering because it allows us to recognize the pain we suffered without letting that pain define us. This acknowledgment is very helpful and it is the catalyst for helping us heal and move on with our lives. Being able to move on from those negative feelings isn’t the only benefit of forgiveness.
Research suggests that:
- Forgiveness makes us happier. Happy people are more likely to forgive, and forgiving others actually can make us happier, especially when we forgive someone who is close to us.
- Forgiveness improves our health. When we focus our thoughts and feelings on negativity, our blood pressure and heart rates increase. This in turn produces more stress hormones in our body, which also has documented research on the negative effects to our health. When we forgive others and let go of the negative emotions and feelings, we produce less stress hormones.
- Forgiveness strengthens relationships with those close to us. Being able to forgive stops the negative spiral and increases the opportunity to rebuild stronger and more meaningful relationships with those important to us.
- Forgiveness increases kindness and connectedness. Research has shown that people who forgive not only feel more positive towards someone who has harmed them; they are more likely to want to volunteer and donate money to charity. This kindness and connection to others without expectations will increase the positivity of one’s life and make the world a better place.
But how do we learn how to forgive?
Luckily for us, forgiveness is an intrinsic part of human nature, meaning that we all are born with the capacity to forgive. It is also a choice and a skill that we can learn.
Forgiveness begins with the way we think.
- Look at forgiveness as something for you, not someone else. When you forgive, you are helping yourself more than you are helping someone else for the reasons listed above.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. If you want to forgive (or be forgiven), you have to express how you’re feeling to others and yourself. Obsessing over negative feelings is both unhealthy and unproductive.
- Search for the lesson. View the interaction as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and about others. View it as a learning lesson given to you to improve your life.
- Improve your empathy. Change your viewpoint and look at the situation from the other person’s view. Try to see things through their eyes. Maybe you’ll discover their reasoning or see the distress and remorse they are experiencing as a result of their actions. Empathy leads to the chance of forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t happen in a single moment. Forgiveness is a process and something that takes time, energy, and a desire to make things right. And remember, once we forgive someone it doesn’t mean that we then have to become friends again with those who have hurt us. It is merely working through the process so that we don’t have to carry the weight of being wronged with us on a daily basis. Changing our negative emotions and feelings is well worth the effort it takes to truly forgive.