Why Forgive and How to do it?
‘Man receives only that which he gives. The Game of Life is a game of boomerangs. Man’s thoughts, deeds and words, return to him, sooner or later with astounding accuracy.’
Florence Scovel Schinn, The Game of Life and How To Play It
I remember watching a TV programme some time ago on couples who have been together for decades. They were each asked, ‘What makes a good marriage last?’ Almost every couple answered, ‘Forgiveness.’ That’s quite interesting when today we are fed that marriage lasts because of your good looks, good
I found in working with clients that forgiveness has a variety of challenges. It’s sometimes really hard to forgive – especially when an offense is big and seems to have repercussions, we can be biased because of past hurts and having difficulty separating what someone has done currently with similar experiences in the past – they seem to feed off each other, we feel those we want to forgive will see us as ‘weak’ and do it again if we let them off too easily, we feel as if it’s not possible to forgive sometimes, we believe we have to reconcile if we forgive or sometimes we just don’t know how to forgive!
Why should we forgive?
Psychological research has uncovered numerous benefits stemming from forgiveness:
This makes sense as if we are unforgiving, we often come across reminders of our hurt and when thinking of it, we feel anger, stress, sad or anxious.
2. We have lower levels of anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental disorders.
If we aren’t forgiving regularly, there is a build-up of these memories or the memory and more hurts can pile up.
3. We feel less in control
We can often end of feeling like a victim with all the things that one person, or many people, have done to us. It hurts and we feel powerless to stop it. However, when we forgive, we take back our power to feel happy and let go and can even build our self-esteem in the process, feeling like we are more in control of how we feel and feel we are ‘good people’. We let go and move on and didn’t allow others and their opinions and
4. Forgiveness improves not only our mental health but also our physical health.
People who forgive experience reduced stress levels and physical symptoms of stress,
(Touissant, Worthington, and David R. Williams, 2015, ‘Forgiveness and Health’)
So How do we Forgive?
In my personal experience, as well as my experience with others, it can be challenging. Often, you decide to forgive, do a bunch of work to forgive, and find that two days later you are ruminating on what someone did and mad as hell again! This is a normal experience – believe it or not. The fallacy is that forgiveness is a one-time event and that’s what keeps tripping us up. For people with a propensity to forgive or those who have practiced the skill and developed it well, or in certain situations, where the offense wasn’t that big or there was a lot of good as well, you may forget once and move often but most often this isn’t the case.
Here’s a suggested plan, from a compilation of ideas to tackle forgiveness.
1. Face it head-on – write or meditate about the offense and don’t sugar coat it. Face it for what it was – someone completely invalidating your experience or feelings, an abuse, a betrayal, deceit and so on. Be aware, however,
2. Write down how you feel about it – angry, fuming, fed up, sad, hurt, unable to recover or communicate about it, overwhelmed, deeply disappointed and so forth.
3. Write down or think about this person/these people and their
4. If you are dealing with something of a serious nature such as
5. Decide to forgive and say it out loud, write it or see the words or decision in your head.
6. Forgiving someone does not mean you have to reconcile. If your spouse has beaten you for the 50th time (or even the 2nd), or you’ve been sexually or physically abused as a child, protecting yourself and your heart from further pain is a priority and if you do not think
Forgiveness also doesn’t mean forgetting. The Holocaust, Apartheid and various other personal events are better remembered so that we can learn and grow and change as societies. However, if that remembering comes with anger, intense bitterness and other negative emotions, forgiveness may not yet be accomplished or it may be useful to think of it less often.
1. Some things you can forgive in a
2. Pray. Sometimes we need a little extra help to let go of things that have hurt or harmed us.
Two things I have found is that people struggle most to forgive themselves (even when they weren’t really to blame). Focussing on forgiving yourself for your own reactions and how you have hurt others is just as important an exercise as forgiving others.
Also, I have often seen people only begin to heal when they own their anger. Many try to be benevolent and pretend it didn’t matter but only when acknowledging the anger do we really see the offense. That is because anger is a reaction to our boundaries being crossed and often if you don’t own the anger, you can’t own that your boundaries were violated.
As in the quote above, how we treat others somehow comes back to us. I want to be forgiven when I’ve messed up and I don’t always want to face the consequences. Most of us want this most of the time. Forgive – we owe it to ourselves and our society. Justice can be served if we forgive – they are not mutually exclusive – but forgiveness is the only place where we are truly set free emotionally and physically.