Forgiveness is part of the process of healing and letting go of the past.
When two people are angry with each other, each side feels hurt by the other and would like to receive an apology. Unfortunately, many people believe that they “lose” by admitting they hurt the other person. So neither side apologizes and the mutual resentment continues indefinitely. It’s important to remember that you do not lose by apologizing and admitting that you have been hurting the other person. You win and so does the other person.
So what exactly is forgiveness? We have a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, that it means being weak, not demanding justice, excusing the reprehensible behavior, or letting oneself be treated badly. It’s not any of those things! Forgiveness means to cease to feel resentment against someone or something. It is very empowering to know that you can regain your sense of self. You can wake up each day without reliving the past, even though you won’t forget it.
Four myths about forgiveness
- Forgiving means forgetting. False! Your brain doesn’t stop remembering. Instead of dwelling on the past, you are now free to protect yourself and move on.
- Forgiving means you’re a pushover. Absolutely not! Forgiving puts you in a position of strength. You can still hold people accountable, but you take away that person’s power to hurt you anymore.
- Forgiving means you can’t get angry. Not true! You don’t excuse unkind, inconsiderate, selfish behavior nor minimize your own pain. You can’t change the past or predict the future, but you don’t have to suffer forever either.
- Forgiving means reconciliation. Not always! It just gives you emotional space to make decisions that are best for you. It helps you decide, with strength and confidence, what’s best for you. You can decide if you want to work things out, or just walk away or do something else.
Why should we forgive?
The Stanford Forgiveness Project has shown that learning to forgive lessens the amount of hurt, anger, stress, and depression that people experience. People who forgive also become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate and have enhanced conflict resolution skills. This research also found that people who forgive report significantly fewer physical symptoms of stress such as a backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches, and upset stomachs. The act of forgiveness also increases energy and overall well-being.
How to forgive
- Acknowledge the pain you feel and recognize who is responsible for causing that pain.
- Express your emotions in healthy ways.
- Release any expectations you have of righting the wrong that was done to you.
- Be mindful of or restore your boundaries so that this doesn’t happen again. Remind yourself that people cannot give you what they don’t have. Remember what to expect of others.
- Find new ways to get your needs met in the future.
- Don’t say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is not an apology, but a criticism.
- Don’t make your apology conditional on the other person’s apology. “I’ll admit I was wrong if you admit you were wrong.” Just apologize for what you did wrong. If the other person wants to apologize back, it is their choice, but do not expect it.
- Learning to forgive requires acceptance by acknowledging that what happened really happened, instead of wishing it were different.
- Release the unhealthy attachment you previously maintained concerning how the other person behaves.
- Reframe your life story and find meaning in the broken places. Redefine, recreate and restructure your life.
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