Forgiveness may be the most important choice we make to heal ourselves. It is an effective way to reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety while increasing feelings of well-being, self-regard, and self-efficacy. Research studies support additional benefits of forgiveness, including improvements in marital and family relationships, less emotional reactivity, and reducing obsessive/compulsive thoughts and behaviors.
Forgiveness is a mindful transformation of our previous thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about the offense and toward the offender. It is a conscious shift in our default viewing of the wrongful behavior and its subsequent effect on all aspects of our well-being. Each time we choose to forgive, we experience relief as we release anger and resentment. Releasing the deep hurts and justifiable anger we feel allows us both the psychic room and the peace of mind to truly heal.
Let’s be clear about what forgiveness is not: Forgiveness does not passively accept or condone the wrongdoing. Forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting or reconciliation. Forgiveness does not support remaining in relationships or situations where the wrongdoing continues or escalates. Forgiveness is not denial or avoidance of the wrongdoing’s impact and aftermath.
Anger, outrage, and resentment are normal and natural emotions in reaction to wrongdoing. These emotions provide important information to us about what’s happening in our world. However, we tend to dwell in them, thereby magnifying their impact, when the wrongdoer shows no remorse or provides no apology. As a result, much of our suffering associated with the wrongdoing is self-inflicted, in that we continue to “dwell and tell.” And each time we tell it – to ourselves and to others – our suffering grows.
An infuriating but true fact: We are not in charge of if/when/how the offender ever feels remorse and/or sincerely apologizes for the wrongdoing.
A liberating and (sometimes) difficult-to-accept fact: We are totally in charge of whether we allow the wrongdoing to live/thrive/dominate our hearts and minds.
Forgiveness is not a “one and done” effort. It unfolds over time, and may involve many episodes of “one step forward, two steps back.” It takes time to gain clarity about how we define forgiveness and, once we have clarity, to willingly choose to forgive. How we were wronged, how we have suffered, and the meaning we’ve attached to the suffering must all be examined in order to shift our intention to the work of forgiveness. We must be willing to allow empathy to grow toward ourselves and toward the wrongdoer, and to remain open to identifying and exploring the many ways our justifiable anger and resentment will try to block these empathic feelings.
Journaling is an important component of forgiveness work. Writing provides time to reflect on and to learn from all aspects of the forgiveness process. Journaling is also a great way to track patterns in our thoughts and behaviors related to the offense. Mindfully exploring these patterns is incredibly useful to understanding how to forgive completely. Making time to journal throughout the forgiveness process also keeps us accountable to our decision to forgive, despite the many ups and downs we may encounter along the way.
The benefits of forgiveness are many. Don’t wait. Choose forgiveness to gain the peace and equanimity you deserve in your life and in your relationships. I can show you how.