Forgiveness is a topic that you might associate mainly with religion. But it’s also something that affects our wellbeing,
At some point in our life, each of us will feel deeply wronged by someone else. Probably multiple times. It can be difficult to forgive the person responsible.
Why is it difficult? When we feel so wronged, we might believe that they don’t deserve forgiveness.
This isn’t necessarily untrue. But we’re looking at it the wrong way around. We think of forgiveness as being like extending kindness to that person, or overlooking their faults.
But forgiveness isn’t about that person. It’s about letting go of destructive feelings. It’s about you, not the other person.
Forgiveness is for yourself, not the other person
Whether or not you harbour negative, angry feelings towards someone usually has little effect on that person’s life. Unfortunately, the main person that anger and resentment affects is the person feeling those things. But it can also affect your other relationships too. It can cause general unhappiness, obsessive thoughts and other problems that make it harder to connect to other people.
This is why forgiveness is important. Forgiving is necessary to move away from those feelings, to stop experiencing them, and to feel happier and mentally more healthy.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to how it was. Often there is no easy way back once somebody feels wronged to a point that forgiveness needs conscious thought. Also, it doesn’t mean not learning from the past. For example, if somebody betrayed your trust, forgiving them doesn’t mean you should trust them in the future! If you terminated a friendship with someone because of the way they treated you, forgiveness does not mean you need to rekindle the friendship. If you left a job because of a bad boss, forgiving your ex-boss definitely doesn’t mean you need to apply to work for him again!
Forgiveness is not forgetting, or justifying, or excusing.
Forgiveness just means letting go of the anger or the resentment or the bitterness. It means getting to a point where you no longer feel a negative emotional response to that person. It’s all about you. It doesn’t afford them any kind of special place in your life again, though of course you may feel comfortable to grant them this anyway.
How to forgive?
Forgiveness is a difficult thing as the emotions involved tend to happen subconsciously. Anger, resentment, etc. all cause unhappiness and anxiety, so part of forgiveness is learning to manage those things to let them have less effect on your life. Managing anxiety and ‘hot-headed’ recations is something that can be practiced through breathing exercises.
It can also be helpful to explore empathy towards that person. Remember that healthy, happy people rarely hurt others. It sounds cliche, but they may be a victim of something themselves! At the very least, they have obviously burnt a bridge with you, and if they behave like this with others, it will affect them more over the course of their life than it affects you.
Understanding the problems they experience may help you to empathise with their actions. Remember that we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their actions. Try understanding their intentions.
Guided meditation can help too. Insight Timer has many free guided meditations on the topic, for example, “Meditation for Anxiety & Resentment” by Rachelle Tersigni.
First, do no harm
The hippocratic oath can be helpful in learning to forgive. When we’re angry it can be tempting to spread negativity into the world by speaking negatively about that person. Whilst this can be cathartic, it can also become self-reinforcing. After a little while, make a promise to yourself to stop speaking negatively about this person. You don’t have to be complimentary or untruthful, just avoid taking opportunities to disparage them.