By: Naifa White
Forgiveness is one of those hot topics! Whether you’re extending forgiveness or in need of it, the issue of forgiveness often prompts intense debate and varied emotions. After all, is it really possible to forgive and what are the benefits of forgiving (if any)?
Well, you’ve probably heard the old clique, “forgive and forget”. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to “forget” some offenses such as when we’ve been humiliated, rejected, betrayed or abandoned. We can’t just erase our memories and our pain! So, how do we actually go about forgiving?
Does it require us to ignore or minimize the offending incident OR does it challenge us to let go and no longer hold a person in our debt; to no longer insist that they somehow make up for their wrong doings? That’s it! I think that’s an accurate definition of forgiveness; to voluntarily stop blaming someone for an action or inaction that wounded us, yet without condoning it! …Whew, that’s a tall task!!!
Now, that we’ve defined forgiveness, let’s discuss how we benefit from choosing to forgive:
1) Forgiveness frees us to live more fully! Many times a person may not realize that they’ve even offended us (so they don’t apologize) and other times they may have acted intentionally (so they won’t apologize). But regardless of their motivations and/or their willingness to apologize, our ability to forgive shifts us from being victim to victor. It frees US from going through life maimed regardless of the other person’s actions.
Have you struggled with anger, persistent negative thoughts, the inability to maximize your potential or failure to develop meaningful relationships? Perhaps, it’s because of unforgiveness. Perhaps, you’re unconsciously saying “you owe me” to someone or something. Although anger, hurt, shock and regret are all legitimate responses, it’s what we do with these emotions that make or break us!
Do you allow your strong emotions to dictate how you interact with others and distort how you perceive the world around you? Have you allowed individual events to redefine who you are and what you believe? If so, unforgiveness is controlling you! Do you want to obtain leverage so that the bad things in life no longer determine your course in life? Are you ready to experience joy again instead of distress, fear, guilt and shame? Are you ready to stop living in the past?Then, forgive!
Forgiveness is NOT a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is NOT agreeing with or endorsing wrong doings. However, it IS a tool we can use to empower ourselves! Wounded people typically don’t get very far in life. In fact, they are often stuck in some key areas of their lives. They tend to be very guarded, fearful, aggressive or withdrawn. But regardless of one’s demeanor, it’s important to recognize that when our hands and hearts are full of negative emotions they’re also closed to all the good things that life has to offer. And yes, there is still some “good” left despite what you may have experienced
2) Forgiveness brings peace! When we harbor resentment or hurt it causes our pain to be magnified (if you can even fathom that). In fact, we can become so overwhelmed with our mountain of “hurt” our vision for the future is obscured. However, when we can acknowledge that we too have done things that require forgiveness (embracing our own flaws and humanity) it may become somewhat easier to extend forgiveness to others and ourselves.
3) Lastly, unforgiveness is like poison. It makes us sick! As Nelson Mandela once said, when we choose to dwell on the injustices done to us (hate) “it’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”. Additionally, countless studies by the CDC and Psychology Today demonstrate that unforgiveness often results in physical and emotional illnesses such as ulcers, headaches, depression, hypertension and anxiety. So let’s endeavor to move forward by choosing to forgive (whether it’s deserved or not) so that we can allow our own healing to begin.
Remember, what we choose to dwell on is what we become…So, let’s stop looking back because we’re not going that way anymore!
Walters, Sheryl. (2008)“Lack of forgiveness can affect your health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ross, Carolyn C. MD, MPH. (2011) “Forgiveness is Miraculous.” Psychology Today