We’ve all been hurt at some point or another by the people we care about. Sometimes the betrayal is so big it breaks the relationship completely. We can hold onto the resentment and grudge from these events in our lives for years, wrapping ourselves up in a self-righteous blanket. In our competitive society, the act of forgiveness is often seen as a weakness – it’s often easier to stigmatize or denigrate our perceived enemies rather than forgive them.
We don’t want to relinquish the upper hand by forgiving, so we hold on to our grudges – to personal detriment. Research shows that holding on to grudges, and unforgiveness, where the offended person maintains their anger, hostility, resentment actually leads to higher stress levels. As we know, stress has many negative impacts on our health.
A study analysed the mental and physical health of 148 young adults, showing a correlation between high stress levels and increased health issues, but also shows that where people showed forgiveness, the connection between stress and mental illness practically disappeared.
So let’s start by looking at what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Forgiveness is an active process where you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings, whether or not someone has asked for, or deserves the forgiveness.
This doesn’t mean that you justify what the other person did, or that you accept it or condone their actions. It means that you let go of power that action has on your life from this moment forward. Forgiveness doesn’t mean becoming best-buddies with the person who wronged, or that you need to maintain a relationship with this person. It’s not saying that what happened was okay, or that you accept what happened was right, or deserved. Instead, the act of forgiveness is accepting what happened, instead of ruminating on what should have or could have happened. Forgiveness is an active step forward into the present moment, instead of being chained to the past.
It’s important as well to realise that forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly for most of us. We need to deal with the anger and shock that comes with an act of betrayal. It’s important not to push aside our negative emotions and shoot for forgiveness straight away.
It’s also important that you forgive yourself instead of constantly reliving your mistakes or incessantly punishing yourself for your wrong-doings. Self-forgiveness is as important as forgiving others. We all make mistakes and it’s important to learn from our mistakes, without punishing ourselves for it.
When we make the conscious decision to forgive we put ourselves in a position to begin a new journey that goes from healing to recovery to, finally, peace. Forgiveness is a conscious decision to move away from the pain, hurt and anger that causes a stress response in our body, affecting our mental and physical wellbeing.
So how can we forgive? The Mayo Clinic offers some good advice:
- Try looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Ask yourself why this person may have behaved the way they did. Perhaps if you had been facing the same circumstances, you may have done something similar?
- Reflect on the times when you’ve hurt others and have been shown forgiveness.
- Acknowledge that forgiveness is a process and that you may revisit the issue over and over again, and need to forgive the same incident that happened over and again until it no longer has a hold on you.
One method that really helped me forgive someone was journaling. Here’s some tips on how to forgive using the journaling method I used.
- Sit in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and grab a pen and paper.
- Address the letter to the person who has hurt you and beginning writing. Describe the situation, write your feelings, allow yourself to feel what you’re writing.
- Let yourself cry, scream, let it all out as you journal your letter to this person. You’re NOT going to send this letter. You just need to get the emotions onto the paper.
- Once you are done, re-read the letter to yourself.
- Now, get up and move to somewhere this person has perhaps sat in your house. Sit there and picture yourself in their shoes. Picture yourself as them, receiving this letter and read the letter again, from their point of view.
- Now, pen a response to yourself from their point of view. This is a powerful exercise that is not about condoning their actions, or justifying their actions, but about purging the pus from the wound the action caused, and cleaning it out so that you can heal.