Forgiveness – why is it important?
What is forgiveness? Maybe it will be easier to start with what forgiveness is not. To forgive does not mean to justify or defend, to condone or agree with what was done. What is more, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation with the person who wronged us, or inviting them back into our lives.
The purpose of forgiveness is to free yourself from negative thoughts and emotions, which so often accompany the feelings of bitterness and resentment. Imagine what your life would be like without that burden. True forgiveness may well be the most difficult thing you will ever do in your life, so don’t hesitate to ask for professional help if you feel you need it. It may be tempting to preserve the feelings of anger and resentment like an old photograph, because they will remind you about what happened, and why it was bad. The question is, however, does that make you feel happy or better? Continuous thinking about your grievance means that the negative emotions related to that hurt are still very much alive, and that can have a negative effect on, amongst other things, your physical and mental health.
Forgiving another person can take two forms. It can be decisional forgiving – we decide that we will not seek revenge and treat our wrongdoer as an important and worthwhile person. We can experience forgiving on that decisional level, and yet still feel very strong resentment on an emotional level, especially where the hurt we experienced was very traumatic, happened repeatedly, or was very long. The second type, emotional forgiving, would mean that negative emotions towards a person are replaced with positive feelings towards them such as sympathy, empathy, and love. This would usually take place if the person who wronged us is someone that we intend to continue to have in our lives, and it is an important relationship. When the perpetrator is a stranger or someone that we don’t intend to have back in our life, then emotional forgiving in such a case would mean that we achieve emotional detachment towards that person.
So why is it important to be able to forgive, and how can forgiveness improve the quality of our lives? If we manage to free ourselves of the burden of negative thoughts like anger, the desire for revenge, resentment, hurt and fear, then we will have improved our mental and physical wellbeing. How does that work? For many of us, forgiving will be like a life coping mechanism aimed at fighting stress. When we make a decision that we will carry on without the burden of negative emotions, then we will discover that the past injustice will cause us less stress, and, as a result, that stress will have a smaller impact on our health. It is important to remember that forgiveness is something that we do for us (not the perpetrator), and it is aimed at improving our own life. It is not by any means an easy process, but if you decide to embark on the journey of forgiveness, therapy can help you to examine if and how your current emotions affect your life, and how you would like that to change.
Points to consider would be:
- Discovering and naming the negative feelings related to the event – Can I face my anger? Does this anger impact on my health? Did the event change my life?
- Decision to forgive – am I ready to consider this? Why has it been difficult up until now? Why am I considering forgiveness now? What has changed?
- Work on forgiveness - Do I need help to forgive, if so, what kind of help? What kind of person is/was the perpetrator, can I show them sympathy? How will I deal with the suffering they caused me?
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