Ever since the beginning of time we humans have had the capacity for evil and good. We have sought to protect but also destroy. We can love and hate. We have made war and peace. We have sought vengeance and reconciliation. Indeed, we all have that capacity to wish vengeance on people who wound us. Forgiveness is not the natural response for many of us. Some people find forgiving easier than others. Many of us have to work hard on it. Many people decide not to forgive at all!
It’s nearly as if it’s a natural reaction to retaliate and punish others who cause us hurt. Our very being seems to achieve a degree of satisfaction in such thoughts and deeds. Maybe, we have evolved as a species not only to be sensitive to threat but to keep it at bay through hitting back. However, such contentment is only short-lived. Research tells us that such vengeful thoughts and actions have a tendency to create physiological and emotional distress within our bodies. Indeed, when we look deeper at it, we realise that we do not really feel much better by enacting revenge or wishing ill on others. Plotting revenge can keep us awake at night and suck the good out of the day. Nevertheless, people in virtually every culture utilise revenge and struggle with the challenge of forgiving.
In terms of research forgiveness has been found to be positively associated with psychological well-being, physical health, and desirable relationship outcomes (Worthington & Scherer, 2004). Researchers have also found that people who tend to forgive others score lower on measures of anxiety, depression, and hostility (Brown, 2003; Thompson et al., 2005). Kendler and colleagues (2003) have shown that people with a strong propensity to forgive (or a weak propensity to seek revenge when harmed by others) experience a reduced risk for nicotine dependence disorders, substance abuse disorders, depressive disorders, and several anxiety disorders. In fact, the psychology of forgiveness is an area of research that continues to grow. It seems there are huge benefits through practicing it.
Here are some tips for getting better at forgiving and feeling better as a result!
1. Make the decision to forgive and speak about it!
Sometimes we have to articulate our desire to forgive. We have to give it words -bring it into the ‘open’ to give it meaning. So let’s say Suzan (who has been let down by her friend) decides to tell her mother that she has decided to forgive her friend or indeed to work at forgiving her. Then the potential act of forgivenss has a ‘voice’. I have met many people who were sorry that they did not forgive years ago. They held their noble intention to themselves and the noble deed never happened! When we talk about things i.e. trying to forgive someone, we sometimes are encouraged and supported by the people who love us in taking the necessary steps.
2. Deal with your own pain!
We can only grant forgiveness for that which was done to us and should only seek forgiveness for that which we have done. Sometimes we get involved in other people’s wars . We decide to dislike someone for what they have done to someone else. This creates toxic energy! If someone has offered their apology to you for what they have done, then that is what you are dealing with – that person – forgiving him or her. Even more challenging is forgiving someone who has not asked for our forgiveness!! But such acts will set us free. It will help us move on. We have to try to acknowledge the imperfection in all of us. We all can be cruel and hard on fellow beings. Maybe, you have to remind yourself of some horrible deeds that you have committed yourself to put things in perspective!
3. Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving does not mean that you have to brush your hurts under the carpet. It doesn’t mean that whatever wounded you no longer matters. When you forgive you decide to leave it in the past. You decide to reclaim your right to be happy – the make the possible life in the circumstances that you find yourself in. You decide not to be a prisoner of the past – not to allow the past to govern your future! It hurts but you have learned. In forgiveness you are working towards becoming stronger. It will take time!
4. Forgiving fosters spirituality. All religions seem to highlight forgiveness as paramount to becoming more pure. Forgiveness over the centuries has been central and core to spirituality. The more we forgive the more spiritual we become – the more in touch we become with our own spirit. By utilising our ability to be compassionate we release a cascade of positive effects in our bodies. Our chemistry changes. As we work through forgiveness we will become calmer. It’s a natural reward for the noble deed, perhaps!
5. Forgiveness does not erase the deeds of yesteryear. Forgiving does not mean going back to where you use to be. It does not mean becoming best-friends with a friend who hurt you hard. It does not necessarily mean going back into a relationship with an unfaithful partner. These are more practical concerns and you need the best possible advice around such issues. Forgiving can take place even if life will never be the same again. Sometimes, we learn from our hurts and these lessons make us stronger. Remember that often forgiveness is not always the end of the process, but the beginning of a new level of relationship which may continue to be shaped by those past acts which demanded forgiveness.
6. If possible we should celebrate the moment of forgiveness in some way that rewards both the one seeking forgiveness and the one who grants it. A hug, a kiss, a drink, a shared meal or a gift can be exchanged. Whatever it is, both parties have accomplished something major and so making the most of it can be helpful in certain scenarios!
© Shane Martin (moodwatchers)
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