Forgiveness is one of my favourite topics to write about and one of the things I spend a lot of time on with clients who are seeking help with relationship difficulties, anxiety and depression.
Let’s start with some mythbusting…many people think forgiveness is weakness. Not in my experience. Forgiveness requires a long term effort to deliberately put yourself in the shoes of the person who harmed you, even when all you really want to do is feel hurt and wronged. People also confuse forgiveness and justice – justice seeks to right a wrong. Forgiveness can happen regardless of justice – think about a situation in which the person who wronged you is no longer alive, or where a perpetrator of a wrong is never caught. Forgiveness is also not about letting the perpetrator off the hook – it’s about releasing yourself from toxic anger, hurt, bitterness and resentment. It’s also important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean placing yourself at risk – if you’ve been abused by someone who remains potentially dangerous, then reconciling is not a good idea, but working to forgive will ultimately be beneficial for you.
Learning to practice forgiveness is part of good mental and physical well-being. Research done over the past 10 years in particular has repeatedly linked forgiveness with reduced levels of anxiety and depression, increased self-esteem, fewer physical health symptoms and an overall reduced death rate. This most likely occurs in part because of the stress reduction associated with forgiveness.
There’s no doubt that we live in a world where we can all experience massive injustice as well as unfair and undeserved injury; but not forgiving just leaves us with a catalogue of hurt, bitterness and resentment. Learning to forgive is exactly that – something we all need to learn. Some people are innately better at it and others need to practice. If you want to learn to forgive, a good place to start is by developing empathy for the person who hurt you – this helps you to see the things we all have in common as humans, rather than dividing the world into over-simplified “good” and “bad” people. If you’re struggling to forgive and you want to learn more, get some help – do some reading or make an appointment with a psychologist.
Remember – in the end, forgiveness sets you free.