LAST week I wrote a column on spoonfuls of happiness, which resulted in a lot of emails asking me how to deal with strong emotions that do not allow for full happiness. The one that was discussed the most was hatred and the grudges it brings. A few have asked me, “is there a point in forgiveness?” and “is forgiveness even truly possible?”
When I attempted to challenge these thoughts and feelings, I was re-challenged when one reader shared his belief that forgiveness may cause unhappiness. He claimed, “if someone does me something wrong and I forgive them and they do it again, I gonna be more unhappy with them and myself.” While I completely understand that point, I think it is beneficial for me to explain how forgiveness will result in happiness.
First of all, forgiveness is a choice; it’s the choice to let go of anger and resentment towards a person or situation. I think the biggest misconception with forgiveness is that people think it is for the other person — the one who has done wrong. Actually, forgiveness is not for their benefit, but really for yours. Do you ever really think about what holding a grudge or being in conflict does to us, both mentally and physically? Getting worked up increases our blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels which increases the possibility of heart disease or diabetes. It encourages unhealthy coping skills such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and other drugs. Holding a grudge brings bitterness to our past, present and future. Not to mention, it increases the possibility of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Hatred and resentment steal our joy. Think about when you go out and see the person (whoever it is) that you haven’t forgiven. At that moment, that person gets the better of you. They take away your attention, fun and peace of mind for the night. You may even go as far as mentally playing out scenarios of possible confrontation. Forgiveness releases you from that grip they have on you — the one you hate to admit they have.
A second misconception is, people believe forgiveness makes us weak — that it means we are allowing people to take advantage over us. The truth is that only the strong forgive — it is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. You do not have to let someone know that you have forgiven them for it to release you from its negative emotions. Keep in mind that forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. You can remember what someone did and take caution, but there must be forgiveness for there to be personal peace. Forgiveness does not mean to continue to allow others to hurt us. It does not even mean that we think what they have done is okay. It is not minimising our hurt, nor is it accepting responsibility for something someone else did. Instead, forgiveness is freeing yourself from your past, allowing yourself to heal and rebuild. It is allowing for inner peace and freedom — a word which I believe should be synonymous with forgiveness. It takes quite a bit of energy and commitment, but so does hatred and anger.
Here are a few fun facts about forgiveness.
Forgiveness allows us to be promoted from the victim to the hero of any situation.
Forgiveness is actually not a natural instinct –- it takes work and only the minority actually, truly can.
Learning to forgive is actually another way of learning to control your emotions and high emotional responses (something I believe every human being needs to work on).
Forgives increases strength, optimism and empathy and compassion. It leads to high self-esteem, healthier relationships and overall enhanced quality of life.
How can we begin to forgive? What can we do?
Always keep in mind that when you are standing on a table, it is much easier to jump down to someone than to pull them up to you. If you’re holding on to resentment, and act on it, you are jumping down to their level. If you forgive, you begin to pull them up to higher ground.
Try writing a letter to the person expressing how you feel, you do not have to give it to them. It just gives you an outlet to relieve the pain.
Relinquish and accept your feelings. It is okay to be angry –- it is a completely healthy emotion. Sometimes how we deal with it may not be healthy but without anger, it is difficult for us to know what our basic wants and needs are as individuals — for us to know what we like and do not like. Accepting and healthily expressing your anger is the beginning stage of letting it go.
If necessary, accept that the person who wronged you may never apologise. This is not your fault and should not get in the way of your forgiveness.
Consider the individual’s position and point of view. Was there a valid reason for their action? This requires a clear, calm mind and usually, an unbiased third party.
Think of times when you were wrong and people granted you forgiveness. How did it make you feel? Wasn’t it beneficial to you? Didn’t it make you a better person? Didn’t you deserve the second chance?
One also has to have the power to forgive themselves which also frees burdens and encourages progress.
If you are the one who needs forgiveness, do not be afraid to make amends; you likely will not forgive yourself unless this happens.
Whether it is yourself or someone else, accept that forgiveness is a process and definitely will not happen overnight.
Louis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Thanking you for reading. Please keep sending any topics you’d like to talk about to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like personal counselling sessions, please contact me at +592 623 0433
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