Forgiveness is an intentional decision to let go of past hurts, resentments, thoughts of revenge and regrets in order to help you focus on other, more positive aspects of your life. Forgiveness is definitely one of those actions that is easier said than done. Why? Because when you are hurt or betrayed, the natural initial response is one of anger, sadness and confusion. It is also natural to try to make sense of this injustice, so you tend to dwell on the hurtful situation, which turns hurts into grudges, resentments into hostilities, and betrayals into bitterness.
Much research has been conducted in recent years on forgiveness, and the facts point to a long list of benefits for the person who chooses to forgive. These include:
• Healthier relationships
• Greater psychological well-being
• Less stress
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
• Less chronic pain
• Lower risk of alcoholism and drug abuse
In addition to these physical and mental benefits, forgiveness is a necessary step if you want to free yourself from a downward spiral. Whatever the injustice or violation, you need to fully express how it made you feel. Denial only holds you back. But you do NOT need to go over the incident repeatedly. This is like pulling off a scab and reinjuring yourself. It keeps you focused on the past, forever looking behind you, relegating you to a perpetual downward spiral of negative thoughts and feelings.
Despite all the benefits that result from forgiveness, you may be hesitant to put this practice into action. Perhaps you are holding on to one of these common myths.
Myth # 1: To Forgive is to Forget.
In effect, if the hurt is relatively shallow, you may choose to forget it and move on. But if your sense of hurt and betrayal run deep, you may actually benefit from remembering so you can protect yourself and others in the future from a repeat of the offense. The fact is, forgiveness is not about forgetting the past, but about letting go of the past so you can claim the present and build your future.
Myth #2: To Forgive is to Excuse and Exonerate
Just because you forgive does not mean you cease to hold the perpetrator accountable for bad behavior or betrayal. Forgiveness does not imply that the offender is innocent or somehow less guilty. You are choosing to forgive not for the benefit of the perpetrator, but for your own benefit – to free yourself from negative emotions and continual suffering and to create a life of thriving and joy.
Myth #3: To Forgive is to Maintain a Relationship
If the relationship continues to be toxic and damaging, even if you have granted forgiveness, you can choose to sever ties. You can forgive and still get a divorce, testify in court, leave a job, sue for compensation. In addition, forgiveness does not necessitate reconciliation. This is also your choice.
Remember: You are the main beneficiary of forgiveness. Think about the grudges and resentments that are weighing you down. Are you ready to set yourself free? Is it time to let go of the past so you can live fully in the present? Do you want to give yourself the gift of greater health and happiness, more peace of mind, hope and joy?
See next week’s blog to discover the steps you can take to practice forgiveness.