LAST Week I wrote a column on a spoonful of happiness, which resulted in many emails asking me how to deal with strong emotions that do not allow for full happiness. The most discussed was hate and the grief it brings. A few have asked me, “is there a point of forgiveness?” and “is forgiveness even really possible?”
When I tried to challenge these thoughts and feelings, I was challenged when one reader shared his belief that forgiveness could cause unhappiness. He claimed, “if someone does something wrong to me and I forgive them and they do it again, I become more unhappy with them and myself.” While I fully understand that point, I think it is helpful for me to explain how forgiveness will lead to happiness.
First of all, forgiveness is a choice; the choice is to let go of anger and resentment towards a person or situation. I think the biggest misconception with forgiveness is that people think it’s for the other person – the one who has done wrong. In fact, forgiveness is not for their benefit, but for your benefit. Have you ever really thought about what being angry or conflicted does for us, mentally and physically? Working up increases our blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels which increases the chance of heart disease or diabetes. It encourages unhealthy coping skills such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and other drugs. Anger brings bitterness to our past, present and future. Not to mention, it increases the possibility of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Hate and resentment bring our joy. Think about when you go out to see the person (whoever it is) you haven’t forgiven. At that moment, that person is getting the best of you. They draw your attention, your fun and your peace of mind for the night. You might even go so far as to play out scenarios of potential conflict mentally. Forgiveness frees you from that grip they have on you – the one you hate to admit they have.
A second misconception is, people believe that forgiveness makes us weak – that it means we allow people to take advantage of us. The truth is it’s just the strong forgiveness – it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. You do not have to let someone know that you have forgiven them to release you from their negative emotions. Bear in mind that forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing. You can remember what someone did and take care, but there must be forgiveness for personal peace. Forgiveness does not mean continuing to allow others to hurt us. It doesn’t even mean we think what they’ve done is right. It does not diminish our hurt, nor does it accept responsibility for something that someone else did. Instead, forgiveness frees you from your past, allowing yourself to heal and rebuild. It allows for inner peace and freedom – a word that I think should be synonymous with forgiveness. It takes a great deal of energy and commitment, but hate and anger are so.
Here are some interesting facts about forgiveness.
Forgiveness allows us to be elevated from the victim to the hero of any situation.
Forgiveness is not really a natural instinct — it takes work and only the minority really can.
Learning to forgive is actually another way to learn to manage your emotions and high emotional responses (something I think every human being needs to work on).
Forgiveness increases strength, optimism and empathy and compassion. It leads to high self-esteem, healthier relationships and an overall better quality of life.
How can we begin to forgive? What can we do?
Always keep in mind that when you’re standing at a table, it’s much easier to jump down at someone than pull them up to you. If you catch resentment, and act on it, you jump down to its level. If you forgive, you start pulling them up to higher ground.
Try writing a letter to the person expressing how you feel, you don’t have to give it to them. It gives you an outlet to relieve the pain.
Drop and accept your feelings. It’s okay to be angry — it’s a perfectly healthy emotion. Sometimes the way we deal with it may not be healthy but without anger, it’s hard for us to know our individual wishes and basic needs – for us to know what we like and don’t like like. Accepting and expressing your anger healthy is the initial step of letting it go.
If necessary, accept that the abuser may never apologize. This is not your fault and should not interfere with your forgiveness.
Consider the individual’s position and point of view. Was there a valid reason for their execution? This requires clear, calm thinking and usually an impartial third party.
Think of times when you were wrong and people forgiven you. How did it make you feel? Didn’t it benefit you? Didn’t it make you a better person? Did you not deserve the second chance?
One must also have the power to forgive himself which also relieves burdens and encourages progress.
If you are the one in need of forgiveness, do not be afraid of reparation; you probably won’t forgive yourself unless this happens.
Whether it’s yourself or someone else, accept that forgiveness is a process and definitely won’t happen overnight.
Louis B. Smedes said, “Forgive is to release a prisoner and find out you were the prisoner.”
Thank you for reading. Please continue to send any topics you would like to talk about to [email protected] If you would like personal counseling sessions, please contact me on +592 623 0433
Suicide Prevention helpline numbers: 223-0001, 223-0009, 623-4444, 600-7896
Say Yes to Life and No to Drugs! Everytime