“Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace,” Jonathon Lockwood Huie.
I have been told that I hold grudges, that I don’t always let things go, or that I have a tendency to remember everything. That is correct. I remember so many things both good and bad. As I have transitioned into adulthood I have learned that forgiveness is hard. It is as hard as apologizing. But I have also learned is that it is possible to forgive.
The dictionary defines forgiveness as giving up one’s resentment against an offender. There is a lot of misinformation about forgiveness. Forgiveness is often confused with condoning the behavior. What is true about forgiveness is that holding on to the pain or anger causes more hurt to ourselves than to the person who has caused you harm.
Forgiveness is not a thought or a feeling. It is a selfish action you take so that you can feel better. Forgiveness is acknowledging the things that someone did or didn’t do that hurt you and deciding that you’re not going to allow it to hurt you anymore. It is possible to forgive a person who has not apologized because forgiveness is about you, not them. Forgiveness does not mean you excuse the behavior and it does not benefit the person who harmed you. Forgiveness benefits you. Forgiveness is an action that allows for you to get rid of the built-up resentment and allow space for peace in your mind. Forgiveness is empowering and it is freeing. Forgiveness means that you are taking charge of your own happiness. When we choose to forgive a person, we are choosing to give up hope for a different or better yesterday.
Bob Enright, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, pioneered a study on forgiveness. He discovered that “True forgiveness goes a step further, offering something positive: empathy, compassion, or understanding toward the person who hurt you. That element makes forgiveness both a virtue and a powerful construct in positive psychology.” In his book, “Forgiveness and Health,” he explains that research has shown a link between forgiveness and mental health outcomes. Forgiveness can actually reduce anxiety, depression, and major psychiatric disorders. It’s also associated with fewer physical health symptoms and a lower mortality rate.
According to Enright, forgiveness can contribute to improved self-esteem. “When you stand up to the pain of what happened to you and offer goodness to the person who hurt you, you change your view of yourself.” With time and practice even the most stubborn, vengeful person can learn to forgive. Over time, the process of learning to forgive will reduce stress and anger and will ultimately contribute to improved outlook and overall perception of self.
Specific strategies have been developed to help people forgive. Enright developed a forgiveness therapy process model which uses as 20 step system to move people through four phases: uncovering one’s negative feelings about the offense, deciding to forgive, working toward understanding the offending person, and discovering empathy and compassion for him or her. Through this process, an individual is able to see the other person as an hurt individual as opposed to a definition of specific hurtful behaviors and actions. In other words, when a person chooses to forgive they are essentially giving up the anger they are entitled to and giving the offender a gift that he or she is not entitled to have.
Not every situation is appropriate for unsolicited forgiveness and it may not always be appropriate to forgive an individual in person. Unsolicited forgiveness may likely be perceived as an attack and is not recommended. Very often it can actually provoke additional issues that may create more problems and pain. Forgiveness does not need to be direct. Forgiveness is not letting a person off the hook and it is not condoning the individual’s actions. It actually has nothing to do with the other person at all. Forgiveness is absolutely only about you. Forgiveness is for you to experience the sense of freedom that comes from letting go. You do not need to approve of another’s intentional or unintentional hurtful behaviors, you just learn that forgiveness is letting go of what has been done so that you can move forward. When we choose to forgive we are doing it for ourselves. The person being forgiven does not need to know they’re forgiven.
When a person chooses to embrace forgiveness they choose to live a life in spite of past hurt and pain. The only way for a person to get out of the emotional jail they’re in is to forgive. Forgive the person for what they did or didn’t do that has caused you pain. Forgive and let go of the hope for a better or different yesterday and set yourself free.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.