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When somebody treats us badly or does us wrong, the ability to “forgive and forget” is sometimes easier said than done. And although we all know deep down it’s not healthy to stew on resentment and hold grudges, it can be hard to truly forgive and move on. But Dr. Everett Worthington of Virginia Commonwealth University has been studying forgiveness for a very long time, and as he puts it: “Forgiveness is a topic that's psychological, social and biological. It's the true mind-body connection."
So in honor of Global Forgiveness Day, let’s take a minute to better understand how beneficial and healthy it can be to practice forgiveness. Who knows — maybe it’ll make the act of actually forgiving someone that much easier!
The First Steps Toward Forgiving
“We think that forgiveness is weakness, but it's absolutely not; it takes a very strong person to forgive.”
— T.D. Jakes
Forgiveness isn’t as easy as simply flipping a switch. Sometimes it can help to develop a strategy going into the situation or even curating the right mindset before we’re able to officially forgive. Here are a few methods to try out once you decide you’d like to forgive someone:
- Look for the silver lining.
Every negative situation inevitably has some sort of positive counterpart lurking just out of sight. It can be hard to spot, but focusing on the good that came from a situation instead of dwelling on the bad emotions is a healthy way to start forgiving.
- Put yourself in their shoes.
As hurt as you are, try seeing things from the other person’s perspective while still protecting your own best interest. Maybe they made a mistake that you yourself would be capable of making. Try to remember their good qualities and really think about whether this person did something to intentionally hurt you. Really look at all the factors that went into this rift and see if you can practice a greater level of empathy.
- Speak and listen with nonthreatening language.
Talk to the person you want to forgive and explain your feelings of frustration or anger in a calm and forthright way. Once you’ve said your peace, open it up to them to express themselves and tell their side of the situation. This helps create an open dialogue to begin your path to accepting their “sorry” — but remember to use nonthreatening language without raising your voice.
Easing the Burden on Ourselves
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
— Lewis B. Smedes
By forgiving someone, we’re not just letting them off the hook. We’re making an effort to have empathy, compassion and understanding for their situation. But it’s not just a one-way street where you give and they take. Research suggests a large number of benefits for the forgiver too: lower anxiety, reduced depression and fewer physical health symptoms.
Holding onto deep-seated anger for a long time can really take a toll on us, both mentally and physically. Dr. Robert Enright, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, explains: "When you get rid of anger, your muscles relax, you're less anxious, you have more energy, your immune system can strengthen."
The Difference Between Forgiveness and Enabling
“You can't forgive without loving. And I don't mean sentimentality. I don't mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, 'I forgive. I'm finished with it.'”
— Maya Angelou
It’s important to draw a line in the sand when you recognize a pattern of hurtful behavior. There is a difference between forgiving someone and enabling a hurtful or abusive person. Holding onto a grudge or even hate toward someone who has hurt us only continues to hurt us more. If we’re able to forgive them, we’ll feel so much better — but that doesn’t necessarily mean letting them back into our lives. If they’ve proven themselves to be a consistently negative influence or repeatedly cause us harm, we can forgive them and move on without them. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
So we ask that you take a moment to think about someone you’d like to forgive — no matter how difficult — and maybe take a step to better your own health through forgiveness.