What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not condoning the perpetrator’s behavior, justifying their offense or excusing their behavior due to extenuating circumstances that made them act in that manner. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened to us or denying the harmful impact that perpetrator’s behavior had on our lives. The act of forgiveness is also very different to reconciliation and does not imply rebuilding a relationship with the perpetrator.
Instead, forgiveness is the healing of ourselves by replacing negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors associated with the perpetrator and their act with their positive equivalent. For example, when we forgive someone, we replace the thoughts of revenge with goodwill or at least acceptance of the offender.
For example, when your former partner leaves you for someone else, you may spend weeks, months, years ruminating about it, bad-mouthing him or her, and seeking revenge on them. This way, every time you think of them, see their picture or bump into them, you will experience a lot of negative emotions, which will make you feel bad. However, when you forgive, your life will improve for the better. Every time you think of them, they will no longer make you feel bad, instead, you will feel positive and accepting.
Benefits of forgiveness
Forgiving someone for their wrongdoing enhances our well-being, decreases the feelings of hostility and there is also evidence to suggest that it may reduce the symptoms of depression. Forgiving the perpetrator for their transgression helps us reach positive psychological adjustment, improves both our physical and mental health.
When we hold on to resentment, the only person we hurt is ourselves, not our transgressor. Do not let them make your life even more pain. Try and let go of your negative thinking, emotions, and behaviors. You are the only person that it hurts.
Exercises to boost your forgiveness
The good news is that forgiveness is something we can learn and develop. Here are some exercises that can help you develop the strength of forgiveness.
Letter of Forgiveness
Think of a person from your past who you are holding a grudge against or have been in conflict with. Write a letter of forgiveness that describes what they have done to wrong you and emotions you experienced relating to their transgression as well as new emotions associated with your forgiveness. However, please do not send the letter to them. The objective of this exercise is for you to experience forgiveness rather than reconcile.
Write about the benefits of forgiveness
Take a piece of paper, sit down somewhere peaceful and consider a person and a situation in which you felt wronged and write for 20 minutes about the benefits that emerged for you because of this wrongdoing. How did you grow as a result of the transgression? What have you learned about yourself following this situation? What character strengths have this situation or your perpetrator helped you develop?
No one says forgiveness is easy. It is not, but it is more difficult in the long run to keep on carrying the pain. Remember that the person who is hurting the most by not forgiving may indeed be yourself. Do all that you can to let go of the pain you feel about something or someone who has hurt you. Do it for you.