Forgiveness is such a complex topic. Before learning about it in my Love and Forgiveness class, some of the analyses about forgiveness seemed foreign to me. Many people say they believe in forgiveness but I don’t think they really know what forgiveness is.
We receive mixed messages when it comes to forgiveness. Our society preaches revenge for wrongs done to us. We’re taught that there are actions that are unforgivable. Yet, we’re also told that the best thing to do is to forgive others. That we should forgive but never forget. So we hold grudges, remain angry, and say we’ve forgiven people when we really haven’t. We blame others for our pain and our suffering. We fail to acknowledge our own role in how we feel and we give other people too much power over our mental and physical health.
Holding onto anger has been shown to have a negative impact on health:
- Constant anger keeps us in fight-or-flight mode.
- It lowers our immune system.
- We feel depressed.
- Feeling angry depletes our “feel good” emotions and we begin to see everything negatively.
- We develop high blood pressure, heart disease, and may even have a stroke.
- Chronic pain and fatigue are common.
- Increased inflammation by a weakened immune system increases the likelihood of diseases like diabetes and cancer.
I completely understand the fears associated with forgiving. It’s incredibly difficult to see the other side of the story and empathize with the people who have hurt us. I have noticed, however, that it’s eye-opening to realize that those people were suffering as well. That does not excuse the hurt they may have caused, but it does make them appear more human.
The words I hear most often after an apology is, “that’s ok”. I hear kids say it, adults say it, even I say it. It’s almost as though we are trying to ease the apologizing party’s discomfort by assuring them that “it’s ok”. The reality is that it’s not okay for people to hurt us. However, that doesn’t mean that we should drag on our own suffering by refusing to forgive someone for hurting us.
Many people are afraid to forgive certain wrongs done to them. They fear that if they forgive that person they will be condoning the act, saying it’s okay for that person to hurt them, or losing a relationship that is being maintained through denial. Forgiveness is not about saying “its okay”. Forgiveness is about peace. It’s about acknowledging that what happened was unfair, letting go of what has happened, and accepting that there is nothing that we can do to change the past. We need to take what happened and draw boundaries to prevent it from happening again.
Although we don’t like to admit it, there are several reasons that we hold onto anger and don’t forgive:
- We like the attention and pity we receive.
- We don’t have to put forth the effort required to move past our hurt.
- We can avoid negative feelings.
- We don’t have to admit our own contribution to our pain.
- We feel as though we have permission to get revenge.
- We’re afraid.
Horrible things happen to good people everyday. What we fail to realize is that we are not alone in our suffering. We expect too much from people and create a grievance when they let us down. We take things personally and assume that the person was trying to hurt us. In some cases they were but it does us no good to continue our own suffering.
The concept that was so foreign to me was admitting our own contribution to our pain. For so long, I couldn’t get past blaming the people who hurt me in the past for my current suffering. It seemed obvious to blame them for current feelings. If they hadn’t done what they did, then I wouldn’t feel like I do now. It’s so much easier to push the responsibility onto someone else. But is that accurate? Do other people cause us to feel a certain way?
Another thing I realized is that I’m not that much different from the people who hurt me. I can’t honestly say that I have never hurt anyone. I can say that my intent was not to cause them harm. How am I to know if the people who hurt me did so intentionally? I don’t know. I can’t change what happened. My anger and pain right now is not caused by those people. I am in control of my own life and my own feelings.
Forgiveness is still something that I am working on. In this post I just touched the surface of this topic so be prepared for more. If anyone would like to share something they have learned about forgiveness, feel free!
- To Forgive Someone (socyberty.com)
- To Forgive, or Not Forgive? That is the Question. (homophilosophicus.wordpress.com)
- Hatred, forgiveness and druidry (druidlife.wordpress.com)
- What, Why, and How to Forgive, part two (myvictimimpactstatement.com)
- Forgiveness is a process (celestealluvial.wordpress.com)