It is probably fair to say that no one in history has gone through life without struggling with this a bit (well, maybe Jesus, aside from him). That said, there has to be a reason most major religions and philosophies through the centuries have esteemed the practice of forgiving others.
As it turns out, there is. In fact, there are a number of compelling reasons. First among them: it is good for you!
How, you say? It turns out that they act of forgiving is actually better for you then it is for the other in most cases. Let us delve into why.
Ever heard of the “Serenity Prayer”? Here’s how it goes:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
The key dimension of forgiveness lies in the first line of this prayer. The ability to “accept the things I cannot change”. Often when we are hurt by someone we experience a range of feelings: anger, regret, confusion, etc.
These feelings are something we cannot control when they’re caused by someone other than us. So, our feelings are often something we cannot necessarily change.
The second line of this prayer: “courage to change the things I can”, hits on another important dimension of forgiveness and this is the ability to determine how we respond when we are hurt by others.
We have little control over how people treat us and therefore little control over how they make us feel.
What we can control is how we choose to respond when others hurt us.
So, the act of forgiving is something we can do to free ourselves from the hurt or guilt caused by either someone else or even our own actions. This is something we can control and is outside the power of others.
Need a compelling reason to give forgiveness a try?
Forgiveness has the power to:
· free you from the control the perpetrator may have over you,
· loosen the grip of the pain or trauma their actions caused you,
· Permit a sense of understanding or empathy that may open the door to reconciliation.
There are also health benefits to forgiveness:
Research shows that it can improve your mental health – decrease anxiety, lower the risk of depression and even aid in treating certain psychiatric disorders.
Forgiveness is also linked to physical health improvements such as lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and improved heart health.
So, how do you forgive someone and heal yourself in the process?
Let’s start by clarifying what forgiveness is not: it isn’t saying that someone is off the hook for causing you harm and doesn’t always need reconciliation.
It also doesn’t mean you’re in denial of what has happened or how it made you feel.
Forgiveness does mean that you get to walk away with inner peace despite what happened to you and therefore it is a service to yourself and your own well-being.
Forgiveness can be a long journey, but research is clear it’s an investment worth making in yourself.
Here’s a final tip to open the door for you to forgive.
Imagine what it’s like to be the person who hurt you and think about why they did it. The why is so important.
Even though their actions may not be justifiable, it often helps knowing that their actions came from a place of hurt or misdirected anger.
The fact is, hurting others is rarely something we intend to do, but more often the result of a kind of desperation to be heard. We have all hurt others and we have all sought forgiveness from others, so try to be generous in forgiving, if not for the sake of the other than for yourself.