Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It’s choosing to rise above it.Robin Sharma
Making the decision to forgive is a deliberate choice. We don’t have to forgive someone who has e.g. betrayed or upset us – however many of us choose to do this. Of course, the more we feel wronged, the harder it is to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t a quick or easy fix – instead it’s a process which involves expressing our emotions and perhaps even showing empathy for the person who wronged us.
It’s important to recognise that forgiving is not the same as forgetting or excusing the action that upset us in the first place – instead it’s letting go of the strong negative feelings we have for the person, whether we decide to include them in our lives again or not.
Of course, forgiveness does not always have to involve someone else – it can be applied to ourselves. Self-forgiveness encourages us to forgive the mistakes we have made by accepting them, letting go of self-resentment/negative thoughts and moving on. Many of us may find this more difficult that forgiving another person.
We might view forgiving someone as being a kind and generous act towards them, however forgiveness also has the potential to bring multiple social and health benefits to us e.g.
- Strengthens our relationships
- Makes us more hopeful/optimistic
- Improves our personal happiness
- Encourages prosocial action
- Provides closure/peace
- Reduces feelings of hostility and desires to retaliate
- Decreases stress levels and anxiety
HOW TO BE MORE FORGIVING
Research suggests that while forgiveness is part of human nature (with some of us naturally more forgiving than others) we can all develop our ability to forgive by building the necessary skills.
Many forgiveness interventions focus on reviewing the emotions e.g. hurt/anger created, increasing our empathy for the person who wronged us to help us become ready to forgive and finally looking at the potential benefits forgiveness can offer us.
The Greater Good Science Center has a wide range of strategies to cultivate forgiveness, including links to related articles, videos and research papers.
McCullough, M. (2008). Beyond revenge: The evolution of the forgiveness instinct. John Wiley & Sons.