Forgiveness. The one word that many people tend to throw around to try and make problems seem to magically disappear. There’s myriad reasons to throw around the forgiveness card – for someone’s mistakes, for someone’s rudeness, for someone’s prejudices. But as anyone who’s felt wronged knows, forgiving someone can be a tough thing to do – some of us have Olympic-level grudges.
But to forgive has many up sides – and it’s not simply telling someone that you forgave them, because it’s not a case of “fake it till you make it.” So, why is it good to forgive, and how do you forgive effectively?
Why do people forgive?
Holding a grudge is like carrying around a heavy weight around your shoulders, but it doesn’t harm the person to whom the grudge is directed. Over time, the heavy weight makes you ache everyday. Most people, including psychotherapists, will tell you that harbouring ill feelings toward another breeds discontent. Forgiveness is supposed to set you free of this.
But many people tend to forgive for the wrong reasons. Here are the main reasons why they give it:
- It’s the right thing to do: You think that forgiving – especially right away – makes you a good person. However, it’s hard not to hold a grudge, because each of us has a different timeline for when we feel ready to forgive.
- You feel pressured to forgive: Ironically, the pressure usually comes from your friends or family or even random strangers. The reason is that it makes them feel more comfortable so they can move on.
- You think it speeds up the healing: You think that if you forgive and forget, you can easily drop the emotional baggage. But it’s not that easy. You can’t simply forgive someone and think that your healing will instantly begin.
Unfortunately, all of these are not good reasons to forgive someone. This brings us to the next question: how do you forgive someone effectively?
How do you forgive?
Forgiving someone isn’t easy, and the benefits don’t feel like it’s worth it. You can’t take back the hurt, it won’t make you feel like a good person, and it won’t save the other person. Having said that, there’s no “method” to forgive, and no one can really tell you how to because each person is different. But here’s a roadmap:
Put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes, people can’t help but hurt others. Maybe they have a history of being mistreated or lied to, or they may have a mental illness or have suffered hardships. This doesn’t right what they’ve done, but it takes away the feeling that their actions were personally directed at you.
Channel your anger elsewhere. Feeling angry is only natural – it’s the fire that can cauterise our wounds. Redirect the energy of your anger toward a new goal – perhaps learning a new skill or volunteering your time to a worthy cause – as the distraction will do you good. Sometimes, you’ll never know how that one bad experience could lead you to a positive one. Like the saying “one door closes, and another opens.”
Learn from your experience. You may have made a mistake that led to this position, but rather than be angry at yourself for your mistakes, take control of what happens next. Be aware of how it happened so you don’t make the same mistake – this applies to any situation, from a cheating business partner to a vengeful lover. In life, it’s impossible not to make mistakes but the positive side is that we can learn a lot from them.
Take control of yourself. As a grudge can be detrimental to your mental health, concentrate on how forgiveness can set you free from negative emotions. The longer you hold the grudge, the bigger the win you’re allowing that person. Avoid becoming permanently negative just because of one person – remember they don’t have control over you. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
Compartmentalise your grudge. Before forgiveness can begin, you need to know what you’re forgiving. Learning to separate the action from the emotion is often the first step. Once you’ve identified what it is, then the justice can begin by figuring out what you’re owed. Is it an apology? An explanation? Punishment by law? Is your grudge based on someone taking away something from you, or is it based on something someone did to someone you love? You can’t really forgive someone for doing something to another person – for instance, a child can’t forgive their father for abusing their mother; they can only forgive the emotional effects it had on them.
Give yourself some time to process. While it’s true that the longer the grudge, the more detrimental it is to our health. However, you also need to be ready to forgive. For some, forgiveness can only feel right when it comes at a high cost. When the burden becomes too much, deciding to choose yourself over being right can truly feel like a healing process.