What is Forgiveness?
The following definition of Forgiveness appears on the website of the American Psychological Association.
“Forgiveness is defined as willfully putting aside feelings of resentment toward an individual who has committed a wrong, been unfair or hurtful, or otherwise harmed one in some way. Forgiveness is not equated with reconciliation or excusing another, and it is not merely accepting what happened or ceasing to be angry. Rather, it involves a voluntary transformation of one’s feelings, attitudes, and behavior toward the individual, so that one is no longer dominated by resentment and can express compassion, generosity, or the like toward the individual. Forgiveness is sometimes considered an important process in psychotherapy or counseling”.
When we forgive a person, a group, or ourselves; we heal the pain within us that trigger unpleasant emotions and thoughts. It does not mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to us. It also does not mean making up with the person who caused the harm.
Benefits of Forgiveness
A page on the website of Mayo Clinic lists the following benefits of forgiveness:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self-esteem
It seems that forgiveness is an evidence-based practice. Its benefits are proven and documented in clinical and non-clinical settings.
Myths and Truths of Forgiveness
Here are some common myths that surround the practice of Forgiveness as well as their corresponding truths.
- Myth: Forgiveness is about the other person.
- Truth: Forgiveness is about you. You are keeping yourself front and center during this practice.
- Myth: If you forgive someone, you should forget it ever happened.
- Truth: Forgiveness and forgetfulness are two very different things. You may not forger the experiences but the transformation lies in the fact that you will not be held in the grips of these experiences. You will be able to deal with them skillfully. You will have freedom and space even when the memories arise.
- Myth: I need to tell the person I forgave them.
- Truth: You don’t need to tell them you forgave them. This practice is for you.
- Myth: If I forgive, it might happen to me again.
- Truth: Forgiveness can allow people to develop new ways to protect themselves physically and emotionally. In other words, the practice of forgiveness can make us stronger.
- Myth: After I forgive, I will never feel angry or hurt about it again.
- Truth: Forgiveness is a healing process that allows us more freedom and space. It takes time. The transformation lies in the fact that you will not be held in the grips of these experiences. You will be able to deal with them skillfully. You will have freedom and space even when the memories arise.
Loving Kindness and Forgiveness
The practices of Loving Kindness and Forgiveness are interwoven into each other. Loving Kindness allows us to direct good will and love toward all sentient beings. This form of meditation aids us in developing an attitude of kindness and compassion. Forgiveness is always an act of kindness. That is why it is compatible with all religions and philosophies that promote kindness and non-harm.
We can leverage the basic structure of Loving Kindness to promote the practice of Forgiveness.
Importance of Loving Kindness and Forgiveness during this stressful time
Right now, we are going through the throes of COVID-19. COVID-19 can have a tremendously adverse impact on our mental health. It can manifest in different ways. We may be afraid of contracting the pandemic illness or might even be dealing with that illness. We may be afraid of losing our jobs or might even be dealing with actual job losses. Finally, there is the stress of forced isolation in the form of social distancing.
These manifestations are severe enough. But for some of us who have experienced severe trauma in the past, these conditions create what is called as a trauma trigger. A trauma trigger is a psychological stimulus that recreates our past traumatic experiences. So not only do we have to deal with the stressors from the current pandemic, we must simultaneously deal with our past traumatic experiences that come roaring back upon us.
All this can be extremely stressful and destabilizing. It is therefore very important for us to keep doing these practices to keep us mentally healthy and fit. The practice of loving kindness and forgiveness can be especially important when our past traumatic experiences were caused by the willful actions of someone else in recent or distant past.