The Challenges Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a challenge for several reasons. Sometimes forgiveness can be confused with condoning what someone has done to us: “That’s OK. Why not do it again?” Even people who understand the distinction between accepting someone’s bad behavior as “okay” and accepting that it happened and one must let go of anger to move forward, forgiveness can be difficult because these two are easily confused.
Forgiveness can also be difficult when the person who wronged us doesn’t seem to deserve our forgiveness. It feels like we are letting them “off the hook” when they are the one who wronged us. It’s hard to remember that forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven.
Ultimately, forgiveness is especially challenging because it’s hard to let go of what’s happened. It can be really difficult to accept some things in life, and forgiving someone who has committed unacceptable behavior can be difficult when we are having trouble letting go of anger about the events and accepting what happened to us.
The Importance of Forgiveness
However, it’s important to let go and forgive. Here are some reasons why:
- Forgiveness is good for your heart — literally. One study from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress relief. This can bring long-term health benefits for your heart and overall health.
- A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints. It seems that the reduction in negative affect (depressive symptoms), strengthened spirituality, conflict management and stress relief one finds through forgiveness all have a significant impact on overall health.
- A third study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that forgiveness not only restores positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the offending party (in other words, forgiveness restores the relationship to its previous positive state), but the benefits of forgiveness spill over to positive behaviors toward others outside of the relationship. Forgiveness is associated with more volunteerism, donating to charity, and other altruistic behaviors. (And the converse is true of non-forgiveness.)
So, to sum it up, forgiveness is good for your body, your relationships, and your place in the world. That’s reason enough to convince virtually anyone to do the work of letting go of anger and working on forgiveness.
How To Forgive
Forgiveness may not always be easy, but it can be done more easily with a few exercises and the right mindset.
First, keep in mind that forgiveness is something you do for yourself to sever your emotional attachment to what happened. (Think of letting your hand off of a hot burner on the stove–it remains hot, but you’re moving yourself away from it for your own safety.) Also, remind yourself that you are moving forward, and forgiving this person lets them (or at least what they’ve done) stay in the past as you move on. Journaling, prayer or meditation, and loving-kindness meditation can all be helpful in easing yourself into forgiveness as well.
Karremans JC, Van Lange PA, Holland RW. Forgiveness and its associations with prosocial thinking, feeling, and doing beyond the relationship with the offender. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, October 2005.
Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Billington E, Jobe R, Edmondson K, Jones WH. A change of heart: cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Octover 2003.
Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The unique effects of forgiveness on health: an exploration of pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, April 2005.