There is probably no person in the world who has never been hurt or wronged. It has happened to almost all of us. Sometimes a small injustice is enough to fill our minds and souls with anger, resentment, or even hatred.
But he hurt me!
Yes, we have the right to negative feelings after experiencing injustice, and it can be said that they are a normal reaction to such a situation. However, let us ask ourselves what they bring into our lives. If we are truly honest, we will probably come to the conclusion that they bring nothing positive. And in the end, we ourselves will be the ones who carry these feelings, not “our wrongdoer,” and thus we actually add them to the already present pain that someone else has caused us.
Forgiveness is not forgetting
And this is where forgiveness comes into play. But what is it exactly? First of all, it is important to know what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened to us, denying that it happened, or trying to justify the perpetrator’s actions by saying that “he couldn’t help it” or “he probably had reasons for it”. And most importantly, forgiveness is not about the perpetrator.
So what is forgiveness then?
In reality, forgiveness is about those who have been hurt. It is their conscious decision to give up their right to negative feelings towards the offender and even try to restore a noble and benevolent attitude towards them. It is also a decision not to seek revenge and instead strive for reconciliation. Therefore, forgiveness is a conscious change in attitude towards someone who has hurt us.
Why should we forgive?
As I mentioned earlier, by not forgiving and accumulating negative feelings, we mainly hurt ourselves. On the contrary, forgiveness helps us to free ourselves from them and from our injury, and replace them with joy and a fuller life.
Forgiveness and the associated liberation from the influence of negativity can even have a positive impact on our health because it reduces feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and anger, which are burdensome for our body. In addition, it reduces blood pressure and improves the function of the immune system. Becoming a “forgiving person” can therefore protect us from long-term stress and improve our physical and mental health.
Forgiveness also improves our relationships, teaches us to overcome selfishness and, conversely, to develop mutual understanding and empathy between people. It also belongs among positive strategies for coping with difficulties.
Let’s not forget ourselves
Feelings of anger or bitterness towards oneself are also nothing exceptional. Alongside forgiving others, we should not forget to forgive ourselves. If we realize that we have hurt someone and are plagued by feelings of guilt, it is appropriate to apologize and, if possible, make amends for our actions. On the one hand, this can help the “injured” person forgive us, and on the other hand, it makes it easier for us to forgive ourselves. Of course, there is also a situation where we do not harm another person but ourselves.
It could be said that forgiving oneself can often be more difficult than forgiving someone else. One of the things that hinder this is the feeling that we deserve to feel bad for our actions. However, taking this attitude of “not forgiving oneself,” just like not forgiving others, leads to nothing positive. Living with a person towards whom we feel bitterness and anger is unpleasant and difficult, especially when that person is ourselves. Therefore, we should learn kindness not only towards others but also towards ourselves.
How to forgive?
Searching for a clear and quick guide on “how to do it” would be challenging, and we probably wouldn’t achieve a perfect approach anyway. However, one thing is certain: forgiveness itself should be unconditional. It doesn’t depend on whether our offender apologized and expressed regret or not. As you could read above, forgiveness is about us, not about them. It is also essential to know that it is a long-term process, not a one-time and fast action.
Forgiveness in four steps
Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, described the phases in which the forgiveness process takes place and which we can use as a guide to learning the art of forgiveness.
Phase In the first phase, we realize our injury and the pain that arose from the given act. Let us also acknowledge the emotions that can be anger, sadness, humiliation, or hatred. This phase also includes thoughts about what the injury caused in our lives and how it affected us. This stage is often full of negative emotions, so it is challenging and often unpleasant to manage. However, it is all the more important to continue with the next phases. After all, none of us want to end up trapped in unpleasant feelings and thoughts.
In this phase, we begin to understand that what we have been doing so far not only did not help us but also hurt us even more with persistent negative thoughts. And so we decide to forgive our offender and accept forgiveness as a way to help us deal with the pain. An important first step is to give up the desire for revenge. We are determined to forgive.
As you can imagine, it is the longest and most challenging part of the forgiveness process. It is accompanied by a change in thinking about the offender. We try to understand why he did what he did, what lies behind it, and to look at him through possible injuries caused by others. However, we do not try to justify or deny his behavior but only to understand him as a vulnerable and fallible person. We also try to accept our pain. Not because we deserve it, but simply because it came (although unfairly). We do not try to “return” this pain to the offender or anyone else. The goal of this phase is, on the contrary, to show him goodwill. However, it does not necessarily mean that the result must be the restoration of a mutual relationship or the revival of lost trust.
We reach this stage when we start feeling the positive effects of forgiving. We feel emotional relief and freedom. We realize the paradox of forgiveness – by granting “mercy” to the offender, we ourselves gain healing. After forgiving, we are no longer overwhelmed by feelings of bitterness whenever we think about what happened and who was behind it, and we feel balanced and reconciled.
Of course, forgiveness doesn’t always follow the process described above, and in reality, it is much more complex than it may sound on these lines. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth adopting this way of overcoming wrongdoing and injuries, not only because of its positive impact on interpersonal relationships but mainly because of its benefits for our personal balance and satisfaction.