Thoughts on Forgiveness
Introduction: Unforgiveness Around Us.
The concept of forgiveness is shallowly taught to us when we are children. When your siblings steal your candy, bull or hit you, your parents will make them apologise to you and make you forgive them. When you have a brawl or a fight in school, the teacher will tell you to shake it out and make up. Apologise and forgive, whether you mean it or not. These superficial, touch-and-go experiences of ‘forgiveness’ did nothing much to prepare us for the real pain of unforgiveness in life.
This is the painful reality of those unable to forgive – families once close and supportive, treating each other like strangers when misunderstandings and disputes break out over family inheritance. What of the harsh pain a daughter feels when she refuses to attend her father’s funeral because of all the abuse he inflicted on his family when he was alive; or when a son hates his father over the many disappointments and empty promises?
It is painful to watch those who can’t forgive. What is even more painful, is wanting to forgive but not knowing how.
What Forgiveness Is.
According to psychcentral.com, forgiveness is the ‘act of letting go the need for revenge, and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment’. Psychologists general define this act as something the forgiving one would do regardless of whether the offending party actually deserves forgiveness.
In my opinion, being able to forgive is definitely solely for the sake of the forgiver than the offender. When you forgive, you reward yourself with peace of mind and freeing yourself from the painful hold of your offender. The only way forgiveness can be beneficial to the offender is by reconciliation, and that is only if the offender wants the same.
Remember, forgiveness lets YOU move on with YOUR life. As the saying goes, “Unforgiveness is drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die.”
That sounds simple enough, right? I have gone through thinking I have forgiven someone by just saying “I forgive you” but held on to so much resentment after that. What I didn’t realise was that I had mistaken forgiveness for many other things.
What Forgiveness is Not.
Forgiveness is not pretending the offence did not happen. It is not denying or making light the offence done to you. I was an expert of blocking things out. I was well-known for not remembering key moments in my past because of my determination to not be attached to things I no longer have and to move on quickly.
Forgiveness is not excusing. As the saying goes, we love the sinner but not the sin. In the same way, when we forgive it absolutely does not mean that the offence was okay. The offender still should take the consequent steps to repair the relationship or bond after receiving forgiveness.
On that same note, forgiveness isn’t about condoning bad behavior or allowing it to happen again.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Yes, reconciliation commonly comes naturally after forgiveness, but it is not an obligation. Some people can choose to forgive without ever reconciling. Also, sometimes people “reconcile” without forgiveness. I know what that is like, having been through reconciling with a previous partner immediately after finding out he was cheating on me, thinking it was forgiveness. But believe me, I was trying but that was far from being forgiving.
How To Be More Forgiving.
It is a well-known fact that by being more forgiving, we can be happier, healthier physically (no spikes in blood pressure, less stressed out and less depression) and socially (better relationships, and it is definitely inevitable that people will disappoint you at different points in your life), so how do we do it?
1. View forgiveness as a favour to yourself, not for the offender – this is especially helpful when you especially feel the offender is underserving of your forgiveness; do it anyway because it is for yourself, not him or her!
2. Articulate your emotions – understand why you are angry and how you are offended.
3. Look for the silver lining – as cliché as it sounds, seek out some positive effects from the offense or offensive incident.
4. Cultivate empathy – try to put yourself in your offender’s shoes and view the situation from his or her eyes.
5. Seek peace not justice – do you want things to be bitter or better? Is this a battle worth fighting? Do you want to live with a grudge or be happy?
6. Understand that forgiveness is a process – it takes time to feel better.
7. Think about karma (or just generally being a nicer person) – A few months ago, as I was going through my daily Facebook newsfeed surfing (you know, just to see what everyone is up to), I came across a friend’s status update that I found to be completely relatable – something about forgiveness. It goes: “In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at the time you beg for forgiveness.” I have no idea where this quote came from, but it strongly reminded me of the concept of karma and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
How To Deal When Someone Won’t Forgive You?
1. Analyse your situation and articulate your emotions – it helps to think things through and why you did the ‘offensive’ thing you did. Even though you are able to validate and reason your actions, do owe up and acknowledge the damage you have done.
2. Make an effective apology – apologize for the other’s needs, not your own (your own needs would include it being the mature thing to do, it would relief your guilt, etc.). Be sincerely regretful and sorry, acknowledge the impact of your actions, and humbly request for forgiveness.
3. Give ample time: As you know, forgiveness is a process. Once you have done your part in seeking forgiveness for an offense, wait it out. The ball is in their court.
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” – Jack Kornfield