Learn to Forgive Yourself and Others
A very wise person once said that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison in the hope that it will kill your enemy. Most of us were taught as children that once an apology is given, the expected and correct response is forgiveness. However, that is often not the case. For many of us, accepting an apology and moving forward can be difficult. Apologies can seem cheap and too easy. How do we know when they are truly sincere? We want the offender to do more than just mouth words. Frequently, we want him to somehow hurt as much as we do. Because like it or not, most of us were also taught as children that punishment for wrongdoing is natural and just. So we find ourselves in a difficult situation; should we choose forgiveness even though it won’t fulfill our desire to even the score?
The answer is yes. There is a big difference between forgiving and excusing. And forgiving also doesn’t mean forgetting. What many of us don’t realize is that refusing to forgive does more harm to us than it will ever do to our offenders. And conversely forgiving brings more healing and benefits to us as well.
What exactly is forgiveness? Forgiveness means letting go of anger, bitterness and resentment. It means abandoning any desire for retribution or revenge. Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves and for our own well-being, more so than for the well-being of those who have wronged us. Instead of excusing or justifying the offensive action, forgiveness gives us a way to unburden ourselves and move forward freely and easily. It lightens our emotional load and has many positive effects, both mental and physical. Some of these effects are:
- Closer and more rewarding relationships
- Less stress and anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Deeper and more relaxing sleep
- An improved immune system
- A more positive outlook on life and the world
The most important effect of forgiveness is it allows us to let go of the past and live in the present moment. If we continuously hold onto resentment, we are also holding on to our past. What is worse is that we are holding onto a negative event in our past which we play out repeatedly in our minds. Living in the present moment has numerous physical and psychological benefits which we cannot enjoy when we fail to forgive.
How to Forgive Others
The biggest reason we find it hard to forgive is that we are still angry with the person who hurt us. Even if that person has apologized, if we hold onto anger, it will be impossible to take the steps necessary to forgive. So the first step is to look at yourself and determine why you are still angry. The incident is in the past; why are you still holding onto it in the present? What is that anger doing to you and your daily life? How much better would you feel if you were able to release all that anger and leave it in the past?
Next, look at the person that you need to forgive. Realize that person is human, just like you. Understand that human beings make mistakes and that is what that person did. Consider what might have been happening in that person’s life that would have led to that mistake. Find the compassion to look at the person as someone who did the best that he could have done at that moment given everything that was happening at that time. Separate the person from the action. Realize that you don’t need to excuse the action in order to forgive the individual. If you are able to find the compassion to look at that person as just another human being who made a mistake, then you will be able to let go of all the anger you are still harboring. Once the anger is gone, resentment and the need for revenge will go along with it.
If that person has already apologized, then accept it as sincere and be grateful for the opportunity to improve your relationship with him. If no apology has been given, then understand that person is just not ready yet. However that doesn’t prevent you from being ready to forgive. When you are ready, it is important to forgive actively. If you are comfortable, you should tell the person that you have forgiven him. That will be the most healing and rewarding type of forgiveness. But even if you are not ready to express your forgiveness directly to your offender, you can still heal yourself by expressing your forgiveness privately. You can write it down, say it to yourself aloud, or just repeat it quietly inside your head. It will take time for all this to happen. Don’t rush yourself and don’t be discouraged. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself if it takes longer than you had expected. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. What matters is that you have chosen forgiveness. Be grateful for taking these important steps to give yourself the healing that you need and deserve by seeking to forgive.
How to Forgive Yourself
Sometimes we may find it harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others. But the steps you need to take are basically the same. Start by acknowledging that it is okay to make mistakes. You have already learned to accept that others are fallible; now accept that you are as well. Look without judgment at the incident and what led up to it. Recall how you were feeling at the time. Examine what had been happening in your life that might have led you to behave in that manner at that specific moment. Admit that you made a mistake. Understand that you are human and that you will make mistakes; it’s natural. Realize that your mistake is separate from you and doesn’t define who you are. Learn from the situation and determine how you will avoid making a similar mistake in the future. Appreciate yourself for making the effort to learn from what happened. Be grateful for this opportunity to become a better person. If you are forgiving yourself for something that you did to someone else, then apologize to that person if you haven’t already done so. Similarly apologize to yourself if you were the one hurt by your own actions. It may feel strange to apologize to yourself, but it is a very important step. The next step is even more important: you have to actively forgive yourself. Say it in your head or out loud; you may have to do this several times before you are truly able to forgive. Once you have successfully done so, you will be able to move forward and leave that incident in the past where it belongs.
Now that you know the benefits of forgiveness and the necessary steps to bring it into your life, determine who are the people that you need to forgive. Just beginning the process to eliminate anger and resentment from your life will start to bring you some of the physical and mental benefits discussed. Remember that like anything else you do, forgiveness takes practice. The more you make it a part of your daily life, the easier it will become and the more you will benefit from it.