What is Forgiveness?

By Lynn Ponton, MD

Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. If you are a parent, you can provide a wonderful model for your children by forgiving. If they observe your reconciliation with friends or family members who have wronged you, perhaps they will learn not to harbor resentment over the ways in which you may have disappointed them. If you are not a parent, forgiveness is still an extremely valuable skill to have.

In the movie “Avalon,” the uncle stopped talking to his family members for the rest of his life because they started Thanksgiving dinner without him after he was excessively late for the zillionth time. What a waste of energy it is to stay angry for decades.

Forgiveness can be a gift that we give to ourselves. Here are some easy steps towards forgiveness:

  • Acknowledge your own inner pain.
  • Express those emotions in non-hurtful ways without yelling or attacking.
  • Protect yourself from further victimization.
  • Try to understand the point of view and motivations of the person to be forgiven; replace anger with compassion.
  • Forgive yourself for your role in the relationship.
  • Decide whether to remain in the relationship.
  • Perform the overt act of forgiveness verbally or in writing. If the person is dead or unreachable, you can still write down your feelings in letter form.

What Forgiveness Is Not…

  • Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending it didn’t happen. It did happen, and we need to retain the lesson learned without holding onto the pain.
  • Forgiveness is not excusing. We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive because a wrong was committed.
  • Forgiveness is not giving permission to continue hurtful behaviors; nor is it condoning the behavior in the past or in the future.
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation. We have to make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving or whether to maintain our distance.

Forgiving and letting go can be very difficult challenges, but it’s even more stressful to hold on to grudges. There are several symbolic letting-go rituals that can help with the process. If you are having trouble forgiving someone else, write them a letter expressing all of your feelings and explaining why you need to let go. You don’t need to mail that letter — it is cathartic just to write it all down. You can also write down all of your excess “baggage” on a piece of paper and burn it or cast it into the sea in a bottle when you are ready to really let go.

 

APA Reference
Ponton, L. (2007). What is Forgiveness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-forgiveness/000965
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Categories