Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. One doesn't have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from an offender.
Forgiveness is vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized. It propels people forward rather than keeping them emotionally engaged in an injustice or trauma. Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.
However, there are scenarios in which forgiveness is not the best course for a particular person. Sometimes a victim of sexual abuse becomes more empowered when they give themselves permission not to forgive.
Forgiveness can be challenging, especially when the offending party offers either an insincere apology or nothing at all. However, it’s often the healthiest path forward.
A prominent model, put forth by psychologist Robert Enright, delineates four steps of forgiveness. The first is to uncover your anger by exploring how you’ve avoided or addressed the emotion. The second is to make the decision to forgive. Begin by acknowledging that ignoring or coping with the offense hasn’t worked, and therefore forgiveness might provide a path forward.
Third, cultivate forgiveness by developing compassion for the offender. Reflect on whether the act was due to malicious intent or circumstances in the offender’s life. Lastly, release the harmful emotions and reflect on how you may have grown from the experience and the act of forgiveness itself.
Resentment can sometimes linger for years, even if we believe that we’ve “moved on” or “forgotten about it.” To release resentment, reflect on why the person may have committed the offense, sit with the pain, and then try to forgive the other person, because forgiveness can instill a sense of strength that overpowers bitterness.
The decision to forgive an affair is deeply personal. A key component is for the partner who had the affair to be completely transparent and honest from that moment forward to rebuild trust in the relationship. This may involve exploring the reasons for the affair to address underlying problems and prevent infidelity in the future.
No. Everyone has the right to decide whether or not they forgive another person. There are many examples of people who have forgiven others for horrendous crimes, such as shooting them or killing their child. If forgiveness ultimately instills peace or healing, there is no action too severe for forgiveness.
Forgiving another person is one thing, but what happens when we commit the offense ourselves? It’s important to take responsibility for mistakes, but intense guilt and shame aren’t a productive outcome in the long run.
The process of self-forgiveness can be a painful challenge but deeply valuable. Key to this process is owning up to one’s mistakes, understanding why they occurred, and helping to rectify the situation.
Begin by acknowledging that you are at fault and take responsibility for the hurt you caused. Reflect on why the event occurred and identify how to avoid a similar offense in the future. Then forgive yourself by focusing on the thought, saying it aloud, or writing it down. Apologize to the person you wronged and try to improve their life in a meaningful way.
Mistakes often become attached to underlying beliefs about ourselves, such as “I always say the wrong things” or “I’ll never be able to cover my bills.” Self-forgiveness can require these beliefs to be identified and addressed first. This pitfall and others make self-forgiveness especially challenging.
If you’ve done everything you can to fix the mistake, but you continue to beat yourself up, try a technique called “self-distancing.” Switch your internal dialogue from first person to third person and consider how an outsider would see the situation. This can help cultivate self-compassion and silence your inner critic.
Forgiveness and Forgiveness Therapy have been linked to greater feelings of happiness, hopefulness, and optimism. The process of forgiveness can also protect against serious conditions such as anxiety and depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The act was also shown to benefit cardiac patients, by significantly lowering their blood pressure.
Forgiveness offers many positive psychological developments, such as reducing unhealthy anger, repairing potentially valuable relationships, growing as a person, and exercising goodness in and of itself, no matter the response. In addition to personal benefits, modeling forgiveness for others may lead to intergenerational and even societal improvement.