I believe that forgiveness or the lack thereof can play a huge role in our emotional and mental health and the status of our relationships with others and with ourselves. As we approach the end of 2022, many of us are tidying up and preparing for the new year. As we work to get our homes, jobs, and life in general organized, it is also a great time to analyze the state of our lives for areas of unforgiveness and unhealed trauma. When working through forgiveness, it is important to be able to recognize when it is needed, what it is and what it is not.
Unforgiveness is not always easy to recognize. The easiest way for me to recognize it in myself is to observe my emotions. If I can recall an event without reliving the emotional intensity that originally accompanied it, I am confident that I have forgiven and healed from that situation.
On the other hand, if recanting or thinking about a past experience is accompanied by the intense emotions that occurred originally, there is some work to be done. Those emotions act as a signal. It is important to pause and sit with those feelings. Resist the urge to suppress them. If suppressed, they will resurface. It is time to do what is necessary to resolve them once and for all for your sake.
Forgiveness Is Not
- about the offender – It is for you and your peace of mind.
- condoning the offense – The offense and the perpetrator’s accountability is in no way diminished by your forgiveness.
- ignoring the offense – It is the opposite of ignoring it. True forgiveness requires acknowledging the offense and making a decision that despite what has happened, you are moving forward and leaving the baggage of the experience behind.
As long as we operate from a space of unforgiveness, we are still emotionally tied to the person and the circumstance. It is in our forgiveness that we regain our power and operate from a place of greater strength and awareness.
Forgiveness is the pathway to personal healing. It alerts us to areas of our lives where we are subjected to the whims of our emotions and the actions of others. It says that I was wronged, but I will not let yesterday’s harm control my present and threaten my future. It honors our emotions while freeing us from them. It is our teacher. The process of forgiveness requires an honest look at what happened, acknowledgement of our emotions and the choice to be free.
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness has several gifts to offer:
- improved emotional well-being – unforgiveness makes us susceptible to emotional peaks and valleys. We are triggered, recall the incident, and process the associated emotions over and over again. Escaping that cycle improves our emotional well-being and allows us to be more balanced.
- increased positive emotions – working through a past hurt brings us face to face with negative emotions. However, as we move through the process, we arrest those emotions and make space for positive ones to grow. The process will result in more self-empathy, compassion and love. As we expand those emotions and apply them to ourselves, we have more of them to share with others.
- freedom from the:
- emotional baggage – we no longer carry that experience and its emotional turmoil with you daily and into your future. Life is lighter. You make space for a happiness that was previously harder to experience.
- soul tie to the offender – your victimization comes to an end. Although the offense might have happened quite some time ago, you were still emotionally connected to the experience and those involved. There was a loss of control that the forgiveness gifts back to you.
- self-blame – make peace with yourself and how you see yourself as a result of the experience. You are not to blame. Become an objective observer of what happened. There is something to learn from every experience.
Forgiveness is your gift to yourself. It has nothing to do with the offender and everything to do with what is best for you. It does not speak to what type of relationship you should or should not have with the person who hurt you. It is about your relationship with yourself. It is about freeing yourself from the hold that the experience had on you and moving forward with the rest of your life unencumbered but informed by the past.
Here are some of my previous articles that add additional perspective to this one:
This article is from Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Business School. It has a methodology to help us to forgive. I hope you find it useful: The power of forgiveness – Harvard Health