Learning to forgive someone who has wronged you can be incredibly difficult. However, you will find that forgiveness is necessary not only for your own health and well-being but for the sake of those around you.
What Forgiveness is Not
We should start-off by first addressing some of the common misconceptions of forgiveness. Here is a list addressing most of the things that forgiveness is not:
pretending something didn't happen
condoning the wrong thing that happened
the need to resume a relationship
always followed by an apology
changing someone else or their behavior
trusting in someone again
What is Forgiveness?
Now that we have a clear idea of what forgiveness isn't, let's learn more about forgiveness and what it involves.
Forgiveness is ultimately a decision. It is up to you to decide whether or not forgive. Although forgiveness takes deliberate effort, you will find that the benefits are numerous.
Forgiveness is learning not to dwell on the event that happened. Instead, it is learning to let go of any resentment, bitterness, anger, and vengeance you may have toward the person who wronged you.
Forgiveness involves learning to grow again. It can give you peace and hope which can give you optimism for your bright future ahead.
4 Benefits of Forgiveness
Decrease in Mental Health Symptoms
One of the benefits of forgiveness is lower stress levels. Since persistent stress is a big contributor to mental illness symptoms, forgiveness can actually help improve mental health. The mental health symptoms that forgiveness improves include symptoms of depression, symptoms of anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness.
On the flip side, those who hold grudges and are not forgiving are more at risk for developing severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other health conditions become a greater risk as well when one holds onto anger, resentment, and hostility.
2. Enhanced Well-Being
When someone forgives another, a burden is lifted, which contributes to experiencing more positive emotions. This includes becoming more emotionally mature and at peace.
Forgiveness can also lead to more personal growth and developing a sense of purpose in life. It truly changes people for the better as they work to put aside their pride and learn to forgive (Raj et al., 2016).
3. Improved Self-Acceptance
After going through the process of forgiveness people can feel more content with what happened in their past. They come to accept what happened and accept themselves more than before. This is mainly achieved through the process of self-reflection which is often a part of the forgiveness process (Raj et al., 2016).
4. Increased Capacity to Deal With Challenges
Forgiveness brings about new ways to cope and handle challenges that individuals face. Since forgiveness can be such a difficult process to go through, many people who forgive gain the capacity to push through other hard situations. This is due to the fact that they had to look at the experience differently than before and can then do the same in other situations (Raj et al., 2016).
Who to Forgive
Many people come and go in our lives. Consequently, there are many different people that we may need to forgive for big or small things. These people can include strangers, friends, family, a spouse, a child, a parent, or even ourselves.
In most cases, the people we will likely forgive the most will be our family or spouse due to proximity and relationship. Most of the time forgiveness is done over trivial things that may seem small but yet still matter. Other times someone you know likely messed up big time and in so doing has hurt you in some way.
Forgiveness is not only beneficial for one's own mental and emotional health but relationship health as well. In fact, marriages flourish when both sides are willing to forgive wrongdoings done by the other person. If you would like to learn more about ways marriages can benefit from forgiveness, you can do so here.
Now remember that if there is a big mistake someone has committed that has hurt you deeply and irreparably, then you do not need to resume a relationship with them. Resuming a relationship is not a requirement to forgive someone. Feel free to decide for yourself whether or not to create boundaries around that person for your own protection but do your best to forgive them for your own sake.
Steps of Forgiveness
Here are some guidelines you can follow on your path to becoming a more forgiving person.
Reflect on the pain and hurt you feel
Identify who needs to be forgiven and for what
Find meaning or a lesson to be learned from the experience
Consider attending a support group or talking to a counselor
Find inner strength and peace
Choose to forgive the offender
Be willing to forgive yourself
Move away from being the victim in the situation
Continually develop a forgiving heart
There are many benefits that forgiveness has on our well-being. Of course, that doesn't make it any less difficult. Forgiveness is a process after all, it is not a one time event. Be patient and kind with yourself as you choose to forgive those who have wronged you in some way.
Another thing to take note is that your mental health shouldn't be conditioned upon someone else forgiving you. It is everyone's choice to forgive someone. If you have wronged someone else and have already done what you can to make things right, it is up to them to forgive you. Be sure to not be too hung up on it where it begins to affect your mental health. Learn to focus on you and the things you can control. Then you can learn and grow to become better and better every day.
Ellwood, B. (2021). Longitudinal Study finds forgiving others is associated with subsequent improvements in mental health. PsyPost. https://www.psypost.org/2021/03/longitudinal-study-finds-forgiving-others-is-associated-with-subsequent-improvements-in-mental-health-60122.
Enright, R. (2015). Eight keys to forgiveness. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_keys_to_forgiveness.
Forgiveness: Your health depends on it. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it.
Kandemiri, P. (2019). Forgiveness as a positive contributing factor on the mental wellbeing of Congolese refugees and asylum seekers post-war experience. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(8), 1044–1058. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2019.1658685
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692.
Merrill, M. (2016). Forgiveness: It's not what you think. Mark Merrill. http://www.markmerrill.com/forgiveness-its-not-what-you-think.
Raj, P., Elizabeth, C. S., & Padmakumari, P. (2016). Mental health through forgiveness: Exploring the roots and benefits. Cogent Psychology, 3(1).
Weir, K. (2017). Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/01/ce-corner.