(File image) “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” - C.S. Lewis
The Power of Forgiveness
JUNE 22, 2009Susan Scholl, Certified Professional Life CoachC. S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
We all come to a place where we need to practice forgiveness — either of others or of ourselves. Let’s explore what forgiveness is and why practicing it is essential so we can live our best lives.
A Gallup Poll determined that 94% of those polled thought that forgiveness was essential, but 85% said they would need outside help to do so.
In our time of exploring this subject, we will look at the various definitions of forgiveness, why it is important for our mental and physical health, and how we can proceed with this challenging process.
The dictionary definition of forgiveness is “to pardon, to waive any negative feeling or desire for punishment; being able to forgive and show mercy; the act of excusing a mistake or offense.”
From a health standpoint, those in the medical field say your heart and mental health may depend upon your ability to reduce hurt and anger, even when it is directed at yourself. Medically speaking, forgiveness is healthy. The Mayo Clinic says that forgiveness is about letting go of grudges and bitterness when someone you care about hurts you and you hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge. It has been noted that people who hang on to grudges and do not forgive are not able to lead healthier and happier lives in the long run. The one who does not forgive is by far the main victim. Pay attention to what happens to your body when you are angry and have an unforgiving spirit. The heart rates speed up, blood pressures rises, breathing becomes shallow, unhealthy energy shows up in the form of adrenaline, depression occurs, and chronic pain shows up. Forgiveness means letting go and moving forward.
Various faith structures have different ways of defining forgiveness, but they all send the same message. That message is that humans are not perfect and it’s a mistake to expect them to be. Some Eastern religions say that forgiveness is a practice of preventing harmful thoughts from interfering with your life. The concept would be that if we do not forgive others then they will not forgive us.
In the 1980’s, books on self-improvement started showing up in the bookstores. One of the topics was that of forgiveness. Dr. Robert Enright was one of the first to explore the avenues of forgiveness. He said that forgiveness could change communities and bring about peace in a way that has not been done for decades. Just think what life would be like if the anger of the world turned to love and peace by way of letting go of resentments that have been hanging around for literally hundreds of years.
Most of us realize that anger comes from being hurt. Turning anger into love involves the process of forgiveness. To be involved in this process generally requires some help — spiritual or psychological. This brings up the question of what is love. We think of love as an affection and admiration for someone or something. But can it go beyond that to become “unconditional love?” If they choose to, people can love, but only on their own terms. This is not unconditional love. Unconditional love is the ability to love someone regardless of their action or belief.
We are challenged in the forgiveness process when our anger and need for revenge get in the way of our sense of mercy, compassion, and kindness. Granting forgiveness does not mean that the act that was committed against you was okay and it doesn’t mean you need to continue to allow it. Forgiveness is not about reunion. Forgiveness is about acknowledgment, setting boundaries, and moving on in a positive manner. It requires that we stay in the present moment and not let our lives revolve around the past. Forgiveness is not about tolerating things that are wrong; it’s not about excusing the person who did wrong against you; it’s not about surrendering justice and it’s not about inviting someone to hurt you again. It’s about releasing ourselves from anger and releasing the feeling of getting even.
Can we forgive? Yes! Do we forget? Probably not. Forgetting may not even be realistic. But we can allow ourselves to be released from the burden we bear. It’s not easy, but it’s a burden we need to let go of for our own benefit. We do not need to literally forget. We can remember with grace. When we forgive, we remember the pain, but choose to not allow it to control us any longer. We know we have forgiven when we are able to think about the person or event but we are no longer tied emotionally.
Even when we get to the point of forgiving others, we often still face the challenge of forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself will allow you to open up and move on with your life. It’s important to realize that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others. We tend to be our own worst critics. Are you perhaps holding yourself up to unrealistic expectations of others? Be your own best friend and advocate by being reasonable with yourself. Choose to love yourself and be sure you understand that there is an important difference between being selfish and self-care.
Susan Scholl is a Certified Professional Life Coach. You can read more about her at www.susanscholl.com