What Is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger. Forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean a reconciliation. One doesn't have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from someone who has hurt us.

Forgiveness is vitally important for the mental health of many people who have been victimized. It propels people forward rather than keeping them more emotionally engaged with an injustice or trauma. Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Carrying the hurt or anger of an offense leads the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Eliminating the perpetual flow of those hormones may also explain why forgiveness provides physical health benefits, such as lowering the risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.

Although burying the hatchet usually brings peace to the soul, there may be some exceptions to that advice, such as a case of sexual abuse. Sometimes a victim becomes more empowered when they give themselves permission not to forgive.

Equally, and perhaps more important, is learning to acknowledge your missteps and forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is often the first step toward a more loving and positive relationship with yourself, and therefore with others.

How to Forgive Someone Who Has Wronged You

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, allowing us to acknowledge the wound, understand the other party’s perspective, and process our emotions in non-hurtful ways.

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 for you, but that forgiveness might provide a path forward.

Third, cultivate forgiveness by confronting the pain and developing compassion for the offender. Reflect on whether the act was due to malicious intent or challenging circumstances in the offender’s life. Lastly, release the harmful emotions and reflect on how you may have grown from the experience.


Relationships, Guilt

How to Forgive Yourself

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 good for anyone in the long run.

Forgiving yourself may seem like an ambiguous process, but a few concrete steps can help. Begin by acknowledging that you are at fault and take responsibility for the hurt you caused. Then reflect on why the event occurred: Which forces were in your control and which were outside of your control? Extract the lessons you learned and identify how to avoid committing a similar offense in the future.

After such reflection, forgive yourself by focusing on the thought, saying it aloud, or even writing it down. The final step of the process, of course, is to apologize to the person you wronged and take action to improve their lives in a meaningful way.

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