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3 Key Principles of Forgiveness

Releasing resentment and cultivating compassion.

Key points

  • Forgiveness, a concept that has existed across cultural lines for centuries, is intended to restore severed connections.
  • Holding onto one's anger provides a shield of comfort, so forgiveness takes time and isn't always easy.
  • Being able to forgive promotes calm and provides new perspective, clarity, and objectivity.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Source: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

No matter our origins, we are all emotional and social beings seeking human connection, a need that is perhaps all the more urgent when we’ve been wronged. Forgiveness, a concept that has existed across cultural lines for centuries, is intended to restore those severed connections, but the practice is by no means easy. When we’ve been hurt by others, our initial reactions are often fueled by anger, resentment, or vengeance. Holding onto our anger brings us a shield of comfort; it acts as a way to bind our anxiety around the difficulties that relationships bring to our lives.

First and foremost, forgiveness is a process, meaning that it takes time and isn’t always easy. To forgive someone means making a conscious effort to let go of something hurtful that happened to you by releasing negative thought patterns, anger, resentment, or pain. By engaging in this emotion-focused process, you are making an active choice to no longer suffer from the harm that was done to you.

When we see forgiveness this way, it becomes clear that forgiveness is also freedom — freedom from the past and even from future victimization. Because when you forgive the painful events of your past, they no longer define nor control your present. So by taking life's pitfalls as opportunities to grow instead of places to dwell in hopelessness, you are reclaiming your power. You are reclaiming your life.

Forgiveness helps us calm down and provides us with new perspective, clarity, and objectivity. For example, think of a time when you were very angry about something. Was it hard to be objective and transparent? Did you largely blame the other person or exaggerate the events to justify your reactions?

When we’re upset, our judgment tends to become clouded or inaccurate. This is not to say that you don't have any right to your feelings; you certainly do. However, by forgiving yourself and the other party, you can make sure that your perception of the situation is more balanced. Cultivating forgiveness will allow you to clear your mind and view the problem from a more objective position.

In addition, finding a way to forgive will allow you to become a more compassionate person. Most people have demons, triggers, and issues they are dealing with and don’t mean to hurt others intentionally. While that doesn't make their actions okay, when you’re able to see people in their own context, you’re better able to understand their reasoning and you can take their offenses less personally.

So, you've decided you’re ready to forgive. Congratulations! To help you prepare for your journey, here are a few key principles you can teach yourself.

1. Be Honest

Forgiveness includes acknowledging that you are hurt, accepting the pain as your own, and being honest with yourself about the effect it's had on you. Forgiveness happens by being honest about what it was like for you to be betrayed, lied to, offended, mistreated, and abused. Forgiveness is not about making excuses for others' misbehaving; it doesn't make it okay that you were hurt, and it certainly does not mean that you forget the offense. Instead, practice acknowledging it as part of your history so you can move forward.

2. Be Vulnerable

It takes a heavy amount of vulnerability and strength to forgive. It also takes self-awareness to acknowledge that someone has negatively impacted us. By looking at ourselves and our wounded relationships with openness, we can appreciate our vulnerabilities that come with being human.

3. Be Humble

Being humble is having the awareness that you are no better than anyone else. Especially with matters of forgiveness, it's essential to remain humble. Humble people do not expect anything from others and give lovingly (including their forgiveness) without any expectations attached. To reach that level of forgiveness, one must practice humility and remain open to positive outcomes.

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