By Melodie Veldhuizen
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to let go of feelings of resentment, malice and revenge towards somebody who offended you. Forgiveness means that you no longer harbour feelings of revenge or bitterness and do not wish him to be struck by misfortune. It happens whether the person deserves it or not and often without him apologizing for or showing remorse for his deeds or words. This does not necessarily mean that you forget what the person has done to you or that you approve of his behaviour. And neither does forgiveness compel you to become friends again or to become involved in any kind of relationship. Refusal to forgive means that you grant the other person lifelong power over your life and emotions.
Forgiveness is never easy – the more intense your hurt or the greater the damage you have suffered, the more difficult it will be to forgive. It is also more difficult to forgive a person who hurt you on purpose than forgiving one who hurt you inadvertently. If the person who wronged you offers insincere apologies and even shows no remorse, forgiveness may be impossible.
Forgiveness is indeed possible, but difficult.
How does one forgive?
- Admit that you are feeling hurt and make a deliberate decision to forgive
In the end ignoring the injustice or simply learning to live with it, is bad for your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. Think back to what exactly the person did or said and why it hurt you so much. Did the person consciously cause you pain or is there a possibility that he is unaware of what effect his words actions have on you? Is the person still alive or is it somebody who is still part of your life in some way or other? Do not deny these negative emotions or think that they are just temporary. Is something that somebody did to you years ago still hurting you? Is it something that somebody did recently? Take a conscious decision to forgive. Do it by acquitting him in your heart or saying it to him face to face, or by writing a letter.
- Try to find sense and meaning in your pain
Try to find sense and meaning in what happened to you. It will help you not to go through life with a feeling of hopelessness and despair that life has no more meaning to you. Think back to how hardship had a positive effect on your life – what have you learned from this and how did this experience make you grow? Also think about how beneficial forgiving can be to you. This does not mean that you should play down your pain and just make the best of a bad case.
Get foregivingly fit
In the same way that you start a new exercise routine slowly, you can gradually strengthen your forgiving heart muscles in your daily dealings with others. Focus on not causing other people harm. For instance, avoid saying negative things about the person who hurt you. Develop a care-for attitude towards the offen der. Reflect on whether he had malicious intentions and on whether what he did to you came forth out of his own circumstances of life.
- Develop an ethos of forgivingness by way of empathy
There is a connection between empathy and forgiveness. Is the person perhaps harbouring a deep-felt pain due to rejection, abuse or unfair treatment? Was he, at that stage, experiencing serious stress, did he have wrong information, or was he being intimidated by somebody else? This does not justify his actions towards you and will not take away your pain, but the realisation that all of were hurt somewhere along the line could help you to have empathy with you that it will be easier for you to forgive.
- Invoke your other strong points or call on other people for support
When you feel that forgiveness is impossible, use other sources and your other strong points. Firstly, remember that struggling to forgive does not mean that you are a failure. Forgiveness is a process that calls for patience, time and determination. Surround yourself with people who have a positive effect on you, who support you and who will give you time to recover in your own time. Be humble, not by disparaging yourself and your feelings, but through realising that every human being is fallible and subject to hardship. Be brave and patient with yourself.
Through self-forgiveness you grant yourself recognition as a human being in your own right, even though you are not prefect. Love yourself as much as you love somebody else who you love a lot. Soften your heart toward yourself. Self-forgiveness makes it easier for you to forgive others and it also helps you to ask the forgiveness of others towards whom you have transgressed.
- And if the transgressor continues his behaviour?
If the person you have forgiven continues with his actions, treats you disrespectfully and shows no remorse, put your foot down. Refuse to be a doormat any longer and don’t allow the person’s actions to affect your self-image negatively.
“To be able to forgive requires you to be able to suffer because forgiveness follows suffering. One who cannot suffer, is looking for revenge. Only when you are prepared to suffer can you forgive. Forgiveness is not cheap.”
Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_keys_to_forgiveness
Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition
Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/forgiveness-benefits/
Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/basics/forgiveness#how-to-forgive-others
Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201506/6-important-facts-about-forgiveness