Forgiveness Heals

Now is the time for healing on many levels, from the personal to the societal. 
Over the past two years, our lives have been challenged due to worldwide events. Many of us have experienced trauma, perhaps related to painful divisions among colleagues, friends or family members.
 
Learning to forgive others, as well as to request forgiveness are powerful lessons for healing heart wounds. Forgiveness is a conscious decision that can release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward someone who has hurt you. It does not mean that the offenses will be forgotten or excused, nor that reconciliation with the person who upset you will necessarily take place. Yet through forgiveness, one may find the peace of mind that derives from letting go feelings of blame and personal offense (Luskin, 2003).
 
Indeed, though focusing on injustices and clinging to grudges may be natural, extensive research shows that forgiving others can ease suffering and increase fulfillment in life. For example, studies have demonstrated that after forgiveness training, higher levels of happiness were reported the following day (Witvliet, Ludwig & Vander Laan, 2001; Worthington & Scherer, 2004).
 
Similarly, seeking forgiveness also can heal oneself as well as relationships, thus improving one’s overall sense of well-being. Worthington (2006) put forth a seven-step model to promote this process:
 
  • Confessing to the wrongdoing
  •  Offering a genuine apology
  •  Noting the other’s pain
  •  Valuing the relationship 
  •  Equalizing, or attempting to balance things out as much as possible
  •  Saying we will never repeat the wrong or attempt to hurt the other person, and
  •  Seeking forgiveness by explicitly asking for it.
 
For trauma recovery, however, forgiveness is not necessarily required and in some situations can be problematic. Gregory (2020), acknowledges that forgiveness can promote healing, yet notes these exceptions: 1) if it diminishes “harms and wrongs, which can inhibit safety,” 2) if it “focuses on the abuser instead of the survivor”, and thus may perpetuate shame, and 3) if it “encourages silence and can be used as a means to avoid recovery”.
 
Nonetheless, evidence suggests that even if the wrongdoing was extreme, releasing resentment heals the heart. As Nelson Mandela noted, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Even though it certainly can be challenging, give yourself the gift of beginning the process of release, then relish the emotional freedom that follows.
 
References
Gregory, A. (2020). Is Forgiveness Necessary for Trauma Recovery? Parts 1 and 2. Symmetry   Counseling. 
Luskin, F. (2003). Forgive for good. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Witvliet, C. v. O., Ludwig, T. E., & Vander Laan, K. L. (2001). Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: Implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychological Science, 12(2), 117-123. 
Worthington, E. L., & Scherer, M. (2004). Forgiveness is an emotion-focused coping strategy that can reduce health risks and promote health resilience: Theory, review, and hypotheses. Psychology and Health, 19(3), 385-405.
Worthington, E.L. Jr. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Brunner/Routledge.
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