“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
—Lewis B. Smedes
When we think of forgiveness, we often view it as a “gift” given to someone who has committed some sort of offense or wrongdoing toward us. Yet there are two-fold benefits that come when we forgive another person. One side of the fold helps the forgiven. The other side features the ways offering forgiveness can help ourselves.
It takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge. Even when our anger is justified, allowing resentment to build within our hearts only compounds the pain the offense has caused us. So long as we carry our negative feelings with us, we are burdened by them.
Forgiving someone is not minimizing or pardoning what they have done. It doesn’t automatically offer a free pass that says whatever wrongdoing you’ve endured was okay. However, forgiveness is a conscious choice to let go of the pain it has caused in you and in your life—and move forward.
Often, this task is easier said than done. Whether you are seeking forgiveness for another, in another, or even from yourself, it can be a process. Some ways people find their way to forgiveness is by:
- Understanding why the person who wronged you did what they did
- Empathizing with the individual who wronged you
- Talking through the issue that needs forgiving with the person at fault
- Leaning on spiritual teachings for guidance and understanding
- Reflecting on the negative consequences that come with holding a grudge against the other individual
- Taking actions toward repairing or moving on from relationships damaged by the offense
Every situation is different. Sometimes forgiveness comes easily. Sometimes it takes time and considerable effort. However, it only happens after you make the conscious decision to work through the consequences and emotions caused by what has happened to you. If you find it difficult to move beyond the anger, bitterness, grief, or emotional distress caused by wrongdoing, you may find yourself benefiting from counseling provided by a mental health professional.
Know that not only is this okay, it’s a great advantage. Counseling offers clients a safe place to voice their thoughts and pain over events they’re having trouble working through. It’s also a place to receive insight from someone outside of your situation who understands and can empathize with what you’re going through.
Are you ready to start on the path to forgiveness?
“People, upon rationally determining that they have been unfairly treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which they have a right), and endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of beneficence, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts, has no right).”
—Enright & Fitzgibbons (2000)