Sunday, August 3 is International Forgiveness Day. In honor of the occasion, therapist Kristie McDonald offers her thoughts on the hows and whys of taking the path to forgiveness.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. ‑‑Martin Luther King Jr.
Forgiveness is such a complicated process in some ways, and it can also be a very simple concept. As a therapist, I have been witness to a great deal of pain and suffering as a result of this process. Lack of forgiveness seems to breed mistrust, anger, resentment, and a disconnect from support. I have also been witness to incredible strength and courage to move through the pain and suffering that comes along with trying to forgive, whether it’s ourselves or someone else we are trying to forgive.
The Layers of Forgiveness
I think what makes forgiving so difficult is that it is a layered experience. There are multiple steps for us to become lost within. In order to start the process, we first have to accept the situation, which in and of itself is incredibly difficult.
Then, when we have made a choice to forgive, we commit to change our behavior and words toward the person. However, just this commitment doesn’t necessarily change how we feel. This process may take a great deal of time to truly have the emotional peace that can come with forgiving.
In order to achieve this emotional peace, we must find compassion and empathy for the person, release judgment and the need to have justice, and then maintain the commitment of forgiveness. Because we are reminded of the situation and its injustice, we can be lost within the anger/resentment all over again. This commitment to compassion is what can help us be free of the anger and guilt.
The Freedom of Forgiving
So why forgive, since it seems like so much work when we are already so tired from the actual experience? There is research that suggests that the act of forgiveness has health benefits. Due to a decrease in the reduction of physical stress associated with forgiving, people can experience better immune system functioning and less risk of heart problems. There also may be a greater sense of control and freedom.
In addition, there are significant relationship benefits when you are able to rebuild trust and connection. On a larger level, forgiveness increases our hope and faith in humanity which allows us to continue to take risks and have adventures in our lives. Forgiveness is often the way through the pain and the way to peace. We just have to be willing to take this route instead of the anger and resentment road.
What are your steps to acceptance and forgiveness? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.