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The Opportunity and Challenge of International Forgiveness Day

International Forgiveness Day- two kids with their arms around each other

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.

About the Author:

Kristie McDonald is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Kristie has experience providing family therapy, in-home therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy to adolescents and adults with clinical disorders ranging from chemical dependency to severe and persistent mental illness. Kristie also has been intensively trained in Dialectic Behavior Therapy by Behavior Tech, LLC.

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7 Replies

  • By Debi

    What perfect timing for me! I am wondering if I can forgive after being betrayed by someone I still love but right now I feel like I still need to hold on to my anger until I know what path we are trying to move down, just to remind myself not to trust yet until the trust has been earned. I know the path to forgiveness is going to be rocky and hard.

    Thank you.

  • By Joan

    I’ve got to learn to forgive myself! I’ve not been the best sister or friend that I could have been!

  • By Worried Parents/Grandparents

    Kristie, where do you practice? My son is separated from his wife and young son because he chose alcohol to handle financial stress last year since there was a gross lack of communication between his wife and he. He knows his grievous mistake, is seeing an LMFT, has been alcohol free since May 2014 and is going to alcoholics anonymous weekly and to a men’s Christian Bible study/prayer group. However, his wife is still not ready to forgive him and only allows him to see his son about 20 min – 1 hr per week supervised by herself. She says she cannot trust him and until she can he cannot come home. Our son has never physically harmed or hurt her or his son when he was drinking. He works 7 days/wk. earning enough money to support her and his son and himself. He lives in a small trailer. The other part of his wife’s mistrust is that she thinks the grandparents are a bad influence on her son (our grandson). We haven’t seen him since last October and we love him dearly. In our Christian faith, we abstain from alcohol. Though our son has been seeing an LMFT since before May 2014, his wife only sees a minister who is not a licensed therapist. This minister seems to encourage her to distrust him and not forgive him even though our son has asked her forgiveness. What can be done to avoid a legal separation if she chooses not to forgive and reconcile with her husband/our son? He loves his wife and son, he’s staying sober, he’s going to AA weekly, he supports his wife & son, and he knows how wrong he was to have turned to alcohol in a time of financial pressure.

  • By Helen

    I can’t forgive those who should have been there and weren’t. First my premature babies. 4 months in the intensive care unit and my two sisters never wrote, called, or acknowledged the twins’ existence. They hurt me terribly. It was three years before one of my sisters met them. The other didn’t meet them until they were 9. She only started sending them Christmas presents after she had children of her own. The only way either sister met them was because we made the effort to take them to see Grandma and my sisters were there, too. Not because either sister made the effort to try to see them. Ever.

    Another group I can’t forgive are my husband’s family. He had a massive stroke three years ago. Half his brain was damaged. They did nothing to help me. Where hundreds of people sent money, they sent nothing. And they are well off. They didn’t send cards. They didn’t call him or me to support us. They wrote hurtful things and criticized me for trying to get support. One of them yelled at me over the phone threatening to destroy me for asking him to help my husband find a meaningful post-stroke activity. He interpreted my request as an attempt by me to land grab. I still, to this day, can’t figure how he came up with this idea.

    In order to survive, I have cut off each of these hurtful connections. I just cut them off and cauterize the wound. Because otherwise I would bleed and suffer and be unable to function. The hurt is so deep and painful. It is better not to have them around, because they would betray and hurt us again and again. They are people who don’t understand how a medical emergency requires support and love in order to overcome the event. They are people who focus on themselves and not on the needs of the ones they purportedly love. People who kick the ones they say they love when those loved ones are barely holding one to life and function – people like that deserve a special corner of Hell.

  • By Wayne Giese

    No arguement from me. Forgiveness is an act of grace and humility.

  • By Tracy Schaaf

    I too am a mental health and drug and alcohol therapist who has worked with people who are justifiably angry and hurt. This is a difficult issue to deal with. I generally tell people dealing with forgiveness issues that is it more for themselves and that while they have the right to feel angry and hurt it just doesn’t serve THEM well. Why give the other person more power? It is a decision to forgive and it can be a long process. Wherever you are in your process is OK.

  • By Jennifer Kahler

    Hi Kristie, I am new to this site/blog and came upon it while I was searching for a simple personal blogging site.
    After creating an account on here and writing my first blog I soon realized a little bit more of the purpose behind caringbridege.org
    I suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I am currently in therapy but yet again feel as though I am not getting anywhere with it. I was in the same situation with a different therapist a couple years ago. Due to not being a danger to myself anymore the program was coming to an end and I needed to find a new therapist. Even though I felt hurt by this agency letting me after being a constant for me for a couple of years, I tried looking at the situation as a positive and began seeking a trauma specialist. Someone more specialized in helping me through past and recent trauma.
    I was scared to let go of my old therapist and so I attempted to overlap these two therapist to offer myself comfort during such a big change. However, my insurance wouldn’t allow both companies to be active at the same time.
    As I spiraled out of control and turned my life upside down, due to many reasons. I ran from all therapy and it took over 7 months for my head to stop spinning and get a grip on my life and reality.
    I am angry towards everyone, I don’t know how to forgive because the hurt never goes away. Its almost as if I need this pain to stay alive or feel alive. I have searched for residential facilities to help me through but they are 10 – 40,000 or more. My therapist stated last week in my session something regarding chronic ptsd. My childhood was filled with traumatic events almost daily/weekly. Forgiving my mom is something I struggle with and I constantly go back and forth with it. I’m 32 years old and the cycle never ends. I’m just exhausted. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.