The Power of Forgiveness

I have always struggled with forgiveness. As a child I was pretty spiteful, prone to running away from home, giving the “silent treatment,” and glaring at whoever had supposedly betrayed me. I could hold grudges for years, believing that I was somehow stronger for never forgiving my transgressors. For whatever reason, I hadn’t yet figured out what the power of forgiveness was all about.

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve experienced many betrayals in my life. Some were big, like when my best friend at the time abandoned me in college for other, more interesting friends. Others are much smaller, such as when my husband eats the last of my ice cream without asking — an ongoing battle of forgiveness if there ever was one!

The one thing that all my experiences have in common, though, is that each one has taught me a little more about what forgiveness actually is and why it’s good for me.

There are many studies that discuss forgiveness’s physical and mental benefits, such as those reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The researchers found that, essentially, the power of forgiveness is real and can truly have a positive effect in terms of lowering levels of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It made a lot of sense to me when I discovered this, because every time I let go of something that bothers me, I always feel so much lighter afterward.

However, I have also learned it’s not as easy as just deciding one day to forgive someone. Here are some methods that have helped me work through my bitterness and finally shed those lingering bad feelings:

  • Meditation, yoga, and self-soothing. Try these techniques to calm yourself so you can look at the offending event and person rationally. It can be hard to let go when all you feel is anger or hurt.
  • Think it through. Though it’s tempting to push the bad memories away, take some time to sit down and mull over what happened. Think about why you feel the way you do and why the event was hurtful, and then accept these feelings. This is called mindfulness.
  • Talk it out. Find someone you trust with whom you can share your feelings and who will offer an objective opinion. Sometimes having a sounding board can make a personal slight seem much smaller than it was in your head.

You don’t necessarily have to forget what happened, nor do you have to condone it or attempt a reconciliation. But at the end of the day, there are too many other worries in life to let past events burden you with angry thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. Even though there are times when the “silent treatment” seems a totally valid response to an offense (see the aforementioned ice cream incident), it’s really not worth all the bad feelings that follow. The real power of forgiveness is that it sets you free in every sense, and we all deserve to feel that freedom.

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