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F is for forgiveness

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Forgiving someone for what they have said or done isn't always easy; it can be one of the harder things one can do, but it can also set you free and be something you need to do (for no one but yourself) to be able to fully move on with your life.

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free”. Katherine Ponder

So what is forgiveness?

The root of ‘forgive’ is the Latin word ‘perdonare’, meaning ‘to give completely, without reservation.’Perdonare’ is also the source of the English word ‘pardon’.

Forgiveness is a tri-dimensional concept. One part concerns our response to those who wrong us but equally it can be something that one seeks or hopes is bestowed upon us if we have wronged someone else but equally,

“The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person.” Louise Hay

You can wait for your whole life for someone to forgive you; but it is more important to learn to forgive yourself because otherwise you are giving your power to someone else.

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boose

The final aspect concerns our ability to forgive and accept ourselves.

“You forgive yourself by realising that nobody can act beyond their level of consciousness” Eckhart Tolle

It is futile to beat ourselves when we realise that we are stuck at a certain point and lack the skills to forgive others or move on from situations but once we have that awareness and self-knowledge, it is the first step towards making changes, evolving and moving towards our full potential.

We are all human, and as such make mistakes We can live more peacefully with ourselves when we accept that when we make mistakes we are acting in the best way that we are capable of in that moment in time. It is useful to 'flip the script' and remind ourselves that mistakes help us to grow as individuals and give us increased insight so that we can make better choices in the future.

Why is it not easy to forgive?

It is not easy to forgive because when we are hurt by others it touches on issues of self-worth, self-value, respect, boundaries, and it is easier to give in to reactive emotions and retaliate or avoid instead rather than ask questions as to why we are having those reactions, what is triggering us, and causing so much pain etc

Revenge is an extreme form of retaliation that is meant to cause suffering for its own sake, and it tends to be out of proportion with the initial wrongdoing. It is motivated by hatred as well as the idea “that another’s existence and well-being will cause harm.” Aaron Sell

Fortunately, disproportional acts of hateful violence are not always one’s immediate reaction to perceived injustice. We are often motivated by anger and our responses can (thankfully) fall short of the complete annihilation of the wrongdoer!

A lesser response is negative reciprocity i.e. You harm me, and I respond with equivalent harm. Unlike revenge— which is disproportionate, negative reciprocity is more often motivated by anger and the response if often more proportional in the hope of changing the mind or behaviour of the other person and therefore holds the implication of a desire of repairing a relationship rather than destroying it completely.

Negative reciprocity depends on a carefully measured response: a weak response may lead to further exploitation, while overreaction may lead to needless conflict escalation. We could also be likely to escalate conflicts that genuinely don't need to be escalated and be prone to treat those with valid grievances as if they were filled with spite.

The problem with both retaliation and reciprocity is that they are based on ego and resistance and involves judgment.

Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” Roberto Assagioli

We find it difficult to be forgiving and empathetic towards a person that has hurt us because it is difficult to put ourselves in their shoes without bringing all our own assumptions, perspectives and judgments to the scenario.

Another reason that we find it hard to forgive is because the strong emotions that are triggered in us prevent us from forgiving because when we are hurting we have a need to be acknowledged and heard and our emotions legitimised and mostly by the person that we perceive has done us wrong

“ Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. Mahatma Gandhi

The capacity to forgive originates from our childhood upbringing and then is strengthened or weakened by what we witness and learn throughout life from others and from the development of our own understanding, individual values and belief systems. It takes strength of character; psychological resources and maturity to inhibit our sometimes unhelpful knee-jerk reactions or learned behaviours and take a more measured, appropriate response.

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” Thomas Szasz

Putting aside the judgmental aspects of the above quote, Thomas Szasz indicates that there are three different responses possible

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Buddha

If you are ‘stupid’ you hold on to anger and grudges and you do not have the capacity to repair relationships.

‘The naïve forgive but forget’ implies that we are at risk from repeating a situation and finding ourselves hurt again if we forgive too easily and don’t set appropriate boundaries to protect ourselves from harm.

The wise forgive but do not forget.” can be interpreted as that the wise have the maturity and capacity to forgive and do not let others jeopardise their well-being by placing protective boundaries around themselves.

“I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.” T. D. Jakes

The ‘wise’ are able to not hold grudges, instead they show compassion and don’t feel the need to retaliate or have the last word and use tools like diacletics to seek to understand others perspectives through empathy.

“Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.” Emma Goldman

I am not sure whether I agree with this quote 100 % or not. Do we really need to understand why someone did or said something in order to forgive them ? Perhaps it just makes it easier when we seek to understand each other because as humans the coherence in human behaviour reassures us and helps us anticipate future human behaviour. In seeking to understand, we can give some sense of logic and meaning to the other person’s behaviour and by intellectualising things it helps distance ourselves from our immediate emotions and then we can go that step further towards acceptance.

The human psyche can often seem too complex or individual to be made sense of as a whole but by being aware of three distinct properties of the psychological process it can help: salience (we notice only what is noticeable), chains (your personality can change what you notice ) and anchors (small things can change your whole thinking) (see link below)

“Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It’s choosing to rise above it.”

Robin Sharma

Either way ‘negative energy’ tires us and will have a detrimental effect on our health so if we want to live with optimal energy one of the ways in which we can help ourselves is to process our feelings and learn to forgive.

“It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” Tyler Perry

Forgiveness is a strength that we can choose to cultivate, in so doing we reduce stress and negatives effects on our health and we can have better relationships with others.

Finally I came across a Ted Talk the other day on forgiveness by Carmelle Kemp that suggested another perspective. She was proposing the idea that forgiveness is not something you do or can do and it is not even necessary.

We all make mistakes, and experience remorse, but we get so caught up in what we believe to be right or to be wrong that forgiveness seems impossible because we have become so disconnected from who we are.

When we are able to accept our experiences without judgment, consciously choosing to connect to the love, compassion and understanding in our hearts forgiveness is no longer necessary because love is incapable of holding a grudge and we begin to understand that there is a bigger picture; that it is not about right and wrong, it is about humanity and life’s trials and errors

“You don’t always have a choice about what goes on out there but you do have a choice about how you respond in here It is time to choose love and respond with compassion and understanding because love will never let you down” Carmelle Kemp

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

Do you find it difficult to let things go?

Think of the people around you - family, friends, etc are they forgiving or do they hold grudges?

Are you hard on yourself when you make mistakes or things don't go as planned?

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started:

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
31 de mai. de 2022

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