What Is Forgiveness?
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
What is forgiveness and how does it happen?
We talk so much about forgiveness, throw around so many slogans, and yet it seems that we all have radically different ideas about what it actually means. We want to know how to forgive and yet it can be very hard to achieve or practice something that we don’t really understand.
We often hear the idea that forgiveness is a gift, an act of kindness for ourselves, as the forgiver, that forgiveness is not for or even about the one we are forgiving.
It’s said that if forgiveness benefits the one we are forgiving, then that’s an added benefit, a gift, but not really the point. And yet, one of the obstacles we face in forgiving someone we perceive as having done us harm is not wishing them well, not seeing their benefitting from our forgiveness as a gift, and, in fact, wanting them to suffer because of what they did. The idea that the other person would somehow feel better as a result of our forgiveness is challenging and precisely what we want to prevent. We imagine that not forgiving is a form of punishment, a way of forcing the other to continue suffering, a way of being in control of a situation we didn’t feel we had control over. At a primal level, we imagine that not forgiving is a way of taking care of our wound, proclaiming that our suffering exists, and still and forever matters. Not forgiving, paradoxically, is a way of validating and honoring our own hurt.
Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not.
Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you – the scam.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.