It has been said many times that forgiveness is for the victim. One should approach the idea similar to going to a spa. Forgiveness therapy is pampering for the soul; you go to hair salons, get pedicures, etc right? So why not spruce up your inner being? Forgiveness therapy entails an interpersonal process, there is no set time for this journey as each individual is different. It relies on educating oneself through models, self-reflection through journaling, practical exercises for daily living, taking stock of negative thought processes, and or speaking to the offender personally (if one desires) bringing a release no drug on earth can provide. Please note, forgiveness therapy is not a stand-alone solution to trauma-related events, for this, a combination of guided therapy by a certified therapist may be just the step you need.
The Truth… What It Isn’t
Many people seem to think that forgiveness happens instantaneously. Truth be told the process is a difficult one and gets more difficult the greater the offense as some level of trauma is involved. Some ruminate longer than others according to their personality. N.B If the individual should choose not to forgive then it’s really of no consequence to outside parties; remember it’s a personal choice and there is no set timer as to how long it would take a person to complete the process. Don’t rush, go at your own pace.
Forgiveness is not:
- Forgetting- there are many who can think of events that happened since childhood that follow them around like the ghost of Christmas past. Any child would forever remember being booed off stage at a talent show.
- Condoning- ignoring or excusing the behavior is not the ideal solution. It helps neither parties involved. The offender will continue hurting others while the victim suffers in silence. e.g bullying whether it be as a child or toxic co-workers. It is simply not to be tolerated.
- Reconciliation- (ministers pay attention) where does it say once one forgives all is well with the world and the relationship will magically repair itself? Forgiving but maintaining a safe distance from the perpetrator to avoid re-victimization may be the best option for some. Extramarital affairs take the lead here. After forgiveness, one must work to restore trust and there is no magical pill for that.
- Therapy- forgiveness should ultimately work in tandem with other activities prescribed during therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, etc). Again, it is not a simple quick fix, especially for victims of abuse.
Unforgiveness and Its Sociological Impact: Emotions, Thought and Behavior
Life is a series of events some within our control and some not; the faster we accept this, the better for individuals in their healing process. As body, mind and soul connect, every event is subsequently tied to an emotion that triggers certain thoughts and actions. Emotions especially negative ones can fuel irrational thoughts and behaviors leading to violence and even death as rage manifests as an unwanted byproduct of holding unto hurts. Bitterness and grudges can be passed on from generation to generation without anyone knowing the real reason for its genesis (remember Romeo and Juliet?). How many people have actively participated in carrying a grudge for their family or friends? Utter nonsense! Yet, individuals and families persist with ludicrous ideologies robbing themselves of quality relationships, health, and opportunities for growth.
This calls into question the quality of parenting. Positive parenting involves teaching emotional regulation, channeling aggression, challenging thought processes, and includes building self-esteem. Families are the building blocks of society, if the foundation is not sturdy, one cannot expect a building to stand or child to critically assess behaviors of those closest to them. Parents are stewards and gatekeepers that should promote healthy social skills. If this is not practiced in the home, then it paves the way for a child or young adult ( soon to take place in society) to readily accept skewed perspectives and continue with the traditions of animosity and strife. Just as a stone tossed in a pond, one can discern how effortless it is for a parent to influence a child. Without intervention from outside parties, negative mindsets and behaviors can live in perpetuity.
Sometimes the most difficult aspect of forgiveness is to forgive oneself. Thoughts pervade the mind to think, ‘I should have known better, I was stupid, etc’. The reader can connect how an individual’s poor self-image does nothing to improve self-esteem and worth. Hence, referring to self as the offended and not victim has better appeal. ‘Victims’ are seen as helpless but as long as there is life, there is strength, making victims in essence overcomers.
There are several models for forgiving such as the Confession Model but this works for the transgressor. For those that have been hurt, apply the REACH model.
The steps of the REACH model include:
- Recalling the hurt- accept that the event has happened, do not beat yourself up. Bad things happen to good people- Journaling can help sift through thoughts.
- Empathizing with the offender- allows the person to understand the ‘why’ of it all- Reverse the roles, why would you have done this to anyone?
- Altruism of forgiveness- the choice to forgive is a gift to oneself. Ask yourself. What are the benefits of moving on from this?
- Committing to forgive- making a decision.
- Holding onto the decision to forgive- if it becomes difficult, find a trustworthy neutral person to provide support. Forgiving e.g.an attack can be hard and as humans, we may seek revenge to punish the culprit. Find someone to call or text if negative thoughts surface so you can keep a cool head and remember the goal of your choice.
The Ill Effects on Health
Again I need to expound that the willingness to forgive is optional and should be respected. However, looking at the cons of such a choice may prove to be enough motivation to walk, if not run to recovery joyfully. Yes, it will be difficult but it’s necessary. Our being encompasses mind, body, and spirit and therefore any and all actions have repercussions; both positive and negative.
This is no different with unforgiveness, multiple sources have shown that unforgiveness can have some ill effects on both physical and mental well being. Manifestations such as the inability to sleep as the subconscious wars with the conscious are more noticeable. Other signs may include: unexplained hypertension, changes to the libido, fluctuating levels of anxiety and anger, depression as well as other stress-related issues. Side note, prolonged stress can result in cancer and heart disease. With all these consequences of holding onto grudges, it may be best to let go and let God, redirecting the negative energy into more positive and rewarding endeavors.
Freedom: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Forgiveness is a gift that keeps on giving. It brings lightness to the heart and mind. If one is struggling, think about walking onto a battlefield post-war. Those who are not dead, are badly wounded and society has quite a few walking wounded, so why become another statistic? This is what we look like when we choose not to let go, we contaminate our most valued asset; ourselves.
Benefits to forgiving result in but are not limited to:
- Less anxiety and stress
- A better night’s rest
- Quality relationships
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immunity and improved heart health
It is better to choose life, choose freedom. To those who may be intrigued, one can pursue this process by enrolling in a forgiveness therapy workshop or purchase books online (see sources below). All the best on your journey!
More Information: Articles, Books and Scientific Studies
University of Pennsylvania- Forgiveness and health
American Psychological Association-
Counselling Directory (UK)- Unforgiveness and your health