When individuals are hurt, they feel betrayal, anger, hatred and resentment and these negative emotions are noxious for our health. According to research, forgiveness is important to reinstate our emotional and physical well-being: it decreases our blood pressure, reduces depression, stress and psychosomatic symptoms. It also helps to fight self-harm, self-criticism and addiction. Forgiveness does not just allow us to feel better in the present moment but is also beneficial to long-term psychological success.
When individuals forgive, they to let damaging feelings go and they become able to rediscover positive emotions such as compassion and tenderness. It’s usually through therapy that these emotions become accessible; therapy allows individuals to achieve a greater sense of empowerment.
The path of forgiveness represents a growth and can help us to reach a new well-being; it brings back calmness and serenity as well as the possibility to carry on with the path of our lives that was blocked before.
If we don’t learn to forgive, there could be negative consequences.
Many individuals have symptoms directly related to hurts, traumas or violence endured by significant persons such as parents, relatives or by their partner. These situations may be the imprinting for dysfunctional relational relationships. If we don’t learn to forgive this can become the base for psychopathology to grow and people could experience distress or more severe symptoms. In these cases forgiveness helps to elaborate the trauma, to close the unfinished business, to change the dysfunctional patterns of behaviour.
How does forgiveness happen?
Forgiveness is an aware, proactive choice, it does not “just happen”. It is a process and it takes time. It is then a matter of intention, it comes from the insight and can’t be imposed or self-imposed.
Forgiveness happens because it naturally thrives as the result of a bumpy and rewarding process.
At the end of the process of forgiveness it’s important for individuals to name things they are grateful for to their offender; this brings positivity and is a meaningful step, especially if the offender is a parent or a relative, as it reinstates a balance.
We also need to remember that forgiving does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness is the choice to remember the injury without feeling resentment. Also, forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation: we can forgive and decide that we don’t want to have a relationship with our offender.
Self-help techniques for forgiveness
Writing a letter to the offender can be a useful technique because it helps to express emotions. Many people will become aware of their hidden feelings thanks to this exercise. It also helps elaborate what may be bridled in our thoughts and bring more clarity into our minds.
It is then important to read this letter out loud: this will certainly help to let go. Finally, a symbolic act should close the process; for example to let the letter go in a river or to bury it. Whichever method you choose, do it out loud, saying and meaning it: “I forgive you and I let this go”.
I would also recommend the exercise of gratitude as a daily practice. Every morning, before your day starts, name five things you are grateful for in your life. This can be everything, even the smallest and simple things.
Grateful people are happier. Those who forgive are the happiest.