At some point in our lives, we have all struggled with the wrongs or perceived wrongs that others have done to us. And being unable to forgive someone is not without its costs. The emotional pain associated with such incidents can severely limit our ability to get on with our lives and plan for the future.
Yet it can be difficult to truly forgive. Our initial response may even be to seek revenge and to retaliate like for like. But according to the psychological research, the better we are at controlling our thoughts and behaviour and not retaliating, the easier it is to forgive. Crucially, such control enables us to free ourselves of the pain and hurt that can imprison us in our past. Research has revealed that the act of forgiveness itself can lead us to forget the offence in question.
Forgive and forget is an oft-repeated piece of advice with faith & moral origins. Although it might seem trite, there’s a reason this little phrase still gets uttered so often. There’s true wisdom in forgiving and forgetting. When someone really hurts you, you may question whether you want to forgive someone; it may, in fact, seem utterly unnatural. But there are many reasons why it’s sometimes better to forgive and forget, even if part of you doesn’t want to.
Here are just a few thoughts:
1. It doesn’t condone actions
Forgiveness doesn’t mean what happened was alright, and it doesn’t mean that person should always be welcomed back in your life with the same spirit as before. Your boundaries still matter, and grudges can be part of forgiving.
Forgiveness just means that you’ve made peace with the pain, and you are ready to let it go. “There was a reason you came together, and there’s a reason you are moving apart,” psychologist Danielle Dowling, Psy.D., writes at mbg. “Acknowledge the good, the bad, and the beautiful from your time together and know that it all served an important purpose in both of your lives.”
2. It’s for us
Forgiveness is not something we do it for others — it’s something we do for ourselves. Not forgiving someone is the equivalent of staying trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for someone else’s crime. “It’s a mixture of anger, depression, and blame. But most of all, the opposite of forgiveness is stagnation,” psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., writes at mbg. “It’s getting mired in an emotional place regarding a particular incident, and it prohibits future growth and discovery. You make the choice to either dwell on the pain caused by others, or you can forgive and move on.”
3. It transmits strength
Gandhi once said “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” It takes a strong person to face pain head-on, forgive, and release the anger. Your ability to forgive someone often has little to do with that person or what they did. “Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as ‘to cease to feel resentment against an offender’ or ‘to give up resentment of or claim to requital.’ It’s an internal state of being, and it’s not dependent on anyone but you. The only person in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions — and the only one who can make a shift occur — is you.”
4. We deserve forgiveness
Always remember that our inability to forgive others can stem from an inability to forgive ourselves. The lack of acceptance for others may even fuel a lack of acceptance for ourselves. Others deserve forgiveness, just like we do. On the contrary, we always hear that human beings immensely love themselves. If this assumption is correct then how can we not forgive ourselves?
5. It is healing
“When we hold onto a resentment, grievance, shame, guilt, or pain from the past, our entire body-mind suffers,” Deepak Chopra said. “Ultimately forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. We can benefit from forgiving even if the person we forgive isn’t aware of our feelings or is even no longer alive.”
To forgive someone is the highest, most beautiful form of love. You might just find that you get a sense of peace and happiness in return.
If none of the above appeals to you, then you might want to take the advice of Oscar Wilde: “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.” The fact that forgiveness can influence our ability to forget details about an offence is of particular interest in view of the potential associated health benefits. Indeed, a whole new line of enquiry has begun to reveal numerous benefits for a forgiving individual. These include reduced risk of heart attack, reduced blood pressure and pain and improved cholesterol and sleep. There are also associations with lower levels of depression, hostility, anger, paranoia and inferiority.
The ability to forget painful memories may provide an effective coping strategy which allows people to move on and not get stuck in the past. We hope that further studies in this new field of research will eventually lead to powerful therapeutic tools. In short, the old adage that we should forgive and forget has far more potential value than we could ever have imagined.
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Muhammad Sajwani is the Founder, Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Evolve HR which aims at transforming, enriching and evolving Human Capital of Pakistan, At Evolve HR thrives in challenging assumptions that hinder organisational aspirations, by creating innovative solutions that yield maximum impact, scalability & benefit to a wider base of stakeholders. As a Business Coach and Organisational Consultant, Sajwani knows how to combine business insights with people insights to transform organisations and put them on the path to growth.