by Cathi Bond
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes…therefore, we all need forgiveness. It’s our nature to help others, but sometimes we intentionally or carelessly disappoint and hurt too. Forgiveness is a process, not an event, which can be challenging when our hurt is deep. “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” says Irish-American actor and writer, Malachy McCourt. Gradually hostility melts away when we can accept our own vulnerability and also the human frailty of those who have harmed us. Rubin Khoddam, PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California, says, “Our lack of understanding of other people’s perceptions can create gaps built on miscommunication, anger, animosity, and emotional disconnection. However, a relationship with forgiveness can help bridge these gaps.”
Understanding this shared humanity helps us to learn, grow, and move forward in our lives. But each individual must be ready and willing to forgive with an open mind and softened heart. Nobel Prize-winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said, “We find it easier to practice forgiveness when we can recognize that the roles could have been reversed. Each of us could have been the perpetrator rather than the victim. Although I might say, ‘I would never…’ genuine humility will answer, ‘Never say never.’ Rather say, ‘I hope that given the same set of circumstances, I would not…’ But can we ever really know?…It is a remarkable feat to be able to see past the inhumanity of the behavior and recognize the humanity of the person committing the atrocious acts.”
The emotional work of forgiveness allows us to be defined not by our trauma, but by the meaning we make from adversity. Forgiveness becomes a part of our nature as we forgive others. We must admit when we are in the wrong and say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” On the flip side, we must be quick to forgive and reframe a painful experience.
Pain and suffering is exponentially increased when our hurt is caused by a loved-one. Director of the FSU Family Institute, Dr. Frank Fincham has found that “when partners hurt each other, there is often a shift in their goals for their relationship. They might have previously professed undying love and worked hard to cooperate with their partner, but if this partner betrays them…they focus on getting even and keeping score instead of enjoying each other. They concentrate on not losing arguments rather than on compromise.”
Nowhere is forgiveness more essential than in marriage where it is the cornerstone of marital satisfaction. Dr. John Gottman says that “couples who practice forgiveness can rid themselves of the toxic hurt and shame that holds them back from feeling connected to each other.” Gottman, who studies marriage and family relationships, explains that “emotional attunement is a skill that allows couples to fully process and move on from negative emotional events, and ultimately create a stronger bond.”
We can strive to develop a forgiving, grateful mindset, choosing to take no offense. Not everything is intended as a personal attack; it may have simply been a thoughtless action. “When it comes to being hurt, this can mean viewing an infraction as less personal than you thought, or developing an understanding of someone’s actions by considering his point of view. Psychologists call this “reframing” a painful memory, and it is key to having a forgiving nature. In addition, the daily practice of forgiving small hurts is beneficial to prepare for times when larger forgiveness will be required to reconcile and rebuild a relationship based upon mutual respect and individual worth.
Dr. Everett L Worthington and Bernie Siegel, MD have found that forgiveness transforms us physically, emotionally, mentally, & spiritually. “Forgiveness offers numerous benefits such as: lower blood pressure, stress reduction, less hostility, better anger-management skills, lower heart rate, lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse, fewer depression symptoms, fewer anxiety symptoms, reduction in chronic pain, more friendships, healthier relationships, greater religious or spiritual well-being, and improved psychological well-being.”
As cancer ravished my mother’s body, it became increasingly imperative for her to restore a relationship with an estranged daughter. My sister realized that she no longer felt upset about previous events that had built a wall between them. She uncovered her feelings of compassion which allowed her to give and receive the gift of forgiveness, providing our mom peace of mind before she passed away.
Don’t wait until someone is dying to reconcile your differences with family members. No situation is without hope. There is nothing that cannot be forgiven. “Trauma often begets cycles of unforgiveness and revenge. Many perpetrators were once victims themselves. Understanding their pain – or at least their motivations – may help victims move forward,” write psychologist Robert Enright and psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons. Clementine Wamariya “was six years old when she and her sister fled her home in Kigali in the dark of night as genocidal conflict erupted around them, ending the lives of more than 800,000 people…’I’m not just a girl who survived genocide and war,” she explains. ‘I have learned to love others, even the people who did the killing.’”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Let mercy soften our hearts to extinguish grudges and freely forgive. Apologize before the chance slips away, forever. People can hurt us in a million ways. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it is a choice. “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong,” said civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi. UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center recommends making a list of people who have hurt you deeply. Consider whom you’re ready to forgive, lighten your load and move forward with your life!