Psychologically, forgiving someone is a cathartic process and can benefit anyone and everyone. Sometimes, forgiveness comes easily and can be a one-off decision that we quickly move on from. Or for bigger wrongs against us, forgiveness can be a long, painful journey, where pride, ego and self-righteousness often holds us back. And the decision to forgive may need to be made several times along the way. It takes resilience, strength, equanimity, and genuine compassion to truly forgive.
What happens when we don’t forgive?
When we don’t forgive, we may suffer. Unforgiveness can create moods and mental states similar to those of people under stress. It’s often associated with and accompanied by a complex set of negative emotions: anger, fear, resentment, hostility, and/or hatred. Anger can cause your blood pressure to spike and trigger the release of stress chemicals that can make you physically and mentally sick.
Why should I consider forgiving someone?
You don’t lose any self-respect by forgiving someone – your morals and values will still be intact. However, by forgiving, you are able to transcend your ego and self-righteousness. What you lose in turn is the anger, bitterness, and suffering. Studies have demonstrated that forgiving someone actually relieves stress. People who forgive, report less depression, anxiety, hostility, rumination, and higher levels of self-esteem.
Where can I start?
When someone has wronged us, we often feel justified in our anger, hurt, and unease, because we can only see our perspective. Mindfulness is a tool that can help you see the other side, while also maintaining equanimity towards the situation and person who has wronged you.
Programs such as MBSR, MBCT, and MSC offered at our centre can help develop and maintain these skills in mindfulness. MBCT teaches how to interrupt how we habitually react to situations, so we can choose to respond in more skillful ways. While MSC develops self-compassion and encourages greater kindness and understanding of periods of suffering. This can help us accept our flaws and better understand our own challenges, which can in turn help develop compassion towards others. You cannot learn to forgive others until you have developed compassion and forgiveness towards yourself.
What if I am having difficulty forgiving someone?
That is okay. You can begin to work on developing compassion for yourself and use mindfulness to be aware of the times when you experience the thoughts and emotions related to unforgiveness. These emotions may arise at unexpected times in your day to day life and catch you off guard. However, by developing self compassion and mindfulness, you can learn to be gentle with yourself when such emotions arise and watch them without becoming fused to them.
The next time you are faced with having to forgive someone, try to “Flip the Focus” from being the victim, to putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. What may have caused this person to hurt you in that situation? This may be extremely difficult to do, but remember, you’re not condoning any actions. This practice is just about trying to see that as humans, we are deeply impacted by our own traumas and life experiences, which greatly inform how we show up in this world. If you are able to “Flip the Focus”, compassion naturally tends to flow from this empathetic perspective.
Last but not least, and above all, be kind to one another, as everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
Blog Article by Yenushka Karunaratne
Yenushka is a Behaviour Analyst working in the field of developmental disabilities and mental health. She has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for over 20 years and is a previous student of MBSR and MBSD programming at the CMS. Her passion is to find creative, practical ways to integrate mindfulness into our everyday lives and ultimately advocate for the prioritization of mental health within our communities.