FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE
Have you ever experienced a situation where you found it impossible to forgive somebody for what they have done to you or to somebody that you love? What if you were that person that craved the forgiveness of somebody that you care for? Do we just accept it, or do we decide to become proactive to help levitate the heaviness in our hearts? Personally, I believe that we should spread more forgiveness, understanding and acceptance instead of hate, judgement and personal war vendettas.
We often think that forgiveness is an act of kindness, letting go, moving on and showing mercy, but it is more than that. If we take it a little step further, forgiveness should also include empathy, understanding and compassion towards those people who wronged us. I know that it sounds a bit much at this stage because these are more things that you should give the other person and you might not think that they deserve it, but what we want to attain from the process of forgiveness is overcoming negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance and replacing them with positive emotions and attitudes.
Have you noticed that forgiveness gets spoken about and encouraged in nearly all religions? From Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and even Ho’oponopono which is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. This is a very interesting topic and should you wish to do a bit of research on this topic, please let me know and I will send the information without hesitation.
Most of us has suffered slight or major grievances and as with most human traits, some people are naturally more forgiving than others. It is when anger and resentment festers over a period of time that it becomes a serious problem. It causes anxious feelings, drains our energy, attacks our immune systems, and tenses our body muscles more than we realise.
Before I go any further, I quickly want to tell you what forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgiveness is not forgetting
- Forgiveness is not excusing
- Forgiveness is not denying or overlooking the behaviour
- Forgiveness is not minimizing your hurt
- Forgiveness is not condoning
- Forgiveness is not permission for the other person to continue to hurt you
- Forgiveness is not pardoning or absolution
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation
- Forgiveness is not ignoring accountability
- Forgiveness is not the same as justice
The definition of forgiveness according to the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary reads as follows:
Forgive - Verb
- [transitive,intransitive] to stop feeling angry with someone who has done something to harm, annoy, or upset you; to stop feeling angry with yourself forgive somebody/yourself (for something/for doing something) I'll never forgive her for what she did. I'd never forgive myself if she heard the truth from someone else. forgive (something) I can't forgive that type of behaviour. We all have to learn to forgive. forgive somebody something She'd forgive him anything.
- [transitive]used to say in a polite way that you are sorry if what you are doing or saying seems rude or silly forgive me Forgive me, but I don't see that any of this concerns me. forgive me for doing something Forgive me for interrupting, but I really don't agree with that. forgive my … Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly does the company do? forgive my doing something Forgive my interrupting but I really don't agree with that.
- [transitive]forgive (somebody) something (formal) (of a bank, country, etc.) to say that someone does not need to pay back money that they have borrowed The government has agreed to forgive a large part of the debt.
Forgiveness is a voluntary process where you undergo change in feelings and attitude. It is an act of self-love, release and acceptance, without expecting restorative justice or any response on the part of the person who offended you. We often expect the other person to offer an apology or some form of acknowledgement that they have wronged you, but that is not always possible. You might not have thought about this before, but did you know that forgiveness holds benefits for you, your relationships and even holds benefits for your community? Here are a few examples of the benefits that forgiveness can hold for you:
- Forgiveness makes us happier
- Forgiveness makes us healthier
- Forgiveness boosts kindness and connectedness with others
- Forgiveness sustains relationships and are good in marriages
- Forgiveness strengthen spirituality
- Forgiveness creates a greater sense of hope
- Forgiveness creates a greater capacity for conflict management
- Forgiveness reduces anxiety
- Forgiveness serves as a vehicle to restoring relationships
- Forgiveness is seen as reducing negative affects and depressive symptoms
- Forgiveness protects our mental health
As with all mental health tools, forgiveness is a process where we prioritise the work that we need to do on ourselves. When we master these skills, it becomes timeless and beneficial in many aspects of our lives.
There are four key elements that you can take, should you be the person who have offended and hurt another. These four are:
- Responsibility – to take responsibility for your actions is the first step to self-forgiveness.
- Remorse – when you take responsibility for your actions, you open the door to fully process and express your feelings. Be aware of negative emotions and thoughts when going through this element.
- Restoration – this allows you to make the necessary amends to the person that you have hurt. Make an effective apology, which means that your apology needs to be sincere, offer an explanation for the act, express remorse or shame and involve some kind of reparation action.
- Renewal – when you have honestly, actively and genuinely participated in each element above, you have opened the door to meaningful behaviours and self-compassion.
Please take note that all these processes, elements, tools and steps takes time. They are not always linear (meaning that they do not always flow in a straight line) and it might be required from you to jump around between steps as you work through your process of forgiveness. I know that forgiveness (from the perspective of the person who was hurt) is not easy. Anger, tears, fear and many more emotions might come rolling through and I want to ask you to remember that you are not alone and that either myself or other therapists in your area are here to support and guide you whenever you need us.
When we work with forgiveness, the aim is to bring closure, peace and relief from suffering. The following are things that you can do at home to assist with the forgiving process (both for yourself and for somebody else):
- Understand: Understand that forgiveness is a process and might take a bit longer than what you anticipated. Take time to understand and become aware of the true emotional stress that you are experiencing.
- Commit to Forgiving: Make the decision and commit to focus on forgiving instead of focussing on the suffering and negative emotions.
- Accept: Accept the pain that you are suffering no matter how undeserved it is. This is not the same as condoning the actions of the other person.
- Express your Emotions: To focus on negative feelings are unhealthy and unproductive, but at the same time, it is necessary to articulate how you are feeling forwards others as well as towards yourself. Whether the feelings are anger, hurt or sadness, it is important to express these feelings on a deep level. Articulate it as best as you can, whether it be in your journal, a letter or even yelling out a window to release the frustration and hurt that you are experiencing.
- Understand Why: Our brains will usually search for an explanation of why things happened. You might never get to a satisfactory answer. Sometimes saying that it was an act of randomness might bring acceptance and maybe a bit of closure.
- Focus on what you Learnt: When we are angry, frustrated or hurt, we tend to focus on the negatives, but have you tried to consider focussing on what you have learnt out of the experience. What are the benefits that you gained through the transgressions? It might take a bit of time, but if you broaden your perspective, you might be surprised of what you have learnt.
- Cultivate Empathy: It has been shown that people who have been hurt will be more likely to forgive if they can sense the distress and remorse of the person who have wronged them. Honesty of actions, feelings and words plays a vital role here.
- Rebuild Safety: If a transgression has happened to you, it is important to feel safe again with the assurance that it will not happen again. If the transgressor offers an apology (as in the case of repeated abuse), it is important too remove yourself from the environment and reach out to loved ones to help with the transition.
- Encourage Contact: When we broaden our perspectives and understand the circumstances of the other person, it is likely that forgiveness will be easier. In this scenario you are opening yourself up to witnessing the humanity of the other person.
- Let Go: This is one of those difficult tasks. You need to commit not to seek revenge or foster a grudge. This means that (in a relationship/marriage) you need to refrain from referring to your partner’s discretions in the future.
- Practise Mindfulness: I have written about Mindfulness in one of my previous blogs and it is beneficial beyond comprehension. Mindful people are more aware of their feelings and are therefore more likely to forgive when it comes to transgressions.
- Seek Peace Not Justice: When we seek peace instead of justice, we focus on ourselves instead of the other person. The person who hurt you might never be “punished” for their indiscretions or behaviours, but instead of focusing on that hurt and revenge seeking thoughts, focus instead on your own peace and tranquillity.
It is in your hands. You have all the power if you have been wronged or hurt. It is up to you to decide how you carry yourself in the future and how you allow these situations and occurrences to influence and change you. It does, however, not give you the right to guilt-trip the other person. To assure equality within your relationship (especially in a marriage), you need to get down your high-chair by promising yourself that you will stop ruminating, dwelling and replaying the wrongful act or injustice that was done to you.
So, what happens if forgiveness is not an option at this stage? What if you are in a repetitive abusive relationship or your partner has betrayed your trust by having multiple affairs throughout your relationship? This is a bit different as the hurt is deep and the suffering is repetitive and ongoing. What do you do then? Acceptance comes into focus here.
- Express your Emotions: Recognise the magnitude of wrong that was done to you. Fully express your feelings that helps you to deeply understand the impact that the trauma had on you. Strive to understand your emotions, thoughts and other inner sensations, especially the more painful ones so that you can fully embrace them.
- Recognise your Need to Grow: It is quite often natural to want to retaliate and hurt back or take revenge, but these false sense of power that you wish to have can have harmful affects on your mental wellbeing and health. Purposely turn yourself away from retaliation and rather turn yourself towards self-understanding and to validating yourself for what you have gone through. Notice what you have learned about yourself, what you took from the situation and what you can use to empower, grow and strengthen yourself in the now and in the future.
- Reengage with Life: It is imperative to become aware and to stop any negative toxic thinking patterns as it only causes further distress and trauma. Rather think of people and activities that you can reengage with to become active in society again. Actively and with conscious awareness replace those toxic thoughts with enriching thoughts.
- Guard Yourself: Guard yourself, in particular your mind against further abuse. Here I want to you fully accept the wrongs that the other person has done to you. It is important to do this step as you are learning to distance yourself form such actions in the future. You choose to use the pain of your experiences as an asset that you learn from on how to better protect yourself from harm.
- Reframe and Challenge any False Assumptions: Reframe the actions that were taken against you so that the wrongful actions lie at the feet of the person who acted wrongly. Did this person experience similar situations and how did it affect them? This will give you another perspective and allow you to never take their behaviour personally.
- Decide: Carefully decide what kind of relationship you want with the person who wronged you. How will you relate to this person in the future? What kind or relationship makes sense to you under the circumstances that you find yourself in?
- Forgive Yourself: Have you had any role or contribution that you made that “allowed” the pain? Examine your actions, choices and approach that contributed to the circumstances. This is not about blaming yourself, but more about examining your own life, beliefs and actions. How did your past experiences prevent you from seeing that you deserved so much more?
At this stage you need to also consider the fact that you cannot control everything and that there is a need to let go. Forgiveness and acceptance are a way of setting yourself free. Stop yourself from holding on to the past and move into the future. Accept yourself with unconditional compassion and love yourself for who you are. Remember, you have the freedom of choice and you have the control of forgiveness and acceptance of yourself.
As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight. The first one is from Steve Maraboli who said, “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”, and this one from Khaled Hosseini who said, “I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”.
As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, Zoom Video Meetings, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible. I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time. Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health.
Thank you very much for reading my blog. I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere. Please send any feedback or comments to email@example.com and remember to have a look out for a new blog every second week.