forgivPsychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky calls forgiveness “a shift in thinking” toward someone who has wronged you, “such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.” Forgiveness, at a minimum, is a decision to let go of the desire for revenge and ill-will toward the person who wronged you. It may also include feelings of goodwill toward the other person. Forgiveness is also a natural resolution of the grief process, which is the necessary acknowledgment of pain and loss.

The process of forgiveness can be a liberating experience. Interestingly, forgiveness can only occur because we have been given the gift of the ability to make choices. We have the choice to forgive or not to forgive and no one can force us to do either. Conversely, if we want to forgive someone no one can stop us no matter how poorly they may act. This ability to forgive is a manifestation of the personal control we have over our lives. It is nice to reflect upon and feel the respect that we have been given to be able to make such profound choices.

What forgiveness is not?
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is one person’s inner response to another’s perceived injustice. Reconciliation is two people coming together in mutual respect. Reconciliation requires both parties working together. Forgiveness is something that is entirely up to you. Although reconciliation may follow forgiveness, it is possible to forgive without re-establishing or continuing the relationship.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. “Forgive and forget” seem to go together. However, the process of forgiving involves acknowledging to yourself the wrong that was done to you, reflecting on it, and deciding how you want to think about it. Focusing on forgetting a wrong might lead to denying or suppressing feelings about it, which is not the same as forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not justice. It is certainly easier to forgive someone who sincerely apologizes and makes amends. However, justice—which may include acknowledgment of the wrong, apologies, punishment, restitution, or compensation—is separate from forgiveness.

Benefits of forgiving:
Experts say that forgiving those who have wronged us helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. One study found that forgiveness is associated with improved sleep quality, which has a strong effect on health. And Duke University researchers report a strong correlation between forgiveness and strengthened immunity among HIV-positive patients. The benefits aren’t just limited to the physical, either: Letting go of old grudges reduces levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive tend to have better relationships, feel happier and more optimistic, and overall, and enjoy better psychological well-being.

 

Maryam Riaz
Clinical Psychologist
Willing Ways, Islamabad

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