Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don't understand the different between trust and forgiveness: (Warren, 2003). Bitterness is more than a negative outlook on life; It is a destructive and self-destructive power. Like a dangerous mold or spore, it thrives in the dark recesses of the heart and feeds on every new thought of spite or hatred that comes our way. (Johann Arnold, Why Forgive)
Forgiveness is letting go of the past
Trust has to do with future behaviour
It is important to realise that the person always affected by unforgiveness is the victim. Forgiveness is giving up:
- Feelings of bitterness and resentment towards a person who has hurt us
- Any desire for revenge or any desire to harm that person
It does not mean:
- Pretending that the incident didn't happen
- Trivialising the hurt
- Making excuses for what happened
- Ignoring the need for justice
- Needing to continue any relationship with the person
To learn how to forgive, you must first learn what forgiveness is not. Most of us hold at least some misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are some things that forgiving someone doesn't mean:
- Forgiveness doesn't mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person's actions.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean you need to tell the person that he or she is forgiven.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean you shouldn't have any more feelings about the situation.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean you should forget the incident ever happened.
- Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
- ... and forgiveness isn't something you do for the other person.
It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder,
because the latter may be all impulse of a moment of heat,
whereas the former is a cold and deliberate
By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process—and it doesn't necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness isn't something you do for the person who wronged you; it's something you do for you.
There are several reasons:
- You're filled with thoughts of retribution or revenge;
- You enjoy feeling superior;
- You don't know how to resolve the situation;
- You're addicted to the adrenaline that anger provides;
- You self-identify as a "victim"; or
- You're afraid that by forgiving you have to re-connect—or lose your connection—with the other person.
These reasons not to forgive can be resolved by becoming more familiar with yourself, with your thoughts and feelings, and with your boundaries and needs.
The consequences of not forgiving
Adapted from ‘Anger is A Choice" Tim LaHaye
Ulcerative Colitis, toxic goitres and high blood pressure are only a few of the scores of diseases caused by bitterness. Our resentments call forth certain hormones from the pituitary, adrenal, thyroid and other glands. Excesses of these hormones can cause diseases in any part of the body.
Refusing to forgive results in physical fatigue and loss of sleep. We may try to hide our resentments, but soon they will also be etched into our eyes and facial muscles as permanent reﬂections of our inward feelings. (See None of these Diseases. SJ. McMiIIen, Spire Books, 1968, pgs. 69- 72)
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses."
(Matthew 6: 14-15.KJV)
Depression is one of the most significant consequences of refusing to forgive the people who wrong us. It requires emotional energy to maintain a grudge. Just as we become weary when our physical energy is exhausted, so we become depressed when our emotional energy is exhausted.
A medical doctor illustrated the mental consequences of holding resentment with this description:
“The moment l start hating a man, i become his slave. l cannot enjoy my work anymore because he controls my thoughts. My resentment produces too many stress hormones in my body and l become fatigued after only a few hours of work. The work l formerly enjoyed is now drudgery. Even holidays cease to give me pleasure ...l cannot escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind."
“When the waiter serves me ﬁllet steak it might as well be stale bread and water. My teeth chew the food, and I swallow it, but the man l hate will not permit me to enjoy the taste."
4 Steps to forgive
(Andrea Brandt, Mindful Anger)
“No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career
— something will inevitably ruin it.”
If you decide you are willing to forgive, find a good place and time to be alone with your thoughts. Then, try following these four steps to forgive even when it feels impossible:
- Think about the incident that angered you. Accept that it happened. Accept how you felt about it and how it made you react. In order to forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected.
- Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. What did it make you learn about yourself, or about your needs and boundaries? Not only did you survive the incident, perhaps you grew from it.
- Now think about the other person. He or she is flawed because all human beings are flawed. He or she acted from limited beliefs and a skewed frame of reference because sometimes we all act from our limited beliefs and skewed frames of reference. When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think this need was and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way?
- Finally, decide whether or not you want to tell the other person that you have forgiven him or her. If you decide not to express forgiveness directly, then do it on your own. Say the words, "I forgive you," aloud and then add as much explanation as you feel is merited.
When you look at the things you want to change in yourself, your history and lifescript there will be many people, and situations you need to forgive
Preparing for asking for forgiveness
- Accept responsibility for what you did
- Show genuine regret - and wherever possible, make an appropriate apology directly to those we have hurt
- Do whatever is practical to make amends for the harm done