Forgiveness is something that we may or may not believe is
the right thing to do regardless of what has been done to us. It is often seen
as a time where we let someone off for what they have done, maybe because of
family pressure; perhaps it is a parent you are struggling to forgive? This
often causes a problem within the family, creating a sort of societal pressure
to forgive as it is the ‘right thing to do’ or to reduce conflict.
But does forgiveness mean letting somebody off the hook for
their actions? Or, can we get a sense of self-healing and closure from
Even the thought of attempting to forgive somebody who has
done you wrong can be difficult. This is especially so, if the person isn’t
sorry for their actions. Yet, forgiveness can be a healing process, allowing
you to let go of feelings and thoughts around an event that may have been
holding you back. You might not have thought of forgiveness as a way of
self-healing, maybe you see it as the wrongdoer getting away with what they
have done to you or someone close and that’s a very common feeling. If a wrongdoer
has done something that has impacted you so greatly, then why should they be
allowed to get away with it? Holding onto such feelings can have a negative
impact on your mental health and everyday life.
Feelings of hurt relating to disloyalty, brutality and
betrayal can take a long time to recover from and it is not a process that
happens overnight. Your relationship to the person who has hurt you can also
impact the length of time it takes you to heal. This is very much linked to
your ability and willingness to forgive. Forgiveness is a process that will
take time but will ultimately help you to move forward, reduce the negative
impact on your mental health and keep your everyday life positive.
Forgiving the wrongdoer is not about condoning or excusing
their behaviour. It’s not even about forgetting what they’ve done. Forgiveness
is a process through which you can move on from what has been holding you back
and continue enjoying your everyday life, without that negativity dragging you
down. Forgiveness is also not something that should be considered as submissive
and does not make you a weak person. It is about identifying how the wrongdoer
has hurt you and getting to a point where you can forgive that person for those
Self-forgiveness is also important though. Often, people
don’t or won’t forgive themselves for things that have happened to them, they
may think they have, ‘let it happen’ or that they, ‘deserved it’. You might
also find this if you feel you have done something that you cannot forgive
yourself for. Sometimes, self-forgiveness has been linked with causing negative
emotions or being narcissistic if you were to decide it as appropriate when those
around you don’t show you the forgiveness you’re looking for.
However, research has also shown that self-forgiveness can
have a positive impact on mental health. It helps to reduce any feelings of
shame or self-punishment over what has happened, without ignoring or excusing
it. Forgiveness is important for everyone’s mental wellbeing and allows us to
move forward from negative emotions and associations to any wrongdoers.
Forgiving is not forgetting.
Peterson S, Van Tongeren, D, Womack,
S, Hook, J, Davis, D and Griffin, B. (2017) ‘The benefits of self-forgiveness
on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research’, The Journal of Positive Psychology,
Freedman, S and Zarifkar, T.
(2016) ‘The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness and Guidelines for
Forgiveness Therapy: What Therapists Need to Know to Help Their Clients Forgive’,
Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 3:1,