Forgiveness is good for you. Psychologists define it as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness makes us happier and healthier, research shows. Forgiveness repairs and sustains relationships and boosts feelings of kindness and connectedness. It can even help heal the wounds of war.
Jack Kornfield tells the story of two people changed by radical forgiveness. A young man wanted to get into a gang. The initiation was to kill someone, so he shot a random innocent. He was arrested and convicted. At his sentencing, the mother of the boy he killed said to him “I’m gonna kill you.” A few months later, she visited him in jail, asking if he needed anything. Over the next years, she visited him, brought him supplies, and checked on how he was doing. When he was out of jail, she helped him find a job and gave him a room. “Remember what I said to you?” she asked him one evening. “I didn’t want there to be a boy like that, who could kill in cold blood.” She “killed” that boy. The one she was talking to now was a transformed person, as was she.
How do you forgive? Forgiveness is a decision, but it usually doesn’t happen in an instant. Beyond the first determination to forgive, there is inner work to be done. First, feel and articulate your emotions. Look for any benefits that may have come to you because of the transgression. Remind yourself that you are forgiving to give yourself peace, closure and release from suffering.
Your journal can be an ally in this process.
- Describe what happened;;tell your story.
- How did you feel at the time? How have you felt since?: How does it feel in your body? What label would you place on those sensations? (This list of emotions may help.)
- What benefits came to you because of the situation? (Have you learned something about yourself, gained insight about something, etc.?)
- Imagine you were the wrongdoer. What distress or remorse might you be feeling?
- What would it feel like to be free of this?
If you find yourself ruminating about the situation, it probably means you have more release work to be done. What do you need for this process to feel complete? Do you need to talk to a trusted friend? Have a ceremony where you burn the description of the event? Light a candle? Resist any scenarios that depend on anyone else’s actions.
“You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day,” writes William P young in The Shack, “but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.”
You know you have forgiven when you are able to look back on the situation and feel tender understanding for all those involved. Then, you can move on with your heart lighter and your soul restored.