The Power of Forgiveness
The ever-quotable Tyler Perry once said, “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” True forgiveness is difficult, and in some aspects, our society has warped the journey of forgiveness. Some people believe it makes you strong to be unrelenting, that giving in to the requests of others or forgiving those who have hurt or wronged you in some way makes you weak; in truth, however, it is the opposite.
The true value of forgiveness is in the strength that it bestows on the one who is letting go of the anger they hold inside of themselves. It is much more difficult to be vulnerable than it is to lock up your emotions.
Desmond Tutu, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for the opposition of apartheid in South Africa, once said that “Forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the window, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.”
When we hold onto anger, resentment or betrayal, we are closing ourselves off to so much good. Forgiveness is good for our souls in the way that fresh air is good for our lungs. Clinically, forgiveness is associated with many powerful health benefits. Lower heart rate and blood pressures, reduced fatigue, and improved sleep quality are just a few that psychologists and doctors have pointed out as benefits to letting go of past hurt.
There is an important difference, however, in saying ‘I forgive you,’ and truly forgiving a person, to letting go of the hurt, anger and resentment that were caused because of their actions. But how do we go about giving up a grudge and forgiving someone who has hurt or betrayed us—especially when it is human nature to obsess, pick apart and relive particularly hurtful memories?
Fred Luskin, the author of a book entitled Forgive For Good, tells his readers to rewrite their own story. Rather than victimizing yourself, make yourself a survivor, the hero of your own story. His advice is to follow a four-step plan:
Step 1: One, look deep inside yourself and find the true root of your anger. Look at the situation clinically, as though you are a third party simply listing details, so that you detach yourself from the original sentiments that could cloud the situation.
Step 2: Review your grievance story and reengineer it so that it empowers you, rather than brings you down. Notice the strengths you may have developed from the situation.
Step 3: Develop your capacity for empathy, both for yourself and for the person that has wronged you. You may not agree with them, you may even still be angry with them, but making yourself view things from their point of view will give you a different understanding of the situation. Everyone has the capacity to understand and forgive without accepting the situation.
Step 4: Create new associations with your story. Perhaps develop a ritual that signifies the closing of a chapter, where you can appreciate and experience love and support and welcome in the good without solely focusing on the bad.
Forgiveness is not easy, and that’s why it makes those who undertake it such warriors. Like with anything, the first step is always the hardest. You don’t have to begin by leaving the dank room, or even by completely pulling apart the curtains. There is no shame in starting small. Perhaps begin with just cracking the window; just think how nice the fresh air will be.