At some point, we’ve all been wronged. Perhaps you were in an abusive relationship or a friend turned her back on you, and you’ve carried bitterness and resentment with you ever since. You likely had no choice in what happened to you, but here’s the good news: you do have a choice in how you react to this adversity and how you will live the rest of your life. Is it time to release the heavy burdens of anger and bitterness that have weighed you down for so long?
Before continuing, let’s clarify what forgiveness is not. To forgive is not to excuse, justify, pardon or condone what someone else did. Furthermore, forgiveness does not mean that you reconcile with this person or that you invite him or her back into your life. The purpose of forgiveness is to free yourself from the negative thoughts and emotions that so often accompany a grudge. Indeed, a great deal of research suggests that there are negative consequences for those who find it difficult to forgive.
A lack of forgiveness is often accompanied by resentment, which is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, people who are less forgiving are more likely to be hateful, angry and neurotic. On the other hand, forgiving people are more likely to be happy and physically healthy.
However, such benefits can take time. One study demonstrated that emotionally abused women who participated in forgiveness therapy experienced greater self-esteem and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety, compared to people in standard therapy. Notably, these women were in forgiveness therapy once a week for eight months, on average.
True forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things you ever do. But, through hard work and perseverance, the benefits are more than worth it. Here are two recommendations for how to begin this process:
Remember when you were forgiven. If you are having trouble forgiving someone, recall a time where you were in the opposite situation—a time when someone else was hesitant to forgive you. Put yourself in the shoes of this person. Why did she forgive you? Did you deserve it? What would your life be like if she never did? What would her life be like if she still held a grudge against you? Remember that one day you may need to be forgiven again, and someone else will be in the same position you are in now. If you would hope to be forgiven, it’s right to do the same for others.
Write a letter.You may not feel comfortable directly contacting the person who wronged you, and that’s okay. Nonetheless, you may benefit greatly from writing a letter detailing what happened, how you felt about it, and what you wish he or she would have done instead. Finally, do your best to express forgiveness and understanding toward that person. Think carefully about whether you should actually send the letter — when in doubt, wait a while longer.
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