My challenges to you today are these: Your response of forgiveness now to the one who hurt you can set you free from a past influence that has been toxic. Try to measure your happiness by what you will do next (not by what is past). Your next move can be this–to love regardless of what others do to you.
When we forgive, all of the inner pain is not necessarily eliminated. Often the pain goes down to a manageable level so that the person can function well in life. Forgiveness is for imperfect people as the late Lewis Smedes used to say. Thus, forgiveness can work well but not necessarily lead to perfect results and this does not mean that the forgiveness process was unsuccessful. Getting emotional relief so that the pain or anger no longer dominates a person is a good outcome.
Displacement does the most damage because a person’s misery can be spread to many others across a lifetime. Repression may be the most damaging for the one who was hurt because the insights about what really happened may not easily emerge. The person treated unjustly may not even be aware of why he or she is so angry. Without the insight, there may be no forgiveness because there is no motivation to forgive. After all, if one cannot recall who was hurtful, there will be little progress in being motivated to forgive.
Forgiveness Is a Choice, by Dr. Robert D. Enright
You are correct that as a virtue, forgiveness needs to be for the other. Yet, it takes time to develop a motivation of goodwill toward someone who was cruel. There is nothing dishonorable about having, as one’s initial motivation, a desire for self-preservation. To use a physical analogy, if your knee is hurting, is it selfish to seek medical help? If our heart is broken, is it selfish to try to mend that broken heart? An initial focus on self that changes to a concern for the other is a typical pathway for growing in the virtue of forgiveness.
There is a difference between pain and unhealthy anger in which you hope that the other suffers. You say that you wish him well and this is an important part of the forgiveness process. Please keep in mind that within psychology we have a term called classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, over time we learn to associate certain people or situations with certain emotions. A mother upon holding her baby feels love. Classical conditioning links the sight or thought of the baby with love. In your case, you have linked the person with pain. You are classically conditioned to this link. As you try to associate this person who hurt you with wishing him well, a new link will forge—–seeing him and wishing him well. Be gentle with yourself on this. Classical conditioning links (such as pain and seeing the one who caused the pain) take time to dissolve.
Psychologists tell us that the thoughts and feelings of helplessness can devastate a person. When we think we are trapped with no way out, then we start to feel hopeless, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
Yes, you may not be able to do much about the current behavioral situation.
The actions in which you engage may be limited. This does not at all mean that your inner world is trapped with no way out. You can overcome the inner sense of helplessness by forgiving those who have contributed to your limited actions.
You are free inside to forgive, to reduce resentment, and even to cure this disease of resentment, which can be much worse than reduced behavioral options.
Am I being unrealistic? Put me to the test. Try to forgive and see how your inner world transforms.
And then never be trapped in that inner world ever again.
Let us distinguish between healthy and unhealthy anger. By healthy anger I mean the short-term feeling and expression of discontent over an injustice. We all get angry or sad or disrupted in some way when people are very unjust to us. Such healthy anger shows that we see ourselves as people who should be treated with respect. It is good first to allow yourself this period of experiencing healthy anger before you start the forgiveness process. In contrast, unhealthy anger is a deep feeling of resentment that does not easily go away. It disrupts one’s concentration and energy. You do not want to wait until the unhealthy anger fades because, quite frankly, if you were treated with great unfairness, then it is not likely to fade without going through the forgiveness process. In sum, first allow a period of healthy anger. Start forgiving to reduce or even eliminate unhealthy anger.
Monitor on Psychology, January 2017 – Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health. Period.
There is no longer any question, at least in the scientific community, that forgiveness can be and is good for you. Whether you’ve suffered a minor slight or a major grievance, researchers say, learning to forgive those who hurt you can significantly improve both psychological well-being and physical health.
“Forgiveness is a topic that’s psychological, social and biological,” according to Loren Toussaint, PhD, a professor of psychology at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. “It’s the true mind-body connection.”
An article in the January issue of Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, summarizes the current state of forgiveness research like this:
Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as with fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates.
Despite the proven benefits it provides, forgiveness can still be a difficult concept for some people to embrace. It can feel unfair to have to put in the effort to forgive when the other person was the one in the wrong.
Dr. Robert Enright, whom Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer“ because of his 30+ years of forgiveness research, agrees that life can be unfair.
Read the full article and learn more about the science of forgiveness, including Dr. Enright’s Process Model of Interpersonal Forgiving which is now being used around the world, at these links:
“Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health. Research shows how to get there.“ Monitor on Psychology, January 2017, Vol 48, No. 1
Dr. Enright’s research on forgiveness and forgiveness education; International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) website.
How to Forgive; Dr. Enright’s Process Model of Interpersonal Forgiveness, IFI website.
Why Forgive; The mental and physical benefits of forgiveness, IFI website.