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.
400…….since February, 2011…..six years and counting.
Over that time, here are 7 impressions which I have formed about the world of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is not one more light entertainment in a world that is constantly screaming at you for attention. In today’s frenetic world of marketing, unless there is a ton of adrenaline released by the recipient in response to any new marketing strategy, then that recipient might turn away. This new attention-getting device—-increase adrenaline of the hearer—-will not work with forgiveness. Why? Because forgiveness takes place in the context of the wounded heart. Wounded people usually do not seek the adrenaline high but instead the quiet encouragement and love that will help them to heal. Forgiveness is at odds with the whirlwind, adrenaline-pumping world.
- Related to point 1, we are easily distracted by the next “big thing.” The early 21st century is not a time of quiet persistence, but instead a time of flinging oneself from one interesting idea to another. A steady diet of one food is boring……..and so people come into the forgiveness arena, only to leave way too soon to follow the call of something new and shiny and exciting. Forgiveness is at odds with the shiny as it is more at home with the strong will, the daily persistence in offering compassion to those who have had no compassion on the forgiver.
- Forgiveness is a hard sell in contemporary education because,quite frankly, too many school systems have way too many requirements, sometimes taught too superficially just to get it all in, and so when an innovation such as forgiveness comes calling, there is not room for this innovation…….which can change lives.
- Forgiveness can help each of us to leave a legacy of love rather than a legacy of anger and bitterness in this world. Few realize this and so when they die, their anger lives on. Being aware of this can reverse a family tradition of bitterness.
- Anti-bullying programs need forgiveness therapy and it is very much off the radar of too many educators. Anti-bullying programs too often focus on bullying behavior (let us punish bullying; let us set up norms against bullying behaviors; let us try to discourage bullying; let us ask peers to help stop the bullying). Yet, conspicuously missing is a focus on the broken heart of those who bully. Give them a chance to forgive those who have broken their hearts and their motivation to bully melts away.
- Still, too often people mistake forgiveness for what it is not. To forgive is to move on from a hurtful situation, some say. You can move on with indifference or even annoyance in one’s heart. To forgive is to be more deliberately active in trying to be good to those who are not good to you.
- In the final analysis, helping students learn how to forgive may be one of the most important new developments on the planet. We need to awaken a world that is still a bit too sleepy to understand this. We sleep through this idea to the detriment of our young people…….who may grow up not knowing how to deal with cruelty……and that is not in their best interest.
LONG LIVE FORGIVENESS!
We need forgiveness education……**now.**