‘Iranian woman Samereh Alinejad had told the The Associated Press that “retribution had been her only thought” after her teenage son was murdered. But in a dramatic turn at the gallows, literally moments before the killer had to be executed, Alinejad made a last-minute decision to pardon the man. She is now considered a hero’.
This story shared on here is just one of the many real-life incidents that talk of forgiveness. People go through difficult situations, cruel interactions, stuff that cannot even be fathomed, and yet from somewhere…God knows from where… find the energy to forgive.
And once they forgive, life moves on, anger melts down, tears dry and pain fades away. This is the power of forgiveness in healing relationships.
Forgiveness is an act of bravery. One It involves overcoming feelings of anger, resentment, or hurt towards someone who has wronged us. It requires us to confront our negative emotions and make a conscious decision to let go of them, even if the person who has caused the harm does not deserve forgiveness or has not apologized. Also, in situations where the harm caused is significant, such as in cases of abuse or betrayal, forgiving may include reliving traumatic memories and emotions, risking further hurt or disappointment by opening oneself up to the possibility of being hurt again. This makes it even more challenging to let go of the desire for revenge or justice.
However, choosing to forgive despite these risks and challenges can be seen as a courageous act that promotes personal growth and healing. ‘If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred’ says the Bhagwad Gita.
The Science of Forgiveness:
“In a study, where brain / neural correlates of forgiveness were examined for the first time using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), it was observed that there is a link between forgiveness and subjective relief, thus supporting its use in therapeutic settings as an aid for the promotion of mental health. Here, healthy participants were made to imagine situations that were emotionally hurtful. Some were asked to forgive and some were asked to create grudge / revengeful feelings towards the doer,” says article ‘How the brain heals emotional wounds: the functional neuroanatomy of forgiveness’ published on National Library of Medicine
It further explains that the subjects who granted forgiveness created activation of areas in brain that involved, empathy, regulation of affect through cognition, which comprised the precuneus, right inferior parietal regions, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. They could thus successfully manage their anger and frustration thereby creating emotionally positive states.
The Benefits of Forgiving in Relationship:
‘There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness…Josh Billings’. When you forgive, you surprise the other person with your magnanimity. It is not just letting go. It is like having the final word, leaving the other person speechless. And what happens then?
Healing. You open a plethora of doors for yourself. You can visibly see a downfall in ailments like depression, anxiety, anger, pain, the temptation to argue or over explain, any pains / aches, cardio vascular diseases, wheezing etc.
Moreover, since the minute we forgive, we put a closure to the entire event, the mind knows that now its time to move on and look at other things. This helps in better focus and delivery towards important tasks, clarity and confidence in life. To explain this metaphorically, it is almost like spring after harsh winters. There is colour, there is life and beauty. In short, there is happiness.
Forgiveness can be a challenging process, and there are several obstacles that individuals may face when trying to forgive someone who has wronged them:
Emotional pain: Forgiveness involves facing the emotional pain caused by the wrongdoing. This can be difficult and may involve revisiting traumatic memories or emotions that were previously repressed.
Resentment: Feelings of anger and resentment towards the person who caused the harm can make it challenging to let go of negative emotions and forgive.
Lack of remorse: Forgiving someone who isn’t sorry is or does not acknowledge the harm they caused, can be difficult. In such a situation, even if you are able to not be revengeful, it would be good for a start.
Fear of vulnerability: Forgiving someone involves being vulnerable and opening oneself up to the possibility of being hurt again. This can be scary and may prevent individuals from forgiving.
Reconciliation versus forgiveness: Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. While forgiveness involves letting go of negative emotions towards the person who caused harm, it does not necessarily require reconciling or continuing the relationship with that person. This can be challenging to navigate in some cases.
Societal pressure: Society may put pressure on individuals to forgive quickly or to forgive without considering their own emotional needs and healing process.
Self-forgiveness: Forgiving oneself for mistakes or wrongdoings can be challenging and may involve feelings of shame, guilt / repentance or self-blame.
Step 1 - Acceptance. This is being completely aware of exactly how a situation is, and not focussing on why or how is should be some other way (resistance). This keeps us mindful of what is happening and helps the mind focus towards the possible solutions, not the problem.
For example, your feel partner is fighting with you everyday, and each time, you end up telling them how bad they are because they pick up a fight daily. To accept, you just need to acknowledge that there is a regular fight happening, without judging the other person.
Step 2 – Change the perspective. What we mostly see in a situation is just one side of the coin, the side that is affecting us the most. Thus, we miss seeing the other sides. Even for a heinous act like murder, people who chose to forgive, were able to see the other sides and reach a place where they could forgive.
Example – Rather than just seeing that your partner is picking up fights, you look at the other sides. What is the trigger, what is the mental state, what is your reaction etc.
Step 3 – Take responsibility and let go of resentment. For all that you have done or should do in the situation, understand that you are responsible for feeling the way you are feeling, in a particular situation. If you feel that an emotion, or behaving in a particular manner is harmful, recognize that, and bring about a change. Only looking at the other person’s actions and holding onto resentment or a desire for revenge can prevent you from forgiving. Try to let go of these negative emotions and focus on finding peace.
Example – When your partner is fighting with you, and you have been able to identify the triggers and associated behaviours, now also check how are you adding on to that. Accordingly, you can take measures for bringing about the changes.
Step 4 – Take lesson. While you have accepted the situation, analysed and understood it, it is essential to keep in mind all that can go wrong, and what are the steps to be taken for it to not be repeated.
Example – You understand your partner’s triggers and behaviour, you have accepted the situation too. Now plan all the healthy preventive measures that are to be taken for the situation to not repeat. Save yourself from further hurt.
Step 5 – Forgive. By the time you reach step 4, you would have quite reached a win-win state. All that remains now, is to not harbour any ill feelings towards the other person for all the damage that has been done. Hence forgive.
Example – Close your eyes, establish a connect with your partner, and tell them (as well as yourself) ‘I forgive you’ You can top it up with asking for forgiveness or thanking them if you feel like.
Step 6 - Take care of yourself. Forgiveness is a personal process, and it's important to take care of yourself and your own emotional needs. Have empathy, engage in self-care activities, seek support from friends or a therapist, and be patient with yourself as you work through the process of forgiveness.
In the example that we have discussed, once the person forgives, they come closer to a calm state of mind, not holding on to grudges anymore thereby not reaching a tit for tat state when something else happens. New situation is dealt with, in new perspective and not with any past baggage.
Forgiveness is a personal and complex process, and different practices may work better for different individuals. It may take time and effort to work through difficult emotions and find a path towards forgiveness, but with patience and self-compassion, it is possible to find peace and healing.
Loving-kindness meditation: Loving-kindness meditation involves cultivating feelings of love and compassion towards oneself and others. This practice can help to increase empathy and understanding, and promote feelings of forgiveness.
Gratitude practice: Gratitude practice involves being thankful for the things that you have in your life. By focusing on positive aspects of your life, you may be able to shift your perspective and reduce negative emotions that may be hindering forgiveness. Knowing that there is so much to be thankful for, also helps build resilience in a person.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a mindfulness practice that involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By learning to regulate emotions and reduce stress, individuals may be better able to engage in forgiveness.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. By identifying and changing negative thought patterns related to forgiveness, individuals may be able to reduce negative emotions and increase empathy and forgiveness.
Ho'oponopono: is a traditional Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The word "ho'oponopono" means "to make things right" or "to correct the errors". This practice is often used to heal relationships and resolve conflicts. It involves taking responsibility for one's own actions and emotions, and acknowledging the role that one's own thoughts and beliefs may have played in the situation. By practicing ho'oponopono, individuals can work towards forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.
Compassion-focused therapy: Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a type of therapy that focuses on cultivating feelings of compassion towards oneself and others. This practice can help to increase empathy and understanding, and promote forgiveness.
“Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace” Jonathan Huie.
While forgiving understand that forgiveness is a personal and complex process, and there is no one "right" way to forgive. Different techniques may work differently for different people. It may take time and effort to work through challenging emotions and find a path towards forgiveness, but with patience and self-compassion, it is possible to find peace and healing.