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The Benefits & Challenges of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a tough subject. Some of us navigate it fairly well, but most of us have a contentious relationship with the act of forgiving. I think part of the challenge of forgiving is due partially to misunderstanding what forgiveness really is and how it can benefit us.

What are the Benefits of Forgiveness?

  1. Forgiveness frees us from the bitterness of holding on to anger or a grudge that keeps us from positively viewing others, relationships and the world around us. The Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” When we forgive someone, we can take that energy and direct it back towards our own life. We can restore more positive thinking and a better state of mind.
  2. Forgiveness brings about improved physical health. Studies have repeatedly shown that forgiveness correlates to decreased heart rate, blood pressure, depressive symptoms, fatigue, somatic complaints and stress and that it improves sleep. It also correlates to a stronger spirituality.
  3. Forgiveness frees us from anger so we can see what part, if any, we have in the situation we are upset about. Oftentimes, even though we’ve been wronged by another, when we step back from our anger towards that person, we come to realize that we, too, had a part in the situation. At that point, we have an opportunity to grow and learn more about ourselves.  We don’t always have a hard to play in the circumstance, but it’s good to know if we do.
  4. I'm SorryWhat Forgiveness is Not

    1. It’s not forgetting.
    2. It’s not condoning.
    3. It’s not a weakness.
    4. It’s not easy.

    One important thing to remember is that you are not condoning the actions that harmed you and forgiving doesn’t mean you will forget what harm was done to you. Trust is naturally broken or damaged when someone hurts us or betrays us and trust takes time and changed behaviors are necessary to restore that trust. In other words, you can forgive, but not forget and not condone. It is important to keep healthy boundaries in place because sometimes it’s important to protect yourself from repeated harm if that person shows no signs of change or remorse. In some cases, the harm done to you may be severe or repetitive enough that you choose to forgive, but not to re-engage and not have a relationship with that person. Forgiveness requires an internal change of heart but doesn’t always equate to a continuing relationship. But, forgiveness is much more than saying, “I forgive you” since it requires us to take a real inventory of any negativity, grudge or anger we’re carrying around and then take steps towards removing them to make way for a more positive way of relating with self and others.

    Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her.  Office hours are Monday through Thursday 10:00 am through 6:00 pm.