Forgiveness is an important skill to master. Knowing when and how to forgive people who are not good to you will help you manage stress in your life and improve your relationships overall.
Forgiveness is a learned skill that takes practice. Don’t expect to be good at it right away. Forgive yourself if you goof up while learning to improve your skill, because it is not the easiest skill to master.
One useful definition of forgiveness is that it is “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
Forgiving someone does not mean offering excuses for their behavior. When you think of the phrase “forgive and forget,” remember that forgetting is not part of forgiving. When you forgive someone, you are not saying that they didn’t do anything wrong. On the contrary, they will have to work to rebuild your trust that they won’t repeat that wrong.
Just as forgiveness isn’t about forgetting the wrong, it’s also not about punishing the wrongdoer. Resentment and retaliation are not part of forgiveness.
Research has shown numerous psychological and social benefits of practicing forgiveness:
- improved sense of mental wellbeing
- reduction in negative affect
- feeling positive emotions
- positive relations with others
- spiritual growth
- a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and
- greater sense of empowerment.
Robert Enright has identified a Process Model of Forgiveness that involves four phases. Forgiveness begins with identifying that you have been wronged and understanding how this has affected you. Enright calls this the Uncovering Phase. The second phase, Decision, means actively committing to forgiving the offending person.
Commitment is followed by the Work Phase. You try to understand the offender and view him or her differently. This is a reframing or rethinking of the offensive situation. The final phase is Deepening, when you discover that forgiveness has released you from negative emotions.
How to improve your forgiveness skills? Begin with Uncovering. In addition to the obvious facts to think about, try to figure out how NOT forgiving the offending person is affecting you. Perhaps you are angry. When you Decide to forgive, you may come to realize that forgiveness isn’t a favor you are doing for someone else, it’s actually something you are doing to improve the quality of your own life.
In the Work phase, think about the offensive event from a different perspective. Often you will see the people who bully have been bullied, or people who say mean things have heard those things said to themselves. Think about standing in the other person’s shoes. You will be working to develop compassion and empathy. The other person is a human just like you, not someone evil.
In the Deepening phase, you will be able to release your negative emotions about the situation. You can take a positive action by doing something nice for the person who wronged you. When you are good to somebody else, you receive more benefits than you are giving.
The world needs a lot more forgiveness. Let’s all work on our forgiveness skills.