Habit 4: forgiveness for daily happiness and a peaceful mind
Do you recall a time someone hurt or offended you? Maybe you’re going through this right now, or there’s a hurt that’s been with you from way back.
We need people for joy and friendship, but ironically people cause the most pain.
In my life, my cats don’t offend me or put a dent in my confidence. The dog up the road greets me with enthusiasm on my walks. The main source of stress for me has been with other people. These people have been minimal and i’m grateful for the people in my life. I’m sure there are more kind people than not and most people don’t aim to hurt us, but some do and this is what I’m talking about today.
When we’re hurt by another person, there’s a scale of offence from small and annoying to severe where deep pain and resentment reside. Hate seems to be the end result of a long brew where the pot over-boils. This is the end point I hope we don’t get to because this slows down our happiness and progress. Hate stagnates us. Freedom releases us.
But how do we deal with being betrayed, wronged, shamed or offended ?
The solutions to recovery after someone hurts you are for you, not them (but they might learn something).
To overcome hurt, we need to understand what forgiving really means. The goal isn’t to excuse what they did to you. You may even decide to end a relationship or not to engage with them anymore.
The end goal of forgiving is your joy, recovery, freedom, and success
I recall a time where I became consumed with a person and what they did.
After wasting hours and weeks ruminating on events, I realized I was offending myself.
I also discovered my thoughts were distracting and I wasn’t present with my family. I was robbing myself of joy.
I decided to learn about the power of forgiving. Not for them but for me. Well, yes for them too because I realized sometimes people hurt others because they have pain themselves. This thought helped me direct my focus to better things.
I needed to break free.
What does forgiveness really mean?
First of all, let’s look at what forgiveness is not. Even the word forgiveness made me cranky. Why should this person get away with what they’ve done? But after some reading, I discovered this isn’t what we are doing when we forgive.
What forgiveness does not mean
- Accepting what they did. If the action was hurtful, abusive or demeaning and we accept what they did as ok, this could be going against our boundaries as a person of worth. It could also mean we are avoiding the issue, or our self esteem has been affected.
- Reconciliation. If the offense is minor and from a person we love, restoring the relationship and understanding the problem will be worth it. Conversely, if the hurt is severe and destructive, we may choose to stay away from the person.
- Letting them off the hook. If the offense is illegal or unethical, there may be ramifications to the person, beyond what you do. Society has rules for a reason so we can all live peacefully.
Here are a couple of definitions of forgiveness from reputable sources.
Here the authors define forgiveness as 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” 
Here, the author defines forgiveness as an “individual, voluntary internal process of letting go of feelings and thoughts of resentment, bitterness, anger, and the need for vengeance and retribution toward someone who we believe has wronged us, including ourselves”
In 2015, a research project looked at two types of forgiveness; decisional and emotional forgiveness and how these allow us to forgive and forget.
The researchers define forgiveness as thinking less negatively about the offender.
Notice here this isn’t letting the offender off the hook. It is loosening the link you have to that person. This is done by thinking less about the negative characteristics of them and what they did.
The study found that how we forgive impacts how we forget.
they mention there are three options we have in forgiving someone after they hurt us:
- Decide not to forgive
- Remain unsure about forgiving
- Decide to forgive
The researchers found when people just decided to forgive, but their emotions didn’t line up with the decision, the effects were similar to not forgiving at all. But they suggest after we make that decision to forgive, our emotions can catch up with the decision so we are released from negative thoughts about the person who hurt us.
How forgiveness benefits you
This decision to forgive really brings the benefits to us, not the offender. Although, when a person offends you and they see you being firm but not vengeful, this could be a lesson for them in strength and maturity. But it may not, and that’s beyond our control.
We can find a way to do what helps ourselves, despite what they choose to do. This person who hurt you may never know you have chosen to forgive, but this choice is for you. Your joy, freedom and success.
So what are the benefits of choosing to forgive?
- We are less mentally engaged with the person who hurt us. This isn’t forgetting, but being cut free from the tie of resentment.
- We ruminate less over what they did.
- We have less physiological arousal and stress. Hence, we are healthier.
- Our relationships are better with people we love because our thoughts are free to notice, focus on and love them fully. For example, if you are home with your family after work but thinking about that rude colleague at work who lied to gain a promotion, you could miss the stories your kids tell or the hugs they ask for.
- We learn from the offense. We are able to remember the event as a way to set boundaries. I’m not talking about horrific offenses here. More the niggly ones that pester you.
- We are better able to take the perspective of the person who hurt us if we are not filled with anger. Again, I’m not talking about crimes and abuse here. In more severe cases, trying to understand the offender may not be helpful.
- We become more understanding of other people who are damaged and hurt because we’ve been hurt ourselves. This empathetic understanding shows we are decent people who care about other humans.
- We become the stronger person. It’s easier to resent, yell, avenge and hurt. For you to choose forgiveness for your health and the wellbeing of the people you love takes strength and courage.
Questions to ponder to help you forgive
- What did you see? What happened? Acknowledge it as real.
- What is their problem? How might they be hurting? Are they unwell?
- What did I learn about myself and my strengths?
- What will I allow or tolerate? In other words, what are my boundaries?
- What are the benefits to me if I choose to untether myself from this person and forgive? The benefits to me, my family, my joy, my success?
- What did I learn about my pain and how can I be kind to myself?
We need people, but relationships are challenging and there is a role for acknowledging you are hurt. Forgiveness releases you from that person. It is not forgetting, excusing or allowing but choosing to expand the distance between you and the one who hurt you.
What are the benefits to you when you choose to release yourself from the distress of being hurt?
 Ref 1 Lichtenfeld S, Buechner VL, Maier MA, Fernández-Capo M (2015) Forgive and Forget: Differences between Decisional and Emotional Forgiveness. PLOS ONE 10(5): e0125561. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0125561
 https://positivepsychology.com/forgiveness/ and https://positivepsychology.com/forgiveness-benefits/