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Forgiveness - A Complex Process


Forgiveness is good for you. It's good for your soul, it's good for your personal relationships, it's good for your mental health, and it's even good for your body.  Studies have shown that holding grudges can have serious impacts upon your physical health. Not for nothing do people speak of being 'weighed down' by grudges, or of a 'burden being lifted' from their shoulders when they manage to forgive someone. Forgiving causes an enormous release of mental tension which makes itself felt in the body as much as the mind - those who are capable of forgiving others generally suffer less from anxiety, are less at risk from depression, and even tend to be physically fitter. Not to mention the fact that more forgiving people are generally looked upon more favorably in society than grudge-holders. Forgiving is, therefore, a good thing to do. However, this does not mean that it's easy. People are often encouraged to forgive, and may feel guilty when they are unable to do so. It is worth remembering that forgiveness is a complex and often very lengthy process, which may require some emotional gymnastics. For forgiveness to be true and meaningful, you should be prepared for it to follow an unpredictable course, and open to the fact that it may take some time.


Personal Growth

It is when we are challenged that we discover who we truly are. Often, we need challenging situations in order to develop new ways of understanding ourselves and others, and to grow as humans.  It has been suggested that, rather than looking at times when we are hurt by others as dreadful, dark occasions in our lives, we should instead view them as opportunities for personal growth. As such, the emotional processing of a grievance is an important process which needs to be respected and allowed to proceed at its own pace. Letting go of and accepting hurts and slights may be laudable, but it's worth noting that every action must have a reaction, and this is as true for human interactions as it is for anything else. Rather than feeling like a selfish and vindictive person for bearing negative feelings towards someone who has hurt you, understand that this is a completely natural reaction. It is what you do with these feelings which makes the difference. If someone has hurt you, that hurt should be acknowledged. Hurting them back in a retributory manner is certainly not a good way to deal with this situation, but respecting and acknowledging the effect of their actions can be an important (and empowering!) part of the forgiveness process. Not to do so is to diminish your own part in this, and to diminish your own part and power makes it harder for you to believe in your power to forgive.

A Long, Hard Road

Forgiveness can be very, very difficult, and may need a lot of working at. But it's well worth seeing the process through. To 'forgive' without really feeling it can be counterproductive - the feelings will still simmer beneath the surface, and are liable to erupt in the future. Instead, make a commitment to forgiving the object of your grievance, and accept that said forgiveness may be a work in progress for some time. During that time, you may feel that your grudge is getting worse. This is often just a symptom of emotions working their way to the surface of your psyche in order to be fully experienced and thus processed. It's not pleasant, but as long as you keep a firm grasp of your commitment to forgive, then it is, ultimately, healing. Communication can help. Understanding and empathising with the person who hurt you may speed the forgiveness process enormously. An apology certainly helps, but only if it is accepted in a magnanimous and respectful rather than triumphant and crowing manner. All in all, forgiveness is well worth doing - but it's also worth acknowledging that it can be a long, complex, unpredictable, and sometimes painful process. If you can ride it out, however, and achieve full forgiveness, then you will reap great rewards!

Mel Stevens


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