Brian Wingfield, LMFT
The beginning of the year can be a time to reflect on forgiveness. The focus here is on the benefits of forgiveness, which includes both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. A key point to remember is that while forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, they are two separate and distinct things. Therefore, it is possible to have forgiveness without reconciliation. It takes just one person for forgiveness so it can be done alone, but there has to be at least two willing people for reconciliation. Forgiveness is an inward; private action and reconciliation is outward; public. In some circumstances it might not even be appropriate or healthy to make an attempt at reconciliation. For example, step nine in AA tells us not to make an attempt at reconciliation if doing so would potentially cause harm (and that would include us). Forgiveness is an intentional choice we can make, but it does not mean forgetting the wrong that was done or condoning it. Forgiveness is deliberately letting go of the negative feelings (which might also include guilt and shame).
Multiple health benefits can occur when we forgive. Studies indicate forgiveness can lower blood pressure and heart rate. It can also increase the quality of sleep and reduce the levels of anxiety and depression. Forgiving others can also make it easier for us to forgive ourselves. Forgiving allows us to get out of the so-called “victim mode.” Forgiving frees us to take back power instead of giving up power to others by continuing to invest energy and emotion towards the unforgiven. Refusing to forgive and holding on to the negative feelings will not change what happened in the past, but it can make our present much more difficult. Forgiveness is for us and is not necessarily about the other person(s).
Here are some suggestions for how to forgive. Remind ourselves that holding on to the negative feelings can be destructive. Make the intentional choice to focus on the benefits of letting go of negative thoughts/feelings. Separate the wrong action from our identity. The wrong action/mistake does not define us. Mistakes can be learning experiences. It is our choice in how we choose to respond. We must remind ourselves that we are worthy of forgiveness and everyone of us has made mistakes in the past and we will continue to make them in the future. If this is an issue you are currently struggling with, please contact Samaritan Center at 432-563-4144 for professional help.