Why Forgiveness is Difficult Yet Essential: Understanding, Managing, and Achieving Forgiveness

Introduction

In the journey of life, we encounter various circumstances that expose us to harm. From mundane situations like being jostled in the subway, to more complex ones like betrayal, abuse, or rejection, the spectrum of potential wounds is vast. Even those closest to us, such as parents, can consciously or unconsciously inflict hurt in myriad ways. In all cases, there are essentially two choices: to forgive deeply and authentically, or to cling to resentment, anger, and bitterness.

Why Forgiveness is Complicated

Forgiveness is often an intricate and challenging process. It requires confronting past events that caused significant pain, sometimes repeatedly. Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, an epidemiologist and professor at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, highlights the complexities of forgiveness. In a comprehensive study published in March 2023 by the Center for Open Science (COS), he explains that while forgiving someone who has harmed you is never easy, dwelling on those events and reliving them continuously can fill the mind with negative thoughts and repressed anger.

VanderWeele’s research, drawing from various fields of knowledge, underscores the profound benefits of forgiveness. It not only promotes mental, emotional, and physical well-being but also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. By learning to forgive, individuals can break free from the shackles of past actions, ultimately experiencing a sense of liberation.

Why Forgiveness Matters

Everett L. Worthington, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, emphasizes the transformative power of forgiveness in relationships and societal dynamics. He distinguishes between two types of forgiveness: decisional forgiveness, which involves choosing to treat the offender with dignity and refraining from seeking revenge, and emotional forgiveness, which entails replacing negative emotions such as hatred and frustration with positive ones like empathy and compassion.

Worthington highlights the practicality of forgiveness, noting that participants in their research required only three to three and a half hours, on average, to traverse the path of forgiveness. This underscores that forgiveness is not just a lofty ideal but an achievable goal within a relatively short timeframe.

Understanding Forgiveness: What It Is and Isn’t

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines forgiveness as voluntarily letting go of feelings of resentment toward someone who has wronged, offended, or hurt you in some way. It involves a deliberate transformation of feelings, attitudes, and behaviors so that one is no longer controlled by resentment and can express compassion, generosity, or similar sentiments toward the offender.

Daniel Lumera, an Italian biologist, meditation master, and forgiveness expert, adds depth to this definition. He suggests that forgiveness entails releasing oneself from the need to react impulsively out of deep-seated anger and discomfort. Lumera emphasizes that forgiveness is a nuanced process, often influenced by the intimate nature of relationships, such as those with parents.

Unai Aso, a cognitive-behavioral psychologist, notes that forgiveness serves as a functional coping mechanism, allowing individuals to release past resentments and move forward. He acknowledges that forgiving parents may differ significantly from forgiving others due to the unique dynamics of the parent-child relationship.

The Process of Forgiveness: Four Universal Steps

Daniel Lumera outlines four universal steps for traversing the path of forgiveness, a method he applies in various settings, including schools, prisons, and end-of-life care.

1. Declaration: Individuals must sincerely express their feelings and thoughts, acknowledging the pain caused by the offender. This honest and conscious exercise allows them to confront their emotions and release them.

2. Responsibility: Acknowledging one’s role in generating internal peace or turmoil is essential. By taking responsibility for their emotions, individuals empower themselves to change and transform them.

3. Gratitude: Practicing gratitude enables individuals to recognize the value of what they have. By expressing gratitude for past experiences, even those involving pain, individuals can integrate them into their lives and foster personal growth.

4. Love: Love represents a state of inclusive consciousness where the divide between self and others dissolves. By reintegrating past events with a sense of reconciliation, individuals can heal and move forward.

Conclusion

In conclusion, forgiveness is a profound and transformative process that requires courage, introspection, and empathy. While forgiving may be challenging, the rewards—mental, emotional, and physical well-being—make it a journey worth undertaking. By understanding, managing, and ultimately achieving forgiveness, individuals can liberate themselves from the burdens of resentment and bitterness, fostering healthier relationships and a more compassionate society.

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