The Therapy of Forgiveness

By Ore Taiwo Makinde. Image credit: freepik.

Have you ever had to say the words “I forgive you” to someone who hurt or disappointed you? A co-worker, friend, spouse, sibling, parent or child? How did it feel? A friend of mine refused to speak with me for several months until I specifically asked for forgiveness. Amazing, but it happens all the time.

It is difficult to forgive Saying “I forgive you” is one of the most difficult phrases. It seems easier or logical to keep a grudge or to avenge your cause so the person who hurt you can feel pain as well. We watch it ever so often in movies. How do you forgive someone who jilted you, who stole from you, who betrayed you or embarrassed you? How do you let go of the resentment that wells up when you see the person who hurt you so badly by abusing you or cheating on you? On the other hand, if you knew that unforgiveness could make you sick or keep you from becoming well, would you try to forgive?

Forgiveness therapy I watched a documentary on “Forgiveness therapy”. Research among cancer patients showed that 61% of them had forgiveness issues. Efforts made to help them forgive from the heart showed that the patients became less anxious, less angry and more at peace with themselves. They were also more likely to accept and respond to necessary cancer treatment. 

Furthermore, a 6-week forgiveness intervention study conducted by Harris A et al involved the randomisation of 259 participants who still felt hurt and grieved with someone who had wronged them. They were randomised to a forgiveness training group and a control group. Reported outcomes showed that those who underwent the training had a 2-3 times reduction in negative emotions. This included anger and bitterness towards the persons who wronged them compared to the control group. Negative emotions can hurt us due to prolonged secretion of hormones, adrenaline and cortisol and their damaging effects on our immunity and blood numbers.

Benefits of forgiveness The following physical and emotional health benefits have been reported with forgiveness training:

  • Improved sleep
  • Less of physical complaints
  • Reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Reduction in the risk of heart disease 
  • Reduction in need for drugs
  • Increased optimism and
  • Decline in depressive emotions.
You can learn forgiveness in the following ways

Avoid unfounded assumptions: Many times, feelings of unforgiveness arise due to unfounded suspicions and misperceptions. A rumour about someone not liking you or a feeling about not being acknowledged can lead to one feeling slighted and resentful. It happens often on social media e.g she didn’t like my post when the person most likely didn’t even see it. If it really bothers you, ask why without a hint of accusation.

Learn to apologise: Imagine a world where everyone is genuinely quick to apologise for causing a wrong. I remember deciding to apologise for a hurt caused by a friend. She was at fault but the silence was deafening. My simple words, ‘I’m sorry about what happened’ put an end to the silence.

Let go of expectations: A friend said he found it easier to forgive by letting go of the expectations he had. The expectations are sometimes realistic; for example expecting an apology for an offence committed or expecting gratitude or acknowledgement for a gift or work well done. If you don’t expect any of these, you are less likely to feel offended. 

Learn to empathise: Developing empathy for the one who has offended you can help. This brings to mind the story of Dr Taiwo Ikomi whose family car was hit by a drunk driver resulting in the death of her husband and children. She shared her story of forgiveness in her book ‘His beauty for my ashes’. Recognising the background or upbringing of the person and what has led to his mindset and attitude can bring some understanding of what led to the offence, thereby reducing the associated anger and hurt.

Don’t mistake forgiveness for absolution: Remember that forgiveness does not mean letting the person who has wronged you off the hook. Forgiveness does not include exposing yourself to repeated episodes of abuse from a violent husband by going back to live with him. An abuser should face the consequences of the law so he can be properly rehabilitated. 

Learn conflict resolution: This is especially important in both small and large work organisations where unforgiveness issues can affect work culture and slow down business growth. Immediate resolution of conflict can forestall crises and enhance team work.

Learn relaxation techniques: Working on your thought pattern can help change your emotions towards your offender. Meditation on kind thoughts, scriptures and repeating positive phrases like ‘I let go’, ‘I forgive him’, ‘I’m strong enough to forgive’ as well as breathing exercises can help to calm heated emotions associated with the offence or offender.

In conclusion, there is no pill for unforgiveness. We have to practice it. Our personalities may determine who forgives more readily, but forgiveness is something we can learn in order to live a healthy and peaceful life. Therefore, think of forgiveness as a therapy that you are giving yourself and not the other person whether dead or alive. Remember that “To err to human but to forgive is divine”. Thus, when you forgive your offender, you place yourself a rung higher on the ladder of life.

1 Comment

  • Folake Sanwoolu July 8, 2020 8:44 am

    To err is human to forgive is divine.
    To forgive and forget is not always possible for many people.

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