My friend has not forgiven her mother for telling her own young children about a tragedy in their family and sharing details she wanted to wait until they were older to know.

When my friend asked, “How could you?” her mother replied, “They were old enough to know.”

When someone hurts you or someone you love, it can be challenging to forgive. The bad behavior may be the result of spite, flat-out meanness, low self-esteem, selfishness, or thoughtlessness. It may be due to mental health issues, old family dynamics, or addiction. Whatever the reason, the process of forgiving is similar. And so is the sting.

Why Forgiveness Is Important

Recently, the concept of forgiveness has become of great interest to social scientists and researchers. As it turns out, forgiving is good for you. Experts are seeing the benefits for those who do — and the fallout for those who don’t.

Studies show that the act of forgiveness can improve cholesterol levels and sleep, reduce the risk of heart attack, lower blood pressure and back pain, and lead to better relationships. On the other hand, it appears that holding grudges and staying angry can trigger heart problems, raise cholesterol, boost hypertension, or lead to depression and stress.

A University of Michigan School of Medicine study involving 2,110 middle-aged men showed that those who dealt with their anger had half as many strokes over a seven-year period as those who hadn’t managed their anger.

Insight Into Those Who Forgive

It may seem incomprehensible that Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, chose to forgive his captors. He did!

In his 2018 book Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation, Mark Miller interviews dozens of people who were able to find meaning from tragedy. For those who did best, “forgiving was a way to restore balance and peace in their own lives. They weren’t condoning the misdeeds,” he says.

Forgiveness helps you take control again. No one says you have to trust the person who hurt you or even continue the relationship.

Five Forgiveness Strategies

1. Reframe the situation. Rather than think, “How could she have done this to me?”, try asking yourself, “Why am I letting this destroy me?

2. Give yourself time to grieve. “Being in the moment with our own brokenness allows healing to take place. That is where the trauma work occurs, accompanied by unlimited compassion for our own hurt,” says John Chupka, founder of The Forgiveness Center in Troy, New York.

Chupka believes, “forgiveness is a messy process. It is not a linear program where there are steps to completion. Sometimes it is one step forward and two steps backward. Most importantly, it truly is one breath at a time.”

3. Level with yourself. Was there a part you played in the situation or is there no question that the other person was flat-out wrong? Is there any way to look at it from the other side? Would you do anything differently next time? You can always ask a more objective party such as a family member, friend, or professional for feedback.

4. Try figuring out what they were thinking. Did the person even realize what they had done and why it was so hurtful to you?

5. Focus on the good in your life. Clearly, allowing hurt and anger fester will just bring you down.

Forgiveness: Some Resources

If you’re working on forgiveness issues in your life, here is some additional information you may find helpful:

  • Stanford University’s Forgiveness Projects, offer a series of research projects and consumer workshops.
  • The International Forgiveness Institute, started by Robert D. Enright, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gives an overview of the topic and a comprehensive forgiveness “how-to.” He is also the author of 8 Keys to Forgiveness and Forgiveness Is a Choice.
  • The Forgiveness Toolbox, created by British social psychologist Dr. Masi Noor, offers skills to lessen the hurt and work on moving past it.
  • Everett Worthington, a psychologist and expert on forgiveness, has developed a five-step process (called REACH) for forgiving, along with a downloadable workbook.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just decide to forgive and then, boom, you move on? For most of us, it’s not that easy. Even though truly forgiving can be challenging, it is up to you to decide what you want to do. If you can forgive, do. If you can’t forgive, at least you will know why it makes sense to try.

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