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Many people will agree with me when I say that forgiving is hard. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things to do – to sincerely forgive a person that has hurt you and let go of the pain they have caused you. To let go and move on from that haunting feeling and memory they have given you. Let me give you some reasons why forgiveness is hard to do.
Too much anger
Forgiving is hard especially when there’s too much emotion associated with it. When we’re angry, the emotion is too strong and blinding for us that makes forgiveness to be the last thing on our mind. When we’re angry, we seek to get even to the person who wronged us not forgive them. Think of a time when your best friend or your loved one wronged you and you got really angry. Isn’t the first thought that comes to your mind: ‘I will never forgive them! They will definitely pay for this!’
Believing that the person who wronged you deserves punishment
When someone wronged us, we believe that since that person did something bad, he deserves to be punished. It is what the society instilled in our minds to believe when we were young: ‘You did something bad, you deserve to be punished!’ or ‘What happens to bad children? They get punished.’
Unconsciously, it is also our way of gaining power and control. Since we grew up believing that those in power get to do the punishing, when we attempt to punish someone instead of forgiving him/her, we gain a sense of being powerful and in control. Making it more difficult to forgive.
Fear of getting hurt again
When someone hurts you badly, it leaves an emotional scar in us that makes it difficult to forgive. And because of this emotional scar, we tend to distance ourselves from people or shut ourselves away from the world out of fear of experiencing that same painful memory and being hurt again. This may mean that you’re only protecting yourself from the trauma or pain you have experienced. Thus, leaving you no room for forgiveness.
Yes, forgiveness is really hard and painful. However, many studies say that forgiveness is powerful. These are the reasons why.
- Health benefits. Forgiveness, in psychology, is an emotional and cognitive process that is characterised by releasing of anger and having peace of mind. And anger, as we all know, has been proven to have negative physical, emotional and cognitive consequences over time such as heart disease and stroke. According to the study of Worthington and Scherer in 2004, the inability to forgive was linked to anger and hostility, and those, in turn, have proven to have negative health effects, especially concerning cardiovascular conditions. Forgiveness, on the other hand, was linked to positive emotions of empathy and compassion. Another study also says that holding a grudge, reliving painful memories, and harbouring resentment has a negative on emotional well-being and physical health. Unforgiving responses of anger, blame, and hostility, as shown in other studies therein, contributed to poor health and specifically coronary heart disease.
- Social and emotional benefits. One study found out that people who were taught to forgive became less angry and more optimistic, compassionate, and self-confident. Do you know Gary Ridgway? He is an American serial killer, also known as the Green River Killer. He was convicted of murdering 48 teenage girls and young women and pleaded guilty of it. In one of the court footage, where the family members and loved ones of the women he murdered were given a chance to say something to him, his face showed no emotion or remorse in what he has done. It was as if he was not listening and doesn’t care about what the person is saying to him. Of course, you will expect for those people to say bad things to him like: ‘I wish you go to hell,’ or ‘I will never forgive you,’ or ‘I wish you suffering. I hope you experience what my daughter has gone through.’ For someone who is grieving and experiencing severe emotional pain, that is expected. What is unexpected for everyone is for someone to stand on that court and say, ‘I forgive you.’ It surprised him. The father of one of the teenage girls he murdered is forgiving him in front of the whole court. At this moment, the man who showed no emotion from the start, now broke in tears because at that moment, one person believes that he deserves forgiveness.
Forgiveness gives hope and freedom not only from the person receiving it but also from the person giving it. It gives freedom from the person giving it because he frees himself from the negative emotions he’s feeling because of unforgiveness. It makes him decide to let go and move on with his life and live in the present. It gives hope to the person receiving it because it may serve as a reminder to that person that he can start again with his life.
Forgiveness also improves our relationships. One study suggests that people who forgive have reported to have greater relationship quality and also, greater commitment to relationships while people who showed high motivations for revenge and avoidance had lower relationship satisfaction.
Another research in 2017 showed that ‘state forgiveness’ or the intentional, purpose-driven disposition bent toward forgiveness produced in those participants who undertook forgiveness perceived senses of mental well-being, which included reductions in negative affect, feeling positive emotions, experiencing positive relations with others, discerning sensibilities of spiritual growth, and identifying a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a greater sense of empowerment.
Forgiving is hard, yes, and ultimately challenging. Just imagining of forgiving someone who has deeply wronged you can be difficult when we are having trouble letting go of anger or hurt surrounding the event itself. However, forgiveness is powerful not only because it has many benefits in our physical health but also because it unburdens us of our emotional baggages.
Unforgiveness, like what I usually say, is like drinking poison and expecting other people to die. We don’t think of it but forgiveness actually benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven.
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