“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B.1
When you forgive you make a conscious and compassionate decision to release your resentment and ideas of revenge.2
1: Forgiveness does not require you to accept or excuse any past wrongdoing or to forget what has happened.
2: Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. You may forgive someone and also choose to end a relationship.
3: Forgiveness is associated with greater psychological well-being.
4: Revenge doesn’t make people feel any better – in fact research shows it increases anger levels.
Won’t Revenge Make You Feel Better?
Been wronged and looking to get even?
Well, though you might dream of the satisfaction of revenge, research suggests that payback doesn’t really provide much happiness – in fact, it’s almost guaranteed to make you feel worse.
Although we may believe that getting even will ease our tension and anger, research suggests that people who exact vengeance are actually angrier after doing so than those that never get a chance at retribution.
- In one research experiment, a confederate experimenter (subjects did not know this person was part of the experiment) angered individual study participants by unfairly criticizing their work.
- Later in the experiment, half the subjects played a game where they were allowed to punish the confederate with an uncomfortably loud air horn when he/she got an answer wrong. The other half of the subjects got no such opportunity for revenge.
- At the end of the experiment, subjects were assessed for their anger levels and those that had been given an opportunity at revenge were consistently angrier than those who had been given no such opportunity.
It’s easy to get sucked into tempting dreams (and actions) of revenge, but while we plot, obsess and scheme at thoughts of payback we also stay focused on how we’ve been hurt or wronged - and by staying so focused on the negative you keep feelings of hurt and anger alive, to your own detriment.
And if you’re not careful, obsessing about those who’ve harmed you can influence your world-view - In fact, research shows that people who believe in the importance of getting even are:
- More likely to view people as generally bad or malevolent
- Quicker to express anger during everyday life
- Believe that people who treat others unfavorably deserve maltreatment, anger and ridicule3
So once you can accept that revenge won’t make you feel any better, it’s probably time to consider what will actually improve your peace of mind and quality of life…learning to forgive.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an act of generosity toward someone who, due to their transgressions, does not deserve your understanding.
With forgiveness you offer a gift of compassion to a person who has done you wrong – but you also act with compassion toward yourself, because with forgiveness, it is you who benefits most.
Not convinced? Well, scientists say forgiveness is associated with:
- Better personal relationships
- Lowered blood pressure
- Less stress, anxiety and depression
- Less substance abuse
- A greater sense of psychological well being
- A greater sense of spiritual fulfillment
- More life satisfaction
- Overall better physical health (un-forgiveness may be associated with decreased immune system functioning)4
Forgiveness - A How to Guide
Anger and hate come naturally, forgiveness rarely does - but though the process of letting go takes a little effort you'll never regret freeing yourself from the heavy burdens of blame and resentment.
But to do it right you have to understand that forgiveness is a process, not a single act, and that you can't build true forgiveness until you've come to terms with your anger.
It's never easy to let go when you have full right to demand justice but it's always in your best interest to do so. If you're like most of us, your forgiveness skills could use a tune-up, so here's a 5 step guide, from forgiveness exert R. Klimes Ph.D. that provides an easy to follow framework for the practice of letting go and moving on.
5 Steps to Forgiveness
1. Acknowledge the Anger You Feel
Make a conscious effort to acknowledge your anger and pain. Feel it as deeply as you can and connect your emotions to specific actions (transgressions).
You cannot truly release your anger until you accept that it is real and present, until you've felt it and until you've connected the way you're feeling to transgressions that have caused you to feel as you do.
2. Stop Any Thoughts of Revenge
You can't move towards forgiveness if you're still plotting your justified revenge! So if you're serious about letting go then you need to make a conscious effort to stop thoughts about punishment or revenge.
3. Try to look at Things from the Offender's Position
While under anger's influence you're more likely to think in absolutes, but this kind of black and white thinking leaves no room for all the shades of grey that influence another person's actions against you.
Forget your anger for a while and try to look at things from another point of view - and really try to understand why he or she acted as she did against you.
By taking this mental step back and by re-framing the situation from another light you may find that you gain understanding and compassion for the person who offended against you - and compassion and understanding are two qualities that make it far easier to truly forgive.
4. Decide to Accept the Hurt without Passing It On
You've been harmed by the actions of another person and there's nothing you can do today that will change this truth from the past.
You can take the pain you've felt and pass it to another person, such as the offender, or you can choose to let it end with you.
- If it ends with you, your emotional or physical pain from the past remains the same but you cause no one else any pain
- If you decide to pass that pain forward, your pain from the past remains the same, you cause another person pain and there is a good chance that through escalation, you'll soon feel more pain again.
5. Release the Offender with True Forgiveness
As a last step, release the offender from their offense through the gift of true compassionate forgiveness.
You do not need to condone what happened but with true forgiveness you release your claim of justified anger and resentment.5
Page last updated Jan 27, 2015