Why Should I Forgive?
Moving Forward After Injury
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 2016 (edited March 3, 2022)
We shouldn't forgive in smug self-righteousness, but moving forward requires us to forgive, serving us personally and society well.
“To forgive someone you believe has hurt, harmed, or violated you is no easy feat. However, doing so is a spiritual mandate for your healing, learning, and growth." Iyanla Vanzant
The concept makes perfect sense; the actual act of forgiving is the challenge. When we are wronged, we feel angry, sad or afraid. We feel the experience. When we attribute the wrong to a person or group of people, we create a grudge. Thoughts of this person (or group) continue to generate bad feelings long after the unpleasant moment.
Memories are an evolutionary protection system, warning of possible danger. We were wronged; we store implicit and explicit memories of the event to protect from reoccurrences. Being wronged is a complex event consisting of more than a bad action that hurt us. By embracing the complexity of experience, we expand understanding to assist with giving forgiveness.
Expectations, biases, and personal meanings intertwine to generate the feeling knocking us off kilter. We know something is wrong (because we felt it) and we seek explanations. If we can identify a cause, we can address it. But we tend to simplify causes while minimizing our role. We even seek support of our limited assessment by rallying friends and family behind our victimization. We probe supporting others, “She was wrong, right?” or “I don’t think he should’ve acted that way?”
Other times we abandon caution and blindly assume our perceptions are correct and attack with viciousness, presenting a demonizing portrayal of the accused and a sanitized presentation of self. Friends and family eager to please join the destructive frenzy, duped by our structuring of the events, they defend.
Relationships and Heightened Emotion
We need others; healthy connections pay significant dividends. Relationship skills provide a host of survival benefits. The importance of relationships magnifies the intensity of emotions, pushing actions to gain acceptance, recognition, and status. Within reason, these drives serve us well. When out of balance, they become destructive.
Because of the strong connection between relationships, survival and well-being, our brains strenuously attend to conflicts. We pine over hurts and develop theories. Gossip and judgment swells in the competitive world of connections.
When a relationship momentarily stings, we interpret the event, drawing more meaningful implications. We can shamefully accept inaptitude for relationships or brazenly affix blame outside our control. To escape the fear of relationship ineptness, we tend to focus on the wrongfulness of the other, justifying the pain; they, we reason, rightfully deserve our condemnation.
"The importance of relationships magnifies the intensity of emotions, pushing actions to gain acceptance, recognition, and status."
Forgiving doesn’t require dismissing natural consequences. When a partner carelessly violates trust, we naturally erect protective walls to limit future vulnerability. Rebuilding trust only occurs from consistent expressions of sincere change. Forgiveness doesn’t include ignoring protective measures in the future
Forgiveness is not dismissing wrongs or waving natural consequences for inappropriate behavior.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not a gracious, self-righteous blessing given to a sinner once they have groveled enough for absolution. Repairing wrongs is the work of those that have done wrong. If trust was broken, then trust must be rebuilt. Over time trust naturally returns. Not because the deed was forgotten (or forgiven), but because new behavior patterns are now trustworthy.
Forgiveness is an internal shift, releasing feelings of resentment and desire for vengeance against a person or group who as harmed you.
Forgiveness is understanding, delving deeper into human complexity, challenging our judgments, and acknowledging personal biases. We discover the fogginess of "right" behavior evades our finite definitions.
Most collisions involve two moving objects that misjudge each other. Without the need to blame, we accept the prevalence of unknown factors and subsequently soften judgements. We recognize that histories play a powerful role in the present. Actions are not borne in the moment; but marinate from countless unknown forces. Simple assessments of right and wrong, good and evil miss these important factors.
Why We Should Forgive
When we forgive, our painful emotions of being wronged soften.
We can’t blindly move forward after hurt, continuing in vulnerability. We need protection; but protection doesn’t require punishing revenge. A cheating spouse may be forgiven but still divorced. We accept their human imperfection. We understand the complexity of unknown factors. We may choose to help them, or completely remove ourselves from their lives, either way, with forgiveness, our ill feelings relax, embracing compassionate acceptance of human frailty. The release of harsh judgments relieves stress, benefitting both mental and physical health.
We learn to forgive through examining hurt with curiosity—not animosity.
Forgiveness can’t be forced. Depending on the magnitude of the offense, and personal sensitivity, healthy efforts to understand slowly heal the deep wounds. Our widening understanding instills greater wisdom, while we still must to employ protective precautions to prevent further victimization from an unrepentant offender.
We work towards forgiveness. We can’t just forgive because we know it’s healthy. The body doesn’t work this way. We engage in growth activities that prepare our minds and bodies to naturally forgive. Forgiveness may not be immediately available—we don’t just say, “I forgive” to magically diminish powerful feelings.
Negative emotions are a biological response to hurt, part of a self-protection system. Some quickly master the art of forgiveness and reap rich rewards. Others, like myself, work towards forgiveness. Carrying hate is costly—hate leads to a conflicted and chaotic life.
Knowledge, wisdom and compassion refine emotions, soften grudges, and expand our joys. As we grow spiritually, we naturally begin to forgive.
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