The Benefits of Forgiveness | Dana West, LCSW

Why is forgiveness easy to verbalize but so difficult to express? How many times should I forgive?  Can I distance myself while forgiving someone who hurts me repeatedly? If I forgive too quickly am I a pushover?  Is forgiving truly forgetting? I will never forgive you!  These are all questions and statements from people contemplating forgiveness.

Forgiving isn’t forgiving?  Most of us have heard “do not let what that person did effect you the rest of your life” or “forgiving is forgetting.” The victim often withholds forgiveness thinking the person who hurt them does not deserve forgiveness, not realizing the victim pays for unforgiveness more than the aggressor.  Additionally, does resentment hurts less than facing the source of pain and eventually letting it go? But what these people don’t realize is that anger and resentment may actually be the reason they are hurting. Have you ever gotten so mad at someone it made you cry? You find yourself confused by your tears because you aren’t sad, you’re furious! Your anger is actually an unhealthy way of expressing pain. The difference between expressing anger and expressing sadness is that holding on to anger seems easier than admitting to being hurt. Holding a grudge prevents you from addressing feelings that may be absolutely necessary for you to uproot and express. If you don’t address your pain, it doesn’t go anywhere and neither do you. Holding on to anger simply causes a replay of the pain making it more and more difficult to let go of the grudge.  Then the anger seeps into our present and future relationships and effects our ability to have deep intimate relationships and friendships.

Quick to Forgive | Are you a Pushover? People who are not easily angered may find forgiveness comes naturally. Being quick to forgive may present another issue: where is the line between being a forgiving person and letting people take advantage of you? Unfortunately, people who are too quick to forgive others may often be viewed as pushovers. So one might ask as many have before, “How many chances should I give someone before I stop forgiving them?” The real question is should you ever stop forgiving someone? Of course not! Forgiving someone who has hurt you numerous times doesn’t mean you have to keep that person in your life. If you feel like someone has hurt you for the last time, make sure it’s the last time by distancing yourself from that person. Explain to them that you have forgiven them for any pain they have caused you, but you can’t allow them to be a part of your life until they can repair the trust they have broken over and over again.

True forgiveness must be a happy medium. It’s important to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, while knowing the limits of forgiveness.

Unforgiveness Shortens my life?  Most people think that forgiveness has the greatest benefits for the person who needs to be forgiven. They get relief from guilt, a second chance, or a renewed friendship, but in reality the forgiver can benefit more. Some researchers say it can even be good for your health.

“At Hope College in Michigan, researchers measure heart rates, sweat rates and other responses of subjects asked to remember past slights. Their blood pressure increases, their heart rate increases, and their muscle tensions are also higher,” said professor Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet. “This suggests their stress responses are greater during their unforgiving than forgiving conditions.” According to Witvliet, “Forgiveness may free the wounded person from a prison of hurt and vengeful emotion, yielding both emotional and physical benefits, including reduced stress, less negative emotion, fewer cardiovascular problems, and improved immune system performance.”  Other studies have indicated forgiving people live on average 8 years longer than unforgiving people.

Understanding the need to forgive is the first step in the process!  However, often a seasoned counselor or therapist can help you go through the process so you can be free from past hurt!

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Authors: Dana West, MSW, LCSW is an Orlando Trauma and Addictions Counselor and Faith Hall is a Psychology Student Intern