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Forgiveness Q&A

How do you define Forgiveness?

To forgive, in a literal sense, means to ‘give away completely’.

The dictionary definition is:

  • to stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake.
  • no longer feel angry about or wish to punish (an offence, flaw, or mistake).
  • cancel (a debt).

The definition I like to use is that: Forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, including yourself, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.

What are the benefits of Forgiveness?

.Learning to forgive has been linked to the following:

• Improved cardiovascular functioning

• Improved lung function

• Improved functioning of nervous system

• Improved functioning of immune system

• Lower blood pressure

• Lower heart rate

• Less muscle tension

As well as physical benefits forgiveness can give us:

• Increased hope, caring, trust, happiness, gratitude and faith.

• Increased ability of love again.

• Sense of freedom from the past, our pain and the ones who have hurt us.

• Relief of an emotional burden

Are there things that cannot be forgiven?

Sometimes we may resist even the idea of Forgiveness, as we have a sense that what has been done is ‘too terrible’ to forgive.

Although, there is no doubt, that the forgiveness process can take a long time and be a very difficult to process there is nothing per se that is impossible to forgive. There are humbling examples in all corners of the globe of people finding peace and healing through Forgiveness in the most extraordinary of situations e.g murder of a child, rape, situations of genocide, betrayal, terrorism etc.

It is important to remember we Forgive often when the burden of carrying the pain, rage, and desire for revenge is too heavy a burden to carry. We do not Forgive for the other person, we do it to heal ourselves and be free.

What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?

There is a difference between Forgiveness and reconciliation:

Forgiveness is the inner journey to heal ourselves. 

Reconciliation is about the outer journey of healing the relationship with the other.

Forgiveness may lead to reconciliation, but may not.

 The first question in any given situation may not be whether I should forgive or not forgive, but whether or not I should resume / maintain relations with someone – especially if they show no remorse, refuse to take responsibility for their behaviour, which has caused us harm, and risks doing so again. Putting our own safety and protection first is the sane and logical response to a harmful situation. Using Forgiveness in order to repeatedly hurt ourselves is a gross misuse of it’s purpose as a healing mechanism to restore peace and wellbeing after harm.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the eventual release of feelings of resentment, rage, and desire for revenge towards someone who has harmed you, for your own freedom, wellbeing, and peace.

Forgiving someone can take place even if the person forgiven has not been told. It can be a private act and decision.

Forgiveness can take place even when the other person has not apologised.

Forgiveness is a personal choice.

Forgiveness is a personal process.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning or excusing behaviours.

Forgiveness does not mean that you have to reconcile with the other person.

Forgiveness does not excuse the other person from justice or legal accountability.

Forgiveness should not be used as an excuse to stay in an abusive situation.

Forgiveness should not be used a means of self-harming.

Are there situations where Forgiveness is not appropriate?

In order for Forgiveness to help us to heal from something that has happened to us, it needs to take place in the ‘right’ conditions. The ‘right’ conditions are where you are safe, and not in a situation of on-going abuse and trauma. A way of thinking about it is if you had a wound on your arm, it would not be able to heal if you don’t protect it, and keep re-injuring yourself in the same place. Healing takes time, and you need energy, space to integrate what you are learning, and safety. If you forgive someone whilst they are abusing you, you are using it inappropriately. Forgiveness should never be used as an excuse for self harm or self abuse.


Should I forgive without an apology?

Many people find a genuine apology can significantly help their ability to Forgive someone, however, in many situations an apology will not be forthcoming: We may not know who the ‘perpetrator’ is, they may be dead, or they simply may not feel any guilt or remorse and never will. In these cases, holding onto rage and bitterness because we haven’t received an apology is hurting ourselves (as holding anger is not healthy), and is giving the power over our wellbeing to those who have already hurt us. Therefore many people choose Forgiveness without any acknowledgement, apology or remorse ever received. Forgiveness doesn not mean that we have to reconcile with someone.

How can I help someone else let go of a grudge?

Anger is very important in the early stages of recovering from having experienced hurt, as it serves not only to protect us but also to empower us. Feeling anger, in this stage, is healthy and necessary (although there are many non-healthy ways of expressing it). As time goes on, once the anger has served it’s purpose, it is important not to hold on to it, or keep feeding it with our thoughts, as doing so can lead to health problems, and bitterness can taint all relationships. Forgiveness is a powerful and proven process for releasing enduring resentments, leaving instead a sense of freedom from the past and release. The reason people may choose to ‘hold on’ even to their own detriment, is usually fuelled by fear-e.g. of grief, of change, of getting hurt again, of opening the floodgates to other painful experiences, of being (perceived as) ‘weak’ etc.

If supporting someone to ‘let go’ of a grudge, we must first accept that forgiveness is a personal process and choice, requiring an on-going commitment. We can help them to see the costs of holding on to their resentments, and the benefits of ‘letting go’, we can be willing to really listen and acknowledge, if and when painful feelings do emerge in the re-telling of their story, we explain that forgiveness does not have to mean reconciliation, we can encourage empathy and offer new perspectives on the situation, and we can demonstrate how letting go is done in our own life-we can simply ‘be the change’.

Why forgive?

One of the greatest myths about forgiveness is that it is done for the benefit of the other person. Forgiveness is not for the other person’s benefit. It is for your own benefit. To understand this fully, you must realise how much you hurt yourself by not forgiving:

Each of the following conditions has been attributed to the carrying of grudges and anger:

• Heart attacks

• Cardiovascular disease

• High blood pressure

• Decreased lung function

• Muscle tension

• Stress

• Depression

• Weight gain

• Cancer

The good news is that learning to forgive can ameliorate these conditions and has

been linked to the following:

• Improved cardiovascular functioning

• Improved lung function

• Improved functioning of nervous system

• Improved functioning of immune system

• Increased ability to think clearly and creatively

• Lower blood pressure

• Lower heart rate

• Less muscle tension

• Increased hope, caring, trust, happiness, gratitude and faith

Do I have to be religious to Forgive?

Most religions talk about Forgiveness as being a desirable thing to practice in our lives-as it is widely recognised that it holds the key to healing and freedom from the past. For many people, in times of suffering, their faith is the rock, and their faith community is what provides the support needed to navigate the journey to healing.

Forgiveness is not a religious process however, it belongs to all of us, people of faith and those of no faith.

It is a process we can learn, and there are tools we can practice which will help. We were all gifted the capacity to heal, and Forgiveness is the process by which we do that-especially when it comes to moving on from the past, pain and those who have hurt us.

Although Forgiveness is not a religious process, nevertheless, it does have a spiritual element to it. When we go on the journey, as we let go of the pain and suffering and beliefs that no longer serve us, we are invited to return to love, and also to find meaning in what happened to us. For many, when they Forgive, often a re-newed sense of purpose and meaning emerges where their experience can be utilised to help others on their healing path, or as a means to protect others from having the same experience e.g through advocating for new laws, or new protections, etc

How will I know if I have forgiven?

Forgiveness is a process, and we often feel like we have made progress and then something will happen that will trigger our pain, hurt and anger once again, and we feel like we are back to the beginning again. This is entirely normal. It is a process, it takes time, and some days are harder than others. The process has layers to it, and our healing can continue over decades.

However, we know when we have Forgiven as the obsessive thoughts about what happened and the person who hurt us decrease and our mind is free to think in the present and about the future.

We know we have Forgiven as our heart fills with love again. It feels like our feelings are flowing again and we are not blocked like we used to be. The feelings of rage, anger and pain subside and give way to peace and love.

We know when we have forgiven becuase the weight and burden of carrying the pain is released from us. We feel free.

We know when we have Forgiven because we feel inner Peace.


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