In his book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, Fred Luskin writes that forgiveness is "taking back your power," "about your healing", and is "for you and not the offender".
So, what exactly is forgiveness? Forgiveness sets you free. It is defined by some as giving up my right to hurt you, for hurting me. It means I do not have to hear you say ‘I am sorry’ for me to move forward with my life. The purpose of forgiveness is to set the victim free. It has nothing to do with the offender.
Anne Lamott defines it the best in her quote - “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” When we do not forgive someone, it is we who suffer, as we are tied to the chains of the negative experience. By not forgiving we constantly remind ourselves about that negative experience. Isabelle Holland explains this further - “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.”
Why Forgive? Forgiving could be extremely difficult, and some may even feel that forgiving someone may not be fair or the right thing to do. After all, the person who has given us pain must suffer and realize that they were wrong. But the real truth is that when we don’t forgive someone, we are punishing ourselves and not the person who we are not forgiving. That person may not even realize and not even care about whether we forgive them or not. Every grudge we hold in our brain acts as fog and damages our own mental health and wellbeing. The pain we are causing to our brain by holding this grudge is often multiple times more than the actual pain that was inflicted by this person.
When we don’t forgive someone, we are constantly using a part of our energy to fight this person in our subconscious mind. Imagine if you are not forgiving a person for 10 years how much energy you are wasting. Now times this by 2, 3, or more depending on how many people you are not forgiving. All this wasted energy could be used for your own growth. When you forgive someone, you are setting yourself free from them and them from you. Note: You are not acknowledging that what they did to you was OK. But what you are doing is saying that you are free from them and they are from you as there is nothing you need from them. You can heal yourself by yourself and do not need their apology or suffering.
Scientists have noted that forgiving can significantly spike the alpha waves in both hemispheres of the brain. Alpha waves are responsible for our intuition, creativity, and learning new skills. The question, therefore, is not why forgive? But why won’t we forgive?
So far we have discussed that it’s not easy to forgive and many argue that it can be the most difficult thing to do. Although the truth is it is not difficult at all. As a child, we all were excellent forgivers. Have you ever noticed a child holding a grudge against someone? A child can get annoyed by you and the very next moment can be hugging and kissing you. This comes naturally to them. The reason why we find forgiving difficult is that as we grow up, our personalities take over our conscious (or real) self. Our personalities are developed by our families, societies, and education.
As we grow, we are taught what is wrong and what is right. We hear stories and watch movies about how the evil or the wronged is always punished at the end. We, therefore, build an expectation that the person who has done wrong to us must realize their mistake and feel sorry. However, in reality, things don’t work this way. In the real world, while you are busy thinking that someone must feel sorry for what they did, the other person may be thinking you must feel sorry for what you did. So, you both end up punishing yourself for what you did not do. You did not forgive. If there is one thing you can teach your child, teach them that ‘it is more important to be happy than to prove yourself right or the other person wrong’. You are only responsible for your own happiness. You are not responsible for teaching others a lesson.
How to Forgive? Before we get to the process of forgiveness, let’s make it clear what forgiveness is and isn’t:
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS
Let’s explain this last point with an example. Suppose a snake bites you. What do you do next? You have two choices. One option is to run around finding that snake and beat it till it feels sorry. But what happens while you are doing this is that the poison is spreading inside you. The other option is to forget about the snake and get rid of the poison first. Forgiveness is taking care of yourself. Do it for yourself.
Four Steps for Forgiveness (Adapted from the book 'Forgive for Good')
1. Turn your brain on. Do a short breathing exercise or meditation to get the blood supply to the prefrontal cortex a part of the brain responsible for logical thinking, empathy, and forgiveness.
2. Reframe the experience. Realize that whatever has happened is nothing about you and everything about the person who did it. It could be because they have grown up in a certain way. They have suffered previously which has changed their personality. There could be a lot of reasons for people to behave in a certain way. There are two quotes that I find helpful. One is ‘Hurt people hurt people’ and the other is ‘NO child is born evil’. Remember we are not justifying what they did was wrong. We are only making assumptions to help our brain in the process of forgiveness.
3. Take responsibility for your feelings. What happened to you has nothing to do with you and is all about the person who did it. But how you feel because of that, is your responsibility. Responsibility is the ability to respond. Whatever they did to you is totally dependent on their level of thinking and mindset. However, your happiness is your own responsibility, do not let your feelings be dictated by other people’s actions.
4. Recreate your story. Recreate your own Hero story. Where you have an Unshakable resilience to deal with the most difficult situations life can throw at you. Think about these people or incidents as a nudge by Universe to hint you that it’s time to grow. I like the quote from the movie ‘My Giant’ – ‘Without Goliath, David is just a punk kid throwing rocks.’ Whatever bad has happened in your life is what illuminates the greatness of the Hero you are.
Make Forgiveness a daily ritual. Forgive everything and everyone before you go to bed each night. You will feel much lighter and live much happier.
This blog is posted by Anurag Rai. Anurag is the Founder of Superhuman In You and Superhuman University. He is also the founder of multiple other businesses and a certified NLP & meditation practitioner.