Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.Anne Lamott
This quote is a great analogy on how not being able to forgive can impact our mental health. When you hold on to resentment, you will only hurts yourself. That’s why I decided this article on how to practive forgiveness.
Forgiveness, in its simplest definition, is an act of mending strained relationships brought about by perceived wrongdoing. We encounter two types of forgiveness in our lives:
- Forgiveness to others
This article covers what you need to know in order to practice forgiveness and become a happier person as a result.
- Two kinds of forgiveness that you can practice
- Studies on forgiving
- 4 tips on how to practice forgiving everyday
- Closing words
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Two kinds of forgiveness that you can practice
Both forgiving others and self-forgiveness are equally important and can significantly contribute to well-being by means of increased empathy, and decreased negative thoughts.
Forgiveness is also a hallmark of great cognitive control, but more on that later. First, let us look at the two types of forgiveness we encounter.
Making mistakes is a part of being human.
Nobody expects us to be perfect all the time. In all the different roles we play (e.g. parent, friend, partner, colleague, and child), there are different sets of expectations that we are sometimes unable to fulfill.
It is normal to feel terrible about the mistakes we make, but it is also important to remember that if we are truly remorseful and we want to improve ourselves, holding ourselves accountable is not enough.
In order to allow for growth, we must also learn to forgive ourselves.
Forgiveness to others
Forgiving others in order to heal depends on the person’s perception of healing. For some, it is important because it symbolizes letting go of the hurt living rent-free in their minds. On the other hand, some people associate forgiveness as absolution from the hurtful actions inflicted upon them.
Forgiving someone becomes especially difficult to do when the person that hurt you has not asked for forgiveness in any form.
It is understandable that asking for forgiveness can be a difficult endeavor for some. It can be seen as a blow to one’s ego because forgiveness is essentially an acknowledgment that there was pain inflicted.
For the person asking for forgiveness, it means they acknowledge that they have inflicted pain. For the person giving forgiveness, it means they have allowed the other person to hurt them. Depending on what they believe in, they may also see it as a form of absolution to the pain inflicted.
Example on practicing forgiveness
Near the end of my relationship with my ex, we exchanged very hurtful words to each other. We knew these words could damage and invalidate the self-concept that we worked so hard on improving on.
To cut a long story short, it took a while for me to say, “I forgive you” and really mean it. Mainly because I did not get an apology in the first place.
It also took quite a while to forgive myself for hurting him too. I found it difficult to live with the knowledge that I was capable of inflicting such pain. After all, I have always been taught to take the high road and to turn the other cheek.
It did a number to my self-concept, and I found myself questioning whether or not I deserved a place in this world.
Studies on forgiving
The act of forgiveness is nearly universal to all cultures and religions. It is seen as a socially acceptable act. The Science Of Forgiveness defines forgiveness as:
”A significant change in a person’s psychology, whether it be on an emotional or a behavioral level, toward someone who has hurt them. Specifically, forgiveness is an altruistic decision that relinquishes thoughts of vengeance, avoidance, and guilt by replacing feelings of anger, betrayal, fear, and hurt with prosocial emotions.”McCullough and van Oyen Witvliet, 2001
The effects of forgiveness are described as follows:
“With time, forgiveness may offer inner peace between the mistreated person and the transgressor, which can have a wide range of physical and psychological benefits.”Denton and Martin, 1998; Enright and Zell, 1989
There have been several studies dedicated to forgiveness that highlight not only its social acceptability, but also its positive effects.
The positive effects of forgiving
Part of our happiness depends upon our well-being and how satisfied we are about life. This study shows that practicing forgiveness is correlated with higher life satisfaction among adults.
In short, the more we choose to forgive, the more satisfied we can be about our lives. It also brings about higher levels of well-being, due to the fact that the more we have nonviolent feelings towards our transgressors, the more we feel better.
The more we harbor negative feelings towards our transgressors, the stronger it gets, thereby manifesting negative feelings towards ourselves.
Practicing forgiveness is also a good coping strategy for negative peer experiences that can be taught among adolescents, whose self-esteem depends upon how their peers perceive them. Choosing to forgive helps instill in them the concept that the only person that can control how they perceive them is themselves.
Long story short, the positive effects of forgiving are:
- Higher life satisfaction, which is essential to a happier life
- Higher levels of well-being
- Better coping strategies
- Higher self-esteem
4 tips on how to practice forgiving everyday
Forgiving is a mental and emotional workout. We choose to ignore the basic human response of retaliation or, in the case of self-forgiveness, self-loathing.
Just like any workout, with discipline, we can make a habit out of it. These 4 tips will help you in that regard!
1. Exercise empathy
Forgiving comes easy when we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. When we try to see things from the other person’s perspective, we are able to more or less understand their motives behind their actions.
Whenever we do something hurtful or bad, we can always justify our actions because we understand the reasons behind it. Since we know why we do the things we do, we usually find it easier to forgive ourselves compared to forgiving others.
That’s because it’s difficult for us to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Exercising empathy is the first tip to practice forgiveness every day.
2. Accept flaws and imperfections
Knowing that not everyone is perfect all the time allows us to cut them some slack.
This does not mean that you have to excuse their bad behavior. This concept is more related to the previous tip. When we manage our expectations towards other people, we will find it easier to forgive them when they let us down. This is, however, on a case-to-case basis, and so we must also learn to
3. Choose battles wisely
Not every transgression deserves a reaction. In other words, not every bad or hurtful action requires forgiveness. Some things are just too insignificant to worry about.
For our own peace of mind, some things are better off left alone. By exercising empathy and managing our expectations, we are able to do this more efficiently.
4. Change your mindset
All of these tips will culminate in a mindset change. In order to practice forgiveness more effectively, we must also change our idea of forgiveness.
Try to see forgiveness as an act of kindness we must give to ourselves, not to others. When we see forgiveness from this perspective, we are able to practice forgiveness daily, because we know we are doing it to achieve mental clarity and peace of mind.
We are able to let go of unnecessary mental clutter, leaving more space for positivity and personal development.
Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.Anne Lamott
Forgiving someone else has a positively influence on you. When you’re able to change your mindset, you’ll see how practicing forgiveness daily can really make you a happier person.
Oftentimes, it is easier to hold on to the anger than to let it go, because we are afraid that if we do, we also forget. However, even if the saying goes, “forgive and forget”, these two are not mutually exclusive. We can choose to forgive, but not forget the lessons we hopefully learned from that experience. Even if it is the more difficult route to take, happiness that comes from forgiving makes it worth the journey.
What did I miss? Is there anything you would like to add? Maybe a personal example on how you practiced forgiveness lately? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Nicole AlbertoMental health researcher
Mental health nurse researcher, budding forensic psychologist/alienist, history junkie, and mindfulness enthusiast! Infinite jester in constant pursuit of clarity, being, and the best burger in town.