The Power of Forgiveness

You have probably heard the famous saying “To err is human but to forgive is divine”. It is a quote taken from an 18th Century English poet Alexander Pope on his poem entitled ‘An Essay on Criticism’.

It is undeniable that being human is predisposed to flaws, imperfections and failure; thus to err is human. What is more intriguing in the adage however is the second part of the phrase, to forgive is divine. So what is it that makes forgiveness divine? Does being being human make us destitute, bankrupt of the ability to forgive?

What is Forgiveness?

In Greek word forgiveness literally means “to let go,” as when a person does not demand payment for a debt. We forgive others when we let go of resentment and give up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered. Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness). It is not excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), not forgetting (removing awareness of the offence from consciousness), not pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offence by a representative of society, such as a judge), and not reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

Forgiveness as a word may seem easy for a preacher or a priest to preach about but to a person who was molested by a person they trusted as a child, to a person who has been cheated on by their partner, to a person who has been betrayed by their most trusted friend, forgiveness may seem an impossible task to complete. I guess the frailty of being human, that we are, emotionally vulnerable (feelings are hurt), sensitively proud (ego is bruised) and vindictive (the sense to get even is roused), just makes it more difficult to ignore the hurt and let go of the offender.

Dr. Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet, a lead researcher from the Hope College researchers in Holland, in her study on forgiveness and health, states that failure to forgive can weaken a person’s health. According to her findings, people who think about their offenders in unforgiving ways tend to experience stronger negative emotions and greater [physiological] stress responses. In contrast, when these same people think about their offenders in more forgiving ways, they tend to experience great positive emotion, greater perceived control, and less potent negative emotion and stress in the short term.

In a similar study conducted by Walden University, a correlation between forgiveness and emotional intelligence has been found. The more emotionally intelligent a person is, the easier it is for them to let go of grudge. The ability to forgive and let go of a grudge, embodies the essence of Emotional Intelligence as it requires the person offended to become self aware, have empathy, have control over their emotions, and have the capacity to move beyond their present emotions to a more expansive state.

Now we have established this, how then can we exercise forgiveness on others?

1. Resolve in your heart to forgive

This isn’t a one-time decision but a daily one that may even require moment-by-moment decisions. We must ‘walk’ in forgiveness and it starts by forgiving ourselves.

2. Recognise your emotions

Forgiveness is not about minimising the hurt. It is about recognising it. Write down your feelings and your emotions – what caused them and how were the triggered. Talk about it to someone you can trust, perhaps someone who would be able to help you identify those emotions and guide you in resolving it like an emotional intelligence coach or mentor.

3. Recognise that no one is perfect

When you hate somebody, you tend to lose your perspective on that person. When you’re filled with resentment, bitterness and hurt, you tend to dehumanise the offender. Recognising that no one is perfect, not even yourself, will help you understand why people hurt other people.

4. Relinquish your right to get even

This is the heart of forgiveness. A heart filled with bitterness and grudge may hinder you from enjoying the blessings you have in the present.

Experts say that forgiving those who have wronged us helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. One study found that forgiveness is associated with improved sleep quality, which has a strong effect on health. Forgiving the people who have hurt you, is more of a gift to yourself than to those who offended you.

Take this story for example:

About a decade ago, Dr. Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, did a research with a group of mothers whose sons had been murdered in northern Ireland. One woman had been searching for her son’s body since 1987. Luskin spent a week teaching the women how to forgive the person who had murdered their child. A year later, he reunited with the entire group. “The daughter of one of the women came up and hugged us, and thanked us for giving her her mother back,” Luskin says. “The mother had been so consumed with anger that she was never able to be there for her other children. But she finally learned to forgive, and her daughter said, ‘We have a mother again.'”

Forgiveness is indeed divine, as it would take a lot courage and will for a person to forgive those who have hurt them. Choosing to forgive is a worthwhile process to pursue. Refusing to deal with our grudges will put you in bondage and will let you miss out the blessings that you have in life.

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