The gift of forgiveness for Valentine’s
Forgiveness is letting go of the pain and accepting what has happened, because it will not change
Forgiveness is dismissing the blame
Choices were made that caused the hurt; we each could have chosen differently, but we didn’t
Forgiveness is looking at the pain, learning the lessons it has produced, and understanding what we have learnt
Forgiveness allows us to move on towards a better understanding of universal love and our true purpose
Forgiveness is knowing that love is the answer to all questions, and that we all are in some way connected
Forgiveness is starting over with the knowledge that we have gained
I forgive you, and I forgive myself
I hope you can do the same
— poem by Judith Mammay
Forgiveness may not be the first thing on your mind during Valentine’s season. Cards, candy and flowers tend to top the list for Valentine’s gifts. However, forgiveness is an act of kindness that is arguably more generous than any of these for those we love and care for.
Healthy relationships require work. Multiple studies over the years consistently illustrate that couples who stay together have good communication, commitment to the relationship and good social support. Studies on couples who stay together for a very long time show that personal effort and treating each other kindly are important to maintaining intimate and lasting relationships. Undoubtedly, there are times in any relationship where hurt is inflicted or received, and this is where forgiveness comes in.
On the other hand, unforgiveness manifests itself in unhealthy ways in the body, the mind and the spirit. The lack of forgiveness leaves us vulnerable to excessive anger, depression, loneliness, resentment and regret. It plays out in physical ailments, unhealthy behaviours, unwillingness to love others, and distance from faith because of a hardened heart, among other things.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things for humans to do. At the same time, it is one of the most intelligent things that humans can do. This does not mean that you need to condone, excuse or forget what happened in the past. It is not about letting someone who hurt you off the hook. It is not about justice or reconciliation. Instead, it is about gaining hope and self-esteem, as well as decreasing angst and sadness.
Studies show that we tend to become more forgiving as we get older. Our sense of the future becomes more constrained and regulating our emotions becomes more important, so we are motivated to “kiss and make up”. We tend to replace grudges with generosity.
People with greater levels of accumulated lifetime stress tend to have worse mental health outcomes. However, for those who scored high on measures of forgiveness, high lifetime stress did not predict poor mental health. Forgiveness is not something that we can achieve by snapping our fingers or just saying: “I forgive you.” It is the willingness to consider forgiveness that opens the door to a shift in perception and the utter peace and freedom that follows. So it has to be actioned.
To forgive means to stop blaming and to pardon someone or yourself for what was done wrong. The forgiver benefits the most from this — freeing themselves from feeling anger, unfairness and discontent in general for the damage caused. It is offering something positive — empathy, compassion, understanding — towards the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is fundamental to recuperation of the damage received.
Forgiveness literally alters the brain’s wiring away from distortions brought about by the past, and beyond fears that limit the future. It leads from misery of a broken promise to wellness that builds new neuron pathways into physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
The willingness to drop any need to blame diminishes your need to explain your perspective. A brain forgives as a commitment to understand the other side, to feel empathy for another, or to regain compassion for a person you care about who hurt you. The event that caused conflict in the first place may not change, but forgiveness opens new paths into empathy for another person. Pardon designs mental escape routes for your thoughts — that may be otherwise relegated into corners that distrust or fear. Forgiveness does not validate hurtful words or callous acts, but it allows you to move on more peacefully. If you value a person deeply, forgiving that person is likely harder because your amygdala stores its memory, and your mind replays each sting. You can sense forgiveness if you no longer feel stress or tension in that person’s presence.
When you stand up to the pain of what happened to you and offer goodness to the person who hurt you, you can change your view of yourself and discover release from an emotional prison.
How does forgiveness work? Talk out your thoughts and feelings to make sense of them. Be clear about what you want and set realistic expectations. Recognise the habit of relying on feeling hurt, guilty or stressed. Stop ruminating and refocus on what is ahead of you in life, what is positive now. Redefine your relationships. Put life into perspective and express gratitude. Regain some control over your life. This is a continuous process that does not have a defined beginning, middle or end — yet you are guaranteed to live a healthier life just being in the journey of forgiveness. Isn’t that one of the greatest gifts to oneself?
Happy Valentine’s season!
Forgiveness is letting go of the pain and accepting what has happened, because it will not change.
Forgiveness is dismissing the blame.
Choices were made that caused the hurt; we each could have chosen differently, but we didn’t.
• Sandy De Silva, PsyD is the executive director of Family Centre