The Art of Forgiveness

For many people, forgiving someone for a transgression is not an easy thing to do. Contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not about condoning or excusing the other person’s behavior or forgetting the wrongdoing. It is a shift in our thinking whereby the wrongdoing does not loom as large, we’re less focused on retaliation and we can view the injury done to us at arm’s length. So, forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the person who has harmed us.

There is a large body of research that demonstrates the benefits of forgiving and the downside of not forgiving another. A number of different research studies demonstrate that when people are unwilling to extend forgiveness to someone who has done them harm, that person will often withdraw from social relationships and tend to experience deep loneliness. Furthermore, there is often a loss of trust that prevents that person that makes it difficult to develop close relationships.  But, when people are willing to move toward forgiveness, the benefits of such movement include improved mood and increased emotional flexibility, which allows the person who has been hurt to move past the event.

Take a piece of paper and draft a forgiveness letter to someone who has hurt you in some way. Describe a) the wrongdoing, b) how it affected you at the time, c) what you would have liked the person to have done, d) finish the letter with a short statement of forgiveness and understanding. This letter is for your benefit only and does not need to be sent.  Lastly, we often have trouble forgiving ourselves. If this is the case, write a letter to yourself, using the same guidelines.

It is ok if this exercise takes you a while to complete. It could be days, weeks, or maybe even longer. No matter the length of time it takes to complete, the act of forgiveness will impact your self-esteem, psychological well-being, relationships and can even help you cope with anxiety or depression.

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