A little known practice, when we look at how to support and enhance our mental health, is forgiveness. There is, at times, a lack of understanding of what forgiveness actually is. This lack of understanding can impact our ability to support ourselves and others, and unfortunately lead to us holding onto the negative thoughts and emotions that can inhibit our enhancement of our mental health.
One of the key misunderstandings when it comes to forgiveness is that you are doing it for the sake of someone else. That when you forgive, you are to forget the behaviour or actions that have wronged you. That you must reconcile with that person or group, and that you excuse their actions and/or behaviour.
When we believe that this is what forgiveness is, we can find it near impossible to do what we need to help ourselves. Forgiveness is none of that.
Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves and ourselves only.
What is forgiveness?
There are a range of definitions around what forgiveness is but when it comes down to it, forgiveness looks at the intentional decision to let go of the negative feelings or retribution towards a person or group that has harmed you. This is regardless of whether or not they deserve your forgiveness.
Just like any other way we enhance our mental health, forgiveness is an individual journey. It is something that you do for yourself. A choice you make.
Some are more readily available to find it within themselves to forgive whilst others have great difficulty. There are things that we mightn’t be able to forgive and someone else can. Forgiveness can also take a long time. This is all fine. It is always about the individual.
With all of this in mind though, there are some things that may be so abhorrent that we cannot forgive and that is ok. Just because we are reading here that forgiveness can help our mental health, if we find ourselves in a position where we can not forgive, we need to find alternate ways to make sure we do not harbour the negativity and that it doesn’t consume us. This might be a time where you seek out support from a professional as one of many strategies to help. Any way that we can seek support is so important and again, completely up to the individual.
How do you forgive?
Even though it may come more naturally to some people, forgiveness is something that we can practice and it is not just for those who foster an inner happiness. Some of the ways to help us when we want to forgive can include:
- Embracing and understanding all the feelings associated with what needs to be forgiven. This may not be easy. Write them down or talk to someone you trust.
- Fostering empathy. Sometimes being able to be sensitive to another’s thoughts and feelings can help make it easier to see a different perspective and lead to forgiveness.
- Broadening your perspective – look for the “bright side”. Holding a grudge can narrow our perspective and have us just focus on the bad. It might be a little controversial, but try to open your mind to actually reflecting on any personal benefits you may have gained from the hurt.
- The practice of mindfulness. As mentioned in a previous post, the benefits of mindfulness are so important for our mental health. Being in the moment and aware of what is happening at the time and the feelings that are being evoked, can benefit our ability to forgive.
- Forgiving yourself. Self-forgiveness is key. If we are holding onto guilt or shame about aspects in our lives or within the situation where we need to practice forgiveness, it becomes extremely difficult to forgive. Put practices in place where you can forgive yourself so that you are not harbouring the negativity that can inhibit moving forward.
- Only forgiving if and when you are ready. It is a personal journey. If you are not ready to forgive, that is your choice and your choice alone. No one can force you and even if it takes a long time, that is ok.
Benefits of forgiveness.
When we put in place a practice of forgiveness, it benefits our mental health in a variety of ways. Forgiveness brings about peace of mind and helps us let go of the deep negative feelings that can inhibit our ability to move on in life. Below are just a few of the ways that a practice of forgiveness can benefit our mental health:
- Helps us build self-esteem
- Increases our happiness
- Can increase our kindness and strengthen our spirituality
- Supports relationships and connectedness
- Reduces anxiety
- Increases our ability to cope with stress
Forgiveness isn’t always the answer, however, it empowers you. It enables you to heal and not let the negative feelings and emotions define you.