Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. One doesn't have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviours from an offender.
Forgiveness is vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized. It propels people forward rather than keeping them emotionally engaged in an injustice or trauma. Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression. However, there are scenarios in which forgiveness is not the best course for a particular person. Sometimes a victim of sexual abuse becomes more empowered when they give themselves permission not to forgive.
Forgiveness can be challenging, especially when the offending party offers either an insincere apology or nothing at all. However, it’s often the healthiest path forward.
Steps to forgiveness - Uncover your anger by exploring how you’ve avoided or addressed the emotion. Make the decision to forgive. Begin by acknowledging that ignoring or coping with the offense hasn’t worked, and therefore forgiveness might provide a path forward. Cultivate forgiveness by developing compassion for the offender. Reflect on whether the act was due to malicious intent or circumstances in the offender’s life. Release the harmful emotions and reflect on how you may have grown from the experience and the act of forgiveness itself.
How do I overcome resentment? - Resentment can sometimes linger for years, even if we believe that we’ve “moved on” or “forgotten about it.” To release resentment, reflect on why the person may have committed the offense, sit with the pain, and then try to forgive the other person, because forgiveness can instil a sense of strength that overpowers bitterness.
How do I forgive my partner for cheating on me? - The decision to forgive an affair is deeply personal. A key component is for the partner who had the affair to be completely transparent and honest from that moment forward to rebuild trust in the relationship. This may involve exploring the reasons for the affair to address underlying problems and prevent infidelity in the future.
Are there any acts that are unforgivable? - No. Everyone has the right to decide whether or not they forgive another person. There are many examples of people who have forgiven others for horrendous crimes, such as shooting them or killing their child. If forgiveness ultimately instils peace or healing, there is no action too severe for forgiveness.
Do I have to reconcile with the other person if I forgive them? - No. Forgiveness and reconciliation are distinct concepts. Forgiveness is internal, and the process does not hinge on the offender offering an apology or reconciling afterward.
Why Forgiving Does Not Require an Apology - There is an important difference between forgiving and reconciling. Forgiveness is a moral virtue in which the offended person tries, over time, to get rid of toxic anger or resentment and to offer goodness of some kind to the offending person. Reconciliation is not a moral virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust.
All moral virtues concern the inner quality of goodness and the possible outward manifestation of it. For example, the moral virtue of justice has the inner quality of knowing what it means to give people what they deserve and the outward manifestation of being fair. If you sign a contract with a bricklayer to pay £1,000 for a new wall to be built, you first have the inner intention to pay for the work. You then follow through outwardly when you exercise the virtue by paying the bricklayer once the work is done.
If the bricklayer, for some unexplainable reason, leaves the UK never to return, and gives no forwarding address, you do not then exercise the outward manifestation of justice. You do not pay the £1,000. Yet, you have exercised the moral virtue of justice because you have the inner quality of fairness and the intention to pay.
It is the same with forgiveness. You start with the inner quality of a motivation to rid yourself of resentment and the inner intention to be good, within reason, toward an offending person. If that person has no inner sorrow, never intends to apologise or to make amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiveness directly to that person. Yet, you still can have the intention to reconcile if the person substantially changes and the interactions become safe. You even can show an outward quality of forgiveness, for example, by not talking disparagingly about the offending one to other people.
In forgiveness, if a person continually verbally abuses you, you can have the inner quality of struggling to rid yourself of resentment as well as the inner quality of intending to be good to the other if that other substantially changes. Yet, if that person shows you by continued verbal abuse that there will be no apology, no making amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiving, at least not toward the person directly.
As you forgive in the above circumstance, you do not reconcile.
Suppose now that you decide to make the following rule for your life: I will not forgive if I cannot reconcile. What, then, are the implications for your own inner world, for your own psychological health?
A growing body of research shows that as people forgive by exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness by trying to be good, within reason, toward an offending person, then the forgiver can reduce not only in anger but also in anxiety and depression and improve in self-esteem and hope. There are more reasons to forgive than this one, but this one can make a substantial difference to the forgiver’s health.
Why would you not want to become healthier? If you reject forgiving because you confuse it with reconciliation, you may be inadvertently depriving yourself of a second chance at a healthy psychological life and even at a healthy relational life with others (not necessarily with the offending person). Deep anger from injustices can lead to a lack of trust in general, thwarting potentially uplifting relationships. The offer of forgiveness can be unconditional, not at all dependent on the other's response of any kind, including an apology. Reconciliation, when at least one party is deeply and unfairly hurt, is conditional, dependent on how the offending party or parties understand their hurtful ways, change, and even apologise.
How we think about forgiveness matters a great deal. If we make the philosophical error of equating forgiving and reconciling, then we are allowing the effects of an offending person to live within us for a long time, perhaps even for a lifetime if the psychological wounds are deep enough.
Forgiving and reconciling are not the same. You are free to forgive, if you so choose, even if the other refuses to apologise.
How to Forgive Yourself - Forgiving another person is one thing, but what happens when we commit the offense ourselves? It’s important to take responsibility for mistakes, but intense guilt and shame aren’t a productive outcome in the long run.
The process of self-forgiveness can be a painful challenge but deeply valuable. Key to this process is owning up to one’s mistakes, understanding why they occurred, and helping to rectify the situation.
How do I forgive myself for past mistakes? - Begin by acknowledging that you are at fault and take responsibility for the hurt you caused. Reflect on why the event occurred and identify how to avoid a similar offense in the future. Then forgive yourself by focusing on the thought, saying it aloud, or writing it down. Apologize to the person you wronged and try to improve their life in a meaningful way.
Why is self-forgiveness so difficult? - Mistakes often become attached to underlying beliefs about ourselves, such as “I always say the wrong things” or “I’ll never be able to cover my bills.” Self-forgiveness can require these beliefs to be identified and addressed first. This pitfall and others make self-forgiveness especially challenging.
How can I stop ruminating and self-downing? - If you’ve done everything you can to fix the mistake, but you continue to beat yourself up, try a technique called “self-distancing.” Switch your internal dialogue from first person to third person and consider how an outsider would see the situation. This can help cultivate self-compassion and silence your inner critic.
The Benefits of Forgiveness - Forgiveness and Forgiveness Therapy have been linked to greater feelings of happiness, hopefulness, and optimism. The process of forgiveness can also protect against serious conditions such as anxiety and depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The act was also shown to benefit cardiac patients, by significantly lowering their blood pressure.
Harbouring anger and resentment leads to the body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline whenever the person comes to mind. A steady stream of those chemicals can lead to stress and anxiety as well as dampen creativity and problem solving.
What are the emotional benefits of forgiveness? - Forgiveness offers many positive psychological developments, such as reducing unhealthy anger, repairing potentially valuable relationships, growing as a person, and exercising goodness in and of itself, no matter the response. In addition to personal benefits, modelling forgiveness for others may lead to intergenerational and even societal improvement.