The Importance of Forgiveness: Healing Yourself
Note: This post was co-written by Ashton Rose and Rebecca Letterman.
We all know what forgiveness is. Or do we? Take a second right now to think about what forgiveness means to you. When you say you forgive someone, what do you mean by that? Why do you do it?
Many people think that we forgive others for the sake of others. When someone wrongs us, we tell them “I forgive you” so that they may understand we are no longer upset. But the truth is much more simple: we forgive others for the sake of ourselves.
Last week, we talked about moving through feelings and letting go. And forgiveness is related to that: we forgive others so that we may let go ourselves. So this week, let's explore the benefits of forgiveness, and why we do it.
Please note: this is not a post about how to forgive others. It is, instead, an analysis of the benefits of forgiveness, and why we forgive others.
Humans are selfish creatures
I do not say this in a bad way. I say it as an optimist: humans are selfish, and that can be a good thing. Most of the time, even when we think we are doing something for someone else, we are really doing it for ourselves. When we grieve the loss of someone, we are not grieving for them— we are grieving for our own loss.
The same concept applies to forgiveness. When we don’t forgive others, we carry a weight inside ourselves, and this weight negatively impacts us. So when we forgive, we are allowing ourselves to let go of this weight, thus improving our lives.
It doesn’t matter who “deserves” it
You may believe that some people don’t “deserve” to be forgiven. And perhaps you’re right— that’s a moral and philosophical debate, and there is no correct answer. But, since we forgive to help ourselves, it doesn’t matter who deserves it and who doesn’t.
If you feel like someone doesn’t deserve your forgiveness, you can choose to forgive them anyway. This will help you, and it doesn’t mean you’re saying that what they did was ok.
What happens when we hold on to hurt
When we hold onto the pain that is inflicted when others hurt us, it can have negative effects on both our physical and mental health. Yes, it is natural and often good to feel this hurt. But holding onto it forever isn’t good.
Holding onto pain is like carrying around a 50 pound backpack. At first, it may hurt, but over time, you may adjust to the weight, and feel like it’s fine to carry it. But even if you feel like you can handle it, that weight can cause issues in your spine, your back muscles, and your lower body.
That’s what holding onto grievances is like. Over time, it will negatively impact your mood, mental health, and outlook on life. It even has the potential to degrade your physical health. This article puts it quite succinctly: “When we hold on to hurt, we are emotionally and cognitively hobbled.”
Holding onto hurt can also make it harder for you to have healthy relationships, both with those who have hurt you and those who have not. So the benefits of forgiveness would be avoiding, or counteracting, all of this.
The benefits of forgiveness
Forgiving someone is like taking off that backpack: the strain it induced will no longer be there, and you can begin to heal from whatever damage it may have caused. Forgiveness has a lot of benefits to both your physical and mental health.
To start out, you free up valuable emotional space within yourself. This gives you more capacity to feel and deal with other feelings, or even to let more good feelings into your life. The fewer negative feelings you have taking up space inside your body, the better.
Choosing to forgive someone else can also improve your general mood and mental health, since you are no longer carrying around that hurt. It may help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Some studies have even shown that the benefits of forgiveness include improved physical health. A stronger immune system, lessened chronic pain, and general physical well-being can all be affected by forgiveness.
The relationship benefits
Choosing to forgive someone who has hurt you can also have benefits for your relationships, which is still a benefit to you. After all, the better your relationships, the happier you may be.
Firstly, if you still want to have a relationship with the person who harmed you, forgiving them will greatly help you with that. Since you’re no longer carrying around that hurt, you are more able to move past it, and to continue to foster healthy relations with this person. And if you don’t want to have a relationship with them, then that’s fine— there’s nothing wrong with wanting to leave those who have hurt you.
But it can also improve your other relationships. Since you aren’t carrying around that weight, you have more space for other people, and can be more emotionally present with those you care about, So forgiving helps you improve your internal self as well as your external relationships.
Forgiving for ourselves
So there you have it. A brief overview of all the ways that forgiveness can help you, and how not forgiving others can harm you. And always remember: you are doing this for yourself, for no one else, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe the other person deserves it.
Do you have your own stories about forgiveness, or how it benefits you? Want to ask questions? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or tag us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).