This is one of the hardest spiritual concepts for us all to grasp.
It is a demon a lot of us would rather ignore and keep in our shadow.
It is much easier to hold on to resentment than it is to forgive someone.
We hear about the people who are able to forgive their assailants, murderers, rapists and more.
Women turned Buddhist monks visit jails and tell their stories of how being brutally gang raped for years in underground cells led them to a path of forgiveness.
Parents forgive the murderers of their children.
Kids forgive their name callers.
Married spouses forgive an affair.
Are these people Saints?
What makes them able to forgive instead of hold on to resentments?
Every day you have a choice to hold a grudge, let go of a resentment and embrace forgiveness as a path to peace.
Feelings of anger, rage, resentment, frustration, disappointment, victimization, and sadness.
Feelings of peace, serenity, tranquility, faith,
hope and a touch of realistic optimism.
Which would you prefer?
Before I learned about positive psychology, forgiveness seemed like an enigmatic blob almost as big as happiness.
Now, I look to the happiness work of Dr Walter Jacobson a Los Angeles based Psychiatrist and Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, an esteemed happiness researcher at University of California at Riverside to guide the process of forgiveness.
Dr Jacobson, author of the award winning book Forgive to Win, discusses a two step process of forgiveness:
Step one : recognize anger hurts and forgiveness heals. Recognize there are no advantages to unforgiveness and tremendous advantages to forgiveness. Recognize when you withhold forgiveness from others you are withholding forgiveness from yourself therefore keeping yourself in an emotional prison of victimhood and anger. Recognize when you forgive others you are forgiving yourself hence releasing yourself from guilt, shame, and self-loathing which cause self sabotaging behaviors which get in the way of your happiness.
Step two : Once you understand fully forgiveness benefits you more than anybody else it is a matter of letting go of resentments and grievances and judgments and other angry attach thoughts as soon as they enter your mind replacing them with thoughts of acceptance forgiveness and love. When the angry judgmental unforgiving thoughts reenter your mind, you again stop those thoughts and replace them with thoughts of forgiveness, acceptance and love. The more you do this the easier it becomes as your replace the habit of thinking negatively with the habit of thinking positively and lovingly.
Dr Jacobson really drives home the concept of forgiveness of self is really the benefit of forgiveness of others.
Dr. Lyubomirsky, offers a 8 step process of forgiveness in her book The How of Happiness.
- Appreciate being forgiven – Recall a time where you were forgiven.
- Imagine forgiveness – Imagine granting the offender forgiveness.
- Write a letter of forgiveness – This aids in letting go of anger bitterness and blame.
- Practice Empathy – Focus on achieving understanding concern and consideration of the other persons perspective.
- Consider charitable attributions – Write an apology letter to yourself from the transgressor, what would you like to hear?
- Ruminate less – Stop obsessing over the incident and live in the moment
- Make contact - Send your forgiveness letter or simply offer kindness to the person you privately forgave.
- Remind yourself - Nelson Mandela was asked how he could forgive his jailers, he replied with “When I walked out of the gate I knew that if I continued to hate these people I was still in prison.”
Forgiveness is a powerful and essential component of sustainable happiness.
Without building the ability to forgive as an emotional and social skill, sustainable happiness will only be a dream.
Each person is faced with a challenge in life where forgiveness is the only answer.
In this situation, the only way out of suffering is through….
Through forgiveness will come peace, serenity, tranquility and sustainable happiness.
Spend the time developing this skill.