What is forgiveness and why is it important? What are the benefits of forgiveness? Why should we forgive someone for something that hurt us deeply? Does forgiveness mean that you fall right back into a trap you just got out of?
Have you ever asked yourself any of those questions? Forgiveness can be a touchy topic, but it is an important one. It can be uncomfortable to talk about forgiveness because it usually means revisiting things that you would rather leave forgotten, especially if it’s rooted around a traumatic event in your life.
Forgiving others is one of the secrets to being happy and content in your life that I cover in my course, Questing for Contentment.
What is forgiveness in simple words?
When we look at the benefits of something, it’s a good idea to start with the definition first. That way we know we are on the same page. The definition of forgive is “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)”
In plain language, the meaning of forgiveness is that you stop feeling resentful towards someone. You can easily see how this carries huge benefits of forgiveness for the person that’s forgiving!
I once heard it described by my former pastor with this story: He was down in the woods and was cutting some trees, and doing some clearing work. The chainsaw slipped and instead of cutting wood, he cut deeply into his leg. He was able to get out and get help, but till the day he died, he had a scar on his leg from the accident.
“Forgiveness is like that,” he told us. “It hurt a lot at the time. But now all that’s left is a scar and it don’t hurt no more. I still remember it, but it doesn’t hurt.”
Why are the benefits of forgiveness so powerful?
Forgiveness sets us free. It lifts an invisible load off our shoulders. That is, perhaps, the most powerful benefit of forgiveness. When someone hurts us deeply, our first reaction is to often lash back at them. Bitterness and grudges are a way that we try to do that. The problem is that those grudges and that bitterness don’t hurt the person who wronged us. They hurt us, slowly poisoning our thoughts, feelings, and other relationships.
Grudges and bitterness poison our hearts. Forgiveness is the antidote.
Can the benefits of forgiveness include physical healing?
It’s no accident that sites such as Berkley, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, Healthline, Mind Body Green, and John Hopkins Medicine all have articles on forgiveness. From a scientific perspective, some health benefits of forgiveness are:
- Lowering the risk of heart attack
- Lowering blood pressure
- reducing stress
- improving cholesterol levels
- reducing pain
- reducing levels of anxiety, depression and stress
How does forgiveness heal?
In my own opinion, forgiveness heals because it is of God.
An undeniable connection exists between our brains and our bodies. Science has not completely unlocked all of its mysteries. We do know that there is a connection between certain brain chemicals and our emotions. Many of these have to do with our stress responses.
There have been some scientific studies starting in the 1980s that try to figure out exactly how forgiveness heals and explore some of the benefits of forgiveness. It’s even mentioned in “The Handbook for Positive Psychology” put out in 2002 by the Oxford press. I have not found exactly how forgiveness heals from a scientific standpoint.
But if you have ever struggled with forgiving a deep hurt, and then succeeded, you have felt in your heart how a weight is lifted off you. Sometimes the “how” is not as important as just knowing and feeling that it does.
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What is true forgiveness?
Forgiveness is learning from your mistakes but letting go of the guilt that holds you back. That’s a huge benefit of forgiveness! However, true forgiveness does not mean there will be reconciliation and you will make up with whoever hurt you.
True forgiveness is dealing with the consequences of what happened to you, taking the lesson, and moving on. It’s releasing the pent-up anger and bitterness so that it doesn’t poison your good relationships.
True forgiveness is a scar of something that once hurt, but doesn’t give you pain any more. You have let it go and moved on, but kept the lesson.
How can I practice forgiveness?
The first step in forgiving is mostly a decision. Then comes the hard part – sorting out the emotions. Be patient with yourself on this part. It will take your heart time to heal. If the steps explained below are not enough, I have listed some additional resources on the benefits of forgiveness and the steps to do so at the very bottom of this post. forgiveness is hard, but the benefits of forgiveness make it worth the effort!
1. Decide to forgive the person.
This is the easiest step in the whole process to me because it’s intellectual. You decide that you are going to forgive someone that wronged you. This does not mean that you have to reconcile with the other person. It means that you decide to not hold hate and bitterness in your heart.
Or this person that you need to forgive might even be yourself. If that’s the case, then yes, you do have to live with yourself and reconcile. No getting around that if it’s you. We are often very hard on ourselves through our inner critics.
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2. Think about the person that you have decided to forgive.
I know, this step is hard and often stirs up strong feelings. Pain, anger, resentment, bitterness, helplessness, and any number of other emotions. You just ripped the bandaid off an old wound. All that hurt, pain, anger, resentment, and bitterness – that’s what needs to heal.
3. Acknowledge You Feelings
All too often we make the mistake of trying not to feel anything, or stuffing negative emotions away. We just sweep them under a figurative rug and hope they will go away. That may work for a time, but at some point, someone will unknowingly lift that rug up or bump it and they will all come flooding out.
It’s ok to feel sad, angry, etc. As my mom used to tell me “Feelings are ok. Some actions are not.” Acknowledge them and bundle them up, because in the next step we’re about to take them all up to someone that can handle them better than we can.
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This is a step that you will not find in any scientific mental health guide to forgiveness, but I believe it is a vital step. God forgives his children of their sins, so we should forgive others. He is the Great Physician. There is no one better to fix your broken heart than the one that made you in the first place. He knows your hurt, your anger, your bitterness, and your tears. He knows the anguish of your heart. Give all that to Him. Ask Him to help you forgive.
Say to yourself or to God “I forgive….”
(Perhaps another benefit of forgiveness is that it will bring you closer to God. Forgiveness is a hard thing. You will be praying about it many times as you go through this process.)
5. Empathize and Reflect
After you have said that you forgive someone, this is where the process part comes in. Just as it takes time for a physical wound to heal, it also takes time for emotional wounds to heal. By saying that you forgive someone and working on those feelings you have started a process that may take some time.
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Think about the situation with empathy or sympathy. Reflect on what you have learned or how the experience has strengthened you. The person might have been acting out of their own fear or likely dealing with their own issues. How people treat other people is largely a reflection of how they feel about themselves.
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Why is forgiveness so hard?
Forgiveness is hard because it involves dealing with very strong emotions. It doesn’t make any sense in the natural world. Forgiveness is a way that we show God’s love in us.
That unconditional love business sounds easy on paper, but sometimes it’s hard to put into practice! Remember a time when it was you on the other end, though. Was there ever a time that you messed up and needed forgiveness?
Is forgiveness an action?
Yes. Forgiveness is an action. It’s not one that can be seen, only felt in your own heart. You forgive for yourself because that’s the one that’s really hurting when you don’t. It frees you. It’s not an action that can be readily seen, but it is an action, nonetheless.
Is reconciliation always a benefit of forgiveness?
No, forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. The two are often associated with one another but they are different. Forgiveness means that no longer let feelings of bitterness and hurt chain your heart and hold you captive. Reconciliation means that you make up with the other person.
Reconciliation can be a benefit of forgiveness, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s great when you can reconcile, and it’s the ideal situation. But we know that life does not always hand us the ideal situation.
Does forgiveness mean no consequences?
There are always consequences for choices. Forgiveness does not mean that we go right back to the person that hurt us and let them do the same thing again. We still need to take the lesson.
My personal story with forgiveness:
In college, I thought one of my roommates was my best friend. I later realized that she used me and manipulated me to get me to do things for her. It came out that she was a pathological liar (her description) and that she had always had a problem with it. I felt betrayed and deeply hurt.
I prayed about it – a lot. Then, I went through all the steps of forgiveness I listed above and asked God if I should stay roommates with her or if I should go. Three different people came to me in the next few days seemingly out of the blue and told me to get out. Staying would not have helped either of us.
There were Still Consequences
I separated myself from her. She found a new roommate and moved out. I went by her new room and bumped into her and asked how she was doing. She was doing to the new roommate the same thing that she did to me. Taking her into confidence, telling her she was her best friend. Doing things and going places with her.
At that point, I was willing to still be friends with her. Until she lied to me again for no good reason. This time, I knew it was a lie. I could see it more clearly. What also became clear to me was that she was going to keep lying to me no matter what.
She was one of the first toxic people I had to cut out of my life. It hurt, but it would have hurt both of us more to stay. She needed to learn not to take advantage of people’s trust. And that there were consequences for her actions.
The experience helped us both
Years later, she found me on social media and sent me a private message. She told me that when I had left it had been a defining moment in her life and that had taught her a valuable lesson. She thanked me for that and told me that even if were never friends again, she wanted me to know I had made a difference in her life.
Walking away was painful because giving up on people does not come easy, but if my walking away helped her to have better trusting relationships with others, then it was worth it. In this case, there were benefits of forgiveness for both of us.
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Was it really forgiveness since I walked away?
You might be asking if I forgave her, then why did I walk away? Was that really forgiveness?
I do forgive her and hold no ill will towards her. When I heard that she was married and became a teacher, I rejoiced for her. She went wild caving with her husband once. She always did have a sense of adventure and a smile on her face.
I no longer cry as I think about what happened. Just like my pastor that had the chainsaw accident, the scar on my heart is still there, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. In many ways, I am grateful to her for teaching me some life lessons that I desperately needed to learn.
Some huge benefits of forgiveness for me include being able to smile when I think of her and being able to remember the good times, her good qualities, and sometimes her quirky sayings. (She hated getting up early. She would often refer to the “butt crack of dawn.”)
Bible Verses about Forgiveness
One of the benefits of forgiveness that I did not list above is that it makes for some beautiful and heartfelt reading in the Bible. Here are a few verses to get you started. All verses are from the KJV.
- “And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” – Eph. 4:32
- “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Col 3: 12-14
- “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” Matt 18:21-22
- “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also; for if I forgave any thing to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” – II Cor 2:10-11
- “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” – I John 2:12
- “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” -Psalms 130:3-4
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The last word on why should we forgive those who hurt us and the benefits of forgiveness
There are many more benefits of forgiveness than what I am able to mention here. But for one, it helps us to live happier lives. It helps our current relationships to be more loving, and it sets our hearts free from shackles of bitterness and hurt. It helps reduce our stress level and has mental and physical health benefits. It’s also the right thing to do and part of living a good life.
It stops the victimhood mentality and helps us set a good example for when we are the ones that need to be forgiven. That’s all of us from time to time! forgiveness is an action, and it does not always mean reconciliation. It means that like a scar, it is the mark on our hearts of something that once hurt us, but no longer gives us pain.
My wonderful one, there is not an adult heart that will escape this life without a few scars. This life has many ups and downs, and lessons along the way. Let us learn and grow as we go. Do you have any advice for someone struggling to forgive or do you know some more benefits of forgiveness? Leave me a comment below!