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Monday, 08 May 2017 15:41

Why Should We Forgive?

Written by  D. Kim Hamblin, Ph.D.
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Forgiveness has long been addressed by religious faith and beliefs. It is only in the last couple of decades that psychotherapists have begun to see the importance of forgiveness. We all know of Peter’s question to Jesus about forgiving.

 

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew, Ch. 18, vs. 21, 22, NIV)

 

Jesus gives a numerical answer that is more symbolic than literally numerical. Jesus taught us that we should forgive unconditionally.  There seems to be a considerable difference between the Old Testament writings about forgiveness (often Jewish law) and Jesus’ instruction. The Old Testament suggests that forgiveness is given only when it is asked for. The rabbis often taught that people should forgive those who offend them, but only three times, citing the book of Amos.

 

This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent. Because she thrashed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth…” (Amos, Ch 1, vs.3 NIV)

 

An article written by Louis Smedes in a Christian magazine begins with the statement, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

 

Forgiveness is psychological, social, biological, and spiritual. Multiple studies by psychologists conducted over the last 10 years have shown positive mental health effects of forgiveness. Studies have shown that unwillingness to forgive and holding on to anger affects us both psychologically and physically. Forgiveness has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression, fewer physical health symptoms, and a lower risk of heart disease. Forgiveness can also help rebuild self-esteem by helping people change their view of themselves; some people who have suffered injustice end up not liking themselves.

 

Sometimes in discussing forgiveness with my patients, I have to explain what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is not weakness. Forgiveness does not require forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; sometimes those who have treated us abusively or unjustly remain dangerous. Forgiveness is not an event; it is a process that takes time. Sometimes old resentments resurface and need to be forgiven again. This is most likely to occur in a continuing relationship with someone we have forgiven wounds us again.

 

Forgiveness is not easy; it goes far beyond just stating that you have forgiven someone. Robert Enright, a Clinical Psychologist, has written extensively on forgiveness including a book on forgiveness therapy for mental health professionals. Enright lists what he believes to be 4 phases of forgiveness. The first is recognizing that you are angry and that the anger has harmed you. It means that you have not been able to get the injury or the offender out of your mind and believing that the injury has caused a permanent change in your life. The second is making a commitment to forgive. It includes realizing that your anger has had an effect not only on you but on others. It is surrendering the perceived right to get even. The third phase is truly working on forgiveness. It means accepting the pain and working towards compassion. Developing empathy is an important component of forgiveness. Empathy means the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. It means trying to gain perspective on the offender and understanding the force that may have driven someone to harm you. The last phase is letting go and releasing yourself from an emotional prison.

 

Forgiveness should not necessarily be made public; the offender may not see himself as having harmed you in some way. Forgiveness is in a sense a gift to the offender, but it may be rejected and the reason for your anger denied. Ultimately you forgive for yourself. You forgive in order to let go of the past and began to move forward.

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 08 May 2017 15:43
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