There are hundreds of opinions on the issue of forgiveness. What is forgiveness? What does forgiveness mean? To arrive at the underlying truth, experts need to be consulted. Some organizations and individuals have spent considerable time investigating this important aspect of human nature.
Individuals are divided on the issue of forgiveness. Some believe that forgiveness is better than keeping a grudge. Others believe that some faults can never be forgiven due to its seriousness. To possess a better understanding of this issue, it is essential to go back to the roots. When the underlying teaching is explained, forgiveness can be understood better.
There are different aspects relating to forgiveness that need to be tackled prior to getting a deeper appreciation on the issue. It needs to be defined according to how different disciplines view it. The issue needs to be explained well, in order to get the different views that will assist in a deeper understanding.
A definition of forgiveness will not be complete if only one aspect is explored. Since the act involves the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of an individual, a working definition embracing different views will be very helpful.
- The Psychological Definition – Psychologists generally give this definition to what is forgiveness. It is a decision that a person makes to release the feelings of anger or vengeance toward a group or a specific person. The decision is one that is conscious and one that is deliberate. An individual can never be forced into a decision of forgiveness. It has to be voluntary and conscious to be genuine.
- The Spiritual Definition – Religious leaders believe that forgiving people of the wrong they have done to you is essential to your forgiveness before God. The doctrine follows the thought that if you do not forgive those who sinned against you, God will not forgive you as well. This is stated in the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that many religions recite during religious activities.
What does forgiveness mean to the religious leader? It is a requirement for God’s forgiveness. More than that, forgiving others for the wrong they have done to you, is consistent with the teaching of many religious teachers that goes – if God can forgive us our sins, we are not in a position to withhold forgiveness to others.
- The Other Definition – Other experts believe that forgiveness cannot be given until the affected person overcomes the different stages that happen after the harm was committed. They believe that forgiveness can only be given after the individual has gone through the process from being hurt to giving out forgiveness. Processing the event and the offense is a requirement prior to the conscious decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is Difficult – The author Fred Luskin, who is considered a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness says that to forgive someone is difficult. However, it is not impossible. He has helped hundreds of people from difficult ages, backgrounds, and geographical locations. One article mentions he has helped individuals from traumatic experiences in Northern Ireland to worse experiences in Sierra Leone in Africa.
Another author Jack Kornfield, who is a renowned teacher of Buddhist psychology and a psychologist, shares the same comment. The difficulty and possibility of forgiveness is presented through stories in the lives of real people. People go through such a period of difficulty prior to releasing forgiveness.
- Forgiveness takes Time – The time element involved in forgiveness is composed of stages. Some overcome one stage faster than the rest and so forgiveness can be given fast. Others overstay in certain stages and they brood for a long time before moving on to the next.
The time element gets stretched because of our propensity of say “no.” When people do not get what they want, whatever it is, then the forgiveness time frame gets stuck. If someone harmed another person, and he cannot get even, will the person forgive? Of course the answer is “no.” The list can go on from spouses who got betrayed to business partners who got swindled by another party.
- Forgiveness is Possible – Whatever the drawbacks that come along, forgiveness is still possible. It is an inherent trait in humans that they can forgive but they resist it. After the brooding and the mourning phase, comes the most exciting part of all. The time when you can now forgive. Doing so, according to psychologists, allows you to move on forward and accept things as they are. When this happens, you are back on your toes and you can be at your best.
- Forgiveness gives Psychological Benefits – Practitioners of different branches of psychology are agreed that there are visible psychological benefits to forgiveness. When a person is angry, plotting revenge, and pondering on the issue, there is a loss of focus on the vital elements of a happy life. An individual, who does not forgive, will find it hard to be happy much more to move on. If forgiveness is not granted consciously and voluntarily, the emotional weight will drag the person down and make the person unproductive.
- Forgiveness gives Physical Benefits – You do not need a medical degree to compare a person weighed down with being unforgiving and someone who has granted forgiveness. Science has proven that if the human body is subjected to a lot of stress, it gives out a chemical that upsets many of the normal bodily functions. Ulcers for instance are stress related. Not extending forgiveness may give you lots of stomach ulcers and it goes the other way. When you forgive, you get freed from stress and your body begins to function normally.
- Forgiveness gives Spiritual Benefits – If being angry gives you inner turmoil, extending forgiveness gives you inner peace. This spiritual benefit is the best thing that you can have when you give out forgiveness. When things get settled and you analyze it, you are the primary beneficiary of forgiveness. You will have peace of mind, you throw off any emotional weight and your physical condition will drastically improve.
The underlying truth about forgiveness brings us to what forgiveness is not; and this is extremely important. Forgiveness is a mental decision, first and foremost, and it is also a decision of the will. While there is an emotional part involved, the decision is made inside your head.
- Forgiveness does not mean setting the offender free – Forgiving someone does not mean the person gets to be free from responsibility. Even if you forgive, there are consequences of the action that will be dealt with. For instance, a murderer might be forgiven by the relatives of the victim. It does not mean however, that he will not be apprehended and sent to jail.
- Forgiveness does not mean telling the offender to do it again – When you forgive, you are not giving the offender the license to do the act again. The offender will have to pay for the behavior. The forgiveness here relates more to the condition of the victim, so that the person will experience inner peace.
- Forgiveness does not mean being the victim a second time – The act of forgiveness never means you want to be the victim all over again. Instead, it means that the victim is given the opportunity to throw aside the negative side and move on to doing what is good. It is an opportunity for the offender to do what is right.
- Forgiveness does not mean you are denying what is reality – Giving out forgiveness never means you want to live in a fantasy world. On the contrary, you are living in reality as it is. Holding a grudge or planning revenge will never work and that is reality. Granting forgiveness works and that is reality as well.
- Forgiveness does not depend on the action of the offender – Oftentimes, the offender will not immediately accept fault and that is normal. The action does not prohibit you from extending forgiveness. Even when the offender is denying the deed, it is possible for forgiveness to expose the act.
Different sectors all agree on specific issues on forgiveness. They all agree that it is difficult to do. They all agree that in most cases, it can never be something that is granted automatically. They also agree that forgiveness can be granted because it is part of human nature.
What is the underlying truth about forgiveness? The answer simply lies in the answer to what is forgiveness and what does forgiveness mean.
Forgiveness is a decision made consciously and personally. Even if a person may not want to forgive because of some emotional issues, it is still possible to forgive. Both psychologists and counselors believe that once forgiveness is released the emotional aspect will follow.
Forgiveness means an offended individual needs to be proactive. This means making the move to forgive. Upon closer examination, the person who forgives gets all the benefits. The bodily functions that were affected by anger and other emotions get normal. The focus that was lost due to what happened gets restored. Most of all, the turmoil on the inside gets replaced by inner peace. It is still better to forgive than not to forgive at all.