Why You Should Forgive (Even if You Don’t Want To)

This piece was written by Rina Dishpande for Sonima. Find more like it here

“Forgive and forget.”

If only it were that simple.

Though it’s sound advice, the saying implies that forgiveness is an easy, one-shot deal. So when you’re still experiencing anger or pain long after you’ve been hurt by someone, it’s easy to question why you’re not “over it” yet.

In mindfulness tradition, forgiveness of others is the ongoing practice of freeing yourself and others from suffering through the practice of compassion. It is recognizing that the pain brought upon you by someone else stems from his or her own deep suffering. As described by Thich Nhat Hanh, it is the understanding that while we are the victims of others who cause us suffering, they themselves are also victims of suffering. Though it never justifies abuse or violence, understanding that suffering stems from suffering can help ease the forgiving process and gradually offer spiritual and emotional freedom to the forgiver.

In recent research, forgiveness has been found to support psychological relief such as reduced anxiety, anger, and depression. In science publications, forgiveness is usually defined as the process of giving up revenge, resentment, and harsh judgment against a person who caused hurt and instead responding with kindness, compassion, and generosity. It may occur with or without direct reconciliation between the offender and the offended.

In both Eastern philosophical practice and in clinical study, forgiveness is acknowledged as a process. Sometimes it’s quick and sometimes it takes a lifetime. What varies greatly are views on how and why we should forgive. As the founder of the Forgiveness Project, Marina Cantacuzino, discovered through years of gathering stories, there are those of us who see forgiveness as a noble act and there are those who “laugh it out of court.”

What’s the benefit of forgiving versus carrying a grudge?

The Physiology of Forgiveness

In research published in 2011 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers explored the link between forgiveness and longevity in a novel three-year longitudinal study. Over 1,000 American men and women averaging 75 years of age were interviewed about their philosophies and practices of forgiveness of others. Among a few measures, conditional forgiveness was assessed by level of agreement with statements such as, “Before I can forgive others, they must apologize to me for the things they have done” and, “Before I can forgive others, they must promise not to do the same thing again.”

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This story was originally published on Sonima.com. If you enjoyed this story, check out these other articles: 

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