Forgiveness is an important life skill and an active choice. It is the antidote to bitterness and resentment.
What is forgiveness?
Greater Good Magazine offers this definition: “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
What stands out here is that forgiveness is a conscious and deliberate decision. It's not forgetting and it’s not about minimising the consequences of what has happened. We often think of forgiveness as having to forgive someone else, but it’s equally important to learn self-forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of courage because it asks us to let go of our feelings of anger, hurt and revenge.
Why is it important?
Life is full of challenges and things often don’t go our way. Clients cancel contracts, employees make avoidable errors, we lose our focus, someone cuts us up in traffic, a stranger is rude, we miss our tax deadline by a day and need to pay a fine. The list goes on and on. When things don’t go our way we can feel like we’re fighting against the stream and life can feel really tough. Feelings of victimhood and resentment can creep in. These feelings can poison our thoughts, making us feel angry and powerless. Sometimes we blame ourselves for our failures but most of the time we blame others and the world. The world becomes a dark place.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Mandela is an outstanding example of both forgiveness, self-discipline and patience. After he was imprisoned for 27 years he was elected as President of South Africa in 1994 and united the country on democratic principles. He did not allow his resentments towards his captors, or white South Africans generally, infect his leadership or the country. It would be all too easy to allow resentment to overcome you after being unjustly imprisoned for so many years.
I believe that Mandela commands respect as a leader because of how he was able to do what most others couldn't: practice forgiveness and thereby unite a nation.
When we accept the things we cannot change then we have a chance to practice forgiveness. It's a transformation of our heart and when practiced sincerely it frees us up emotionally. There's no limit to forgiveness in the human heart. Practicing it is ultimately an act of self-love – whether we’re forgiving others or ourselves.
Forgiveness in business and life
Having a good understanding of this Concept will also help you manage risk in your business. If you have trouble practicing it then you won’t feel comfortable taking risks because the consequences will be too high if you don’t succeed. You need to learn how to be comfortable making mistakes and forgiving yourself and others when things don’t work out. Learn from these experiences and then try again.
What forgiveness is not
While it can have a powerful internal healing effect, it's not forgetting what happened and it’s also not condoning bad, inappropriate or harmful behaviour. It's also not a replacement for setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in our relationships. Without forgiveness, healing cannot begin.
How to practice forgiveness
In order to forgive one needs awareness and willingness. But even then it may not just magically appear. Depending on the situation we may also need to practice patience. If we often feel hurt or victimized then it may be that we’re being too sensitive and taking ourselves and the world too seriously. This may be a great opportunity to practice both humility and humor.
Why can’t I forgive?
Sometimes we just don’t have the willingness to forgive. Perhaps we feel too hurt or perhaps we’re afraid that if we forgive then we're at risk of being hurt again. In this sense, a resistance to practicing forgiveness is a defensive strategy that makes us feel protected. This is why it's sometimes an act of courage because we fear being hurt again but must forgive in order to find emotional freedom.
Finding the willingness to forgive
If we lack the acceptance required to forgive someone then we may need to be patient. I’ve found it very useful to journal my thoughts and feelings, especially things that I’m struggling to deal with. Meditation is also a very useful tool for processing our emotions. Sometimes we only become aware that we need to practice forgiveness when we realise we’re holding onto some resentment. Remember that finding the willingness to forgive may take some time. But bear in mind that we suffer the most when we don’t forgive. Our unforgiveness just doesn’t affect others as much as we’d like!
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that we won’t be hurt or make mistakes again – regardless of whether we choose to forgive or not. In fact we're all going to mess up and be messed around over and over many times during our lives. It’s just a part of life. If we harden our hearts every time we experience hurt, pain and disappointment then we risk our own mental health and wellbeing. Remember Mandela’s wise words: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Not practicing forgiveness is like drinking poison and it causes us more pain than practicing forgiveness! So we’re actually taking a bad situation and making it worse.
Need some help practicing forgiveness?
We all need a little help sometimes, especially when it comes to forgiveness. I’ve found the serenity prayer really useful to help me sort out what I need to accept and when I need to practice forgiveness. In my serenity prayer course I break down the serenity prayer and give you a daily routine with journaling so you can stay resentment-free and keep moving forwards in your life.
Forgiveness is an important and transformative life skill that allows us to heal and keeps us free from the poison of resentment. But sometimes we just don’t have the willingness to forgive. In these times we need to practice patience and humility with just a dash of humor. Remember, our ability to forgive is limitless and it doesn’t mean defeat or acceptance of bad behaviour.