by Kyle Hughes, M.S. Conflict & Dispute Resolution expected 2017

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the letting go of a grievance or judgment that you hold against someone else. When you forgive you also let go of feelings of bitterness, resentment, and vengeance.

Many people have difficulty with the word "forgiveness." We imagine forgiveness involves saying, "I forgive you" and includes a hug, pat on the back, a blessing.  That may be true sometimes, but not all the time. Forgiveness doesn't have to involve the other person and it is not for their benefit.

Note also that forgiveness does not mean not holding people responsible for their harms. In fact, many restorative processes provide people with the opportunity to talk directly to those who have harmed them, and to determine appropriate reparations as well as forward-looking commitments.

If the word "forgiveness" bothers you, you don't have to use it (or you could make up a new one). Processing emotional trauma and releasing old wounds is about more than a single word.

Why should I forgive?

Many studies have shown that practicing forgiveness is good for your emotional and physical health.

Anger, bitterness, hate—these emotions weigh heavily on your body and in your thoughts. When you don't process and release your emotions, they remain trapped inside you and can cause physical ailments like stomachaches and high blood pressure and can worsen depression and anxiety. When you forgive and let go of a grievance, you are freeing your body and your mind. Forgiveness isn't the only way to let go of negative emotions, but it's one of the best.

Do I have to forgive?

Forgiveness can be helpful to many and its ability to heal your wounds may surprise you if you try it. But forcing yourself to forgive before you're ready could actually deepen your feelings of trauma and anger. Don't let anyone try to convince you to forgive when you're not ready or don't want to. You are not broken just because you aren't ok with forgiving someone else's misdeeds.

So, how do I do it?

When someone has hurt us, it's normal to hold onto feelings of anger and resentment and to want revenge. But, when we cling to our anger because it feels justified, we can't heal. Whether or not you feel that forgiveness can be part of your healing process, the healing process itself is vital. While you heal, keep the focus on yourself. Focus on what you can do to make your life better and more whole.