Forgiving others can be a difficult thing to do. When another person causes us harm in some way, it’s natural to want to hold them accountable. This ‘holding them accountable’ can often turn into attempting to get justice for the wrongs committed or holding onto pain which leads to resentment. However, forgiving someone who hurt you (even if they aren’t sorry) is one of the best ways to free yourself from the pain.
When it comes to forgiveness, it can come more easily to some and harder to others. Forgiveness can also depend, in part, on the harm that was committed as well as the attitude of the person in question. Say, for example, someone bumps into you at the grocery store. In one scenario, the person could be very apologetic immediately and it’s easy to forgive them. On the other hand, another person could instead not say they’re sorry, and in some cases, act like it was your fault. In this situation, it may be a little harder to forgive the accidental bump.
However, forgiveness is something that happens (or should happen) over and over again in life. From the simple grocery store misstep to more grievous actions, like betraying trust or physically hurting you or someone you love. Some things can be easier to forgive than others. But, it’s equally important to forgive all of these misgivings no matter what.
Why is Forgiveness Important?
Getting our feelings hurt and having people do things we wish they didn’t are part of life. No one gets through life without feeling some type of hurt at one time or another. However, what each of us does when we are hurt can make a big difference in how our lives go. Those who are able to forgive, tend to experience happy lives with more peace of mind than those who hold onto pain, anger, and resentments.
For many, pain and trauma have been frequent experiences in their lives. Some have been harmed deeply and repeatedly. This trauma and inability to forgive can lead to resentments that can last a lifetime–and rob you of a life. In fact, those individuals who have trauma in their childhood are more likely to suffer from an alcohol or substance use disorder later in life. Many times people who are carrying a deep amount of pain turn to substances like alcohol to help ease or numb the pain. This can, in turn, lead to addiction.
Forgiveness is more than just letting go of pain and resentment. True forgiveness, according to some experts who have studied forgiveness for decades, is also learning to feel empathy, compassion, and understanding. In fact, according to Bob Enright, Ph.D., who is a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and pioneered a study on forgiveness in the early 2000s, said that forgiveness exercised in this way is not only virtuous but also helps in positive psychology moving forward in life.
Many people mistakenly think that forgiving someone is in essence letting them off the hook for what they did. With true forgiveness, this isn’t the case. According to Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, true forgiveness isn’t the same as reconciliation or getting justice. Forgiveness can happen without ever coming into contact with the person who caused the harm again. Forgiveness happens inside you.
Learning How to Forgive
Forgiving someone who hurt you may come easier to some people than to others. However, it’s important to understand that you can actually learn to forgive. That’s right, forgiveness training can help you to learn how to not just let go of the hurt, but as Enright mentioned, also find empathy, compassion, and understanding for the person who harmed you.
Learning how to forgive may be more important than many people think. According to decades of research, forgiveness is linked to decreases in anxiety, depression, and reduced physical symptoms of these mental health issues. In fact, in the book, Forgiveness and Health, There are detailed physical and psychological benefits associated with forgiveness discussed.
So what if you can’t seem to let go and forgive let alone find empathy and compassion for the person in question? According to experts, there are steps you can take to learn to forgive others. Forgiveness involves not just one or two skills but a set of skills used together to achieve real forgiveness.
These skills include:
- Managing emotions
- Adjusting point of view or perspective
Each of these will help you in learning how to truly forgive someone who has hurt you.
Positive psychology research into forgiveness and forgiveness training reveals that when individuals learn to forgive and adopt the above-listed skills forgiveness of even the most grievous crimes is possible. In fact, studies show that once a person learns how to forgive, this process can be applied to every situation from the grocery store bump to the following:
- Abusive or neglectful parents
- Sexual or mental abuse
- Unfaithful partners
- Loved ones with substance use disorders
- Elder abuse situations
When it comes to forgiveness, what works for one situation can really work for another. However, the important thing to remember is that forgiveness is a process. And, in many cases, the more hurtful the grievance, the longer the process can take.
While the skills listed above are essential for forgiveness, it’s also important to understand that feeling the pain, being hurt, and grieving are also vital parts of the forgiveness process. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending you weren’t hurt, or even downplaying what happened and how it impacted you. It’s essential to get angry, feel hurt, or address whatever initial feelings you may be having. If possible, talk to an understanding supportive friend, family member, or counselor about what happened. Take the time to tell your story of the pain, what happened, and how you feel.
Feeling the pain associated with a wrong doing is an important part of the forgiveness process. Many times, individuals will either rush past or avoid this pain or on the other hand, get stuck in the pain and anger. Both are detrimental. These can both lead to resentments and resentments can cause ongoing pain and a decreased quality of life. This is especially true if the person with the resentment becomes dependent on alcohol or another substance to help them cope. As mentioned, this is not uncommon with trauma victims.
Why Forgiveness Matters in Recovery
Often, individuals who have experienced some type of trauma in childhood develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Research shows a strong correlation between PTSD and substance abuse. In fact, one study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported that 59% of youth with PTSD develop a substance abuse problem. And while forgiveness may not be at the top of everyone’s mind when it comes to substance abuse, it plays a key role in sobriety.
Learning to let go of the past and forgive not only others but yourself is a vital part of the recovery process. According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, holding onto resentments is fatal to those with an alcohol problem. This can be applied to any type of substance abuse problem. While many who end up with problems with substance or alcohol abuse may have childhood trauma, learning to forgive in recovery is essential for everyone.
This is one reason why getting holistic treatment for substance abuse or alcohol abuse is important. Recovery isn’t just about stopping using a substance, it’s about healing the body, mind, and spirit. When these three pieces are addressed, long-term recovery is possible.
It may seem really hard to forgive certain people, certain situations, and let go of certain pains. However, it’s crucial to realize that you are only hurting yourself when you can’t forgive. And if you want to forgive but just don’t know how or can’t seem to do it, seek support. Not only are there great self-help books and programs that address forgiveness, but there are also counseling and other support groups that can help.
Certain recovery support groups have forgiveness as a big part of the program. These groups can help you to stay healthy mentally and spiritually by practicing their principles. As you can see, although forgiving those who hurt you can be very hard to do, it can be learned and is well worth the effort. Here’s what Buddha had to say about forgiveness;
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder associated with trauma, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Contact us online or call 866-804-2098.