What Forgiveness Is And What It Is Not


We have all, at some point, hurt others, whether in small or big ways. We have also been hurt by people we love, by family, friends, partners and even by people we did not know. We have been damaged directly or indirectly by the hatred of armed groups, wars, by the ambition of government entities and unfortunately even by organizations that claim to protect human rights. Why do we keep hurting each other? Why do we continue to believe that the answer to the evil in the world is with more hate?

We still believe that the enemy is outside But as Khyentse Rinpoche says, “the time has come to divert hatred from its usual targets, your supposed enemies, to direct it against yourself. In reality, your true enemy is hatred and it is him that you must destroy.” Forgiveness is the key.

Matthiew Ricard, in his book In Defense of Happinesspoints out that we do not usually consider a criminal the victim of his own hatred and much less understand that the desire for revenge that may arise in us fundamentally comes from that same emotion that has led the aggressor to hurt us.

Hate is limiting

Hate is the real poison, and if we are not aware of how anger is transformed into this feeling, we can end up in the position of the criminal, victim of his hatred. Imprisoned. Destroyed. Without peace. Reproducing an endless chain of pain.

Ricard mentions that this does not mean that we cannot feel a deep aversion and repulsion towards injustice, cruelty, oppression and harmful acts or fight to prevent them from happening. We can do so without succumbing to hatred and revenge and rather motivated by deep compassion for both the suffering of victims and perpetrators.

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Holding grudges, blaming, clinging, and dwelling too much on wounds, undermines our happiness and has a considerable effect on our physical and psychological well-being. Studies have suggested that forgiveness is a more effective way to respond, reducing stress and promoting happiness. However, how we react to those wounds is up to us. Forgiveness is a choice and a process. Pain and disappointments are inevitable, but that does not mean they should control our lives.

What is forgiveness?

Dacher Keltner, social psychologist and professor at the University of Berkeley, mentions that There are four components that help us scientifically define and measure forgiveness The first is the acceptance that the transgression or harm that someone has done to us has occurred. The second is the decrease in the desire or urge to seek revenge or compensation. The third (and especially when it comes to minor conflicts or with close people and the relationship can be resumed), is the desire to get closer, reduce the distance or avoid the other person. Finally, the fourth component involves a change in negative feelings toward the other person, such as increasing compassion and understanding of their own suffering, pain, ignorance, or confusion that has led them to hurt us.

Contrary to popular belief, forgiveness also allows us to establish the boundaries that are necessary to protect ourselves from experiencing harm from other people again. Jack Kornfield, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, defines forgiveness as the resolve not to allow the transgression to happen again, to protect yourself and others. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean talking to or relating to the person who betrayed you. It is not about the other, nor about a duty. It is a way to end one’s own suffering.

Forgiveness can demand justice and say “No more.” He mentions in turn that he is neither sentimental nor quick. For him, forgiveness is a deep heart process that can take a long time and can be difficult, both when it comes to forgiving others and ourselves. But it is a process that frees us and allows us to love.

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In turn, forgiveness also involves mourning the loss of things that did not work out the way we wanted and to stop waiting for a better past, because it has already happened, it is already done and it cannot be changed. That grief and pain have great value, because as Kornfield says “sometimes the things that make us vulnerable are those that open our hearts and lead us back to what matters most, to love and life.”

What is not forgiveness?

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting how others have hurt you, nor does it necessarily mean reconciling or relating to the person who hurt you. Neither approve his conduct or his offense, nor absolve him of his responsibility. Forgiving is not weakness or a sign of submission either. Instead, it requires courage, it means stopping constantly making someone responsible for your emotional well-being and change your attitude toward that original wound so that it does not continue to hurt you. It involves letting go of the burden you carry from that person who has hurt you.

Benefits of forgiving on health and relationships

Forgiveness tends to be positively associated with psychological well-being, physical health and good interpersonal relationships. People who tend to forgive others score lower on measures of anxiety, depression, and hostility (Brown 2003; Thompson et al., 2005). Likewise, letting go of a grudge is associated with lower levels of stress and cardiovascular reactivity (blood pressure and heart rate) (Witvliet et al., 2001).

According to a review of the literature on forgiveness and health by Everett Worthington and his colleague Michael Scherer (2004), failure to forgive can compromise the immune system. The review suggests that it may affect the production of important hormones and the way our cells fight infections and bacteria. At the same time, hostility is a central part of unforgiveness and has been directly related to numerous health problems, having more detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system (Kaplan, 1992; Williams and Williams, 1993).

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Researchers at the University of Miami link forgiveness to increased life satisfaction, more positive emotions, fewer negative emotions, and fewer symptoms of physical illness. They also found that people felt happier after forgiving someone with whom they reported having a close, committed relationship before the transgression and especially when the other person apologized and attempted to repair the damage, suggesting that forgiveness increases our happiness because helps repair interpersonal relationships, which previous studies have shown are vital to our long-term happiness (Bono, et al., 2007). Similarly, other studies have found that people who tend to forgive report greater quality, satisfaction, and commitment in their relationships.

Of course, there are limits. The context in which forgiveness occurs is important. For example, in marriages, the frequency of transgressions by its members moderates the effects of forgiveness. If a husband or wife continues to forgive his or her partner for his or her frequent transgressions, not only does his or her satisfaction with the relationship decrease, but his or her partner’s mistreatment, transgressions, or unwanted behaviors are likely to continue and even worsen because they do not. there are repercussions for their actions (McNulty, 2008).

Forgiving is not easy. It can seem almost impossible for us to forgive those who have hurt us in great ways. Even more unimaginable to feel compassion, understanding or empathy for the people who have offended or hurt us deeply. It can even cost us small grievances. However, it is likely that we all know stories of people who have managed to do it and who have shown us the importance and beauty of forgiveness. Forgiveness, as well as other positive emotions such as hope, compassion and appreciation, is a natural expression of our humanity.

Author: Jessica Cortés