Emotional wounds can fester and deepen in the absence of forgiveness, and it is important for one’s own mental health to learn how to shed the burden of rage.
Human life is filled with unhappy or downright evil events. Each day there are misunderstandings, value clashes, competitions, stumbles and even crimes. Sometimes there’s an apology, and often there isn’t.
Either way, holding on to the rights and wrongs of each day in one’s heart can create more wounds through memory, rather than allowing natural healing to take place.
Misconceptions About Forgiveness
How can anyone learn to be free of the cycle of wound, rage, deeper wounding, and blocked healing? The practice of forgiveness is the path to a whole and peaceful heart, but there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about how that forgiveness works in practice.
Forgiveness is an act of the will, not a warm fuzzy feeling. People often offer forgiveness and then believe that it hasn’t really happened because they fail to feel better right away.
Oddly enough, just deciding to forgive doesn’t make you feel better. Forgiveness is not an emotion, but a decision. It has to be given first, without any instant reward. Then, and only then, can healing begin to take place.
Forgiveness is Not Instant Gratification
Emotional wounds are similar to physical wounds in that they require time to heal naturally. If somebody injures you by stabbing you with a knife, and later apologizes, forgiving them does not mean that the knife wound will immediately close up and go away, healing still has to take its course.
Similarly, emotional and psychological wounding requires time for a healing process to take place. Forgiveness allows that process to begin.
Forgiveness will not instantly fix the psychological and emotional life, and keeping this in mind may help one to let go of carrying a grudge while waiting to “feel” forgiving.
In spite of the lack of an instant, clear emotional “high” from the decision to forgive, it is necessary because grudge-carrying hurts the one wounded, not the one who caused the hurt. In order to avoid the damage caused by a grudge, the hurt must be let go, good feeling or not.
Forgiveness is Not Conditional
It is often said that “you must repent in order to be forgiven” but that is from the point of view of the one causing the injury, not the one injured.
Forgiveness will not do any good to the person who hurt you if they do not repent, but it will do you good not to carry the grudge any more. You are free to decide for yourself when and whether to forgive, regardless of the other person’s attitude.
For those who are religious, this is also true in the case of God’s forgiveness of human sin: it is unconditional, and prior to any choice or movement of the human being.
Repentance is necessary for one’s own acceptance of God’s love, but forgiveness is in the nature of God, it doesn’t suddenly come into existence when it is received. Human beings can also learn to be forgiving by nature, ready to let go of hurts and slights without waiting to be asked.
Wherever you go, whatever kind of professional, social or cultural environment you find yourself in, a straightforward, unconditional forgiveness always has to be one of the tools in your toolbox of daily life to have a healthy, happy mind and spirit.