Written by Ivette Moutzouris
Forgiveness is an important aspect of moving forward and experiencing healing from previous hurts and pain. It is often difficult to do and can involve a slow process whereby we cognitively and emotionally forgive only to have negative memories or insecurities trigger sadness again and make us question whether we have truly forgiven.
The negative consequences of not forgiving has been documented in studies that show that it can lead to emotional pain of anger, hate, hurt, resentment, bitterness and so on and as a consequence can create health issues, affect relationships and stop us from experiencing the freedom that forgiveness enables.
When we don’t forgive and experience symptoms of sadness, depression or anxiety the serotonin levels in our brain are lower than they should be which can also lead to other issues such as obsessive thinking. This can then lead to increased levels of stress hormones (cortisol) being released into our bodies because obsessive thinking is usually not a relaxing exercise.
It is difficult to forgive and it can take a very long time to get to that point and some of us may never get there or refuse to do so but hopefully our goal in life is to be healthy in every aspect of ourselves. If this is the case forgiveness can play an important emotional part in releasing us from the grips of our past. It isn’t an act that is just for the receiver but is equally if not more important for the person forgiving. It helps you to process a pain and see it in a different way and is in a way saying that “…my life is bigger than this pain”.
Does forgiveness involve forgetting? The Christian faith for example describes a God who both forgives and forgets the wrongs of people but I think that human nature makes it difficult for us to achieve this. However I do think that once you do forgive the positive consequences of releasing this pain and leaving it in the past can help you to move on better with your life and the sting of the pain can diminish. This in turn can lead to a healthier view of the future in which you aim to live well without being defined by the past hurts. Yvonne Dolan, a Solution-focused therapist alludes to this by suggesting that we transition from identifying as a victim, then as a survivor, and then moving beyond. She isn’t specifically talking in the context of forgiveness but she suggests a way forward which again is not defined by the problem.
Forgiveness also needs to occur with the ‘self,’ that is when our emotional pain and struggle stems from a lack of forgiveness to ourselves. When this happens we can become stuck in life and start to believe that we don’t deserve happiness, that’s it’s just not possible. This way of thinking is unhelpful and sets you up to look for negativity in your life and to not expect or initiate change that create a better, healthier future. This way of thinking is disempowering.
Forgiveness is rarely easy and as mentioned earlier is a process that can appear as if you take two steps forward and one step back but it has proven to produce positive changes that occur in the brain which are linked to emotional, physical and spiritual health.
2008, The Neurochemistry of Forgiving and Forgetting. Science Magazine.
Purdon, Christine & Clark, David. (2005). Overcoming Obsessive Thinking. New Harbinger Publications