“A life lived without forgiveness is a prison.” ~ William Arthur Ward
A life lived without forgiveness is a life lived in the past. Living in the past is a conscious or an unconscious choice made through a connection to the past. In simple, the past is a time gone by and no longer exists in the present moment, but we choose to allow this past to occupy our minds, our bodies and our very existence. Living in the past is like choosing to cling to a chronic illness. Would you choose to be plagued with a chronic illness? Would you allow yourself to be
injected with a disease that could take your life? Why then, are you allowing yourself to be injected daily with the memories associated with the past? Why have you chosen to cling to the negative memories associated with your life? Have you found comfort with the negative memories, or do you feel incapable of letting go of the past?
Letting go of the past is through purposeful action. The action is the process with which we choose to rid the very essence of our person of the past. The past may be comprised of tragic events, thoughts, or circumstances. Whatever the case, the past is haunting you and it is denying you the freedom of moving forward in this life.
As a clinician and a person, I have been witness to countless individuals who have chosen to cling to the past. Clinging to the past is a purposeful action of recalling, remembering and harboring negative thoughts, deeds or actions. When we harbor the memories associated with the past, we are protecting the negative memories, rather than allowing them to exist no more. Moving beyond the past requires a combination of actions: letting go, forgiveness, and moving forward.
FORGIVENESS IS A STATE OF BEING
Forgiveness is not only a state of mind, but it is a state of being. It is woven through the very essence of our being. Forgiveness is a constant attitude occurring through a purposeful action. As humans, we are instinctively designed to forgive. It is only when we choose not to forgive that our minds, bodies, and spirits begin to experience disrepair. Those who choose not to forgive; choose to harbor the wrongs of others and of their own person, frequently have physical and psychological signs. Forgiveness cleanses the body, ridding it of the decay of negativity, disappointment, and heartache. It is through the act of forgiveness, that we can live a balanced and well-adjusted life. Forgiveness is the key to living life productively. Being productive enables us to be effective in this life, by producing the desires and intended results with which we may choose to acquire.
FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS
Forgiving others, especially our enemies, is a challenge indeed. What if, you had committed a wrong against another? Would you not have a deep desire to be forgiven? Have you ever experienced the denial of your repentance? What sort of effect did this have on your person? Were you shattered by the unwavering and unyielding of the person or persons you had wronged?
As a clinician, I have met a variety of patients / clients who’s hearts ache to be forgiven. As an individual, I too have had the experience of others denying the acceptance of my repentance. The denial of our repentance can have a penetrating effect, plunging like a dagger deep into the very core of our being. For so many, forgiveness and the lack of forgiveness, can prove a major stumbling block.
If we deny accepting the repentance of another, then we are intentionally and purposefully hanging on to the wrongs of the past. The wrongs of the past serve as a coat-of-arms. We identify our coat-of-arms as a shield of honor, but the reality is, our coat-of-arms is shielding the very nature of our person from allowing others to enter. It is serving as a warning sign, informing others to tread lightly because I will remove them from my life, if they wrong me.
For people who long for the acceptance of their repentance, they will continue to be haunted by their past wrongs as long as they choose to hang onto them.
WHAT REALLY IS FORGIVENESS?
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Forgiveness is the intentional act or process of pardoning or offering absolution unto another. Furthermore, it is the intentional act or process of accepting my own personal responsibility in an act or an event. True repentance is expressed through sincere regret and remorse of our wrongs. Therefore, I must forgive my own person, if I truly desire to heal from wrongful acts. Forgiveness is a three way street. It is the act of contrition, which is a state of feeling remorseful,
sorrowful, regretful and penitent for the wrongs the we have committed. It is also the responsibility of the person accepting our humbled and broken heart, that engages the act of forgiveness. Most importantly, whether or not those we have wronged will accept our repentance, we must be willing to forgive ourselves. For forgiving our own person allows the individual to move forward in life. Unfortunately, not everyone will pardon or offer absolution of the wrongs we have committed. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that we forgive our own person simultaneously, when we request others to forgive the deeds or acts that we have committed. Always remember, forgiveness is a continuous act not a momentary embrace.
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
The psychology behind forgiveness is unexplainable on many levels, but it is undeniable that there is absolute power behind the act of forgiveness. It is unremarkable how the effects of forgiveness can remove decades of heartache and pain. Research suggests that forgiveness is not a guarantee that the wrongs we have committed will be wiped from the minds of others. Moreover, forgiveness should never excuse or condone the reprehensible acts that are committed, rather it is liken a physical scar. While the wound may be healed, the act or deed may have left a reminder of the pain we once suffered. However, if it is humanly possible, forgiving and forgetting is an ideal scenario indeed.
The power of forgiveness has the capability of wiping the slate of our minds clean. Have you ever asked yourself, what was the origins of my anger? Why have I had such resentment or hostility towards another? Have you ever struggled to recall the details of your anger? If so, forgiveness can have the same effect upon our ability to move beyond the wrongs committed against us. Let me ask, if you place a condition on your forgiveness, have you not limited or restricted your willingness to forgive? Are we sincerely forgiving another, if we limit or restrict the components of our forgiveness?
The power of forgiveness is not an absolute declaration that your mind will be free and clear of the wrongs that you have committed, or those committed against you. In some cases, forgiveness may be a continuous act for an unspecified amount of time, mirroring an act of daily contrition or penance. While an absolute wiping of our memories would be ideal; sometimes forgiveness and forgetting do not occur simultaneously. Yet, if we want to move beyond the restraints of the past, you must be willing to let go of the memories associated with those wrongs. Keeping the wrongs alive will embed the negativity in your mind. Remember a scar is just a reminder of a history, it is not the pain we may have once endured.
FORGIVENESS IS A CHOICE
Forgiveness is a thoughtful and conscientious choice. We may need to choose to forgive another, even if the wrongdoer never offers a remorseful spirit. Forgiving others, allows the very essence of our person to move forward, leaving the egregious acts in the past. As a clinician, I have had so many individuals struggles with the wrongs committed against them. As a person, I too have struggled with the wrongs that have been casted my way, but I can wholeheartedly admit, once I have sincerely and completely offered forgiveness, the chains that have bound me unto the harm are released from my person. Releasing the chains that have captivated us, allows for other more pleasant memories to occupy our minds.
As someone who has wronged and been wronged, I can tell you that I have learned the benefits of forgiveness. When I have struggled to let go of the past, “I” have been the captive of that wrong. Forgiveness is a choice, and if I choose not to forgive, then I place myself in a constant state of captivity. If I choose to forgive, it is in not an indication of my acceptance of a wrong once committed, or a condolence of the egregious act; rather it is my desire to rid my mind of the
harm that was injected into my life. Forgiveness is the measure whereby I declare the deed or act is over. It is an intentional declaration that I no longer need to carry the chains that have weighed me down. I no longer want to think upon the negativity that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.
Forgiveness is an intentional choice of letting go of the past, acknowledging those who are pleading for the acceptance of their broken heart, and/or allowing my own broken person to
remove the chains that have bound me, to be released from my person.
THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND REMEMBERING WRONGS
If I intentionally choose not to forgive, I will most assuredly be plagued with the memories associated with the wrongs once committed. If I choose not to forgive, I can be assured that the negativity will have a dire effect upon my person. Research has shown that recall of wrongs committed in the past, can lead to a variety of physiological and psychological problems including the development of cardiovascular heart disease, cancer, hypertension, psychological and psychiatric disorders, and a host of other physiological and psychological problems. We seldom consider negativity or the recall of negative events as a stress, but there is no doubt that negativity is encapsulated with stress.
Remembering the past is like placing an anchor around your neck. At first, you may be capable of resisting the weight, but in time the weight will take a toll upon your ability to function. Consider the following, if you are already weighed down by the stressors of the past, how will additional stress have an effect upon your overall person?
The psychology associated with reliving the past, and harms associated with the past, is extremely controversial. Psychologists have long debated the extent with which we explore the past, to whether we even consider embarking on the past. Why broach the the past if it is not having a dire effect upon your overall person and your ability to properly function? Are we not causing more harm, than good, by reengaging topics from the past? Arguably, if the past is having an underlying effect, then do we not have an obligation to explore it? The challenge is, determining whether or not the past is causing current stress or harm unto your person.
“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” ~ Tony Robbins
Personal forgiveness is the ability to let go and go forward from the wrongs we have committed. The truth is forgiveness can never be faked or a sham. If it is, whoever is offering the forgiving spirit is a hypocrite indulging in false truths and lies. Likewise, if I am asking for forgiveness, I am equally as accountable for the humility and sincerity of my person.
Everyone is accountable for his or her own choices associated around forgiveness. If I forgive you, you are not obligated to forgive me, but karmically it could be argued that it makes sense.
Moreover, if I have wronged you and asked for forgiveness.; you are neither obligated or forced to accept my repentance, but I can have an ease of my heart that I have tried mending the wrongs that I have committed. Likewise, whether or not you accept my repentance, I have a right to offer my own person forgiveness, allowing my person to move beyond the wrongs with which I have committed.
Forgiving Our Person
Personal forgiveness is the process of healing. Once I forgive myself, only then will I be capable of asking you for forgiveness. If I can completely and sincerely accept my personal wrongs and the responsibility for my actions, then I have begun the transformation for living a life beyond the wrongs. If I reserve, hesitate, or excuse my wrongs, then I am hanging onto conditions associated with the wrongs and I am not taking complete responsibility for the wrongs with
which I have committed. It is important to recognize that you should only accept responsibility for the wrongs with which you have committed, never accepting the wrongs associated with others.
Forgiving oneself is of the utmost importance. If I do not completely and unconditionally forgive my own person, then how will I ever know how to forgive another? Forgiveness is not an obligation, rather is a desire to rid myself and others of the chains that have bound me to the past.
It is forgiveness that allows me to live a life beyond the wrongs, allowing me to live abundantly and free in the future.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” ~ Nelson Mandela
Forgiving others is not about the denial of the past, rather it is accepting the past as merely a historical marker in my life. Whether the harm was intentional or unintentional, it may have a profound impact upon us psychologically and physiologically. Belittling those who have endured wrongs, is no different than causing intentional harm. Moreover, the scars that are left should never be overlooked as unimportant. Every person has a right to healthy recovery.
While the harm may no longer exist, or the pain associated with the harm; the scar may remain. Scars are nothing more than a reminder, but they are not the pain or the harm itself. ‘Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.’ (MayoClinic, 2013, Online) “It is the forgiveness of others that allows you to live life to its fullest potential. Real forgiveness allows you to focus your mind on other things. If you hold onto the harm, then you hold onto the past. It is the shifting of your mind that will transform your person.” (Brown, 2013, Online)
THE BENEFITS OF FORGIVENESS
Letting go of the past, is like opening the flood gates of healing to be set free. “Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
1. Healthier relationships
2. Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
3. Less anxiety, stress and hostility
4. Lower blood pressure
5. Fewer symptoms of depression
6. Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse” (MayoClinic, 2013, Online)
7. “If we choose to, then there is a greater probability of reuniting with the person (s) that
we have held resentment towards.
8. An ability to fully focus on our minds on a positive perspective of life.
9. Decrease in somatic complaints
10. An empowerment of the individual
The benefits of forgiveness are limitless. Forgiveness allows your mind to be free of the negativity that has possessed it. Negativity has an ability to completely control and have power over your person. Such ingrained negativity can and often does manifest in our speech, actions, deeds, and reactions. The ingraining of negativity firmly embeds itself into our minds, rejecting the positive perspectives of our personhood.” (Brown, 2013, Online)
THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF FORGIVENESS
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese
“Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky calls forgiveness ‘a shift in thinking’ toward someone who has wronged you, ‘such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.’ Forgiveness, at a minimum, is a decision to let go of the desire for revenge and ill-will toward the person who wronged you. It may also include feelings of goodwill toward the other person. Forgiveness is also a natural resolution of
the grief process, which is the necessary acknowledgment of pain and loss.” (PBS, 2013, Online)
“The Fundamental Principle of …(Forgiveness) is having a spirit of unconditional love, trust, respect, dignity, caring, and hope. It is the knowledge that we will fail and succeed, but that our worth is not based on our failures or successes. For who we are, is greater than our level of obtainment or achievement, or of failure or loss. For who we are, is a person deserving of love, forgiveness, respect, dignity, and loyalty. A child that is raised with such principles will intrinsically rely upon these principles in moments of need, desperation, motivation, and for personal inspiration.” (Brown, 2013, Online)
“Forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it changes the present.” Frederic Luskin
“Forgiveness has the ability to transform our thoughts. It has an ability to allow us to reconnect with others and have a deeper relationship with them. Forgiveness cannot only have a healing affect for the individual, but its affect can go well beyond those initially involved in the forgiveness.” (Brown, 2013, Online) Forgiveness is the ultimate liberator of our mind, body, and spirit.
Author: Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.
Brown, A. D. (2013) Forgiveness. Retrieved January 6, 2013 from http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=2820
Mayo Clinic (2013) Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Retrieved April 7, 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131
Public Broadcasting Service, PBS (2013) Understanding forgiveness; What is forgiveness? How does forgiving another help us? And how can we cultivate forgiveness in our lives? Retrieved April 7, 2013 from http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/forgiveness/understandingforgiveness
Portions of this article were originally published in the The Sober World Magazine published by author, Dr. Asa Don Brown. Permission has been granted by Dr. Asa Don Brown to publish a revised edition of this article on the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s website Counselling Connect.
Brown, A. D. (2014) Making peace with your past: Choosing health and happiness Retrieved January 24, 2014, from http://www.thesoberworld.com/feb14_issue.pdf
The Sober World Magazine 3 (2), 6 & 30 ~ Editor, Patricia Rosen (http://www.thesoberworld.com pastissues.htm)
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA