Forgiveness is Essential for Our Mental Health
Author: Dr. Julie. Sorenson, DMFT, MA, LPC
Forgiveness Releases Toxins
Forgiveness allows the ability to enhance our mood, release stress, decrease anxiety/depression, and process trauma. Allowing yourself to forgive releases anger you may have been harboring and enhances your mental health. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to repair the relationship but allows you to let go of unhealthy emtions. In some cases when you forgive someone it is a step towards building a stronger foundation within your relationship, leading to healthier communication. Forgiveness can empower you to allow yourself space and permission to heal.
Allowing Yourself to Forgive Someone
Sometimes the question isn’t “can I forgive this person, but how do I forgive them?” Forgiving someone can be difficult and may make you feel emotionally vulnerable or raw. It is important to take some time for self-reflection and identify if you are experiencing anger as a primary or secondary emotion. If anger is a secondary emotion what may be the primary emotion leading to the anger? Are you feeling hurt, lonely, guilty, sad, disappointed, or is it something entirely different? Identifying your key emotions is a healthy path to healing. Secondly, you need to decide to forgive. Forgiveness may provide you with a path forward on your healing journey. Next, is important to develop a sense of compassion for the person you are forgiving. Remembering that you haven’t walked in their shoes or experienced things through their lenses can assist you in the forgiveness process. Finally, it is important to release any negative emotions attached to the person/issue. Taking into consideration what you or the other person has learned from these experiences can be helpful tool.
Sit with the discomfort. Reflect on what may have caused this person to behave in this manner. Forgiveness takes strength. It may be difficult to rebuild trust and may require openness to explore where there was a breakdown within the relationship. Remember sometimes the problem isn’t the problem but the problem is deeper than the problem. Analyzing and reflecting on what happened to cause this issue may lead to uncomfortable conversations. When having these difficult conversations remember the keys to healthy conflict resolution and communication.
Sometimes the problem was derived from your behaviors. Allowing yourself permission to recognize that you are human, and humans make mistakes is essential when forgiving yourself. Taking ownership and responsibility for your own mistakes takes courage. Holding on to shame and guilt isn’t a productive step to moving forward. It is valuable to challenge yourself to forgive. It takes a lot of deep reflection and acknowledging your faults. Identify where you went wrong and how you can be proactive in avoiding future mistakes. Recognizing that you are going to make mistakes in life but doesn’t mean that you need to continuously participate in negative self-talk because of those mistakes. You need to learn to be your own best friend because you are the only person goes everywhere with you, so forgive yourself no matter how difficult it may be.
What Happens to Our Mental State When We Forgive?
When we allow ourselves to forgive we are participating in a therapeutic process. Forgiveness can protect us from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. The act of forgiveness has been linked to benefit cardiac patients because it leads to potentially lowering blood pressure according to the CDC. Letting go of anger releases stress. Forgiveness has other positive benefits that contribute to healthier mental state such as repairing relationships, challenging/ promoting self-reflection, and personal growth. In addition to helping yourself, modeling forgiveness helps future generations and our communities.
If you are struggling with forgiveness and don’t know where to start, contact a local therapist. Therapists can assist in finding ways by providing tools to allow you to learn how to forgive.