How to Practice Forgiveness in Daily Life


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by Jayaram V

Summary: Find out how you can practice forgiveness in daily life and in different situations.

By forgiveness we mean having a change of attitude and feelings towards others by voluntarily letting go of negative emotions and past grudges against them. Usually, it involves showing empathy, compassion, pity and understanding for the actions or the behavior that led to them. Forgiveness is not ignoring, avoiding or forgetting, but a change a heart or a shift in thinking and attitude towards the perceived wrongdoer or the wrongdoing. The cause may be real or imaginary or even irrational.

When forgiveness becomes necessary

Forgiveness becomes necessary when one engages in wrongful, thoughtless or irrational actions which produce negative consequences for oneself and others. The following are a few examples of where the practice of forgiveness or the need for it becomes necessary.

Causing hurt or injury: When your actions cause hurt, harm or injury to others or to yourself, you may have to seek forgiveness and make amends with those who are affected by them. That hurt may be physical or mental or even spiritual. It may be caused by willful and intentional actions or due to negligence, carelessness, inattentiveness, wrong judgment, or recklessness. Some extreme forms of hurt such as violence, murder, rape and child abuse are considered mortal sins in many cultures for which lifelong suffering is the only solution.

Being untruthful, dishonest or deceptive: If you ever betray the trust of your close relations, you have to seek forgiveness. There is no other way. When others do it, you have the right to expect it from them. Close relationships thrive on trust, truth and honesty. If they are not upheld, relationships will collapse and bring disrepute to those who engage in it. The trust may never be regained, even after forgiveness. Sometimes the feelings of hurt and betrayal may be so deep that even forgiveness may not completely repair the relationship.

Taking things without permission: If you take anything from others which truly belongs to them without their consent and permission, it invariably requires that you seek forgiveness for your actions. Stealing literally means taking from others without permission or consent what does not truly belong to one. It can be an idea, possession, privilege, name, identity, relationship or opportunity. We live in a competitive world, where people resort to theft as a shortcut to success. Stealing can take many forms, other than physical theft. It can be exploitation, bribery, tax fraud, scam, overpricing of products and services, accounting-fraud, and so on.

Infidelity, betrayal or disloyalty: Those who are married or in an intimate relationship with their partners have a sacred responsibility to keep their marriage vows or abide in certain moral and ethical values which are essential to keep the relationships. When they do not observe them, they may seek forgiveness a few times, and out of love or concern they may be forgiven. However, it is doubtful whether repeated offenses will save their marriages or relationships. Sometimes, the betrayal causes so much hurt that the partners who are affected by it take a long time to heal and recover from the shock and betrayal.

Why the practice of forgiveness is required?

We all make mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly, because of faults in our thinking, perceptions, actions, judgment and decisions. Forgiveness gives us an opportunity to recognize them and learn from them so that we can become better human beings and avoid repeating them in future. The practice of forgiveness has other benefits also such as the following.

Healthier relationships. Forgiveness results in improved relationships as misunderstanding, rancor and negativity are cleared and rapport is established

Better health. Both physical and mental health improve as forgiveness leads to lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety, resulting in positive feelings of peace and happiness.

Improved self-esteem. Forgiveness empowers people to feel confident and good about themselves, which in turn strengthens their positive feelings of self-worth.

Increased focus: As people let go of their anger and resentment and come to terms with their negativity through forgiveness, they succeed in diverting their attention and energy to the current reality and focus upon their goals and priorities rather than becoming stuck in their past.

What are the steps in forgiveness?

There are three important aspects to the practice of forgiveness namely forgiving oneself, forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from others. In all the three situations, the act of forgiveness is preceded by a change in one’s thinking and attitude, which may be triggered by extraneous or intrinsic factors. The act of forgiveness involves the following three stages or phases.

1. Awareness or realization: In this stage you realize that something unusual happened or you made a mistake or an error in judgment or action which has caused hurt or distress to others. As it weighs upon your mind, you feel guilt, remorse or sorrow for what happened. You also feel responsible for it and want to do something about it to rectify the situation.

2. Confession: In this stage you make an honest confession of your wrongful action, thought or decision to yourself, or to the person who was affected by it or someone who might provide you with right guidance or advice. The confession itself may lighten your burden and feelings of guilt and empower you to proceed further with any remedial action that may be necessary to rectify the situation.

3. Resolution: Having confessed your guilt, you may then seek forgiveness from the person whom you might have wronged or hurt. If the person forgives you, it brings the process to conclusion. If you are not forgiven, you may ascertain what further action is required and see whether you can do it. Otherwise, you may move on, harboring no ill will and letting go of your negative feelings.

4. Atonement: This is usually done in religious practice when religious people believe they might have committed some sin and thereby offended God or gods, earning their wrath. As part of their atonement and self-cleansing, they may practice penitence by offering prayers, performing rituals, fasting, etc. Some may also forgo something, punish themselves, help others, give charity, participate in religious service, observe some vows, etc.

How to forgive and seek forgiveness

You may practice forgiveness towards yourself or towards others. In both situations, you must abide by certain rules. Your forgiveness must be unconditional and without expectations. It must be voluntary, genuine and sincere, must be motivated by compassion and love rather than self-interest, and must be complete and final. The same principles apply when you want to forgive yourself.

We all indulge in self-criticism and negative self-talk and assailed by our own negativity. Therefore, self-forgiveness becomes equally important. Forgiveness is not excusing, not forgetting, not avoiding, not suppressing your negativity, or not striking a deal. It is a one-sided act, borne from the generosity of your character, nobility and virtue, in which you willingly release the other person or persons from your negative thoughts and unpleasant memories.

1. Forgiving yourself

This is entirely in your hands, since you are both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. For many people it is not easy as they simply cannot let go of their past or their feelings of guilt, remorse and negative self-talk. You can forgive yourself, by making an honest confession, acknowledging your faults and resolving to improve upon them. You can also use affirmations to clear your negativity and feelings of remorse or guilt.

By mentally recollecting and releasing all bad memories and letting go of your past resentments and grudges, you can also do self-cleansing so that you can become free from all the negativity that might have accumulated in you over the years. As a part of that, you may also release those from your past, whom you feel might have wronged you or hurt you or limited you in some way, by affirming to yourself that you are releasing them and letting them go, and they can more hurt you or hold you in their control.

2. Forgiving others

When it comes to forgiving others, you must have a large heart, and you must be willing to condone others’ faults for your own good and for the good of others. However, it does not mean you will turn a blind eye to the problems caused by others by their willful and habitual actions. You cannot condone repeat offenders if their actions are causing you, or others, serious harm. You can just stay away from them, having forgiven them mentally and can let them go, so that you minimize the chances of being hurt by them again. It is not necessary that you always have to tell others that you have forgiven them. You may do it if it is going to help the relationship. Otherwise, you may keep it to yourself and let go of the relationship.

When others approach you for forgiveness, pay them attention, with respect, humility, empathy and understanding. If you are attentive, you will know whether they are genuinely sorry or insincere. If it is genuine, you may acknowledge what they say and express gratitude. On such occasions, it is better to avoid the temptation to remind them what happened or how hurt you were, unless you are responsible for them and have a duty or obligation to improve their conduct or behavior. Even then, you may show a lot of restraint to set a good example. If you feel that the gesture is disingenuous, use your best judgment to deal with the situation.

We do not have to push away every relationship that hurts us or causes us some disturbance or inconvenience. Sometimes, we can learn a lot about ourselves from the people who hurt us. By touching our sensitive spots, they point to the areas where we are lacking or weak and where we need improvement and cleansing. By that, they also teach us the value of virtues such as tolerance, understanding, empathy and forgiveness.

For example, if you lack courage it will be easier for others to intimidate you. If you lack patience, it will be easier for them to test your patience and make you lose control. If you are prone to anger, it will be easier for them to provoke you and let you suffer from your own anger issues. Therefore, when you are upset about something or by someone, do some introspection. Find out what made you feel upset, angry, afraid or hurt. When you identify the causes, you will be in a good position not only to work on them but also to forgive yourself and others with a feeling of gratitude.

3. Seeking forgiveness from others

When you seek forgiveness from others, you may formally express remorse or regret for your actions, without insisting that you have to be forgiven. If they do not respond, you may keep trying until they have changed their thinking, feeling or opinion or you can just move on, forgiving yourself and resolving not to make the same mistake again. Sometimes, silence and time will heal relationships and bring a positive change in people’s thinking and behavior. Therefore, having genuinely tried, you can wait until things improve, or just move on.

Does everyone deserve forgiveness?

From a spiritual perspective, almost all traditions agree that forgiveness has to be unconditional and universal. Everyone and everything are worthy of forgiveness, however serious the offense may be. One should not hold any grudges in the mind, since it is a burden that one can potentially carry to the next life with serious consequences to oneself and others. By forgiving people who may have wronged you, you discharge your karmic burden and earn good merit, while by not forgiving them, you put spiritual wellbeing in great peril. Therefore, it makes sense to forgive yourself and others and make peace with your past.

However, behavioral scientists disagree. According to them some crimes such as sexual abuse or physical battery are better not forgiven or forgotten, so that the offenders do not receive conflicting signals from their victims and feel encouraged to engage in similar behavior. Further, by withholding forgiveness, the victims may feel empowered to stand for themselves and send a clear message to their offenders.

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