Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forgive and forget? Thursday, July 22, 2010.

“When you hold resentment against another, you are bound to that person by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” - Catherine Ponder

Simply because we have people in our lives, all of us have been wronged. Many of us who have attempted to end our lives have been wronged to an extreme degree, as victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse as children or as adults (and often, both).

If we have been significantly victimized by another, there are plenty of people preaching that we must forgive because it is our duty to do so – as someone’s child, or lover, or spouse. After all, the Bible says we must forgive, right? Only bad people hold grudges.

Author and social researcher R. D. Enright, Ph.D., is a world-renowned researcher on the topic of forgiveness. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear him speak once, and I was amazed by his findings – and his wisdom.

Enright studied victims from battered women to Holocaust survivors. What he found was that those who had forgiven their offenders were happier and more at peace than those who had not. But Enright made it very clear what forgiveness actually is – and what it isn’t.

First, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is not denying the severity of an abusive action. Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. And forgiveness is not reconciliation. A woman who has been battered may choose to forgive the batterer, yet still press charges against him and never return to the relationship. It is possible to forgive someone without ever telling them you’ve done so; in fact, in many circumstances, it’s the only way it can safely be done.

Forgiveness is letting go of anger, whether or not the person “deserves” it. And when we let go of anger, our mental health improves. We are less depressed, less anxious, and less obsessed with the object of our anger. When we lose that obsession, the violator can fade from our conscious thought. He can “stop renting room in our head for free.”

An individual, or a group of people, may have hurt you deeply. And every time you think of it, you return to that place of pain and victimization. It’s like pushing your tongue into a sore inside your mouth. Practicing true forgiveness – not denying, excusing or forgetting, and not necessarily reconciling – can heal that sore. Who can you forgive today?

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