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Learning How to Forgive

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to handle. Try these two ways and learn to let go.

Earlier this year, in Bloomington, Indiana, Adam Sarnecki confronted a man breaking into a parked car. In a panic, the criminal shot and killed Adam.

Imagine the shock, anger and resentment you would feel if a similar injustice happened to one of your friends or family members. Perhaps you already know.

Remarkably, the father of the victim, Ron Sarnecki, responded to this tragedy with profound love and understanding. Although he was extremely upset about losing his son, Ron told reporters that he forgave the killer.

You may find it difficult to identify with this reaction, but there is a critical lesson to be learned here. Despite undergoing the traumatic experience of losing his son, Ron Sarnecki is now on his way toward a peaceful life. He has learned to forgive.

QUIZ: How Satisfied Are You with Life?

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Learning How to Forgive

At some point, we’ve all been wronged. Perhaps you were in an abusive relationship or a friend turned her back on you, and you’ve carried bitterness and resentment with you ever since. You likely had no choice in what happened to you, but here’s the good news: you do have a choice in how you react to this adversity and how you will live the rest of your life. Is it time to release the heavy burdens of anger and bitterness that have weighed you down for so long? Is it time to forgive like Ron Sarnecki did?

Before continuing, let’s clarify what forgiveness is not. To forgive is not to excuse, justify, pardon or condone what someone else did. Furthermore, forgiveness does not mean that you reconcile with this person or that you invite him or her back into your life1. The purpose of forgiveness is to free yourself from the negative thoughts and emotions that so often accompany a grudge. Indeed, a great deal of research suggests that there are negative consequences for those who find it difficult to forgive.

A lack of forgiveness is often accompanied by resentment, which is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety2. Furthermore, people who are less forgiving are more likely to be hateful, angry and neurotic. On the other hand, forgiving people are more likely to be happy and physically healthy3.

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1 Worthington, E. L., Witvliet, C. V., Pietrini, P., Miller, A. J. (2007). Forgiveness, health, and well-being: A review of evidence for emotional versus decisional forgiveness, dispositional forgivingness, and reduced unforgiveness. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30, 291-302. 2 Reed, G. L., & Enright, R. D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920–929. 3 McCullough, M. E. (2001). Forgiveness: who does it and how do they do it? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 194-197. 4 Reed, G. L., & Enright, R. D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920–929. 5 Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.

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