[This article appeared in the October 2020 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: http://www.ultindia.org/previous_issues.html]
It appears that forgiveness helps us to be free. Forgiveness therapy can help a person to gain perspective and move on, instead of being stuck, writes Nathaniel Wade, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, who is interested in the psychology of forgiveness and religion, more in the context of counselling and therapy. Being in relationships often means being offended, hurt or betrayed, and one of the ways that we have developed to deal with such pain is through forgiveness. But what is forgiveness and how does it work? Firstly, we must distinguish between forgiveness and condoning, i.e., excusing or overlooking an offence. Forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation which involves re-establishing a trusting relationship with the person who has hurt. It is an internal process which helps to overcome feelings of bitterness and hurt, and instead engender the feeling of empathy and love for the offender.
The author points out that in their forgiveness programs, participants felt that the most helpful part was the opportunity to share with others and knowing that others had similar struggles and being able to get things off one’s chest. It can help people see the offence in a different perspective and open the door for forgiveness. The next major part of forgiveness journey is building empathy for the offender.
In addition to helping people, researchers have also begun exploring the ways to help the offenders to forgive themselves and overcome the guilt. The steps involve helping the person to take appropriate amounts of responsibility for the offence or hurt, express the remorse they feel, make amends to the person hurt, so that finally the feelings of guilt and self-condemnation are replaced by feelings of self-respect and self-compassion.
Forgiveness of others and one’s self can be a powerful, life altering process and opens possibilities for healing and growth. It is an effective way to manage moments of conflict, disappointment and pain in our lives. “Forgiveness encourages a deeper, more compassionate understanding that we are all flawed in our different ways and that we all need to be forgiven at times,” writes Nathaniel Wade, in an article that appeared in Aeon magazine.
Forgiving the person who has wronged us is the most difficult thing because it runs totally contrary to human instinct. What helps in forgiving is keeping in mind examples of other people who have forgiven the worst of offences and remembering that forgiveness brings healing and liberates both the forgiver and the forgiven. Lord Buddha says that when our mind is tied with the intention of retaliation our consciousness is in a non-integrated state. Condemn the act and not the actor. It is useful to watch how quickly are we able to forgive an insult or injury. Some of us cannot forgive and forget for many months and many years. Slowly we may learn to forgive in few days and then within few minutes and so on. Forgive, forgive and largely forget, advises Mr. Judge.
The Sermon on the Mount says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us.” We are continually being forgiven by the good Law. We are not excused for our wrong actions but forgiven, and that means we are given one more opportunity to mend our ways. “The very fact that the oppressor, the unjust, the wicked, live out their lives is proof of mercy in the great heart of Nature. They are thus given chance after chance to retrieve their errors and climb, if even of the ladder of pain, to the height of perfection,” says Mr. Judge.
A French proverb says: “To understand is to forgive.” If we have taken care to understand the experience with all its implications, i.e., what caused it; what was the lesson to be learnt; what in our nature needs changing, etc., then there results conscious acceptance. If we have learnt to take smaller experiences in our stride, then the bigger losses do not throw us off-balance—even when they do, we are able to bounce back. We are especially vulnerable in some parts of our psychological make-up, and that may be the result of similar experiences in the past. We need to cultivate detachment. The more we remember that we are not the personality and stop identifying with its experiences, the less is the force of those experiences.