Courtesy of Pexels

In a longitudinal study conducted across five countries, psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Everett Worthington concluded that forgiveness can aid in improving overall health and wellness. Worthington had half the participants in the study complete a forgiveness workbook, observing them over a two-week period. Compared to the control group, those who completed the workbook showed a significant reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms. Similar forgiveness studies provided homogenous results, with the overall concurrence among professionals being that forgiveness, although not easy, can drastically improve mental health.  

Forgiveness is not a simple task – it’s a decision a person must consciously choose to make. Emotional forgiveness requires the one wronged to empathize with the wrongdoers. Empathy does not equate to excuses; rather it means trying to understand the motivations behind someone’s actions. Changing the past is impossible; however, replacing the feelings of anger acquainted with transgressions towards ones of compassion allows for contentment with a situation rather than continued dwelling.  

Although forgiveness has extreme merit, the popular phrase “forgive and forget” encourages “toxic forgiveness.” Forgiveness does not require forgetting wrongdoings, instead, one must release the anger and resentful feeling harbored with a situation or person. Robert Enright, Ph.D., an expert in forgiveness studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated, “You don’t forget, but you remember it in a new way without the feelings that can really bring you down.” Simply “forgetting” for the sake of keeping the peace is invalidating to one’s feelings and counterproductive to mental health in the long term. 

Forgiving someone does not mean moving on, it is a process of replacing negative feelings with positivity. There is no need to walk up to someone and say, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is not employed for the sake of the wrongdoer; it is an internal process for the wronged to come to terms with injustices towards them. Analyze the situation from an outsider’s perspective and, without making excuses, provide empathy for the offender. Hold onto the memory of the transgression with a different outlook, one of clarity and continent. Forgetting a situation of wrongdoing allows people to turn into a doormat. Forgive, but never forget, to avoid the same predicament from occurring twice. 

Nothing about forgiveness is easy. Start small; forgive the guy cutting people off on the freeway, or the person who spilled coffee on your shirt. However forgiveness is provided, the mental clarity of truly “letting go” of a situation is unbeatable. Provide the opportunity to be free of feelings of vengeance and resentment. Choose the path to finding inner peace.