A positive psychology approach to foregiveness

A positive psychology approach to foregiveness

As I’ve noted many times, positive psychology is not just about enjoying happiness and the good times; it’s also about effectively managing the tough times.

We all feel we’ve been wronged at some stage in our lives and when we do this can eat away at our happiness. As a positive psychology coach, therefore, part of my job frequently involves helping people learn to forgive.

Accordingly, it is with great pleasure that I bring you an article written by one of my colleagues originally for Empower magazine. I hope you enjoy it…

The Art of forgiveness

By The Happiness Institute’s Tarryn Brien (coach and facilitator) – click here

In 1993, Californian student Amy Biel travelled to South Africa to assist in the anti-apartheid movement. But in a tragic twist of fate Amy was murdered in a riot by the very people she had set out to help. Amy’s grieving parents followed their daughter’s dreams to South Africa and, inspired by her legacy, chose to forgive the two young men responsible for her death. In a sign of respect and remorse, the men addressed Amy’s mother as ê¢__‘–Mom”.

While this story is haunting and unimaginable, it begs the question: how many of us would be able to forgive when faced with such a tragic loss? Amy and her parents are exceptional people, but their experience is a dramatic example of a rule that applies to everyone – forgiveness is good not just for the person who is forgiven, but also for the person who forgives.

People who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold onto resentments, and it has been proven that the practice of forgiveness has both mental and physical benefits. It has been shown to reduce anger and stress, alleviate depression and contribute to greater life satisfaction.

Forgiveness encourages hope, compassion and optimism. Buddhism sees forgiveness as a method to prevent harmful thoughts clouding one’s mental wellbeing, recognising that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our ê¢__‘–mind karma”.

The benefits to forgiveness are clear, so why do many of us find it so hard to do? Stephen Post, co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, believes the greatest barrier to forgiveness is a misunderstanding of what forgiveness really means. Most of us are familiar with the saying ê¢__‘–forgive and forget” but do the two necessarily go hand in hand? Stephen believes forgiveness is not about forgetting or condoning a harmful act, nor is it about giving away power. True forgiveness requires tremendous courage and empathy, replacing pain and bitterness with inner peace and happiness. Forgiveness enhances our sense of control and wellbeing, calming the mind and the body. Getting angry is a natural and self-preserving response when we have been wronged. However, this is only useful up to a point, beyond which it starts to erode our wellbeing and, instead of being in control, we end up dwelling on past transgressions, reliving the hurt and anger over and over again.

Happy people spend more time living in and enjoying the present, and forgiveness may be one important way of enhancing our happiness and ability to move on positively. Psychological studies have shown that it is better to forgive than to be forgiven, so start by believing forgiveness is a gift we can give to ourselves. While we should each create our own understanding of forgiveness, many struggle to know where to start. Below, we”ve suggested a few practical tips to help with the forgiveness process:

ê¢__‘Ô¢ Acknowledge the pain and hurt you have suffered, as well as the need for relief from that pain. Make a commitment to yourself to feel better by focusing on your own goal of peace and forgiveness.

ê¢__‘Ô¢ Know that forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, nor condoning their actions. Your goal should simply be to find peace. If you are mentally replaying your hurt ask yourself, ê¢__‘–Are these thoughts and feelings helping me lead a happier life?” Focus on your actions alone.

ê¢__‘Ô¢ Try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person by empathising. What kinds of thoughts, beliefs and emotions might they have had? From seeking to understand others comes acceptance, tolerance and personal growth. We have all made some mistakes in our own lives and would hope others would forgive us.

ê¢__‘Ô¢ If you start to feel stressed and upset, use some simple relaxation breathing exercises to calm yourself. Notice the positives around you and practice gratitude – learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you instead of focusing on negativity, which saps energy.

ê¢__‘Ô¢ Remind yourself that forgiveness is not giving in, but rather a courageous act that will set you free.

ê¢__‘Ô¢ Forgiveness is more than a single event – it takes persistence and perseverance. It is natural that memories of what has upset us will occasionally return so remind yourself of your motives for forgiving.

We cannot control all the circumstances and events in our lives, but there is tremendous power in learning that the one thing we can control is how we choose to respond – choice is always present in forgiveness.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” – Mahatma Gandh