The F-word. A tough word for many of us. Most of us want it but don’t get it or give enough of it. Perhaps, it’s seen as a dirty word because we were never taught how to do it well. Yet it’s crucial for our relationships.
No, not that F word (that’s a different blog), the other F word. The Forgiveness F word is what we are referring to.
Forgiveness, one of the 24 VIA character strengths, is key for our overall well-being.
The VIA Institute on Character defines forgiveness as “to extend understanding towards those who have wronged or hurt us.” … to let go. In many cases this is the letting go of some or all of the frustration, disappointment, resentment, or other painful feelings associated with an offense. Forgiveness, and the related quality of mercy, involve accepting the shortcomings, flaws, and imperfections of others and giving them a second (or third) chance.”
When we forgive others for their wrongdoing not only does it strengthen our relationships, it also boosts our health.
In contrast, withholding forgiveness distances us from others and is detrimental to our physical and psychological health. It increases our risks for cardiovascular disease, lowers our immune system and is associated with anxiety, anger, and depression.
The more we do it, the better we get at it
The good news is forgiveness is a skill that can be taught. And the more we practice forgiving others, the better we get at it, says Dr. Everett Worthington, professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a leading researcher on forgiveness who has dedicated more than two decades to studying the psychological concept.
Worthington found that married couples who were taught communication and conflict resolution made relationship gains but within a year lost about half of the gains, whereas those who practiced forgiveness and reconciliation made gains and still retained them a year later.
While forgiveness can strengthen our closest relationships, it is often easier said than done. Part of the challenge is that we may be overcome with emotion and unsure of how to get started.
Two types of forgiveness
Fortunately, Worthington created the five-step REACH forgiveness model to help teach people how to forgive. His model describes two types of forgiveness:
- "decisional" forgiveness (a decision to act differently toward the offender in the future)
- "emotional" forgiveness (transformation from resentment and anxiety to positive emotions such as compassion and empathy).
Both types of forgiveness are vital for our overall wellbeing.
Decisional forgiveness is more important for repairing our relationships while emotional forgiveness is critical to our physical and mental health.
Mahatma Gandhi is thought to have said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
We can flex our mental and emotional muscles by practicing this vital skill so that it becomes a healthy habit.
Take a cue from Worthington’s research and REACH out to your loved ones to forgive by following these five steps:
- R = Recall – Remember the hurt as objectively as possible
- E = Empathize – Try to put yourself into the shoes of the person who hurt you
- A = Altruism – Give the person the gift of forgiveness
- C = Commit – Publicly forgive the person
- H = Hold onto Forgiveness – Remind yourself you made the choice to forgive
By practicing these five steps you can develop an important skill that that will pay off in dividends across all domains of your life.
Research seems to agree with Gandhi, that forgiveness is indeed the attribute of the strong!
Pileggi Pawelski, S. & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.